The Gear Box: The Coffee Edition

Coffee is one of those things that can mean the difference between a good morning and a bad morning at camp. Just because you’re out on the road doesn’t mean you should sacrifice sound quality, homemade coffee for a packet of instant coffee. There are plenty of options when it comes to selecting how to brew your favorite coffee in the morning.

Gear You Deserve is a quarterly rundown of specific gear you might be interested in. The series highlights gear that runs from small to large, cheap to expensive, and basic to advance. We leave it up to you to decide what a good fit for your needs is.

The Oxx Coffeeboxx

We’ve highlighted this piece of gear before early on when we were just getting started. It’s worth mentioning again because of the appeal it may have. Oxx offers a ruggedized coffee maker they’ve dubbed the Coffeeboxx ($230). What sets this coffee maker apart from others, other than its need for power, is the ability to use standard K-cups like you would at home. The biggest downside to going this route is its cost at just under $300. Granted, is it a ruggedly built coffee maker designed to withstand abuse.

Coleman Drip Coffee Pots

Coleman makes a couple of different drip style coffee pots. The Grill-Top Coffee Maker ($40) sits nicely on your camp stove, and the QuikPot ($110) is a propane powered machine. Both provide that simple set up for anyone who has a drip coffee maker at home. Their ease of use means you don’t need to have any available power source.

A Percolator

Percolator’s, before the invention of the drip coffee maker, were and still are a popular method for making coffee at camp. Percolators work by heating the water in the pot and cycling it through the grounds in the top basket via the tube in the center. The water runs through the coffee, providing a usually aromatic scent when brewing but often a weaker cup of coffee.

Several companies still make good percolators, including Stanley, Coleman, and Cabela’s. We have a percolator from Cabela’s and can attest to its quality. It’s what we used early on to make coffee, before converting over to a French press, which we’ll take about later on.

French Press

Coffee is inherently not hard to make. It just depends on how strong you want it and your preferred taste. Using a French press is probably as easy as using a drip coffee maker in terms of setting it and forgetting it for a few minutes. We currently carry a Stanley Mountain Vacuum System which has an integrated thermos and press all in one neat package.

GSI offers a few options for self-contained travel mug style presses. Snow Peak has its stainless steel version ($56). And Jetboil provides a lid that can be used on their cooking system to create that perfect cup of coffee.

Single Serving

Pour over coffee is an easy method to gravitate towards when camping because of its ease and the small footprint pour over systems have. The Primula single cup ($7) is a K-cup style filter that sits over a mug with grounds in it. You pour your water over it and let it steep for a bit. The GSI Java Drip ($10) is the filter and sits on top of your mug of choice. Snow Peak also offers a folding drip ($30) that would work nicely for a single serving.

The AeroPress is an interesting piece of coffee technology that offers a rapid cup of joe. Add your grinds and steep the coffee to your preferred strength. You then press down on the plunger over your coffee mug. The end product, according to the manufacturer, is an espresso-like output. It’s a great coffee maker for some lightweight trips or if you are short on space.

GCI Slim-Fold Cook Station Review

In 2015, sometime before we kicked off Michigan Overland as more than just an idea I surveyed the gear I had. One thing that was missing was a good table to cook off of. I did my research and looked at several different variations of tables at varying prices. What I ended up with was the GCI Slim-Fold Cook Station that I managed to snag on sale and with a discount at REI.

Cooking up some tasty burgers at camp.

Eventually I concluded that, while cool, I did not want a table that required a lot of assembly. Something that folded up. Had a low profile. And would pack easily into the back of my Suburban.

The cook station itself unfolds with ease and has four fold-out plastic side tables. The main middle section is made of aluminum, unfolds up, and locks into place. I can say that I have not had any issues with the main section or the side sections folding back down once they are up and locked. There is also a lower section that folds out by itself and can be used for storage.

The GCI Cook Station almost completely unfolded.

Folded up it only takes up about 4 inches of space. It’s till pretty tall folded up at just under 35 inches. It fits in the back of my Suburban behind the third row with no problem, but something smaller might have issues. I will say that despite its weight at 20 pounds it does not feel overly cumbersome. The counter section will hold up to 48 pounds and each side shelf will hold up to 30lbs.

