How to Use a Camping Percolator: A Comprehensive Guide

You’re out there in the great outdoors, the air is fresh, the scenery is breathtaking, and the sense of adventure is palpable. But let’s be honest, what’s a camping trip without the invigorating aroma of freshly brewed coffee wafting through the crisp morning air? Coffee, that magical elixir, is more than just a beverage; it’s a ritual, a moment of calm in the exhilarating whirlwind of outdoor activities.

Now, imagine enhancing this experience with a percolator, a classic coffee brewing device that’s as much a part of camping tradition as the campfire itself. Picture yourself as the maestro of the morning, brewing coffee on an open fire, the percolator bubbling away, promising a rich and robust cup of coffee.

To use a camping percolator, fill the pot with water, add medium-coarse ground coffee to the basket, and place it on your heat source. Let it percolate for about 5-10 minutes, then remove from heat and enjoy your robust, full-bodied coffee.

The percolator, with its distinctive design and simple mechanics, is a testament to the timeless appeal of brewing coffee the old-fashioned way. It’s not just about making coffee; it’s about the experience, the anticipation, and the satisfaction that comes from crafting your perfect cup.

So, let’s embark on this journey together, exploring the ins and outs of using a percolator while camping. Whether you’re a seasoned camper or a novice, by the end of this guide, you’ll be brewing coffee like a pro, adding another layer of enjoyment to your camping adventures. Let’s dive into how to use a camping percolator.

use a camping percolator

The History of the Percolator

Let’s take a step back in time, to the origins of the percolator. Picture the year 1810. The world is in the throes of the Industrial Revolution, and an inventive American scientist named Sir Benjamin Thompson, also known as Count Rumford, is about to make his mark on the world of coffee brewing. He introduces the world to the percolator, a device that revolutionizes the way coffee is made.

Fast forward to 1865, and we meet James Nason of Massachusetts, who patents a modification of Rumford’s design. Nason’s version of the percolator heats the water in a separate chamber and uses upward pressure to circulate the water through the coffee grounds.

However, the percolator’s story doesn’t end there. Enter Hanson Goodrich, an Illinois farmer and inventor. In 1889, Goodrich patents a design that is recognized as the blueprint for all modern percolators. His design brews the coffee by continually cycling the boiling brew through the coffee grounds using gravity until the required strength is reached.

The percolator quickly becomes a household staple, beloved for its simplicity and the robust coffee it produces. It reigns supreme until the mid-1970s when it faces stiff competition from the automatic drip coffee maker. Despite this, the percolator holds its ground, especially in the camping world, where its durability and ease of use make it a favorite among outdoor enthusiasts.

Today, the percolator stands as a testament to the timeless appeal of brewing coffee the old-fashioned way. It’s more than just a coffee maker; it’s a piece of history, a tradition, and an integral part of the camping experience.

So, as you brew your coffee on your next camping trip, remember, you’re not just making coffee; you’re participating in a centuries-old tradition of coffee brewing. Now, isn’t that something to savor along with your cup of joe?

Choosing the Right Percolator for Camping

When it comes to selecting the perfect percolator for your camping adventures, there are several key factors you need to consider. It’s not just about picking the first percolator you see. It’s about finding the one that fits your needs, enhances your camping experience, and brews a delicious cup of coffee every time.

Size Matters

Firstly, consider the size of the percolator. How many coffee drinkers are in your camping party? Do you need to brew a couple of cups for a cozy camping duo, or are you catering to a larger group of caffeine enthusiasts? Percolators come in a variety of sizes, from compact models that brew just a few cups to larger ones capable of serving a whole campsite. Choose a size that matches your needs and remember, it’s always better to have a little extra than not enough.

Weight and Material

Next, think about the weight and durable material of the percolator. Remember, you’re camping. You’re packing light. Your percolator needs to be sturdy enough to withstand the rigors of outdoor use, yet lightweight enough not to weigh you down on your trek. Stainless steel percolators strike a good balance between durability and weight, while aluminum models are lighter but may not offer the same longevity.

