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Canned cocktails are only one option for drinking outdoors.
Eating well in the great outdoors just requires a little planning, and drinking well while off the grid is the same. It might be slightly trickier if you’re backpacking, but even then, there are ways to enjoy great mixed drinks on the go—and we don’t just mean packing canned cocktails. Here are some tips on how to make top-shelf cocktails while camping.
Backpackers definitely need to lighten their load, and while car campers can pretty much pack a full bar, it’s still best to keep things relatively simple. You probably don’t want to deal with 10 different bottles of booze, plus bitters, fat washes, and egg foams at a picnic table (but you do you). Bring just a few bottles of alcohol—like vodka, whiskey or bourbon, and maybe a liqueur—that you can combine in various forms or sip straight. Bring mixers you’ll enjoy on their own too. Unlike pre-made bottled cocktail mixers, soda, fruit juice, lemonade, V-8, apple cider, and iced tea pull double duty during the day.
Since it can be a pain to clean up in camp, you’re generally better off sticking to cocktails that are stirred right in the glass. If you do want to make like James Bond, shake things up in a Nalgene bottle and drink out of it afterward. Or if you don’t mind washing an actual shaker, this speckled enamel one is pretty charming, but you can also get a sturdier stainless steel shaker with nesting cups specially designed for camping (it even has a citrus juicer!).
If you have a cooler, you can obviously use it to chill your drink components, but space is often at a premium, and the more frequently you open the lid, the less effective it is at keeping things cold. You probably definitely don’t want to use the actual half-melted ice inside the cooler in your drinks, so it’s helpful to choose booze and cocktails that don’t need to be chilled. A Manhattan will work; a daiquiri, maybe not so much.
That said, you can always get creative and chill bottles in lakes, streams, and snow if they’re at hand, but it’s worth getting acquainted with intentionally room temperature drinks. If you must have ice, freeze oversize cubes that will melt much more slowly and seal them in a double layer of zippered bags before stashing them in your drinks cooler.
If you’re hiking in, you’ll need to watch your pack weight. One option is to bring along miniature bottles of booze, which also means you can bring a bigger variety. If you don’t want to sip them straight, mixing them with powdered drink concentrates is a classic move, although perhaps not always the tastiest option. You can also decant various alcohols into tightly sealed plastic bags and nestle them in a Nalgene bottle, which will double as your drinking glass, or invest in soft polyurethane pouches with screw caps for more security.
Another good strategy is to craft your cocktails ahead of time and tote them along in flasks or canteens (or insulated growlers if it’s gonna be a long weekend). Choose a cocktail that won’t suffer from being stored and doesn’t need to be chilled (i.e. high in alcohol without a lot of extras). Figure out how many ounces your container holds, then do a little math to determine how many servings you can funnel in there, mix them up in a pitcher, and pour into your portable vessel. Take caution when batching drinks with bitters and citrus, which can become overwhelming in larger quantities. See this guide to flask cocktails for more info.
Packing a couple lemons or oranges, which don’t need to be chilled, can help enliven simple cocktails; just be sure you have a small paring knife or veggie peeler to zest them. Luxardo cherries might be nice to have (carry them in a baby food jar or snack baggie if you’re short on space). A sprig or two of fresh herbs can go a long way toward fancifying a drink. And if you want to make morning Bloody Marys, assemble mini skewers of garnishes ahead of time; thread olives, pickled peppers, and cubes of cheese on toothpicks and pack them in your cooler, where they’ll take up hardly any space.
Your campfire isn’t just for cooking food and zoning out in front of in lieu of television. You can make hot drinks too! Campfire coffee, mulled cider, and hot cocoa are all great with a splash of booze, and hot toddies are just the thing for chilly nights under the stars. Alternatively, you can grill your limes or lemons for an extra smoky squeeze of acidity in your glass.
A little liquid relaxation can greatly enhance your experience, but full-on intoxication doesn’t usually mix well with steep trails, open fires, or bears, so don’t forget to pace yourself, especially since many camping cocktails are undiluted—and drink plenty of clean water to stay hydrated, particularly if you’re exerting yourself and/or are at high altitude.
While beer and boxed wine and, yes, even canned cocktails will always have a place at the picnic table and around the fire ring, next time you want to wet your whistle in the wilderness, try one of these camping cocktails instead.
Pine Cone Punch
Our woodsy camp cocktail mixes a pine liqueur with dark rum and fruity pineapple juice; make it ahead of time and chill it in your canteen for a refreshing post-hike sip. Get our Pine Cone Punch recipe.
Tinto de Verano
Camping sangria is intriguing, but for something a bit simpler, if you’ve got Sprite in your cooler for daytime drinking anyway, doctor it up in the evening with some red wine and a spritz of lemon (swap in Coke for a Kalimotxo). Get our Tinto de Verano recipe.
With only three ingredients (bourbon, lemon juice, and a make-ahead honey syrup), this is a good option for mixing up in advance, or easy to stir together on-site. Get the Gold Rush recipe.
The Corsican Cocktail
We devised this drink for a picnic, but it’s great for camping too—if you have a drinks cooler (or a stream or lake) to keep the club soda chilled. You mix the limoncello, Lillet, elderflower, and everything else except the bubbles ahead of time, then simply pour and top it off with the soda. Watch out, though, because it is potent. Get our Make-Ahead Limoncello Cocktail recipe.
Rob Roy in a Flask
Scotch, vermouth, and Angostura bitters diluted with a bit of water can be enjoyed without ice, but this one’s good chilled too if you have the means. Get the Rob Roy in a Flask recipe.
Rye Whiskey and Marshmallow Simple Syrup
You probably never use an entire bag of marshmallows before they go stale, so set some aside before your trip and make sweet marshmallow syrup to mix with spicy rye whiskey in this super-simple—and appropriate—cocktail. Top it off with a toasted marshmallow by the fire. Get the Rye Whiskey and Marshmallow Simple Syrup recipe.
If you do have a cooler, you can make frozen margaritas ahead of time and bring them along. Even once they melt, they’ll be good, but they’re definitely best as a first-day drink. Be sure to double-bag the mixture in case of leaks. Get the Camping Margarita recipe.
S’mores Hot Chocolate
This s’mores-inspired hot chocolate has a touch of honey (for that graham cracker flavor) and a shot of whiskey for extra warmth, plus melted marshmallows, of course. You can also make this with your favorite hot cocoa mix. Get the S’mores Hot Chocolate recipe.