Picture yourself on a big hike with some friends.
You reach the summit, after a grueling four-hour trek. Your legs burn as though you just trudged across Mordor, but you’ve made it to the tower. You look to your friend Brian, and you ask him to kindly hand you a beer. You earned it.
The only words you hear before your train of thought spirals into the valley below, are “I didn’t bring the beers..”. The world goes silent. Brian is still over there talking, mumbling on about weight and temperatures, but it’s all for naught. All you can think is why on earth did you bring Brian.
Brian isn’t coming on the next trip. Don’t be like Brian.
As you regain your focus, you see that the group behind you has caught up and is making their summit beside you. The scrawny guy bringing up the rear pulls a sling off his shoulder and unzips it, revealing six frosty delicious beers.
One by one, he tosses them to his friends, and you consider risking life and limb to dive for the interception. As they smile and catch them, they shower him with thanks. “Thanks, Brett!” They crack them open quickly, like kids shredding wrapping paper on Christmas morning. They toast, cheers to another great hike, and they sip the delicious hoppy nectar.
Brian says something stupid about not wanting a beer anyway. You leave him behind.
As you walk past them and try to lose Brian, you overhear them admiring Brett’s ingenuity, bringing a beer sling full of cold beer.
Brett knew they needed beer at the top, and he figured out how to bring it. Be like Brett.
Whether you’re fishing, hiking, biking, or exploring, you’ll work up a thirst playing outdoors. You can’t always have a big cooler full of beer with you to quench that thirst (it would be a lot cooler if you did). For long hikes or overnight trips, you have to be able to carry it in and carry it out. If you’re the one to solve the problem, you too can be Brett.
For the beer and wine lovers, this presents you with a special problem. Beer and wine are not light or small, and they both taste better when cold or chilled. Of course, you could forego them and just bring whiskey. While awesome, hard liquor just isn’t the same. For your top-o’-the-mountain reward, nothing says “you made it” quite like a cold beer. And, nothing goes with your fresh-caught fish quite like a chilled [camping cup of] vino. Pinky out, you classy-ass camper, you.
Besides, there are a million ways to bring hard liquor on the trail with you, so we’ll set those aside for now.
Decide what you really want out of your adult beverages while camping.
This beer tasted every bit as good as it looks.
Are you looking for a crisp, cool easy refreshment at the summit? A good compliment to your backpacker meal? Maybe you want to catch a big buzz at the camp site before bed.
This is the first step in figuring out what to bring and how much of it you’ll need. If you just want a tasty, refreshing brew, you can bring any combination of low-alcohol beers. If you want more of a buzz, you might want to bring some high-gravity beers or stick to wine. Most fermented drinks top out at around 16% alcohol – the yeast can’t survive at a much higher abv.
For the lower gravity options, the world is your beer store. Hopphobics can pick from lagers, hefeweizens, alts, ambers, cream ales, pilsners, and more. Hopheads can go with a nice pale ale, a session IPA, dry-hopped anything, and the list goes on.
For a bigger buzz, look at Belgian strong ales, barleywines, imperial porters/stouts/IPAs, and more. One thing to note with the “bigger” beers is that they usually come in glass bottles or bombers. That isn’t a deal breaker, but it adds more weight, and you can’t pack out the bottles as easily as cans.
With wine, most options are going to be higher gravity, between 11-15%. If you plan on catching and eating fresh fish, you may want a white wine like a Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc. Side note: have a backup plan if you plan to catch your food :). If you’re not concerned with food pairing, it’s hard to beat a good blended red or Cabernet Sauvignon.
Now, getting your drinks from base to site, or site to summit
Beer takes up the most space, per volume of alcohol, so it often gets left behind. But if you’re committed to having a beer at the summit, there are a few ways to haul it along.
Six-ounce cans are the easiest vessel for bringing beer hiking:
- Carry a few cans by sticking a beer in every free space in your pack.When it’s cool outside but not below freezing, keep them close to the outside of the pack. That way you use the ambient air to keep your beers cool, and conserve resources. If it’s warm out, try insulating them by placing them in the middle of the pack.
- If you’re in a group, have some people carry more water, and others carry the beer.