The Benefits of a Camping Percolator

Now, you might be wondering, why go through all this trouble for a percolator? Why not just stick to instant coffee or bring along a portable coffee maker? Well, a camping percolator offers several unique benefits that make it worth your while.

  • Flavorful Coffee: A percolator brews a rich, full-bodied coffee that’s hard to replicate with instant coffee or other brewing methods. It’s a taste that’s worth the effort.
  • No Electricity Required: Unlike electric coffee makers, a percolator doesn’t need a power source. All it requires is a heat source, like a campfire or a camping stove, making it perfect for off-grid camping trips.
  • Durability: Percolators are built to last. They’re rugged, robust, and can withstand the rigors of outdoor use. With proper care, a good percolator can serve you for many camping trips to come.
  • Simplicity: There’s something to be said about the simplicity of using a percolator. It’s a straightforward, no-fuss method of brewing coffee that doesn’t require any fancy techniques or specialized knowledge.

In conclusion, choosing the right percolator is all about understanding your needs and preferences. Consider the size, weight, and material, but also think about the kind of camping experience you want to have. A percolator is more than just a coffee maker; it’s a tool that enhances your connection with the great outdoors, turning a simple cup of coffee into a memorable part of your camping adventure.

camping percolator

Understanding the Parts of a Percolator

To master the art of brewing coffee with a percolator, you need to familiarize yourself with its various parts. Each component plays a crucial role in the brewing process, working together to transform cups of water and coffee grounds into that delightful beverage we all love. Let’s take a closer look at each part and its function.

The Pot

The camping percolator pot, also known as the body or the reservoir, is the main component of the percolator. It’s where you add the water that will eventually turn into coffee. It’s typically made of stainless steel or aluminum and is designed to withstand high temperatures.

The Tube

Running vertically through the center of the percolator is the tube, also known as the pump stem. This narrow pipe is responsible for transporting the hot water from the bottom of the pot to the top, where the brewing process begins.

The Basket

At the top of the tube, you’ll find the basket, a perforated container that holds the coffee grounds. As the hot water rises through the tube, it spills over into the basket, saturating the coffee grounds and initiating the brewing process.

The Basket Lid

The basket lid is a small, perforated cover that sits on top of the basket. It prevents the coffee grounds from spilling into the pot while still allowing the brewed coffee to drip down.

The Lid

Finally, there’s the lid, which covers the pot, keeping the heat and aroma contained during the brewing process. Some percolators have a transparent or glass knob on the lid, allowing you to see the color of the coffee and determine when it’s ready.

Now that you’re familiar with the parts of a percolator, you’re one step closer to brewing the perfect cup of coffee. But remember, understanding the components is just the first step. The real magic happens when you put it all together, add your favorite coffee, and start brewing.

So, the next time you’re out camping venture, take a moment to appreciate your percolator. Consider the simple yet ingenious design, the way each part contributes to the brewing process, and the delicious coffee it produces. It’s not just a coffee maker; it’s a testament to the timeless appeal of brewing coffee the old-fashioned way. And now, you’re a part of that tradition. Happy brewing!

Brewing Coffee in a Camping Percolator: What You’ll Need

To brew coffee in a camping percolator, you’ll need a few essential items. Here’s a comprehensive list:

1. Coarse Ground Coffee

You have a few couple of options to get coarse ground coffee:

  • Buy whole bean coffee and use a burr grinder for a coarse grind.
  • Purchase coarse ground coffee directly, although it’s less common.
  • Use a finer grind, but consider using coffee filter paper to prevent grounds from getting into your coffee.

2. Water

Your options for water include:

  • Regular tap fresh water at room temperature.
  • Pre-heated water to reduce boiling time.
  • Pre-filtered water for a particular taste.

3. Heat Source

You can use either a stovetop or a campfire as your heat source:

  • For stovetops, ensure 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 campfires, it’s best to use a grill rack instead of placing your camping percolator directly in the fire.

