You’ve just hiked ten miles to your campsite. The sun is setting over a jagged ridge to the west, its rays illuminating a clear blue mountain lake and turning the sky bright orange.
At tree line, your vantage point affords a view that stretches out for miles, the contrast created by the sunset clarifying the outline of a distant mountain range. The laughter of your friends mixes with the sizzling of cooking food. Your hammock rocks slightly, the result of a gentle wind. You are exhausted and happy. However, there is a nagging incompleteness to your perfect moment. You could kill for a cold beer right now.
A stiff drink at the end of the day in the backcountry can add the perfect touch to any trip. However, it can also break a trip by weighing you down and making your hike in miserable. With a little planning, bringing drinks into the backcountry can be simple.
First, you need to consider what type of drinks you are bringing into the backcountry. For wine drinkers, boxed wine with the packaging removed is recommended—don’t bring glass bottles. Fortunately for wine snobs, boxed wine is no longer universally terrible and many wineries are offering higher-end boxed wine specifically aimed at hikers and backpackers.
Beer drinkers should use aluminum cans. Winter beer and wine drinkers should beware: beer and wine, despite their alcohol content, can freeze in sustained cold temperatures, usually at around 20 degrees, making it inadvisable to take on trips with prolonged cold temperatures.
For summer trips, you probably want to cool your beer. Find a spot in a river or stream that is not flowing very fast, build a circle of rocks to keep the beer from escaping, and place the beer (or wine) in the water.
Hard liquor has the advantage of being both more weight efficient and harder to freeze. My personal favorite is bourbon or rum. They are even starting to offer hard liquor in the same packaging as boxed wine. For longer trips (a week or more) I recommend Hot Toddies, especially if you are adventuring in winter.
A Hot Toddy is a classic cocktail for cold weather. I prepare them as 1 ½ ounce whiskey or rum, a tablespoon of honey, cinnamon to taste, and a cup of water. Boil the water and add all the ingredients except for the liquor (so as not to cook off the alcohol), wait for the water to cool, and add the liquor. Another weight efficient cocktail is powdered margarita mix and tequila. You can use snow in lieu of crushed ice but this can be risky, from a hygienic standpoint.
Powdered alcohol promises to be a hit to backcountry travelers. However, there is the question if whether or not it will remain legal. If powdered alcohol is here to stay, however, I predict it will become a mainstay of camping trips.
If you are insane or insanely fit, you can take a keg into the backcountry. This is generally only advisable if you are traveling to something like a backcountry hut for an extended period of time. In the summer, this is accomplished by treating the keg like a person on a stretcher.
In the winter, it is a lot easier (but beware of the keg freezing). Bring the keg in on a sled (a real sled with brakes, which you can get at specialized outfitters), and pull the sled like a team of dogs would pull a dogsled. For both summer and winter, have a team leader for your keg transportation. If your group brings a keg to a ski hut, you will generally be remembered as a legend. Also, if you aren’t certain that you can finish your keg, don’t bring one, as you have to pack it out.
Obviously, if you have a snowmobile or ATV or are car camping, none of this applies. Go buck wild. Remember not to overdo it especially if you’re at high altitudes or attempting something dangerous. Drink more water than usual if you’re consuming alcohol, and use your judgment. Happy drinking!