How to Use a Camping Percolator to Brew Coffee (With Actual Pictures!)
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Here’s a guide on how I typically use my camping percolators.
This is just my personal method of brewing coffee outdoors, so feel free to make adjustments to suit your needs.
What You’ll Need
First, here’s a list of everything you’ll need to brew your coffee in a camping percolator outdoors:
Coarse Ground Coffee
To get coarse ground coffee, there are a couple of options:
- You can buy whole bean coffee, and use a burr grinder to get your coarse grind.
- Or, you can buy coarse ground coffee directly (though this isn’t the most common).
Alternatively, you can use a finer grind, but you might have to use coffee filter paper to prevent grounds from getting into your coffee.
There are also a number of options when it comes to water:
- You can use regular tap water at room temperature.
- Or, you can pre-heated water to reduce the time it takes for the water to boil.
- You can also use pre-filtered water if you’re particular about the taste of your coffee.
I personally use regular tap water; it’s the easiest option.
There are 2 main sources of heat, which are stovetop and campfire.
- For stovetops, make sure that the diameter of your burner fits under the base of the camping percolator. The flame should not go up the sides of your percolator.
- For campfire, it’s best to use a grill rack, instead of having your camping percolator sit in the fire.
A Camping Percolator
There are many camping percolators on the market. I bought the 9 most popular ones, tested them out in this review here, and here are my recommendations:
- Best Overall: Coletti Bozeman Camping Percolator
- Runner Up: GSI Outdoors Glacier Percolator
- Best Budget Pick: Farberware Classic Yosemite Percolator
Here is some terminology on the componentry of a standard camping percolator (I’ll be using this terminology throughout this guide):
- The coffee pot is what holds the water and the inner mechanism.
- The inner percolator is the inner mechanism that comprises the stem/tube (that the water rises through), filter basket (where the coffee grounds are placed) and the spreader (that fits on top of the filter basket). Pictured below.
- The perk knob is a transparent globe in the middle of the cover at the top of each camping percolator for you to monitor the brewing process.
Here are some things that are good to have, but are optional:
- You can use coffee filter paper to line the filter basket to keep grounds out of your coffee, especially if you use a fine grind.
- You can also use a timer or your mobile phone to time the percolation process and to prevent over-brewing.
- If you’re particular about your coffee measurements, feel free to bring along a measuring scale.
- You can also use potholders or some cloth to pad the handle of the camping percolator if it isn’t heat-resistant.
How to Use a Camping Percolator
1. Grind the Coffee
As coarse ground coffee isn’t the most common, I recommend buying medium roast whole bean coffee, and using a burr grinder to grind it down to a coarse grind. I personally use whole bean medium roast coffee from Lavazza, and a Hario Mini Mill Hand Burr Grinder.
After, measure out the coffee. I use an Etekcity Digital Kitchen Scale to measure out 10 or 11 grams of grounds for 1 cup of coffee, specifically 10.6 grams of grounds for 1 cup of coffee.
My Etekcity Digital Kitchen Scale doesn’t measure to 1 decimal place for grams, but you can always buy a different scale if you’re particular about this.
|Cups||Grams of Grounds|
Alternatively, you can ditch the scale and eyeball the coffee grounds. A good starting point would be about one tablespoon per cup.
2. Pour the Coffee into the Filter Basket
Then, remove the inner mechanism and grab just the filter basket.
Pour the ground coffee into the filter basket. I recommend doing this first, before anything else, so that the smaller-sized grounds will fall through the holes of the filter basket onto the table or ground, and not into your water. You can cover the hole in the middle of the percolator (where the stem goes through) to prevent wastage of coffee grounds.
Tip: If you constantly find grounds in your coffee, do line the filter basket with coffee filter paper before pouring in your coarse ground coffee.
Also, be careful not to overfill your filter basket, or grounds will flow out of the filter basket and into your coffee, which is not pleasant. Here are the measurements of each camping percolator’s filter basket in grams and ounces when filled to the brim:
|GSI Outdoors Glacier||48g||1.7oz|
|Stanley Camp Percolator||80g||2.8oz|
|GSI Enamel Percolator||82g||2.9oz|
I’d recommend decreasing the maximum capacity by anywhere between 5 to 15 grams, so that when water spreads over the grounds, the filter basket won’t overflow. Each camping percolator is different, so if your filter basket overflows, just keep decreasing the maximum capacity until you get to the point where it stops overflowing.
