Macpac Mesh Coffee Filter  An addict’s guide to caffeine in the mountains

It took a while, but I think I’ve found the ultimate backcountry coffee maker.

If you’re a coffee addict, getting your morning (and evening) fix when you’re out in the bush can be a bit tricky. There are heaps of solutions out there, but it took me and my equally addicted partner a few years of trial and error to get it right.

As newby trampers we were naive and addicted enough to take our aluminium stovetop espresso machine with us on our first few tramps. It was heavy and kind of hopeless on our little gas stove, but we got our hit so we didn’t care.

But once we realised that we were as addicted to tramping as we were to coffee we invested in something a bit more practical. The plastic GSI French Press we bought was pretty fantastic for a while. It was easy, tough and made good coffee. We still have it but it now sits unused in our gear room – a casualty of the ultralight revolution that has changed tramping in New Zealand forever.

Why carry a complicated and heavy French press when a sock will do. That’s right. We dumped our GSI for an old sock after reading about the technique in a Wilderness Magazine.

RECIPE: Mix plunger grind coffee into a pot of of cold water and boil. Pour it through the sock when it’s stewed enough.

Easy. Light. One problem.

Socks aren’t really designed to make coffee with – it takes two people to make a brew…one to hold the sock and the other to pour. Sadly by the time the dark nectar drains its way through the wool and beans it’s often too cold. The wet sock also gets badly mis-shapened during multi-day trips and while dry socks are ultralight, wet socks aren’t.

The theory of sock coffee was brilliant but not perfect so we went back to the drawing board. Our next attempt was a bespoke chux cloth coffee filter. Smaller and more shapely than a sock it worked well, but was still a tricky two-person operation. The person holding the filter always risked a scalding and usually ended up with hot fingers as the hot coffee made its way through and up the cloth. An argument before morning coffee is always a dangerous thing.

Luckily Macpac started selling the solution soon after. Their little plastic-framed fine-metal-mesh filter has been our coffee maker of choice for the past three years. It only weighs 15 grams and doesn’t take up any space if you use it to store stuff inside your cooking gear. We carry our ultrasmall, ultralight (28gms in its bag) stove in it.

We bought a second of these little beauties on special for five dollars and have stored it away in case we lose our first one. While you can pick them up occasionally in stores, Macpac don’t reliably stock them anymore, so we reckon having that spare is an investment in our future backcountry sanity.

MSR’s Mugmate is very similar, but at nearly forty bucks seems way too pricey. There are plenty of pretenders out there on the internet – in fact as I researched this story we found one on Alibaba.com for less than two dollars. It’s all metal, is shaped more like a traditional paper coffee filter and is probably being packed and posted to me as I write this. We probably won’t get to use it in anger, but for next-to-nothing it’s worth checking out. Besides…we’re gear nuts…as well as coffee junkies.

How to hold a filter so you don’t get burnt by hot coffee – the filter has a slot for a spoon.

Recipe – Backcountry Brew for two:
800ml cold water
5 heaped spoons of espresso* grind coffee (more or less depending on taste)
Bring to the boil but be careful! When coffee hits 100 it will froth over the top of the pot almost instantly.
Turn off the gas, take the brew off the stove and gently stir the top of the mixture until the grinds sink to the bottom of the pot. This makes pouring a lot faster as the grinds won’t end up clogging the filter. It also means your coffee will be hotter because the whole operation has been faster.
Pour into your cup and drink.

Rating: 5 stars
Comment: Gram for gram it’s possibly one of the best pieces of kit that we carry into the hills.

* It took us a couple of years to realise that espresso grind was better than plunger grind. The filter is fine enough to work and the finer grind gives a fuller flavour, meaning you can carry less coffee for the same effect – a win-win in any addict’s book.

Wilderlife