- Use a sling-style soft cooler to carry a six pack over your shoulder.Because it’s a separate bag, you can take turns carrying it or strapping it to your pack. The shape of this cooler tube allows you to carry it much more comfortably than a boxy soft cooler.
- Find a more creative spot, like this guy:
With bottles or bombers, you are pretty limited. Option number one on the above list is your best bet. Furthermore, you need to make sure they aren’t in a spot where they’ll get broken. If you have a stumble, the last thing you want is to soak the contents of your pack in beer. We recommend cans, unless you have lots of spare space and can put bottles in cushioned spots. Always pack in and pack out, which is multitudes easier with cans.
The winos win the portability challenge.
Because wine isn’t carbonated, you have a lot more flexibility in how you carry it. You can:
- Buy some of the small, cylindrical boxed wines, like Bota Box.
- Buy a boxed wine and remove the outer box. You can carry it in your pack by itself, just keep it away from sharp edges.
- Buy wine bags made for hiking, like the ones from Clif Winery.
- Buy your favorite wine in a bottle. Then transfer it to a durable, resealable bag made for hiking – like this one
- Do #4, but use a water bladder (one you only use for wine), and empty your bottle into that.
- #4 again, using a nalgene or other BPA-free bottle you already own, and transfer into that.
The Bota Box, in action:
Bota Mini Box
Note: when you transfer wine, you want to limit air exposure. Expel all the air from a bag before you fill it with wine. If you can’t get rid of all the air, you may want to siphon the wine into the bottom of the vessel. This will allow the wine to gently replace the air in the bag or bottle, pushing it up and out without mixing it.
You got to where you’re going, and it’s time for a drink. Now what?
So far, every beer or wine vessel I’ve mentioned doubles as a drinking vessel. If you’re in a group, you’ll just have to be ok with sharing, unless you want to bring cups.
As you can guess, your bigger priority lies in getting your beverage to the right temperature. This is where things get a little tricky. Sometimes, you’ll be able to have a perfect 45 degree pale ale at the summit. Sometimes you may have to settle for 55 degrees or even warmer.
If the weather is cold, this works in your favor. Generally speaking, it’s easier to warm things in the wild than to cool them. You can insulate drinks against extreme cold, and you can use moderate cold to your advantage.
When it’s hot outside, your options shrink a bit.
- The most favorable option for cooling your six pack or wine bag in warm weather, is to find a cold body of water. Submerge your beer or wine vessel in the water, making sure to anchor it down. Err on the safe side, keep it out of currents and use a rope to tie it to something solid on the bank. Potable water is preferable, otherwise you’ll also need to sanitize your beer. After 10 minutes or less, your beer temp will match the water temp.
- If a cool water source isn’t nearby, you need to get closer to groundwater by going down. You’re going to want to use your shovel for this…
- Dig until you find cold soil. Dig out the hole deep and wide enough to hold your drinks.
- Place your drinks inside, and try not to lay them down in the mud.
- Get a rag or towel, and soak it in water. Place the soaked cloth over the opening of your hole. This will use evaporative cooling to lower the temperature a little more. This process takes time, and is best used for leaving drinks and coming back to them later. It should also be used to store drinks at your site if you don’t have a cooler.
- If the weather is warm, but snow is still present, use it. If you don’t have enough snow to stick a beer in, that’s ok. Even a thin layer of ice or snow can cool a whole beer. Roll the beer in the snow/against the ice. This will keep the inner contents moving around and that will help distribute the cold.
- Evaporative cooling will always cool your drinks a few degrees. Use the water cloth trick mentioned in #2, wrapping the towel around your drink.
- Always seek to maintain temperature. This is important. It is far easier to maintain cold than to create it. If your drinks reach drinking temp, try to keep them there. Insulate them using Koozies, cooler slings, sweaters, jackets, or whatever else you are taking with you. If it will be cool at night but not during the day, leave them out naked and insulate them in the morning.
- If you pass some snow and know you’ll be staying in a warmer area, pack it into a baggy or empty bottle and take it with you.
- We are currently working on a portable, lightweight solution for this problem. We’ll be sure to keep you posted when we solve it!
I hope I’ve helped you get a little closer to being the camping beer hero. We hope to bring you even more solutions and a product here and there to help you maximize your time on the trail. Stay tuned!