If you wake up early enough in any national park, you can bear witness to a unique ritual: Employees meeting before sunrise in the staff cafeteria, drinking coffee and making last minute changes to the contents of their backpacks. During my first season working in Glacier National Park, I would come to witness this and participate in it many times, eventually learning which items were essential (the headlamp, the extra socks) and which ones weren’t (the second jacket in July, the bulky guidebook). One item which always made the essential list? Alcohol.
By the end of that summer, I’d garnered a small amount of very specific wisdom. I’d learned to always bring your backpack’s rain cover even if there’s no chance of rain. I’d learned to never attempt to float the Swiftcurrent River in an inner tube (long story) and I’d learned that every single hiker has a preferred adult beverage when it comes time for that rewarding sip at the end of the trail.
So years later, after many seasons in many different national parks, I set out to discover once and for all the best method of consuming booze in the backcountry.
1. Ludlows Jelly Shots
When I was in college, my friends (yep, definitely not talking about me personally) used to sneak libations into concerts via these gross/brilliant plastic things that looked like ketchup packets. They were lightweight and packed a punch, which actually made them perfect for backpacking.
I set out to find a similar product and came upon Ludlows Jelly Shots. These grown-up jello shots are made in the style of classic cocktails. I bought them in four flavors: Moscow Mule, Margarita, Old Fashioned, and Planter’s Punch and tested them with friends in a canyon in Death Valley National Park, forever cementing my reputation as the person who shows up to an early morning hike with jello shots. While bringing Ludlows Jelly Shots on a hike is certainly fun for the sake of novelty, squeezing boozy goo into your mouth is far from refreshing. Next time, I think I’ll leave the experience of consuming jello shots where I left it: in college.
2. Bud Lite Lime-a-Ritas
Hear me out on this one: Bud Lite Lime-a-Ritas weigh less than a traditional can of beer (8 ounces versus 12 ounces) and have a higher alcohol content. Let that sink in.
While I have personally tested the portability and signature feels-like-I’m-going-to-get-heartburn flavor of Bud Lite Lime-a-Ritas many times, I gave it another go for the sake of journalistic integrity on another hike in Death Valley. The verdict? Even after all these years, Lime-a-Ritas are still very backpacker-friendly. If possible, I recommend chilling them in a lake before imbibing. Just be sure to have a plastic bag or a bear canister for the empties, unless you want the contents of your backpack to be coated with sticky alcohol and your life to be filled with bears.
3. Pat’s Backcountry Beverages
Pat's Backcountry Beverages makes a contraption that essentially allows you to treat the river of your choice as your personal beer tap. It comes with a special bottle, carbonation powder and brew concentrate.
I tried it out first hand on a hike in the Spring Mountains outside of Las Vegas. Standing in a foot of snow on a windswept peak (admittedly not ideal beer drinking conditions), I assembled my first backcountry brew. While the process was easy enough, the final product was mediocre and barely carbonated. That being said, turning water into alcohol is always cool, especially if you’re backpacking. At least that’s what I learned in Catholic school.
4. Hydro Flask Coffee and Tea Mug
After the decidedly non-refreshing experience of drinking beer in the snow, I decided to test something warm. Enter the Hydro Flask Coffee and Tea Mug. Hydro Flask claims that this bad boy keeps coffee hot for six hours and keeps chilled beverages cold for even longer.
I filled mine with java and Bailey’s and headed to Red Rock Canyon. It was 30 degrees and every single cactus was drowning in snow. At the end of my hike, I paused to enjoy my boozy coffee. Sure enough, it was still hot and delicious and as an added bonus, had not leaked. Two thumbs up. I’m looking forward to a Hot Toddy next time.
5. Stanley Adventure Happy Hour 4X System
After learning about the Stanley Adventure Happy Hour 4X System, a seven piece system that includes everything you need to make martinis on a hike, my heart was aflutter with dreams of cosmopolitans.
I put the Stanley Adventure Happy Hour 4X System in my backpack, filled the aforementioned Hydro Flask with cranberry juice, vodka, orange liqueur and lime juice and made my way to Red Rock Canyon. After scrambling up a small peak in time for sunset, I pulled apart the Stanley System (it nests inside itself when not in use) and made a cosmopolitan. The cocktail shaker itself is probably the best one I’ve ever used, and is great for day hiking and camping but might be too heavy for backpacking. As a resident of Las Vegas, I am probably contractually obligated to make martinis in the desert, so I will definitely use it again.
6. PlatyPreserve Portable Wine Storage Bottle
Are you the kind of person who yearns to drink fine wine in the backcountry? I’m not, but I like to think that I am. The PlatyPreserve Portable Wine Storage Bottle, which is basically a Camelbak bladder that keeps wine fresh, allows you to do just that (just be sure not to confuse the two). I splurged on a nice bottle and drove to Death Valley to try it out.
After I had filled it, I was surprised by how small it looked. It didn’t add too much weight to my backpack, didn’t leak and best of all, kept the wine fresh for the entire three day camping trip. If you are very classy like me, you will drink it straight from the bag.
7. Bandit Wine
Here’s a story about the magic that is Bandit wine: During my first season in Glacier, my roommate got together with a guy based on a shared love of the Montana wilderness and—you guessed it—Bandit wine. They are now married. I’m not saying that Bandit wine will make you fall in love, but I am saying that my former roommate literally refers to it as the catalyst for her marriage.
I brought Bandit wine with me on a hike in Death Valley and remembered yet again why it is perfect. It’s very good quality for boxed wine, the eco-friendly packaging doesn’t puncture, and the small twist top eliminates the need for a glass. I’m pretty sure you could throw it off of a cliff and it would be fine. It also floats, making it a great companion for kayaking trips. While both the half liter and full liter options are a little bulky, make some space for them in your backpack and you won’t regret it.
Thinking about testing out your own backcountry bartending skills? Always be sure to follow Leave No Trace principals and park service rules. In other words, don’t be the fool who gets too turnt on the trail. And remember, drink what you like, not what’s easiest or trendiest. Science may not have proven this yet, but I’m willing to bet that your favorite cocktail will taste even better on top of a mountain. Go climb one and find out.