3. Prepare the Water
Each cup of coffee is typically between 6 to 8 ounces, and I personally use a 6-ounce measurement. I used a Pyrex measuring cup for these measurements.
Alternatively, you can just pour in water up to the stated water level markings (if there are markings, and if these markings are accurate). These are usually located on the inside and/or outside of the camping percolator coffee pot.
Also, you can use the spout holes as a gauge. The general rule is not the fill water above the holes of the spout, but I’d recommend maybe half an inch to an inch below the holes, because some of my camping percolators did boil over.
4. Construct the Percolator
Next, I usually place the stem with the base, the filter basket and the spreader into the coffee pot, and then close the lid. Then, place the percolator on the stove.
5. Start the Brewing
Turn on the stove (if you’re using one) and start heating the water in the percolator using either medium or medium low heat. I usually use medium heat to decrease the time to first perk, though you can use medium low heat as well.
If you’re using a campfire, it’ll be harder to control the heat, so place your camping percolator above the flames, and not in it. Alternatively, you can place your camping percolator on a bed of coals.
A word of caution here: Don’t use high heat to perk your coffee, even if the instructions tell you to.
When I tried using high heat to perk my coffee, the coffee tasted burnt and very unpleasant. Also, higher heat settings have a higher chance of boiling over, and grounds will end up in your coffee.
6. Wait for the First Perk
When the water starts boiling, you can see the water perking in the transparent glass or plastic perk knob at the top of the percolator.
It will take a few minutes for the first perk, but will vary depending on the number of cups of coffee you’re brewing and also the material of your percolator. The larger the capacity, the longer the time to first perk, and stainless steel is generally a little bit slower to first perk than aluminum and enamel.
For example, here’s how long it took all of my camping percolators to perk in a 3-cup (or 18-ounce) capacity:
|Percolator||First Perk (18oz)|
|Stansport Enamel Percolator||4 mins 30 secs|
|GSI Enamel Percolator||4 mins 45 secs|
|Primula Aluminum Percolator||4 mins 45 secs|
|Coletti Bozeman Percolator||4 mins 45 secs|
|Farberware Yosemite Percolator||5 mins|
|GSI Glacier Percolator||5 mins 30 secs|
|Coleman Stainless Steel Percolator||6 mins|
|Stanley Camp Percolator||7 mins 45 secs|
And here’s how long each camping percolator took in a 6-cup or 36 ounce capacity:
|Percolator||First Perk (36oz)|
|Coleman Stainless Steel Percolator||6 mins 45 scs|
|GSI Enamel Percolator||8 mins|
|Stansport Percolator||8 mins 15 secs|
|Farberware Yosemite Percolator||8 mins 30 secs|
|Primula Aluminum Percolator||8 mins 45 secs|
|Coletti Bozeman Percolator||10 mins|
|Stanley Camp Percolator||10 mins|
7. Set your Timer, Maintain Heat
Once I see the first perk in the perk knob, I usually lower the heat slightly to medium low heat, and set my timer for about 7 minutes.
The general rule is to see a perk every 1 to 2 seconds. If the perking is too vigorous, your coffee could be overheated, and taste burnt.
As for your timer, you can set it anywhere between 5 to 10 minutes, to your preference. I like 7 minutes for a nice middle ground, but you can go for 5 minutes for a milder brew, and 10 minutes for a stronger brew.
Alternatively, you can just take it off the stove or campfire when the coffee gets dark enough for your preference.
8. Let the Grounds Settle
After your timer goes off, let the percolator rest/sit for a few extra minutes to allow the water in the filter basket to drain out and the grounds in the coffee to settle at the bottom. I usually let my percolators rest for about 5 to 10 minutes.
You can also remove the inner percolator to dump the grounds, to ensure that it doesn’t end up in your coffee. I personally don’t do this, because it’s extremely hot, but this is something you can consider if you keep finding grounds in your coffee.
9. Pour and Enjoy
Finally, pour, and of course, enjoy.
Oh, and if your camping percolator has a cover hinge (which attaches the lid to the coffee pot, and the purpose of which is the keep the lid closed), use your thumb to apply pressure upward on the cover hinge to keep the lid closed.
8 Tips On Using a Camping Percolator
Use a coarse grind (about the size of sea salt).
This reduces grounds in your coffee. The holes in the filter basket of the camping percolator aren’t the smallest (usually about 1mm to 2mm in size), so a finer grind would have grounds falling through the holes and into your coffee.
