How To Build the Perfect Backcountry Bar

Assemble a camp bar setup that’s suitable for party animals, kiddos, and sober friends alike.

Camping and simply getting outside is, for so many, the best way to relax, unwind, and celebrate a life well-lived. That makes it the perfect occasion to raise a toast. While any ol’ can of beer will get the job done, dabbling in mixology can be the perfect opportunity to explore your creative side and impress your friends. The trick, of course, is whittling down your home bar setup into a backcountry-friendly kit that’s both portable and organized—and knowing what kinds of recipes that kit will best suit. 

To set yours up, follow these insider tips on the best bar gear, ingredients, recipes, and alcohol-free alternatives—you’ll find everything you need to get the party started, and to keep it rolling all night long. Then, you’ll just need to crank the tunes, open up the cooler, and let your imagination run wild.   

Bar Gear 101

You don’t need much to whip up an amazing cocktail; in a pinch, a water bottle and a little ice is enough to mix most. That said, it’s way more fun to create drinks with some helpful toys. Here are a few inventive items for leveling up your backcountry bar. 

Cocktail Caddy 

The Rovr Cocktail Caddy’s rugged materials, rigid structure, and double-wall-insulated ice bucket make it the perfect way to keep your backcountry bar portable and organized.  

Shaker Bottle 

Step up your outdoor mixology skills with a durable, leak-proof shaker bottle. This version from High Camp Designs includes a built-in strainer and a serving cup, and its double-walled main chamber doubles as a miniature cooler that fits a single beer can. 

Insulated Cups 

Double-wall insulated cups will keep your hot toddies hot and your iced drinks cold. Invest in a few insulated tumblers to include in your backcountry bar kit.  

Break-proof Wine Glasses 

Glass is usually a no-no in the backcountry. Instead, opt for a wine that comes in a bag or can, or repackage bottled wine into a leak-proof reservoir before your trip. In camp, sip from plastic wine glasses or Silipint’s indestructible silicone version

Pocket Knife 

You likely already have a good multi-tool or pocket knife as a part of your camp kitchen kit. But if you don’t, now is the time to invest. Cocktail making is all about precision, and a sharp, high-quality blade will help you thinly slice ginger, herbs, and ribbons of orange or lemon peel. 

Essential Backcountry Bar Ingredients

There’s a lot to love about car camping, but having maximum storage capacity for fun ingredients just about tops the list. With these items, you’ll be able to make your choice of the following: whiskey sour, Manhattan, maple old fashioned, boulevardier, hot toddy, and mint julep.

Bar stuff

  • Whiskey
  • Sweet vermouth
  • Campari
  • Angostura bitters
  • Simple syrup 
  • Maraschino cherries 

Fresh stuff

  • Mint leaves
  • Fresh ginger
  • Lemon
  • Orange

Other stuff

  • Maple syrup
  • Cinnamon sticks
  • Honey
A man drinks out of a camp mug on the beach

3 Best Car Camping Cocktail Recipes

Some cocktail recipes are easier to adapt to the backcountry than others. Here are three favorites. 

1) Best for cold nights: Ginger Hot Toddy 

Heat ½ cup water over your camp stove. Pour into a mug. Add ½ Tbsp honey, a spritz of lemon, two thin slices of fresh ginger, and 1.5 oz. whiskey. Stir with the cinnamon stick until the honey is dissolved. Serve right away. 

2) Best party trick: Smoked Maple Old Fashioned  

You can use a metal camp mug to make this one, but a transparent silicone cup will let your guests watch the show. First, wipe down the inside of the glass or cup with an orange peel. Then, light a cinnamon stick on fire. When it’s good and smoking, drop it onto a metal or enamel camp plate and flip the glass over it. Let the cinnamon smoke fill the glass for a full minute. Then, flip the glass over, and douse and discard the cinnamon stick. Add 2 oz. of whiskey or bourbon, 1 tsp. maple syrup, and 4 dashes of Angostura bitters. Serve with ice and garnish with orange peel. 

3) Best for summer trips: Mint Julep 

Pour 1.5 oz. whiskey and 1 oz. simple syrup (a 50/50 blend of water and dissolved sugar) into a glass. Shake to combine. Add a few ice cubes and 5 to 8 mint leaves, then serve. 

Low- and No-Alcohol Alternatives

If you’re new to the world of NA beverages, grab a recipe book to get started. You can also tweak existing drink recipes by adding an alcohol-free whiskey or gin, or by leaving out the liquor altogether. Some other easy options:

Drinks for Kids 

No reason to leave the kids out of the fun. If you’re whipping up hot toddies for the grownups, for example, consider packing some hot cocoa mix for the kids. To step it up a notch, bring powdered whole milk, miniature marshmallows, and/or peppermint sticks for stirring. 

If you’re summer camping, start with a batch of fresh lemonade. Get the youngins involved by having them squeeze lemons—or forage for blackberries or blueberries to muddle into the drink if it’s berry season in your area. Other mocktail recipes can also be suitable for kids, too. Often, a splash of colorful juice with ice, club soda, and a fancy straw is enough to make them feel like part of the party. 

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.