Making coffee while camping, regardless of how you do it, is going to involve compromises. Unless you have a tent site with electric or generator that will power your usual countertop drip pot, it’s hard to decide how to make coffee at your campsite. Some brewing methods involve more mess and cleaning than others and some methods don’t taste as great as others. Lucky for you I’ve been a coffee snob AND a camper for years, so I’m going to share my experience with one of the popular camping options for brewing coffee – the GSI Enamelware Coffee Percolator.
An enamelware coffee percolator is a staple. Generations of campers past, present, and future recognize the enamelware coffee percolator for what it is – a classic on the campground. But, does the percolator live up to the legend? Keep reading to find out!
Truth be told, I view certain elements of camping through a lens of laziness. How much of a pain in the butt is something going to be to deal with when out in the woods? This lens has become stronger with kids. When backpacking or sometimes even car camping, I will often opt for the Starbucks VIA instant coffee packets. For what they are, they’re damned delicious. They’re super easy to make – just add hot water. They also last for what seems like forever, so buy a bunch and you don’t really have to worry about them going bad. They’re even great to have extras on hand for making coffee at home when you don’t need a full pot or want to break out your French press of Bilaletti Moka. But today we’re going to step outside of our comfort zone and discuss that classic enamelware coffee percolator approach.
I’ve owned my percolator since about 2011. The only time I break out my 12-cup GSI Enamelware Coffee Percolator is when we’re camping in a group. There are two things I know in my heart when it comes to camping in groups. I’ll be the first adult to rise, and I’ll be the first jonesing for a cup of coffee. So I just bear the burden of coffee brewing for the whole group. I can’t stand to wait until 9 am for my cup of coffee – no, I’m firing up the stove by 6:30 am.
Percolators work by boiling water, then that boiling water gets pushed through a tube to spout over top of your coffee grounds then drip back into the coffee pot to pour into your cup once complete. There are tons of camping percolators available on the market, but I only have experience with this one. If you’re not careful, brewing with a percolator can be messy. If you over-boil, you will have coffee grounds and coffee-ish brown water all over your stove. If you under-boil, you’ll wonder why it’s taking so long to make coffee. You have to find that sweet spot on your stove’s flame regulator knob for a percolator to get it just right.
As far as its function as a percolator, the GSI Enamelware Coffee Percolator works just fine. When I first started using it, I over-boiled the water a few times causing a mess. But I can’t fault the product for this, this is definitely user error. Now that I have some experience with the product, I don’t have this issue anymore. Truth be told it’s more about knowing your stove than the percolator.
The version I have came with a clear plastic knob at the top. This knob is important because it tells you when the coffee is ready to drink by the color of the liquid you see bubbling up into the knob. However, it wasn’t long (first year of owning) before the plastic knob cracked. I guess I just put it through the ringer and the plastic couldn’t hold up. Lucky for me, GSI makes a glass replacement knob. This is thick, strong glass. I bought the glass replacement knob and it has lasted me over a decade at this point.
Besides the knob though, the percolator itself is very durable. I’ve had mine for about 12 years at this point and there are still no chips or rust on it. I don’t baby it either, it gets stored and transported roughly at times. But it’s holding up, so the quality is definitely there.
As with all percolators, cleaning it can be annoying. When you’re camping and trying to minimize your impact and effort, there’s a lot of parts to clean and dry. But that’s the price of making up to 12 cups of coffee for a group while camping, so it’s not any worse than other methods necessarily.
Another drawback to this percolator is the small piece of aluminum that attaches the lid to the carafe. It’s an extremely flimsy, weak piece of aluminum. Over the years, the metal has bent and weakened from being stored and transported and so I constantly have to shape it back into place. It’s not really causing any issues with how the percolator functions, but it’s annoying for sure.
- Makes lots of coffee for groups
- Classic camping style
- Works as expected
- Plastic knob can break
- Annoying to clean
- Weak aluminum connector for lid
Rating: 3.5 / 5
The GSI Enamelware Coffee Percolator, in my opinion, is best relegated to car camping for groups. It works well, is durable, and provides that classic camping style with the speckled enamelware look. It’s not perfect, as demonstrated by my broken plastic knob and the weak aluminum connector, so I give it 3.5 stars. If you’re only brewing coffee for yourself or you and a partner, then there are easier methods to use. But if you have a big group, you can’t really beat the function of a percolator. The GSI Enamelware Coffee Percolator will fill that role just fine. They make several sizes – a 12-cup, 8-cup, 6-cup, and 3-cup. Personally, I suggest just going big and getting the 12-cup version. Any smaller and you should just go with a French press or something else. Since it’s for car camping anyway, getting the bigger percolator allows you to brew up to 12 cups when you need to for groups. While there may be better percolators out there that I don’t have experience with, I don’t have any regrets. Definitely not money wasted!
Do you have experience with other camping percolators? I’d love to hear if there are better options out there. Comment below!