Packed up and ready to be deployed or stowed.

There is really only a few small drawbacks I’ve had with this table. Adding a stove makes cooking easy at a manageable and comfortable height.

However, cutting on the side shelves is a different story. You end up hunched over in an uncomfortable position whatever you are cutting up. Along with that, the shelves feel flimsy when cutting on them. To the point where it almost feels like you are going to slip or the shelf itself is going to collapse.

Overall this has been a solid table and cook station. It packs up easily and is small enough to be out of the way in and out of the vehicle. For the price, either bought on Amazon or directly from GCI, I would recommend this to anyone in the market for a folding cook-station.

Purchase Links: GCI | Amazon

Brand Spotlight: Hi-Lift Jack Company

brand spotlight hi lift jack company

You’ve probably seen them around. Especially if you’ve been to an off-road park, an overlanding get together, or even on a show on YouTube. They seem to be everywhere. And despite imitators, competitors, and innovators trying to supplant them, they’re still the go-to jack. We’re talking about the workhorse jack of farmers, truckers, and off-roaders — the Hi-Lift jack. There are thousands of companies creating products for people who love being outdoors. The Brand Spotlight series focuses in on companies you may not be familiar with but should be and some of the products they sell.

For over 100 years, the Bloomfield Manufacturing Company has resided in Indiana as one of the oldest manufacturing companies in the state. The Hi-Lift Jack Company, and its sister company, the Kant-Slam Company, fall under the Bloomfield umbrella. The company was started by Philip John Harrah in 1895 and is still run and operated by a fifth generation Harrah currently.

While the company does offer other things than the hi-lift jack, it remains their most popular and stable selling item. Ranging in size from 36 inches up to a staggering 60 inches the hi-lift jack has become the go-to tool for trail repairs and self-recovery in the overlanding and off-road community.

brand spotlight hi lift jack company jacks
The many variations of the hi-lift jack offered by the Hi-Lift Jack Company.

The versatility of the hi-lift jack lies in its ability to perform a multitude of roles. It’s the ability to lift, pull, push, winch, and clamp that has given it a reputation that needs nothing beyond mentioning of its name (ITS Tactical has a great short series on using the hi-lift jack). With minor changes made through the years, the design of the jack itself has not changed much since its inception. Early motorists could even count on the Automatic Combination Tool (as it was known then) to be part of the vehicle compliment.

Overall the history of the Hi-Lift Jack Company is an easy one. They did not attempt to re-engineer or update the jack and bring it forward into modern times like other companies (cough “ARB” cough). Instead, they’ve made the same tool for the last 100 years with great success. You can probably expect them to continue for the next hundred years making the same great tool that can be found strapped to most overlanding rigs.

The Gear Box: Portable Fire Pits

Fire is important. You’re going to use it to cook or gather everyone around for some beverages. While digging out a fire pit is an option, some companies are offering transportable and versatile fire pits. In this installment of Gear You Deserve we are going to look at some fire pits that are easily transportable and can move with you.

Gear You Deserve is a rundown of gear you might be interested in relating to a specific topic. The series highlights equipment that runs from small to large, cheap to expensive, basic to advanced, and leaves it up to you to decide what a good fit for you is.

The Solo Stove and Pop Up Pit.
The Solo Stove and Pop Up Pit.

Solo Stove

Solo Stove as the name implies makes stoves. However, they also offer different sizes of fire pits. The Ranger ($269), the Bonfire ($349), and the upcoming Yukon ($649) all offer varying sizes for building a well burning and low smoke fire. These portable fire pits weight no more than 45 lbs on the high end and can be easily transported in a rig or trailer.

Purchase Link: Official Website | Amazon

Follow Them: Facebook | Instagram | YouTube

Pop Up Pit

If you are short on space for the round Solo Stove, the Pop Up Pit ($99) might be what you need. This portable fire pit folds up into a nice package no larger than a camp chair for easy storage. When it’s opened it up, it offers a 24” x 24” area to build a fire. The lightweight design keeps your fires off the ground by 15” and directs the heat outwards as opposed to on the ground.

