I have been Outside’s Gear Guy for the better part of a decade, and during that period I’ve tested dozens of outdoor coffee-making systems, from the highly refined AeroPress ($ 30) to good old-fashioned cowboy coffee. Still, when it comes to getting my morning pick-me-up at camp, my favorite coffee-making device is the same simple one I used before I got a job that has me playing with all kinds of fancy gear: the MSR MugMate Coffee/Tea Filter ($ 17).
Several years back, after my beloved Bodum French Press ($ 35) fell off the tailgate of my truck and shattered, I went looking for a coffee gadget that wasn’t prone to breaking and that was lightweight enough to bring on river and backpacking trips. My search led me to the MugMate, which has proven remarkably dependable. For many years now, I’ve shoved the sub-one-ounce plastic and steel filter into packs and duffels without concern. It’s never broken or warped.
Durability and light weight are all well and good, but a coffee filter’s main duty is producing a good cup of mud. At this, the MugMate has earned a special place in my heart because its 150-micron stainless-steel mesh screen makes it easy to brew damned strong coffee. I’m not one to shy away from complicated gear, but I don’t need that kind of hassle when I’m groggy and bleary-eyed first thing in the morning, jonesing for my caffeine fix. I simply dump a scoop of pre-ground coffee into the MugMate, set it in my favorite coffee cup, pour water over the grounds, and wait a few minutes. One dose in the morning delivers enough of a kick in the pants for an entire day.
The MugMate can make only one cup at a time, so it’s not right for a group. And yes, there are a number of instant-coffee options out there that are more portable, taste almost as good, etc., etc. But drinking coffee in the wilderness that’s just like what I have at home and that allows me to follow my usual morning brewing ritual is not something I’m keen on abandoning. Just ask my backcountry partners on a day when Joe hasn’t had his joe.