Drinking in the wilderness is like sneaking a fifth of booze into a college football game. Your options are limited, to say the least. But with a little ingenuity, you can go far beyond filling a Nalgene bottle with some collegiate concoction of cheap whiskey and flat soda; you can make simple, delicious cocktails, using both foraged and easily packable ingredients. “A backcountry cocktail should be lightweight and acceptable to drink without ice or perishable mixers,” said Emily Nielson, co-founder of Dirty Gourmet, a three-person campsite catering team that creates outdoor-specific recipes and holds outdoor cooking workshops. “Car camping cocktails can be much more complex, with things like ice and sodas.”
The appeal of a proper cocktail in the backcountry is obvious. Something warm and hot to sip by the campfire? Check. Something that won’t pummel you with a brutal hangover the next morning? Double check. But what’s less obvious is how easy backcountry cocktails can be — with minimal ingredients and a handful of packable tools, a perfect campsite night-cap can be whipped up in just a few minutes. Below, Nielson shares three of her favorite backcountry cocktails, perfect for backpacking, camping, bike touring and more.
Mexican Hot Cocoa
Best uses: backpacking, bike touring, camping
3 ounces Patrón XO Cafe Dark Cocoa
2 packets hot cocoa mix
2 cups water or milk (powdered is fine)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1-2 insulated mugs
1. In a small pot, bring milk or water to a boil. Remove from heat.
2. Empty one hot cocoa mix packet into each camp mug. Slowly pour in half of the hot milk or water into each mug. Gently stir.
3. Add tequila.
4. Sprinkle in the cinnamon and cayenne.
Sun Tea Cocktail
Best uses: car camping, backpacking
1 ounce bourbon
8 ounces water
1 bag tea
1 teaspoon honey
1 lemon, sliced
1 sprig of thyme or rosemary
Clear water bottle
1. Combine water and tea bag into the water bottle. Stir.
2. Place water bottle in a sunny spot. Let sit for about 20 minutes, or until the tea has reached your preferred strength.
3. Combine bourbon, a squeeze of lemon and honey and a few crushed herb sprigs into the mug.
4. Top bourbon with tea, and let it chill for a while in a cold place (i.e., a cool mountain lake, glacial stream, and so on.)
Ginger Peach Julep
Best uses: car camping
1 ounce bourbon
2 slices ripe peach
8–10 mint leaves
Tall glass or insulated water bottle
Muddler (long spoon or spatula handle)
1. Combine peach slices, mint and whiskey into the tall glass or water bottle. Using a muddler, stir and shake generously so that the peach and mint flavors get into the whiskey.
2. Fill to the top with ice and ginger ale.
“Backcountry gear should always be multipurpose, so we don’t often bring extra specialty items,” Nielson says. “A bamboo or titanium spork will work to muddle. Make a whole batch of cocktails at one time in a Platypus SoftBottle, where you can shake ingredients and even clip it to a string or branch while it’s chilling in an alpine lake.”
Titanium Spork by Snow Peak $10
SoftBottle with Closure Cap by Platypus $8
10oz Rocks Cup Hydro Flask $30
Carbon Blade No. 8 Folding Knife by Opinel $18
MiniMo Stove by Jetboil $135
Meet the Regulus
Nixon’s Regulus watch — shockproof and water-resistant to 100 meters — is built to withstand tough terrain, whether you’re on dry land, high in the mountains or out at sea. Designed with input from special ops personnel, the minimal, 46mm case is made from durable, fiber-reinforced TR90 and the sturdy timepiece is equipped with dual chronographs as well as a five-year battery life. Learn More