Purchase Link: Official Website | Amazon

Follow Them: Instagram | Twitter

The Little Red Campfire and Stahl Campfire.
The Little Red Campfire and Stahl Campfire.

Little Red Campfire

The Little Red Campfire ($160) is the first gas option we have on this list. It uses a regular LP gas cylinder to provide heat from its 11” tray and can be adjusted. Once you’re done, you can pop the lid back on, secure the latches, and stow it away until you hit camp again. It can also be used for cooking if the cooktop is also purchased.

Purchase Link: Official Website | Amazon

Stahl Camper

The Stahl Camper ($499), like the Solo Stove, is on the higher end of the cost spectrum. It’s ability to pack down flat, and its light weight will probably appeal to some people. The four-piece construction offers a 20” x 20” V-shaped area to get your fire going in.

Purchase Link: Official Website

Follow Them: Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

The Camp Chef Sequoia, UCO Flatpack, and Snow Peak Pack & Carry.
The Camp Chef Sequoia, UCO Flatpack, and Snow Peak Pack & Carry.

Camp Chef Sequoia Fire Pit

You probably recognize the Camp Chef name. They make a good number of cooking-related pieces of equipment. They also have the second gas option fire pit on this list. The Sequoia Fire Pit ($119) has a 14” diameter bowl and pumps out 55,000 BTUs per hour. It also comes with lava rocks, a carrying case, and two roasting sticks for whatever you might want to roast.

Purchase Link: Official Website | Amazon

Follow Them: Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | YouTube

Uco Flatpack Grill and Fire Pit

The UCO Flatpack ($49) serves both as a fire pit and a grill. The lightest of all the options here, the Flatpack comes in a 3 lbs and packs down no larger than 1.5”. It’s not going to keep a lot of people warm, but if you are short on space and want dual functionality, this is a good option.

Purchase Link: Official Website | Amazon

Follow Them: Facebook | Instagram | YouTube

Snow Peak Pack & Carry

The Snow Peak Pack & Carry ($149) is the second lightest fire pit at just under 8 lbs and packs down to under 3”. The downside is the price for such a small option. However, the Pack & Carry offers some additional add ons that quickly turn the fire pit into a grill.

Purchase Link: Official Website | Amazon

Follow Them: Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

Stanley Coffee Press and Mug Review

mug and press

Sometime in the last couple of years, I ordered a new coffee press and mug from Stanley off of Amazon. Full disclosure here, I’ve never used any Stanley products before, but I needed a new travel coffee mug. A quick search brought me to the Stanley Classic One Hand 20oz Vacuum Mug.

I also enjoy pressed style coffee, so I wanted something other than a glass French press to add to my adventure gear. I initially included a glass French press in my adventure box but thought better of it. Cleaning up broken glass after bumping down the trails at the end of the day didn’t seem like any fun. Stanley released a slew of camping related items, and their Mountain Vacuum Coffee System covers me in terms of having a press.

The Coffee Mug

I’ll start with this. Never have I had a coffee mug that has kept my coffee hot (I mean hot, not lukewarm) throughout the entire day. I’ve tried other sealed mugs where the temperature of the beverage changes throughout the day. And while your hot beverage of choice might be warm-ish by the end of the day in other mugs, the Stanley Vacuum mug won’t let you down.

Stanley states that the mug will keep hot beverages hot for 9 hours, cold beverages cold for 8 hours, and iced beverages iced for 35 hours. I haven’t tried cold or iced beverages yet, but I can attest to the 9 hours for hot drinks. I would even go so far as to say that I’ve had beverages stay hot longer than the 9 hours.

The tall and slender design of this mug allows you to quickly wrap your hand around the mug for a secure hold. I purchased the 20 oz mug, which is the larger of three options, so it’s slightly more awkward to hold than the smaller sizes. The 16 oz or even the 12 oz options might be better for full hand engagement or if you have smaller hands.

