December 4, 2020

10 best travel coffee makers for road trips

There are many great ways to make coffee on the road, but none that are ideal. You need something that’s quick if you’re in a hurry, something lightweight and portable, and an easy way to clean up in case you don’t have access to running water. We’ve analyzed a few portable travel coffee makers for this purpose exactly.

If you’re anything like us, coffee is the most important part of your day. You want the coffee-making and clean-up processes to be as quick and as seamless as possible, so you can spend the better part of your morning simply drinking said coffee. So what is the best way to make coffee while traveling?

We put a bunch of coffee-making techniques to the test, from old-school systems to the newest gadgets, and found that certain travel coffee makers are more suitable for certain road trip styles than others. Here is our analysis, in no particular order:

  1. GSI Outdoors Java Press 30 fl. oz.
  2. AeroPress Go
  3. Primula Brew Buddy
  4. GSI Outdoors Collapsible Java Drip
  5. Coleman drip coffee
  6. Cowboy coffee
  7. Percolator
  8. Mokapot
  9. Instant coffee
  10. Coffee shop

#2: GSI Outdoors Java Press 30 fl. oz.

Best for: Car camping at wilderness campgrounds

After doing extensive research, we’ve decided to settle on the GSI Outdoors JavaPress for our car camping rental items. The reason: This is the quickest way to make the most mud-free coffee with the least amount of clean-up. You can also use it to make loose-leaf tea. Though this press comes in smaller and bigger sizes, we chose the 30 fl. oz.* press so we can make a second batch of coffee in the morning to keep in the thermos for later (in the GSI Outdoors 1L vacuum bottle, of course).

*It takes roughly 1L of water (or one Nalgene-full) so you don’t have to guestimate the amount of water to boil, and it also happens to make the exact amount of coffee that the thermos can hold.

Pros

  • Time: Takes only a few minutes
  • Ease of making: Extremely simple
  • Ease of cleaning: Just throw the grounds in the trash and wash out the container
  • Number of pieces involved: About 4 pieces, but there’s hardly ever a need to take them apart
  • Quantity made in one brew: Sizes vary
  • Size and weight: Fairly light and portable
  • Taste of finished product: Very good

Cons

  • Durability: The filter plunger is quick to unscrew and dislodge. Make sure it’s screwed on correctly each time before pressing.
  • Other: When pouring, despite the spout, tilt the press slowly and gently or liquid will leak out from the side.

— CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON —

#2: AeroPress Go

Best for: Backpacking

The AeroPress made a splash a few years ago by offering to make a strong espresso in mere seconds. All of a sudden anyone who knew anything about coffee had to have one, and for good reason. It makes a good cup of coffee! But that’s also its downfall: it makes only one cup of coffee at a time*.

*This is disputed. It could actually make up to 3 tiny espressos at a time, which equals in quantity to one cup of coffee.

Pros

  • Time: Takes only a few seconds
  • Ease of making: Extremely simple
  • Ease of cleaning: Just throw the grinds and filter in the trash; regular washing not required after each use, but clean all pieces thoroughly when you return home
  • Size and weight: Extremely light and portable; packs into its own travel mug
  • Taste of finished product: Very good

Cons

  • Durability: Don’t step on it
  • Number of pieces involved: Too many, which you must take apart to clean properly. All the pieces are essential, so don’t forget them behind.
  • Quantity made in one brew: Only makes one cup of coffee at a time (see comment above)
  • Other: Requires filters

— CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON —

#3: Primula Brew Buddy

Best for: Car camping at established campgrounds with running water

It’s a filter. That’s all it is. A reusable filter. Just pour hot water over ground coffee and you’re done. It’s quick, lightweight, economical, environmentally-friendly. Just a little hard to clean properly, especially if you don’t have running water.

