How to Percolate Coffee on a Camp Stove

Going on an adventure takes tons of energy, and sometimes, you need a pick-me-up. Coffee is a staple in any overlander’s pack. But how do you make it without the luxuries of a Keurig or a coffee pot? Every good overlander should know how to percolate coffee on a camp stove.

So, how do you percolate coffee on a camp stove? There are few steps to percolating coffee on a camp stove. Before you get started you’ll nned to grab your percolator, coffee, and coffee grinder. Then follow these five steps:

  1. Fill Percolator with water
  2. Add ground coffee to the ground holder
  3. Insert the grounds holder into the percolator
  4. Bring water to a medium boil
  5. Allow the coffee to percolate on medium heat for five to ten minutes.

Since adventuring needs energy, you’ll want to make coffee on your camp stove before hitting the trail. We’ll teach you how to make coffee on the trail, so you can have the energy to enjoy the great outdoors.

How to Percolate Coffee on a Camp Stove: The Basics

Before you start making delicious camp coffee, you’ll need to make some choices about how you plan to heat the water, whether that’s woodfire or a camp stove. Then what kind of coffee beans you use. Therein lies the secret to a great brew out on the trail.

There are a few different ways to heat water:

  • Propane/Butane gas-powered: The ease to light and compact design makes propane and butane gas stoves an ideal choice for any camper. The gas is mess-free and relatively light to pack. Some of the most popular models of gas-powered propane stoves are:
  • Liquid fuel stove: Liquid fuel might be messier to deal with, but it burns at higher temperatures, which is ideal for cooking at higher elevations. 
  • Woodfire: The classic camping heat source. For a woodfire, you only need to pack flint, matches, and lighters, saving space in your rig. However, finding usable wood might be a challenge in some campsites.

Great coffee is all in the beans! Here are the coffee bean options for brewing on the trail:

  • Whole beans with a grinder: If you want the taste of fresh ground coffee, travel-sized coffee bean grinders are a perfect choice. Some of the best portable coffee bean grinders are:
    • LHS Manual Coffee Grinder: The LHS has a conical shape for saving space and getting the most grinding power you can out of the device. It even has a small catch basin for your grounds, which is a bonus.
    • Hario Ceramic Coffee Mill, Mini Slim Plus: This hand grinder has a metal handle for smooth grinding and a catch basin at the bottom for fresh grounds. The rest of the body is made from lightweight ceramic, perfect for carrying on the trail.
    • Platinum Brew Manual Coffee Grinder: The Platinum Brew has an all-metal casing with a sturdy metal handle for manual grinding. You can set this grinder to mill the coffee beans to various consistency for the perfect coffee taste. 
  • Coffee Grounds: Bringing store-bought coffee grounds will work for the various methods of percolating coffee over a camp stove. Choose the best brands—or simply whatever is on sale—pack it, and hit the trail! It doesn’t get simpler than that.

The Percolator Pitcher

A percolator pitcher is a pot that holds both the grounds and the boiling water. It has an aluminum grounds holder with a tapered stem leading up from the boiling water.

The only item you need for making percolator pitcher coffee is a percolator pitcher. Simple enough, right? These coffee makers for camp stoves are a throwback way to brew coffee on the camp stove, but they’re easy to burn, so be careful!

Some of the best percolator pitchers available are listed below: 

  • GSI Outdoors 36 Cup Coffee Boiler: The GSI percolator pitcher is made from graniteware. The coiled metal handle limits exposure to heat, so you don’t burn your hand. Also, the 36-cup size is ideal for making coffee for the whole campsite. Unfortunately, the percolator isn’t included, so you’ll have to buy that separately. Of course, you can still use this boiler to make cowboy coffee.
  • Stansport Enamel Percolator Mugs: This camp percolator pitcher fits eight cups of water and even comes with a set of four mugs. The pitcher and mugs are made from durable enamel with stainless steel rims, which limits dents, chips, and oxidation.
  • Coletti Butte Camping Coffee Pot: The design of this percolator pitcher is stylish and functional. The wood-lined handle protects your hands from burns while all other parts are made from stainless steel. The glass top knob shows the bubbling coffee so you can keep an eye on your percolation process. 