4. A Camping Percolator

There are many camping percolators on the market. Here are some recommendations:

  • Best Overall: Coletti Bozeman Camping Percolator
  • Runner Up: GSI Outdoors Glacier Percolator
  • Best Budget Pick: Farberware Classic Yosemite Percolator

5. Understanding Percolator Terminology

Here are some terms you’ll need to know:

  • The pot of coffee holds the water and the inner mechanism.
  • The inner percolator includes 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).
  • The perk knob is a transparent globe in the middle of the cover at the top of each camping percolator for monitoring the brewing process.

6. Optional Items

These items are good to have but not necessary:

  • Coffee filter paper to line the filter basket and keep grounds out of your coffee, especially if you use a fine grind.
  • A timer or your mobile phone to time the percolation process and prevent over-brewing.
  • A measuring scale if you’re particular about your strong coffee measurements.
  • Potholders or some cloth to pad the handle of the camping percolator if it isn’t heat-resistant.

Step-by-Step Guide to Using a Percolator

Brewing coffee with a percolator is an art, a ritual that transforms the simple act of making hot coffee into a memorable part of your camping life experience. Let’s walk through the process step by step, turning you into a percolator pro in no time.

Preparing the Percolator

Start by disassembling your percolator. Remove the lid, take out the basket and the tube, and you’re left with the pot. Fill the pot with cold water up to the fill line or, if there isn’t one, just below the bottom of the tube socket. Remember, using cold water is essential as it ensures a slow and steady brew, extracting the full flavor from your coffee grounds.

Adding Coffee and Water

Next, it’s time to add the coffee. Place the basket on the tube and fill it with your favorite coffee grounds. A medium grind works best, providing a balance between flavor and filtration. Avoid using a fine grind as it can pass through the perforations in the basket and make your coffee cloudy.

Once you’ve added the coffee, cover the basket with the basket lid and insert the tube and basket assembly into the pot. Make sure it’s seated properly in the tube socket. Finally, place the lid on the pot, and your percolator is ready to go.

The Brewing Procedure

Now, the real magic begins. Place your percolator on your heat source, whether it’s a campfire or a camp stove. As the water in the pot heats up, it travels up the tube, spills over into the brew basket, and saturates the coffee grounds. The brewed coffee then drips back into the pot, mixing with the water, and the process repeats, continually cycling the brew through the coffee grounds.

Keep an eye on your percolator throughout the brewing process. If it’s percolating too quickly, the coffee can become over-extracted and bitter. If it’s percolating too slowly, the coffee may be under-extracted and weak. Aim for a steady rhythm of one percolation per second.

Determining When the Coffee is Ready

Determining when your coffee is ready can be a bit of an art. Some percolators have a clear knob on the lid that allows you to see the color of the coffee. When it reaches a rich, dark brown, your coffee is usually ready. If your percolator doesn’t have a clear knob, a good rule of thumb is to let it percolate for about 5 to 10 minutes, depending on how strong you like your coffee.

Once your coffee is ready, remove the percolator from the heat source and carefully remove the basket and tube to avoid any grounds getting into your coffee. Now, all that’s left to do is pour yourself a cup, sit back, and savor the fruits of your labor.

Brewing coffee with a percolator may seem a bit daunting at first, but with a little practice, you’ll soon be brewing coffee like a pro. It’s a rewarding process that not only gives you a delicious cup of coffee but also connects you with a timeless tradition of coffee brewing. So, embrace the process, enjoy the experience, and most importantly, enjoy your coffee. Happy brewing!

Tips for Making the Perfect Campfire Coffee with a Percolator

Brewing coffee in a percolator, especially while camping, can be a rewarding experience. Here are some tips to help you make the perfect cups of coffee with minimal grounds.

1. Opt for a Coarse Grind

Use coffee grounds about the size of sea salt. This reduces the chance of grounds falling through the filter basket holes (usually about 1mm to 2mm in size) and into your coffee.