Pros

  • Time: Takes only a few seconds
  • Ease of making: Extremely simple
  • Number of pieces involved: Just the filter
  • Size and weight: Extremely light and portable
  • Taste of finished product: Very good

Cons

  • Ease of cleaning: A bit tough to get all the grounds out of the filter; impossible to clean without running water
  • Quantity made in one brew: A single cup
  • Durability: It can break and tear if not stored properly, and filter will clog if not cleaned properly

— CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON —

#4: GSI Outdoors Collapsible Java Drip

Best for: Car camping with limited luggage space

If you’re running out of space in your camping kitchen kit, then this might just be the coffee apparatus for you! It folds down flat and stores away anywhere. Just remember where you placed it so it’s easy to find in the morning. This tiny Java Drip makes up to 12 cups of coffee, which means that you can make your morning coffee and store the rest in your thermos for later, all in one brew. But don’t forget the filters!

Pros

  • Ease of making: Very simple
  • Ease of cleaning: Just throw the filter and grounds in the trash and wash out the container
  • Quantity made in one brew: As much as fits in your pot
  • Number of pieces involved: Just this container and its unnecessary lid
  • Size and weight: Very light and portable
  • Taste of finished product: Very good

Cons

  • Time: Takes only a few minutes but needs your undivided attention
  • Durability: Keep away from sharp objects
  • Other: Requires filters

— CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON —

#5: Coleman drip coffee

Best for: Van life

It is the size of your regular Mr Coffee filter drip coffee maker at home. It makes 12 cups of coffee and it will work on your standard Coleman camping stove. Just don’t try to carry it around anywhere. It’s big and bulky. It is meant to stay next to the stove, either in your van kitchen or the picnic table just outside your van.

Pros

  • Time: Takes a few minutes, but you can pause it in the middle to serve a cup
  • Ease of making: Fairly simple
  • Ease of cleaning: Just throw the filter and grounds in the trash and wash out the container
  • Quantity made in one brew: Up to 12 cups
  • Number of pieces involved: A few, but you can keep it all together
  • Taste of finished product: Pretty good

Cons

  • Durability: Don’t drop it
  • Size and weight: Big and bulky
  • Other: requires filters

— CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON —

#6: Cowboy coffee

Best for: Any type of car camping

Cowboy coffee is always a contender when making coffee. It receives a bad reputation because it is very easy to mess up. If done incorrectly, then the coffee will either be too bitter as a result of over-cooking or you’ll be chewing coffee grounds with each sip. If done correctly, however, then this is some good coffee! Click here for a great way to make good cowboy coffee.

All you need is a pot of boiling water, coffee grounds, stirring spoon, and a coffee cup. You can literally use any pot that can boil water in order to make cowboy coffee, but we personally like the GSI Outdoors 8-cup coffee pot. The reason: It’s lightweight and extremely durable, makes A LOT of coffee, and has a very effective pouring spout. When not in use for coffee, this makes for a great way to water your plants at home.

Pros

  • Ease of cleaning: Just throw the grounds in the trash and wash out the container
  • Quantity made in one brew: As much as fits in your pot (the one pictured makes 8 cups)
  • Durability: You’d have to try hard to break it (the top might separate, but it won’t break)
  • Number of pieces involved: Just a pot of water
  • Size and weight: Very light and portable
  • Taste of finished product: Very good if done right

Cons

  • Time: Takes only a few minutes but needs your undivided attention
  • Ease of making: Too easy to mess up

— CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON —

#7: Percolator

Best for: Any type of car camping

This is old school. Not as old as Cowboy Coffee, but still old. Just like the previous option, if done right, it does make a great cup of coffee! If done incorrectly, then the coffee will either be too bitter as a result of over-cooking or you’ll be chewing coffee grounds with each sip. Click here for a good way to make coffee using a percolator.

There are many types of percolators out there, but once again, we personally like the GSI Outdoors 8-cup percolator. We like it for the same reasons as the GSI Outdoors coffee pot : It’s lightweight and extremely durable (the outside, at least), makes A LOT of coffee, and has a very effective pouring spout. And it doubles as a coffee pot. When not in use for coffee, this also makes for a great way to water your plants at home.

Pros

  • Ease of cleaning: Just throw the grounds in the trash and wash out the container
  • Quantity made in one brew: As much as fits in your pot
  • Size and weight: Fairly light and portable
  • Taste of finished product: Very good if done right

Cons

  • Time: Takes only a few minutes to start bubbling, but you may want to let it continue to simmer for a few more minutes after that
  • Ease of making: Too easy to mess up because it’s hard to tell when coffee is ready
  • Durability: You’d have to try hard to break the outside, but the interior parts are easy to bend
  • Number of pieces involved: At least 4 pieces, which you must take apart to clean properly. All the pieces are essential, so don’t forget them behind.

— CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON —

#8: Mokapot

Best for: Any type of car camping

This is another type of percolator, but it has different pros and cons, so we’ve decided to separate it from the old-school percolators. It makes amazing espresso-strength coffee, so remember to drink responsibly. Be aware, like all percolators, this coffee can be too bitter if over-cooked.

Pros

  • Time: Takes only a few minutes
  • Quantity made in one brew: As much as fits in your pot; remember that it makes espresso-strength coffee, so a little goes a long way
  • Size and weight: Fairly light and portable
  • Taste of finished product: Very good if done right

Cons

  • Ease of making: Fairly simple; easy to tell when coffee is ready, but you must stay nearby to take if off the hear immediately when done
  • Ease of cleaning: Just throw the grounds in the trash and wash out the containers, but make sure all pieces are dry before you put them away
  • Durability: The handle breaks/melts off easily; O-ring should be replaced frequently
  • Number of pieces involved: At least 4 pieces, which you must take apart to clean properly. All the pieces are essential, so don’t forget them behind.

— CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON —

#9: Instant coffee

Best for: Backpacking, lazy days

We have to put this option here. This is your emergency coffee. Your lifeline when all else fails. Instant coffee is simply not good, but it does the trick if you’re short on time, if you don’t have a cleaning kit, and/or if your level of laziness exceeds all other possibilities. Just add hot water, and ta-da, coffee is done. Swallow quickly so you don’t have to taste it.

By the way, we have tasted a bunch of different instant coffee brands (Bustelo, Starbucks Via, Folgers, Jacobs, different roast types of Nescafe, etc.) and we know it depends on individual tastes, but for some reason the Nescafe Espresso blend is by far the best of them all. By far. But it’s really hard to find in the US! If fact, it’s currently out of stock and Amazon does not know when or if it will be back. Also, the individual instant coffee packets taste much better than the same coffee from a jar.

Pros

  • Time: Instant, couldn’t get any faster
  • Ease of making: Couldn’t get any easier
  • Ease of cleaning: Couldn’t get any easier
  • Quantity made in one brew: As many packets as you have available
  • Durability: Unbreakable
  • Number of pieces involved: None
  • Size and weight: Couldn’t get any smaller or lighter

Cons

  • Taste: Doesn’t taste good
  • Other: Packaging is not environmentally-friendly

— CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON —

#10: Coffee shop

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

Best for: Road trips in non-wilderness areas

Pros

  • Time: Depends on the line
  • Ease of making: Who cares?
  • Ease of cleaning: Who cares?
  • Quantity made in one brew: As much as you’d like
  • Durability: Who cares?
  • Number of pieces involved: Just your money
  • Size and weight: Whatever you ask for
  • Taste: Better be good

Cons

  • Other: Might be far from where you are, and will definitely get expensive

#10: Conclusion

As you gather from above, when judging coffee makers, we took the following into consideration:

  • Time: How long does it take to set up, brew, and clean up?
  • Ease of making: How possible is it to mess up the coffee-making process?
  • Ease of cleaning: Are there many parts to clean and dry? Do you need running water?
  • Quantity made in one brew: A single espresso or a few cups of coffee?
  • Durability: Would any parts need replacing, and how often?
  • Number of pieces involved: We will lose/break any unattached pieces?
  • Size and weight: Will it fit in the suitcase? Is it easy to carry to the picnic table?
  • Taste of finished product: Does it taste good?
  • Price: Does the product deliver the same or better results than more expensive items?

There are lots of other portable coffee makers out there, but we think that the systems listed here are the best for certain kinds of situations. For instance, we admit that gadgets like the Nanopresso are super cool, but they are much more expensive while delivering the same results as the AeroPress. In terms of lightweight filters, there’s the GSI Outdoors Ultralight Java Drip, but it isn’t better than the cheaper Primula Brew Buddy. We hope you get the point.

Now we need to discuss another critical topic: The best ways to boil water in order to make that all-important morning coffee. Click here to read about the best ways to boil water on road trips!

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