How to Choose the Best Camping Percolator for Yourself
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There are a few things to keep in mind when choosing the best camping coffee percolator for your needs, such as:
First, before you decide anything else, you would need to decide on the type of camping percolator that would suit your needs, which is usually either stovetop or campfire.
All of the 9 best camping percolators that I bought and tested for this review are stovetop percolators, which are for use on a stovetop.
Most of them have heat-resistant handles, so you can easily grab onto them after your coffee has finished brewing on the stovetop. The fire from your stovetop isn’t large, so these handles (usually made of silicone, plastic, etc.) won’t melt or be damaged from the fire.
Campfire percolators, which are for use over campfires or open fires, don’t seem to be as common as stovetop percolators (at least from my personal experience), and I didn’t buy any of them, but a great example of one is the GSI Outdoors Glacier Ultra-Rugged Stainless Steel Percolator.
These campfire percolators typically have glass perk knobs (which are less susceptible to melting as compared to plastic), metal handles on the side, and additional metal wire bail handles on the top. The side handles are for holding onto when pouring, and the top handles are for hanging over a campfire or open fire.
Also, as GSI Outdoors aptly puts it, these campfire percolators are generally more “ultra-rugged” to withstand the bigger open fires.
All campfire percolators can usually be used over stovetops, but not all stovetop percolators can be used over campfires, especially if they have parts or materials that might melt.
So, if you’re looking for a versatile camping percolator for use over both stovetops and campfires, do take note of the materials used in the construction. Try to avoid materials like silicone, plastic and wood for the handles, and plastic for the perk knob.
For example, the GSI Outdoors Glacier Stovetop Percolator has a silicone handle, which is susceptible to heat and should not be used over big open fires. On the other hand, the Coleman Stainless Steel Percolator has a glass knob and a stainless steel handle, so it’s perfect for campfire use.
The type of percolator I would not recommend for camping is the electric percolator, unless, of course, you’ll have electricity at your campsite, or you’re RV camping.
For capacity, I’ll take you through these sub-topics:
- 1 cup of coffee;
- Range of available capacities;
- Maximum capacity of a percolator;
- Minimum capacity of a percolator; and
- How to decide.
What’s 1 cup of coffee?
The most common measurement for 1 cup of coffee is usually 6 to 8 ounces. For me personally, I use a 6-ounce measurement for 1 cup of coffee.
However, you will find other measurements as well. For example, GSI Outdoors uses a 5-ounce measurement for 1 cup of coffee. So, just bear in mind that all their marketed capacities are based on 5-ounce cups. My GSI Outdoors Glacier 3-Cup Percolator has a maximum capacity of 15 ounces (3 x 5-ounce cups).
Range of Available Capacities
The range of capacities that are available to you depends on whether you’re looking for a stovetop or campfire percolator.
Stovetop percolators are usually smaller, and range from about 3 cups to 12 cups. My GSI Outdoors Glacier Stovetop Percolator is in a 3-cup capacity (the smallest one I have), my Coleman Stainless Steel Percolator is in a 12-cup capacity (the biggest one I have), and both are stovetop percolators.
Campfire percolators are usually bigger, and more suitable for larger groups of people. The biggest I’ve come across is a whopping 36-cup capacity, which is available when you buy the GSI Outdoors Glacier Ultra-Rugged Stainless Steel Percolator.
Maximum Capacity of a Percolator
Another thing to take note of is that the marketed capacity by the brand usually refers to the maximum capacity, and it’s not accurate most of the time.
Of my 9 camping percolators, only 2 of them were accurate based on my 6-ounce cup measurements, which is a 22% accuracy. My most inaccurate camping percolator is the Coletti Bozeman Percolator, which has a marketed 9-cup capacity, but I could brew only a maximum of 5 cups with no issues.
Here’s more information on the maximum capacity of each camping percolator that I tested, and remember, I used a 6-ounce cup measurement:
|GSI Outdoors Glacier||3||2.5|
|Bialetti Moka Express||6||5.5|
|GSI Enamel Percolator||8||5|
Minimum Capacity of a Percolator
Another thing to note here is that there will always be a minimum capacity to each camping percolator. I found that it’s usually between 50% to 80% of the maximum capacity. For example, if the tested maximum capacity is 6 cups, you can expect the minimum capacity to be between 3-5 cups. This is usually the case, but some are better, and some are worse.
Here’s my tested maximum and minimum capacity of each percolator, starting from the camping percolator that gives the most flexibility in terms of cups of coffee you can brew:
|Percolator||Max (Cups)||Min (Cups)||%|
Why do you need to know the minimum capacity of each percolator?
