Certain standards must be kept when on a backcountry trip:
- Loads must be kept as light as personal, safety, and comfort levels allow.
- A trip should be made within individual skill levels.
- Trip partners should be compatible with the type of trip being done.
But there is another standard that is optional. And perhaps not optimal for every journey into the backcountry.
But it is a standard that is worth considering.
The standard that should be kept when possible? The perfect adult libation to bring into the backcountry.
A 16 oz “tall-boy” craft beer while perched on the rim of a canyon is a tasty treat.
And a dram of whiskey on a chilly evening somewhere in the Rockies while listening to elk bugling seems an appropriate accompaniment.
The adult libations are extra weight.
But sometimes a luxury good makes the backcountry even a touch more pleasant. Beer is often enjoyed on the couch while watching a movie on Netflix some Friday evening. This same beverage is even more enjoyable on a quick Friday night overnight trip at the end of a hard work week. At least I think so.
So here are my humble suggestions on some backcountry libations to bring based on entirely arbitrary categories I am making up for the purpose of this article.
And if I missed your favorite adult libation? Share the idea in the comments.
Late spring or early summer trips
There is still some remnants of snow in those hills! You can make your mixed drinks very easily courtesy of the snow pack left behind.
- Snow, drink mix powder such as lemonade, and spiced rum: A yummy treat when you are camped out and watching that Rocky Moutain sunset. Prefer something more straight forward in taste? Use vodka.
- Backcountry Gin and Tonic: When I visit Rhode Island during the summer, I must go to the coast, sit on the deck of a local watering hole, look over the ocean, and enjoy the tangy smell of salt in the air. And, for me, the quintessential drink for enjoying the summer while looking over the New England coast? A gin and tonic. Simple. Refreshing. And light. Perfect for the summer. You can easily make a version of this drink in the backcountry. Pre-mix tonic, gin, and limes in a bottle. Add some snow to the bottle or simply decant over snow in a mug or cup. Sip and enjoy.
- Snow ice cream: A treat I have made for my friend’s children on past trips. Snow, sweetened condensed milk, vanilla extract, and chocolate chips. Mmmm…. Make it more adult friendly by adding some creamy liqueur such as Kahlua. 🙂
- Chilled white wine. An aristocrat..eh? Small boxes of wine can be found that chill quite nicely in the snow banks.
Height of summer
There is not as much (or any) snow to make your mixed drinks. Time to get a little more basic.
- Some sippin’ whiskey: When I guided for a winter trip, one of the clients gave me a bottle of small batch whiskey from Texas. It was delicious. I only used it on backcountry trips and the bottle lasted over two years. It was too good to mix with other beverages. Sip. Relish. And enjoy the subtle tastes of some finely crafted spirits. Ounce for ounce, whiskey, Scotch or bourbon offers the finest blend of taste, potency for the weight, and just seems to go well for certain trips. Perfect for multi-day trips when a libation is enjoyed at night with a friend or two.
- Beer or cider: A quick overnighter means a beer (or even a hard cider with some of my friends) is often packed. With quality craft beer made in cans, not too much of a weight penalty. I’ve had mixed results with beer concentrate. I would prefer to take good sippin’ whiskey instead if the trip is longer or more arduous.
- Boxed wine (red): In years past, I went on more social oriented backpacking trips at times. Being short in mileage, I thought nothing of packing in the bladder of boxed wine to share. A camp fire, some wine shared amongst friends, and the stars above while talking to some of my closest friends certainly made a memorable part of an already memorable trip.
- Vodka or Rum with Crystal Light: Crystal Light is not bulky like Gatorade powder. Throw in a little vodka or rum and a relaxing after dinner cocktail may be enjoyed. EmergenC works surprisingly well, too. The drink is not elegant or refined. But the drink is a utilitarian dirtbag hiker delight.
For cooler nights, a hot beverage can be rather pleasant and welcoming. Some of my favorites include:
- Rum and cider: A drink made of spiced rum and an apple cider packet is about perfect for a fall trip. Sip and savor. When I used to lead moonlight group hikes, I’d put this mix into my one-liter thermos with a cinnamon stick and an orange slice.
- Hot chocolate and peach schnapps: A surprisingly delicious combination. Try it. Perhaps better for a winter trip as it is heavy regarding taste. When on a full moon ski or snowshoe, this combo is another popular beverage I bring in my thermos.
Both of these drinks work best with three parts cider or hot chocolate to one part alcohol I find.