This is a spill-proof mug, and that is partly due to the top automatically resealing. To drink from this mug, you have to depress and hold the button on the head. It does not lock open and closed. Most of my past coffee mugs either had this option or a lid to flip open. I prefer the locking top so getting used to pressing the button each time was a bit of a hassle, but it did prevent accidental spillage. In the end, I would highly recommend this coffee mug to anyone.

The Press and Thermos

Keeping a glass French press in your camp kit might not be a good idea. While mine hasn’t broken yet, I can see it getting smashed in the future. As I enjoy pressed coffee over traditionally made coffee, I decided to get a more camp friendly option. The Stanley Mountain Vacuum Coffee System fits the bill, with one caveat. It’s big. I decided to go with the larger 1.1-quart size as opposed to the 17 oz size. With the larger sized system, it does not fit snuggly in my adventure box like my current French press does. The Mountain Vacuum Coffee System comes with six pieces: two cups that screw together, a storage top to hold grinds, the thermos, a pot, and press screen for the pot. They all fit together nicely for storage when you’re not making coffee.

Stanley coffee press apart.
Stanley coffee press apart.

The process of making coffee with this system isn’t hard. If you’ve made coffee in a French press before you should know how to do this, heat water, add coffee, and let steep for 5-10 minutes. The nice thing about this system is the thermos top allows for coffee grinds to be stored inside it. The top holds just less than a measuring cups worth of grinds. If you’re just getting out overnight, you can load up the top and not have to carry more than what you need.

I used my stove at home to heat the water in the pot. After about 10 minutes the water was not quite boiling and was ready for the grinds. I poured in half a tops worth of grinds, stirred them up (pack something to stir with), and let the coffee sit for 10 minutes. Once the steeping has completed, you drop the press basket into the pot and carefully press down the grinds.

The one thing to be careful with is how much water to add to the pot. During my initial test, I filled the pot above where the handle resides. Once I added in my coffee and pressed it down, I ended up with a nice coffee pool on my counter. I would recommend not having water above where the handle attaches to the pot.

Pouring the coffee out into a mug was pretty easy, but I do wish the press basket locked into place. I understand it won’t work with the grinds in the bottom, but I was concerned it was going to fall out while pouring. If you’ve got a full pot of water, you should get about 6 cups of coffee out of it using the included mugs. The thermos holds an entire pot of coffee with some possibly left over depending how much water you’ve added (again, I don’t recommend filling past the grab handle).

I poured the contents of my recently made coffee into the thermos and left it on my kitchen counter for about 4 hours. This was an unusually warm day so the air conditioning was running and it was cold in my kitchen. I checked the coffee temperature every hour or so and never experienced a change in temperature. Much like the coffee mug, the thermos will keep hot drinks hot for 24 hours, cold drinks cold for 20 hours, and iced drinks iced for 100 hours. This is an absurd amount of time, but it’s good to know you could have a hot or cold beverage ready to go at the end of a long run of trails.

Conclusions and Field Test

I got the chance to test it out “in the field” several times over a few weekends using my camp stove. I haven’t tried it out on my backpacking stove yet, but I don’t imagine I’ll ever carry it in that sort of setup. As I mentioned, it unpacks and packs up quickly enough, and the stainless steel and plastic cleans up nicely when I’m done with it. The water pot didn’t take long at all to get the water to just below boiling. I didn’t notice the handle getting excessively hot either as I did with my stove test. I used a full cap full of a Tim Horton’s roast and let it steep for about 10 minutes. The screw together integrated mugs came in handy while sitting around the morning fire.

Overall I am very impressed with this system and would recommend it to anyone who wants a French press system in their camping gear. It’s easy to use, packs up nicely, and makes a good cup of coffee. The only downside is it’s not small or light, something I can get over. If you’re a coffee drinker and you keep an adventure box in your car ready to go, you may have to rethink your storage solution, but overall this is a great product.

Mug Purchase Links: Stanley Website | Amazon

Press Purchase LInks: Stanley Website | Amazon

Follow Stanley: Website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | YouTube