(Bill Steele)

The Barista Wore Crampons

Wilderness Coffeemakers


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Think back for a moment to the menu of your last backpacking trip: stew-in-a-sack, energy bars the consistency of fiberboard, and, worst of all, lukewarm cowboy coffee that had you filtering grounds like a baleen whale straining krill. To help on this last crucial point, we rounded up a half-dozen devices that produce a top-notch cup of backcountry joe and asked two Seattleites who know a few things about coffee and mountains to take ’em for a test brew. Jen Donnette is a backcountry skier and former coffee taster for a certain multinational Seattle java concern, and Mike Burns is a former guide for Mountain Madness. Though they returned wild-eyed and quivering, we managed to record their judgments.

THE DEVICE: Fashioned from nearly indestructible Lexan, this slender, idiot-proof French press can handle the abuse of a multistate through-hike.
THE BARISTA TEST: A testers’ favorite, it rewards with hot java as black as the ace of spades in three to four minutes, with a minimal sludge quotient.
THE BITTER TRUTH: coffee this good makes you want more than one cup, but the next size up (33 oz.) is too big to pack.
VITALS: Capacity: 10 fl. oz. Weight: 5.1 oz. $16; 800-704-4474,

THE DEVICE: The simplest of the lot: Dump in some Peet’s, pour water, and voila—a steaming cup of civility. In a pinch, the colander strains floaters from sketchy water.
THE BARISTA TEST: A clean, quick drip from a filter with a stout buzz-to-weight ratio. The well-knit screen means no fur on the tongue to ruin summit morning on Rainier.
THE BITTER TRUTH: Make more than one cup at a time, Jen warns, and the second cup is weak. Your tentmate is on his own.
VITALS: Weight: 1 oz. $13; 800-877-9677,

THE DEVICE: A gleaming 33-ounce beauty with a stainless-steel body that can sit directly on the Coleman to boil; detachable handle means you won’t have burned fingertips.
THE BARISTA TEST: Makes enough coffee to clear the morning fog (or last night’s Wild Turkey) from the brain; like Agent Cooper said on Twin Peaks, “Damn good coffee—and hot.”
THE BITTER TRUTH: Unless you plan to rent a llama to lug it, save this one for the tailgate. Then again, says Mike, “If you’re climbing an eight-inch off-width, it’d make great protection.”
VITALS: Capacity: 33 fl. oz. Weight: 18 oz. $40; 503-335-9303

THE DEVICE: Weighing just half an ounce, the Cup.pour.ri is the Ray Jardine of coffeemakers—minimalist. To brew, fill the spoonlike wand with grounds, snap the lid, and swirl in boiling water to taste.
THE BARISTA TEST: A legit cup of American drip in one to three minutes. Need more body? Punch it up to high octane with several safety-pin pricks to the mesh.
THE BITTER TRUTH: Agitation method means the spill factor is high during bleary alpine starts, making Cup.pour.ri the sworn enemy of down bags and tent floors.
VITALS: Weight: 0.5 oz. $5; 877-942-6333,
THE DEVICE: A double-hulled mug and plastic French press that multitasks as an oatmeal trough, it’s also commuter-friendly: Why drop a five spot at the Coffee Hut when you can nurse a pint of Sumatra for a quarter?
THE BARISTA TEST: Makes diner-quality joe in four minutes; the fact that the screen has a relatively tight weave means no (large) grit particles are left in your teeth; 16-ounce mug injects enough caffeine to keep you focused—or looking for a tree to duck behind.
THE BITTER TRUTH: Grounds tend to steep at the bottom while you drink, so that last gulp of cold mud kicks like a balky mule.
VITALS: Capacity: 16 fl. oz. Weight: 7 oz. $16; 888-327-9908,

THE DEVICE: Boiling water percolates through espresso grind and then drips like Uncle Jed’s whiskey still into the demitasse.
THE BARISTA TEST: If Alfa Romeo made a backcountry coffee maker, this would be it: sexy, frivolous, and fun as hell—when it’s working right. The beverage that emerges can carry you back to that week in Amalfi…or your last oil change.
THE BITTER TRUTH: It’s bulletproof, but it weighs a hefty pound and change, not including the Ziploc of lemon peels. Those who drink from the metal demitasse better have asbestos lips.
VITALS: Capacity: 10.5 fl. oz. Weight: 18 oz. (aluminum version) $25; 800-704-4474,

From Outside Magazine, Mar 2002 Lead Photo: Bill Steele

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