The steps for percolating coffee on a camp stove using a percolator pitcher are listed below: 

  1. Add water: Fill the bottom chamber of the percolator pitcher with enough water from your water container to satisfy all the campers in your party.
  2. Add coffee grounds to the grounds holder: The grounds holder has a tapered stem leading down from it. Fill the holder with the right amount of grounds: one tablespoon of coffee grounds per cup of water. 
  3. Insert the grounds holder: Replace the holder in position above the bottom chamber. Place the lid on the holder above the grounds. Make sure everything is in correctly and fastened tight.
  4. Boil water: Place the whole pitcher onto the heat source. If you’re using a percolator pitcher with a plastic handle, make sure the flames of an open fire won’t damage or melt the handle. The heat should be set on a low simmer. If using an open campfire, place in coals or prop up above the fire.
  5. Watch and wait: The percolation process will take anywhere from five to ten minutes. Don’t leave the pitcher on the heat source for too long, or you risk burning your coffee.

Here’s a great video that shows the process.

They’re not “camping”, but you should get the idea.

How Long Do You Percolate Coffee On A Camp Stove?

Once you’re water is boiling, it’s time to set your timer. Ten minutes is the longest time I would recommend. Most recommendations for percolating coffee is for six to eight minutes. The longer you let the coffee percolate on your camp stove the stronger it will be. So, if you like strong coffee let it percolate for eight to ten minutes. If you like it a little lighter, five or six minutes will be just right for you.

How do you know when your percolator coffee is done?

When you have your percolator set up on your camp stove you’ll notice, as the water begins circulating, that it will bubble up and sputter inside the globe. The rule of thumb is the faster the water is bubbling the hotter it is. The same goes for the color. The darker the water is the stronger, or more “done” your coffee will be. You want to look for a nice medium heat and to see the percolator bubbling every few seconds or so.

What are Alternative Methods for Making Coffee on a Camp Stove? 

There are several ways to make coffee on a camp stove. Each method requires different products to boil the water and add coffee grounds. Below we’ll go through a few alternatives to making percolator coffee out on the trails.

The “Cowboy” 

Years ago, cowboys didn’t have fancy percolation devices or mass-produced paper filters to make their coffee over a camp stove. Instead, they pounded coarse beans and put them into a pot of boiling water to steep. After a while, they poured their coffee right out of the container.

The items you need for making Cowboy coffee are listed below:

  • Pot handle: To save space, many camping pots don’t come with attached handles like the ones in your kitchen. A removable metal handle can attach to any pot to keep your hands safe while you handle the hot water. Some of the best camping pot handles are listed below: 
    • Olicamp Aluminum Pot Lifter: This light and stylish potholder is made from high-grade aluminum and has drilled holes in it to reduce the weight. The large grip pinchers are perfect for almost any pot size.
    • Amytalk 2Pack Bowl Clip Gripper Clips Retriever: The nice handle on this pot clip is excellent for holding large, heavy bowls and pots. The lightweight design has integrated plastic and stainless steel, making it light and robust.
    • Cyberone Aluminum Bowl Pot Gripper: The intricate, drilled hole design makes this aluminum pot holder very lightweight and easy to handle. The angled grip pinchers can lift heavy pot or bowl loads and can even hold bottles.
  • Pot for boiling water: The pot you boil your water in will need to be large enough for a few cups of water. To boil water even faster, you should find a pot with a lid. Stainless steel pots are great if you plan on cooking over a campfire. Here are a couple great pot options you can use to make Cowboy coffee:
    • Bulin 27/13/11/8/3 PCS Camping Cookware Mess Kit: If you’re going to invest in a new pot for your coffee, why not get a whole matching mess kit with coffee cups and a pan? The Bulin mess kit comes with up to twenty-seven pieces for your camp kitchen needs. The package also includes a pack bag to keep everything together.
    • Jetboil Flash Camping Stove Cooking System: Jetboil is one of the fastest pots to boil water in. The outer foam layer lets you grip the pan like a regular cup, even when hot. The Jetboil pot also comes with its own heat source.