Well, if you don’t put enough water in the coffee pot, not enough water will be pushed up the stem/tube during brewing, the water won’t spread over the grounds, the percolation will be extremely weak, and you’ll end up with either diluted coffee (if the grounds are partially used), or plain water with specks of grounds (if the grounds are hardly used). Both are gross.
My advice to you here is this: Don’t buy an overly big percolator.
If you need only a 3-cup camping percolator, don’t buy a 12-cup percolator “just in case”. It’s definitely not going to work in brewing just 3 cups. When I used my Coleman 12-Cup Stainless Steel Percolator to brew 3 cups of coffee (18 ounces), here’s what I got. Light yellow water. Not coffee, for sure.
How to Decide
I know that there are a lot of options, which can make it difficult to choose. If so, here are a few questions that you can ask yourself to decide the best capacity for your needs:
- How many cups of coffee do you drink?
- How many people are you camping with? The more coffee-drinkers you camp with, the larger the capacity you might need.
- How much time do you have? If you have more time to sit and brew your coffee, you could get away with a smaller capacity. For example, if you have a 6-cup percolator, but need 18 cups of coffee, you could just repeat the coffee brewing process 3-4 times to make those 18 cups.
- What is the size of your camping stove? If your camping stove is small, it won’t be able to accommodate a large camping percolator.
Here are a few common features that you might find in a camping percolator:
- Perk knob;
- Tight fitting lid;
- Cover hinge;
- Hinged lid; and
- Being dishwasher-safe.
These markings are sometimes called “cup level markings”, or “water level markings”, or something like that. These are protrusions or laser inking on the outside and/or inside of the percolator’s coffee pot, showing you the water level for a certain number of cups of coffee.
This is to eliminate the need to measure out the number of cups or number of ounces; simply fill the coffee pot up to that marked line.
Not all camping percolators have these markings, only the Stanley Camp Percolator, the Bialetti Moka Express, the GSI Outdoors Glacier Percolator, the Coletti Bozeman Percolator and the Farberware Yosemite Percolator had these markings.
A perk knob is a small transparent bubble or globe in the middle of the lid at the top of the percolator, usually made of either glass or plastic. These materials are see-through, allowing you to monitor the brewing process.
The first ‘bubble’ or ‘perk’ in the knob would indicate that the water has started boiling, and you can also watch as your coffee gets darker and darker over time.
Only my Stansport Enamel Percolator had no perk knob, the rest did.
All of my camping percolators came with handles, but not all of them are heat-resistant. There are pros and cons to a heat-resistant handle; such handles are user-friendly and great on stovetops, but might melt or be damaged if you place it over a larger fire (such as a big campfire).
If your percolator doesn’t have a heat-resistant handle, you’d need to pad the handle with a cloth or potholders to prevent burning your hands.
I personally like tight-fitting lids/covers, so I can easily just pick up the camping percolator from my stove and pour out the coffee, without having to hold down the lid. Only my Coleman Stainless Steel and Farberware Yosemite Percolators had tight-fitting lids.
But others might not like them. I know of some people who prefer loose-fitting lids that are easy to open; this avoids putting excessive strain on the perk knob, and also avoids spilling it when you pry open the lid.
A great alternative to a tight-fitting lid (for those who prefer looser-fitting lids) is to have a cover hinge to keep the lid closed during pouring.
When you apply pressure upward with your thumb on the cover hinge, the lid stays closed. It’s not exactly comfortable, but it gets the job done. There’s also no strain on the perk knob, and when you take your thumb away from the cover hinge, the lid is easy to open.
Only my Coletti Bozeman and GSI Outdoors Glacier Percolators came with cover hinges.
Having a hinged lid, where the lid is attached to the coffee pot or the handle by a hinge, also has its pros and cons. A hinged lid ensures that you won’t ever lose the lid, but is harder to clean at the same time.
The Coletti Bozeman Percolator, GSI Outdoors Glacier Percolator, Bialetti Moka Express and Stanley Camp Percolators have good-quality hinges, whereas the Stansport and GSI Outdoors Enamel Percolators have flimsy hinges. The Farberware, Coleman and Primula Percolators are not hinged.
Being dishwasher safe contributes to a camping percolator’s ease of use. Only the Primula Today Aluminum Percolator and the Bialetti Moka Express are not dishwasher-safe; the rest seem to be. However, I don’t have a dishwasher to test this out, so I had to rely on reviews or product info.
Each camping percolator is made of a few components, and each component can be made of different materials.
Of my 9 camping percolators, 5 were made of stainless steel, 2 were made of aluminum, and 2 were made of steel/metal with an enamel finish. Each has its pros and cons.
Stainless steel tends to be the highest quality and most durable. From my testing, the quality of my 5 stainless steel camping percolators were definitely much higher than my 2 aluminum and 2 enamel ones.