As I’ve mentioned several times, I think of hut trips as “a dinner party with a ski trip attached.”
An ethnic stereotype I gleefully live up to is how I enjoy preparing and sharing food. All the Magnanti men know their way around a kitchen, too. Among the items packed for hut trips by me include lasagnas, boxes of wine, and other delights. The same type of beverages as above can be brought to a hut as well. But since I am not carrying a tent, stove, or cookware, I have room in my pack or sled for other goodies. And since the hut trip is a dinner party, that means yummy food and the accompanying libations are schlepped in, of course.
How to carry?
Carrying the libations is easy with a few easy tips:
- Boxed wine: Remove the box from the box of wine and just pack in the bladder. Don’t pay attention to the photos above. 😉
- Spirits: A 12 or 20 oz a wide mouth sports drink bottle is perfect for transporting the libation into the backcountry. The wide mouth makes for easier decanting or mixing as appropriate versus a narrow mouth bottle. If you want to be fancier and perhaps make a better impression than being a dirtbag hiker, a flask may be a classier luxury item for a shorter trip.
- Thermos: For nighttime skis, snowshoes, or hikes, bring a thermos and pre-mix the libations. I’ve been known to bring a thermos on hut trips as well. But that is strictly for day skis without any alcohol.
- Pocket Shots: Many liquor stores sell Pocket Shots or similar. Small, compact, and easy to carry. Better than those small “airplane” liquors bottles regarding weight, fragility, and bulk as well. Not top shelf. But the further you are in the backcountry, the better everything tastes…no?
Quick note about car camping
Obviously, car camping has no weight restrictions versus the trips above.
My one tip? I do enjoy camping in off-the-beaten-path places or off-season. And what I like to do when I am in these areas? I grab a locally made craft beer, throw it in my cooler, and enjoy said beverage at some remote camp.
Are adult libations needed for a backcountry trip? Absolutely not.
But damn, the libations can be enjoyable at times.
Disclaimer: When taking alcohol in the backcountry, be sure to only take where allowed. Be moderate in consumption. And if you are coming from a lower elevation, would be wise to restrict or even eliminate your alcohol consumption.
I usually carry a good small batch bourbon like Elijah Craig on trips in a plastic flask. For medicinal purposes. Nothing beats sitting around a fire in the wilderness and passing a flask around with good friends.
Medicinal purposes, of course!
The higher proof the beverage, the less you have to carry. With that in mind, my go to is Knob Creek 120 proof bourbon. Delicious and means I can carry a lot less that the 80 proof whiskey I usually drink at home. I usually carry it in a platy, which is lightweight and saves space.
Now, that is applied math! 🙂
My go-to, as well. Bring along a tasty orange and a strawful of bitters for one amazing damn Old Fashioned.
Now that sounds yummy!
Founders All Day IPA. The name begs one to drink it whenever and feel absolutely no shame (not that I would anyway). The perfect ale for your first day on the trail…gotta drink it just to shed some pack weight.
During cold weather I use Blackberry Brandy to help warm me from the inside out.
I agree with David above who suggests higher alcohol content. Consider 151 rum with Crystal Light for that ultralight beverage. And, in a pinch, you can use the 151 for fuel or to disinfect… might even be helpful in getting an emergency fire started.
Everclear. Add enough bourbon so that it doesn’t look like water.
“…nothing but distilled water, or rain water, and pure grain alcohol.”
-General J. Ripper
While backpacking I always bring a flask of cognac, which is sipped with dark chocolate at night. Very enjoyable!
Beware my Everclear friends. You might wake up cold and wondering why your not in your sleeping bag at 2 am.
I’m in the higher alcohol content camp (no pun intended). Back in the early 90’s, a friend and I hit the high country in Yosemite with with a re-purposed plastic Pepsi bottle of 101 proof vodka, With hot apple cider mix at Ireland Lake, we drank “Irish Apple Bangers”. Crystal Light lemonade made “Lemon Zingers”. And Crystal Light Fruit Punch turned into “Mountain Yahoos”, and upon consumption, so did we. With that trip, I learned that naming things or events helps commit the memory, and the story, to tribal memory. Some other trips blur together after 20+ years, but that… Read more »
Another hut trip tip – icicles make great ice cubes for your cocktails! Learned that from some Kiwis a couple of weeks ago.
Now that’s a great tip. I see some old fashions on my next hut trip… 😀