A French Press You Can Take Out Camping

There’s many a hacker that considers coffee a necessary fuel, without which, little work can be achieved. This applies whether in the office or traipsing around in the great outdoors. For the latter situation, [Poehls05] developed a robust French press that’s well suited to field use.

Typically, a French press consists of a plunger assembly which moves within a glass vessel. This is fragile and unwieldy for throwing in a backpack. Instead, in this design, the plunger assembly is harvested from an existing press and repurposed to fit within a sturdy Nalgene water bottle, designed specifically for overlanding.

The modifications involve cutting the existing press plate into three slices, and reassembling with hinges so it may fold. The plunger rod is then modified to make it possible to tilt the press plate relative to the rod. These modifications allow the plunger to be slid into the narrower neck of the Nalgene water bottle, and also enable the plunger rod to work with the original screw-down lid. In this configuration, the bottle is no longer water tight, but can be converted to normal use by swapping a regular lid back on top.

With the changes in place, the plastic bottle can easily be used in the same manner as a regular French press. Simply fill with hot water, allow the grounds to steep, and then press and pour. It’s a great way to make high-quality coffee in the wilderness, and one that may prove popular with hackers who don’t wish to give up the finer things when out and about. We’ve also featured tricks to make the most of hotel coffee, too.

41 thoughts on “A French Press You Can Take Out Camping

  1. Portable french presses are kind of a standard commercial item from camping stores/online, and they will withstand hot water better than a Nalgene bottle. Jetboil and others offer plunger assemblies to turn their cook systems into presses as well.

    1. Stanley (the famous blue green industructable thermos) makes one as well. Based on the solid durability of the famous “workers” thermos and the same hammered blue green look. Built to last a lifetime.

    1. Leave that as a personal decision to everybody by himself. It’s fine, if you do not like plastic, but don’t speak for anybody else. We have already more than enough paternalism by climate hysterics and fanatic environmentalists.

      Plastic is a very good material, durable and lightweight. If you fear it to be “highly toxic” it is your personal choice to avoid it. Otherwise I see it sufficient to avoid disposing it improperly (throwing it into the nature).
      Glass and ceramics are brittle and/or heavy. Why should metal be unfit? It is also very good, especially in the form of beer cans :-) Lightweight and not brittle.

          1. Could be stainless steel. If zinc plated, also no problem, you need some zinc anyway. :-)
            But a little galvanic corrosion at the pop rivets (Al body, Fe pull-rod) could be expected. Many years ago I used some at the car, at a place where the tires in the winter throw the salty road dirt and water. I had to replace them after a few years.

    1. But french press coffee is tastier. I’ve tried many times to make decent coffee with a moka express, but it always comes out very bitter or almost burnt. It’s super sensitive to taking it off the heat at exactly the right moment so no too hot steam passes through the grinds, and it’s also more sensitive to the coarseness of the grind. Too fine and it will get too hot. Too coarse and you may as well use a filter machine.

      1. Put hot water in your moka pot. It drastically reduces the bitterness. I don’t prefer moka pot vs french press. They’re both good and I do either for what I want on a given day

    2. Also my preferred outdoor coffee solution. The Italien style screw-together aluminum Mokka can. Heated on the gas burner. But probably environmentalists and eco-freaks fear the aluminum it is made of :-) Perhaps they would fear the plastic cups even more, which are used to drink it after brewing :-)

  2. There are metal french presses. Weight is about the same but you can use it to heat the water over a campfire as well. Ive taken it hiking many times. To save space, its easy to store sugar and coffee inside for travel as well.

    1. Yes, especially at home with a full-auto machine. But on a festival I don’t have 1,5kW of electric power available. I don’t like to use a generator with it’s noise and exhaust, but solar power for the fridge. Therefore I use the Italian espresso/Mokka can on the gas flame.

    1. +1 Yes for taste I’m very impressed by aeropress for use on the go too. Along with a stainless cylinder-type manual coffee grinder, which fits inside the aeropress tube for compact storage.

  3. Both my old Jet-boil and my new MSR windburner stoves have reasonably priced french press accessories, which are what I use backpacking. In both cases the pots are metal — and of course the whole rig is multipurpose and fits into a nice package.

    But you have to admire the ingenuity of this home made system.

  4. This is great for me because we broke a glass one a month ago, and I don’t think we binned the “presser” and rod.. All I have to do is find a plastic bottle to fit. It’s much better for taking on holiday – don’t have to worry about the glass part breaking. THanks!

  5. Even as I applaud the ingenuity, and ignore the many previous mentions of the JetBoil (and other) commercial solutions readily available, I cannot help but think this is pointless.

    Coffee always tastes weirdly different in the great outdoors. You can make it with the exact same ingredients, in the exact same process, and it will be different. You can even make it at home and put it in a double-walled vacuum bottle, and after walking 2 hours it will still be piping hot – yet taste different.

    I think it’s due to our taste buds acting differently when exposed to different environments. Airline food is especially formulated to try to counteract the effect that altitude and a pressurized cabin has on taste buds. I’m not quite sure what is so different about the outdoors though. The presence of naturally occurring aromatics on the wind, or the lack of domestic pollutants?

    Forget that press and just take a good instant coffee on the trail. You’re probably using powdered milk or creamer anyway. FWIW there are some decent Vietnamese instant coffee mixes that are very convenient and taste great outdoors. One word of warning – if you should take UHT creamers on a multiday hike, and decide to protect them by putting them in a spare Nalgene, remove them before using said Nalgene as the weight to toss your bear-bag line over a tree branch. The UHT containers will not survive.

    1. The reason coffee tastes differently outdoors is that you don’t inhale its smell while brewing. At least not that much as you do in your kitchen. Your scent – sensitive receptors in the nose adapt really quick to the smell and they also adapt to the smell of the coffee. Therefore the coffee just doesnt taste that good when you brew it indoors.

  6. A good old fashioned porcelainized steel campfire percolator will do for me, thank you. No subtle flavors of plastic or metal necessary. Preferably the blue with white flecks variety. Classic.
    And the good old scout mess kit will provide perfect omelettes on the side.
    It’s a neat hack for a coffee emergency, but I just can’t drink a hot beverage from a plastic container. If it were glass or stainless it’d be handy for a light, day hike, but I’d just as soon fill my stainless thermos that I use everyday. Otherwise it’s everything that’ll fit in a canoe for a couple days.

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