Stainless steel is my material of choice because its:
- Corrosion resistant,
- Usually heavier gauge,
- More resistant to wear and tear, as well as dropping,
- Doesn’t stain,
- Doesn’t leave water marks, and
- Certain types of stainless steels are food-safe (like type 18/8).
Also, in my opinion, stainless steel camping percolators brew slightly better tasting coffee than my aluminum and enamel percolators. Though this is pretty subjective, so feel free to ignore this.
Stainless steel is, however, also more expensive, and heavier.
After 4 months of using my 5 stainless steel percolators, none of them had rust, all of them had hardly any staining, and were in really good shape.
Aluminum camping percolators aren’t the most popular, but there are a few benefits to them. Mainly, they’re much less expensive and much more lightweight than stainless steel percolators.
However, I’m not a big fan of them, because they’re prone to staining, they’re much flimsier, they don’t taste as good, and I do worry about the health impacts (though this is hotly debated). Take a look at my Primula Today Aluminum Percolator. There are water stains in the coffee pot, coffee stains on the inner percolator, and the entire construction isn’t high quality at all.
A popular material with camping percolators is the enamel finish (coated over some kind of metal, like steel, and then kiln-hardened), because it looks great and nostalgic.
But beyond that, I didn’t really have a great experience with my 2 enamel camping percolators. They’re not as affordable as aluminum, the metal underneath the enamel finish is prone to rust, and there’s also issues with chipping, especially when dropped.
With the exception of the Bialetti Moka Express that doesn’t have an inner percolator, of my other 8 camping percolators, 5 had stainless steel inner percolators, and 3 were aluminum.
Stainless steel is higher quality, less flimsy, and less prone to staining.
Aluminum on the other hand, is flimsier, and more prone to staining.
After some light usage of the Primula Today Aluminum Percolator, the stem was bent, and the inner percolator had coffee stains. My Stansport Enamel Percolator also had a bent stem, while none of my stainless steel percolators had bent stems.
Of my 7 camping percolators that had perk knobs, 3 were glass, and 4 were plastic/resin. There are pros and cons to each material, as always.
Some might prefer a glass to plastic perk knob, because hot liquids against glass doesn’t cause chemicals to seep into the coffee. Also, glass doesn’t melt over a campfire, though it does break easily when dropped.
Plastic or Resin
Plastic and resin perk knobs are more durable against dropping, but are more susceptible to high heat and melting. Also, chemicals and weird tastes may leach into your coffee.
Here are the different materials that the handles of my 9 camping percolators are made of.
Only my Coletti Bozeman Percolator had a rosewood handle. It’s beautiful, super heat-resistant, but will get water damaged if washed too often.
I found that the silicone handle of my GSI Outdoors Glacier Percolator is less heat-resistant than wood, but won’t get water damaged when washed.
Speaking of silicone handles, my Stanley Camp Percolator has an incredible removable silicone grip (the only handle that’s removable), which makes it easier to handle over an open flame and also easier to clean.
I found that the plastic handles on my Farberware Yosemite and Primula Percolators were also not as heat-resistant as wood, and is on par with silicone.
My Coleman Percolator has a stainless steel handle (same material as the coffee pot). It’s not heat-resistant at all, but is perfect for use over a campfire.
Both my enamel percolators had enamel handles and aren’t heat resistant.
If you’re backpacking or hiking, I wouldn’t recommend a camping percolator at all. However, if portability is still important to you, here are a few things to note:
If you don’t have the luxury of space, I’d recommend the GSI Outdoors 3-Cup Glacier Percolator. It’s the tiniest of all my 9 camping percolators, and is pretty compact.
The capacity of your percolator is the main thing that will impact the amount of space it will take up.
Capacity and material are the 2 biggest factors that will affect the weight of your camping percolator. The larger the capacity, the heavier your percolator. And stainless steel is the heaviest, followed by enamel, and aluminum is usually the lightest.
What are some things that will affect the price of your camping percolator?
- Capacity: The larger the capacity, the more expensive.
- Material: Stainless steel is the most expensive, aluminum is the cheapest.
- Quality: Heavier gauge percolators are more expensive than lighter gauge ones.
If you’re on a tight budget, I recommend the Farberware Yosemite Percolator. It’s one of my least expensive percolators, but boasts a stainless steel quality build, complete with a glass knob and lifetime warranty.
And that’s it! These are the factors that I covered on top of my testing that I did on all 9 camping percolators (brew time, capacity, ease of use, ease of clean up and quality). For more information on the testing, you can check out all the testing and performance results here: 9 Best Camping Percolators Testing and Performance Results