Absolutely nothing beats soaking in the great outdoors, except maybe the satisfaction of enjoying a few brews or cocktails around the campfire with your friends. Whether you’ve spent the day hiking, fishing, rock climbing, mountain biking, or whatever, putting a few back and maybe even getting a little faded with a joint or edible is the perfect way to wind down and ease yourself into that cozy sleeping bag. But what exactly should you be partaking? I can help you with that.
An important distinction before we get too deep on this: Are you car-camping or backpacking? If you’re car-camping, stay here and read this. If you’re backpacking, skip the beer section. Nobody should be schlepping heavy beers around in their hiking backpack.
Yes, beer’s utility is matched only by its simplicity, but what if you’re looking for something more flavorful or weighty than a 24-pack of a macro-brew? If you’re on a trip to a part of the country you’ve never been before, do a little research and see what’s available, or better yet, ask a friend who is familiar with the area if they know of any must-try breweries. To wit, last summer while on a car-camping trip with friends in southwestern Colorado, one of my buddies explained that we needed to pick up Ska’s Tart Mexican Logger—not to be confused for Ska’s regular Mexican Logger which has a much larger distribution—an extremely delicious beer only available within the Rocky Mountain State. The tart and savory beer was a godsend after returning to our campsite with throats full of trail dust after a 14-mile day hike, and it tasted all the better for my friend’s knowledge of this local gem.
In that same vein, if you’re on the eastern seaboard, Narragansett’s (stop smirking) Fresh Catch will be making its way into my rotation for “beers to drink while fishing” this summer, as it packs the “crushability” of the many session IPAs that I find too often rather incomplete and lacking in flavor. Also, don’t drink session IPAs.
The Buds, Miller Lites, and Coors of the world have their time and place, but craft-obsessive or not, a well-made craft brew around the campfire can’t be beat. Do your homework and find something that you’ll like in the area where you’re camping. Looking for ideas? Well, I have enjoyed beers from: Carton Brewing, Kills Boro, Shipyard, Half Acre, Hoof Hearted, Burial Brewing Co., Appalachian Mountain Brewery, Anderson Valley, Castle Danger, Prairie Artisan Ales, Central Waters, Tyranena, Maine Beer Co., Lagunitas, and many more on camping trips across the country. What I’m trying to impart is this: there are too many good beers out there for you to always settle on what you’re familiar with.
As mentioned above, if you’re backpacking leave the heavy bottles and cans of beer behind. Instead, dole out some liquor in a flask or hydration bladder. Like most things when it comes to backpacking, versatility and simplicity is the name of the game. You can’t go wrong with a classic flask of whisky, bourbon, or tequila, but you don’t have to stop there. For instance, I really enjoy packing a simple syrup and some lemon for instant whiskey/tequila sours. Or you can switch out the lemon for a lime, add a sprig of mint, and ta-da: improvised mint julep or tequila mojito.
If you’re taking a car, bring along some flavored sparkling water to really jazz up your cocktails and wow your friends with your latent mixology skills. Tequila sour? Howsabout a tequila and soda with grapefruit-flavored bubbly water? Also, pack an extra bag of ice for cocktails in order to avoid the ice in your cooler that’s been absorbing hot dog juice and onion dip remnants all day.
One solution for cocktails on the trail is pre-mixing a boozy drink and loading your flask up with that. Three pre-mixed cocktails I have enjoyed follow:
2 oz. bourbon
1 oz. Campari
1 oz. sweet vermouth
Pour the ingredients, stir to mix, strain into your flask. It’s that easy.
The Maple Leaf:
2 oz. bourbon
.5 oz. lemon juice
.5 oz. maple syrup
Pour the ingredients into a shaker loaded with ice, shake like the maple syrup owes you money, pour through a strainer into your flask.
Traditionally, a cinnamon stick is used to garnish this sipper, but I’ve found that leaving the cinnamon in your flask can impart the cocktail with too much cinnamon flavor, and also get stuck in your flask if it’s got a small mouth. But if you really like cinnamon, go nuts, man.
If the Boulevardier or Maple Leaf is too “complicated” for your lazy, possibly joyless self, try the Kumbaya:
The Kumbaya Cocktail:
3 oz. mezcal
2 oz. amaro montenegro
1 oz. triple sec
Pour the mezcal, amaro and triple sec directly into your flask. Shake. That’s it.
Some other impossibly simple favorites for on-the-trail boozin’ are the hot toddy and the ol’ Irish coffee. Tea bags and a pouch or two of instant coffee are two backpacking staples I never leave home without. For starters, there is no better start to your morning than looking out on a rising sun over an idyllic lake or valley and sipping on a hot coffee. Secondly, nothing can brighten up your spirits on a rain-soaked slog of a hike, and you will encounter these days, like firing up your camp stove or JetBoil and having a hot beverage. If the weather’s really dragging you and your party down, go ahead and pour a shot of whiskey or brandy into your cup for morale’s sake. Doll your mug of Red Rose up with a lemon wedge and roil in your British-ness like you’re the Queen Mother herself. For the coffee crowd, make sure you add the Voila instant coffee and hot water to your mug first, THEN pour the booze in. We’re not animals, people.
Not to get all “mom” on you, but a word of warning: Be careful with the booze if you’re hiking at higher elevations. Alcohol can really sneak up on you in the thin air, and you don’t want to fall off a cliff or something. Drink extra water, and think twice before saying yes to that last beer or drink.
What About Drugs?
The benefits of camping with weed or shrooms are self-evident: incredibly lightweight to pack and carry, fantastic highs, and an altered state of mind. The greens are greener and the sky’s hues fresher and more brilliant when you’re high, but there is risk involved. Having a good time on narcotics in the wilderness all comes down to awareness and responsibility. Put bluntly: Sweet Jesus, please be careful. Emergency rooms and urgent care facilities across the expanses of America’s quieter and wilder corners are lousy with dipshits who have taken in too much of one thing or another while out on the trail. I once went hiking with a friend who curled up into a ball and refused to hike back down a 4,000-foot peak, even though a thunderstorm was fast approaching, because he’d eaten too many weed brownies. Don’t be that guy!
Taking a toke or two after a lunch break on the trail is one thing, but leave the psychotropic experiences until you’ve set up camp and have gotten all of the critically important things taken care of. I’m talking tent’s made, rain fly is on, sleeping bag is rolled out, campfire is built but on the back nine of its burn, ample water (for fire safety AND hydration) is available, sharp pointy things such as knives, hatchets and saws are safely put away, food is strung up in a bear bag on a tree branch, you know where your headlamp is, etc.
Drugs are powerful things, the brain is even more so, and you want wits and instincts to not be backfiring when something bad happens. Short of that, know where you are, how you got there, know your limits, and minimize all other risks of bad things that could happen. Stay hydrated and don’t freak out. If you think you’re starting to freak out, relax and stay with your friends around the campfire. Drink more water, have a small and easy snack. Take a look up at the big wide open night sky and recognize how lucky you are to be at that campsite with the people you’re around. Ponder the smallness of human existence and whatnot. Get lost in your mind, and please not the woods.
Brian Lauvray is a big ol’ outdoors and endurance sports nerd.