Wet the filter basket.
This also reduces grounds in your coffee. Wetting the filter basket has water droplets adhering to the holes of the filter basket, which prevents the smaller of your coarse ground coffee from falling through the holes.
Consider using coffee filter paper.
This is one of the main tricks to reduce grounds in your coffee, especially when you use a fine grind. The coffee filter paper covers up all the holes in the filter basket (see picture below), and it is much more effective than just wetting the filter basket.
Another advantage of filters is to limit the coffee bean oil in your coffee, which has been said to increase cholesterol.
However, filters are another thing to remember when you’re going camping, which can be troublesome. And also, for the more discerning, some filters have been said to change the flavor of the coffee slightly.
Don’t overfill the filter basket with coffee grounds.
When water comes up through the stem/tube and spreads over the grounds, it takes up space in the filter basket as well. So, if you fill the filter basket to the brim, when water goes in, the grounds flow out.
Don’t overfill the coffee pot with water.
If there are water level markings, the maximum water level is usually at the top-most marking.
If there are no water level markings, you can use the spout holes as a gauge (above, I recommended half an inch to an inch below these holes) to prevent boiling over. Never fill any camping percolator with water above the holes of the spout.
The moment your camping percolator boils over, you’ll have grounds in your coffee.
Never use high heat.
To percolate coffee in a camping percolator, never use high heat, stick to low to medium heat. High heat increases the chances of your camping percolator boiling over (and you’ll have grounds in your coffee), and your coffee might end up tasting burnt.
Use a medium roast coffee.
Medium roast is the perfect middle ground between dark roast (which can be more easily over-extracted) and light roast (which can be bland-tasting). My personal favorite brand is Lavazza, and I used a medium roast Lavazza whole bean coarse ground for all my camping percolators.
Choose the right percolator.
Not all camping percolators are equally user-friendly. Here are some features to look out for when choosing the right camping percolator:
- Water level markings.
- Perk knob.
- Heat-resistant handle.
- Tight fitting lid.
- Cover hinge.
Decide which ones are important to you, and pick a camping percolator that has those features.
Which is the Best Camping Percolator to Use?
There are many camping percolators on the market, but here are 3 of my favorites. If you want to see a complete review of 9 of the most popular camping percolators in the market, click here.
Best Overall: Coletti Bozeman Camping Coffee Percolator
The Coletti Bozeman Camping Coffee Percolator is an incredible tank of a camping percolator. Made of 18-gauge, Type 18/8, food-safe stainless steel, a thick 3mm glass knob, and a solid rosewood handle, my Coletti Percolator has withstood weeks of use with hardly any signs of wear.
However, I found that the 9-cup capacity marketed by Coletti is pretty much overstated. I could brew a maximum of only 5 cups with 53 grams of coffee grounds. (6 cups with 64 grams of grounds will have the filter basket overflowing.)
Runner Up: GSI Outdoors Glacier Coffee Percolator
The GSI Outdoors Glacier Stainless Steel Coffee Percolator is another workhorse of a camping percolator. It’s made of marine-grade, heavy gauge, 18/8 stainless steel, and even the welds are marine-grade. The PercView knob is made of thick 2.3mm resin, the handle is made of silicone, and to top it all off, you get a lifetime warranty from GSI Outdoors.
The Coletti Bozeman and GSI Outdoors Glacier Percolators have very similar design and features, but the GSI Glacier Percolator might actually be a better fit for you if you prefer a resin to glass perk knob (although you can buy a glass knob from GSI), a silicone to rosewood handle, and a lifetime warranty.
Best Budget Pick: Farberware Classic Yosemite Coffee Percolator
Even though the Farberware Classic Yosemite Percolator is my least expensive stainless steel percolator (and was even cheaper than most of my enamel and aluminum percolators), it boasts loads of features, and the stainless steel coffee pot and inner percolator are of good quality.
However, the plastic handle isn’t the most heat-resistant, and gets hot when using higher heat. Also, the glass knob is fairly thin, coming in at just 1.8mm.
The Farberware Yosemite Percolator is perfect if you’re new to coffee percolators and are just trying them out for the first time, or you’re on a tight budget. But bear in mind that prices on Amazon can fluctuate, so if the Farberware Percolator gets really expensive, I think you’ll be better off with the higher quality Coletti Bozeman Percolator or GSI Outdoors Glacier Percolator above.