Once you have your pot and a suitable handle, the steps for percolating coffee on a camp stove using the Cowboy method are pretty simple: 

  1. Grind coffee beans: Coarse grind the coffee beans. If you grind the beans too fine, they’ll probably end up in your cup since you’re not using a filter. The rule is about one tablespoon of coffee grounds per cup of water. Add a little extra if you like strong coffee.
  2. Measure the water: Pour the amount of water you will need to fill enough cups for everyone in your camp. Don’t leave anyone behind!
  3. Boil the water: Using a camp stove or an open fire, place the pot of water on the heat source until it begins to boil. A potholder is always a good idea for handling hot pots. 
  4. Remove the pot once boiling: Once the water in the pot is at a rolling boil, remove it from the heat source. You don’t want to burn the coffee grounds when you add them to the water. 
  5. Add the grounds: Once the boiling water in the pot is removed and placed on a firm surface, pour in the coffee grounds.
  6. Let the grinds settle and percolate: The grinds should steep for about five minutes. Stir frequently, so the grinds don’t sink to the bottom of the pot.
  7. Carefully pour your cup of coffee: After percolation, pour the coffee into the cups. Pour at a slight angle (or use a lid as a strainer) to ensure no grounds wind up in your cup. Nobody likes crunchy coffee! 

Here’s a great video from Primal Outdoors on making coffee using the cowboy method.

You can pick up some of the Primal Outdoor Coffee here.

The Pour over Method 

Many campers like the Pour Over Method because you don’t really need any fancy equipment, and you won’t get coffee grounds stuck in your teeth like if you use the cowboy method. All you need for the paper cone method is a pot to boil water and a filter to hold the coffee grounds—like a paper cone.

Some of the items that you may need for the pour over method are listed below:

  • Paper cone filters: These are your everyday coffee filters you use at home. They’re great for keeping grounds in the filter and the liquid in your cup.
  • Coffee dripper cones: If you don’t feel like bringing disposable paper cone filters on your trips, you can also find reusable dripper cones made of plastic or metal. Some of the best coffee dripper cones for camping are listed below: 
    • Cafellissimo Paperless Pour Over Coffee Maker: Paperless is an excellent option for camping. This pour-over coffee dripper cone is made of stainless steel so it can be used again and again without oxidation. The perforations are small enough to make the perfect cup of coffee.
    • Maranello Caffé Pour Over Coffee Dripper Stainless Steel Reusable Drip Cone Coffee Filter: Another popular reusable stainless steel coffee filter. The makers of Maranello claim that it’s as easy as “Brew, drink, rinse, repeat.” 
    • Collapsible Coffee Dripper: Lightweight and made of food-grade silicone, this coffee dripper is a must-have for backpackers and campers with limited weight capacity. The design requires paper filters as well, but it’s collapsible, which saves space better than the bulky stainless-steel drippers.

You could go fancy with something like a Chemex, but I wouldn’t recommend taking it out on the trails. You’ll likely just end up with a bunch of broken glass.

The steps for the paper cone filter method of percolating coffee on a camp stove include:

  1. Boil water: Use a camp stove or outdoor fire to boil water in a pot. 
  2. Place the filter: Put the paper filter or dripper right above the cup you want to fill.
  3. Fill the filter with coffee grounds: Place about one tablespoon into the filter. Add more or fewer grounds depending on how strong or weak you want the coffee to be.
  4. Pour over boiling water: Once the water in the pot is boiling, lift it with a potholder and pour a cup’s worth of boiling water over the grinds in the filer. The boiling water will percolate through the grounds and drip out the other side into your mug as a fresh cup of coffee!

Stay Energized on the Trail

Percolating coffee on a camp stove makes roughing it in the great outdoors even better. If you want the energy to tackle the next adventure on your camping trip, consider using one of these methods to make some quality backcountry coffee.

James with daughter on the trails

About James...

Hi, I’m James. If I’m not working on this site, you can often find me outdoors roaming the trails. I’m an avid hiker, mountain biker, and overlander. I’m excited to share my passion for the outdoors with you.