2. Wet the Filter Basket

Wetting the filter basket helps water droplets adhere to the holes, preventing smaller coffee grounds from falling through.

3. Consider Using Coffee Filter Paper

Paper Coffee filters can significantly reduce grounds in your coffee, especially with a fine grind. Paper filter covers all the holes in the filter basket, making it more effective than just wetting the basket. Filters can also limit coffee bean oil, which can increase cholesterol. However, remember that filters can slightly alter the coffee flavor and are an additional item to pack for camping.

4. Avoid Overfilling the Filter Basket

When water rises through the stem/tube and spreads over the grounds, it takes up space in the filter basket. If the basket is filled to the brim, the grounds can overflow when water is added.

5. Don’t Overfill the Coffee Pot with Water

If your pot has water level markings, the maximum level is usually at the top-most marking. Without markings, use the spout holes as a gauge. Never fill any camping percolator with water above the spout holes to prevent boiling over and grounds in your coffee.

6. Never Use High Heat

Stick to low to medium heat when percolating coffee. High heat increases the chances of boiling over and can result in a burnt taste.

7. Use Medium Roast Coffee

Medium roast coffee is a perfect balance between dark roast (which can be easily over-extracted) and light roast (which can taste bland). A personal favorite is Lavazza’s medium roast whole bean coarse ground.

8. Choose the Right Percolator

Not all camping percolators are equally user-friendly. Look for features like water level markings, a perk knob, heat-resistant handle, tight-fitting lid, and cover hinge when choosing the right camping percolator. Decide which features are important to you and pick a percolator that includes them.

Percolator vs. French Press for Camping

When it comes to brewing coffee in the great outdoors, the percolator and the French press are two popular choices. Each has its own unique characteristics, advantages, and brewing methods. Let’s dive into a comparison of these two classic camping coffee makers, focusing on portability, brewing process, taste, and cleanup.


Both the percolator and the French press are portable and easy to pack, making them ideal for camping. However, the percolator, with its sturdy metal construction, is often more durable and better suited to the rough and tumble of outdoor adventures. The French press, especially those with a glass carafe, can be more fragile and requires careful handling.

Brewing Process

The brewing process for each coffee maker is distinct. A percolator circulates boiling water through coffee grounds repeatedly, resulting in a robust and full-bodied brew. It’s a more passive process; once you’ve set it up on your heat source, it does the work for you.

On the other hand, a French press requires a more hands-on approach. You add coffee grounds and hot water to the carafe, let it steep for a few minutes, and then manually press the plunger to separate the grounds from the coffee. It’s a simple process, but it requires your attention.


The taste of the coffee can vary significantly between a percolator and a French press. Percolator coffee is often stronger and more robust, with a full-bodied flavor that stands up well to cream and sugar.

French press coffee, on the other hand, is typically smoother and more nuanced. The steeping process allows for the extraction of complex flavors and aromas, resulting in a more refined cup of coffee. However, the French press can leave some sediment in your cup, which some people find off-putting.


When it comes to cleanup, the French press usually takes the win. Simply discard the used coffee grounds, rinse the carafe and plunger, and you’re done. The percolator requires a bit more effort to clean, especially if coffee grounds get stuck in the tube or coffee basket.

In conclusion, the choice between a percolator and a French press for camping comes down to personal preference. If you prefer a stronger, more robust coffee and don’t mind a bit of extra cleanup, a camping coffee percolator is a great choice. If you enjoy a smoother, more nuanced brew and want a quick and easy cleanup, you might lean towards the French press. Either way, you’re sure to enjoy fantastic cups of coffee amidst the beauty of nature. Happy brewing!

Common Mistakes to Avoid When Using a Percolator

Brewing fresh coffee with a camping coffee percolator is a rewarding experience, but it’s not without its pitfalls. Here are some common mistakes to avoid when using a percolator, ensuring you get a perfect brew every time.

Overfilling the Percolator

One of the most common mistakes is overfilling the percolator with water or coffee. Filling the water above the designated line or overpacking the basket with coffee grounds can lead to a messy overflow or a brew that’s too strong. Remember, less is more. Fill the water up to the line, and use the recommended amount of coffee for the size of your percolator.

Using the Wrong Coffee Grind

The grind of your coffee plays a crucial role in the brewing process. A fine grind can slip through the holes in the percolator basket, resulting in a gritty and cloudy coffee. On the other hand, a grind that’s too coarse may not extract fully, leading to a weak and underwhelming brew. Aim for a medium-coarse grind for the best results.

Brewing for Too Long

Patience is a virtue when it comes to percolating coffee. Brewing for too long can over-extract the coffee, leading to a bitter and unpleasant taste. Keep an eye on your percolator, and aim for a steady rhythm of one percolation per second. A good rule of thumb is to let the coffee percolate for about 5 to 10 minutes, depending on how strong you like your coffee.

Neglecting to Clean the Percolator

Proper cleaning and maintenance of your percolator are essential for a great tasting coffee. Neglecting to clean your percolator can lead to a build-up of old coffee grounds and oils, which can affect the taste of your coffee. After each use, disassemble the percolator and clean all the parts thoroughly. Make sure to dry all the parts before reassembling to prevent rust or mold.

Brewing coffee with a percolator is an art, and like any art, it requires practice and attention to detail. By avoiding these common mistakes, you’ll be well on your way to brewing a perfect cup of coffee every time. So, grab your percolator, your favorite coffee, and let’s get brewing!

Frequently Asked Questions About How to Use a Camping Percolator

When it comes to using a percolator for camping, several questions often come up. Here are some of the most frequently asked questions and their answers.

What kind of coffee should I use in a percolator?

You can use any type of coffee in a percolator, but a medium to dark roast typically works best. These roasts have a robust flavor that stands up well to the intense brewing process of a percolator. As for the grind, opt for a medium-coarse grind to prevent the coffee from becoming gritty.

How much coffee should I put in a percolator?

The amount of coffee you should put in a percolator depends on the size of the percolator and how strong you like your coffee. A general rule of thumb is to use one tablespoon of coffee for every cup of water. However, feel free to adjust this to suit your taste.

How long should I let my coffee percolate?

The brewing time can vary depending on how strong you like your coffee and the specific heat of your fire. A good rule of thumb is to let the coffee percolate for about 5 to 10 minutes. Keep an eye on the percolator, and when the coffee reaches a rich, dark color, it’s usually ready.

How do I clean a percolator?

After each use, disassemble the percolator and clean all the parts thoroughly. Avoid using soap or detergents, as these can leave a residue that affects the taste of your coffee cups. Instead, use hot water and a brush or sponge to clean the percolator. If you have stubborn stains or build-up, a mixture of vinegar and water can help.

Remember, brewing coffee with a percolator is an art. It takes a bit of practice and a lot of love. But once you get the hang of it, you’ll be rewarded with a delicious cup of coffee that’s worth every bit of effort. Happy brewing!


Brewing coffee with a percolator while camping is more than just a way to get your caffeine fix. It’s a ritual, a moment of calm in the midst of nature’s grandeur. It’s about appreciating the simple things, like the aroma of coffee brewing over a campfire or the taste of a freshly brewed cup on a crisp morning.

A camp percolator is a timeless tool, a symbol of simplicity and tradition. It’s sturdy and reliable, perfect for the rugged conditions of camping. With a percolator, you’re not just making coffee; you’re connecting with a simpler time, a slower pace of life.

But beyond the romance, a camp percolator also delivers a robust and flavorful brew. It extracts the full flavor from the coffee grounds, resulting in a rich and satisfying cup of coffee. It’s a taste that’s hard to replicate with modern, automated coffee makers.

So, the next time you pack for a camping trip, don’t forget your percolator. Embrace the process, enjoy the experience, and savor the taste of coffee brewed the old-fashioned way. It’s not just about the destination; it’s about the journey, and a percolator makes that journey all the more enjoyable. Happy brewing!