Better Powdered Drink Mixes to Bring Camping or Hiking
Forget bug juice and camp with everything from milk tea to Arnold Palmers to chicha morada
Powdered drinks are a mainstay on camping trips, both for their portability and their capacity to transform campsite water into potable substances. If your camping trip is more than a few days, drink mixes can free you from the monotony of countless canteens of plain water and encourage folks to hydrate. They also usually zap you with enough sugar to fuel a triathlon (or casual afternoon hike), and offer clutch non-alcoholic pairings for gourmands in the backcountry. But most campers don’t look beyond Tang, Crystal Light, Kool-Aid, or some combination of the three with fruit juice under the oh-so-appetizing moniker “bug juice.” You deserve more.
The realm of powdered drinks (and global shipping) has come a long way since the Kool-Aid Man burst onto the scene. Brands like AriZona and Snapple have broken into the market with powdered versions of their own popular beverages, and you can even find affordable, serviceable store brands at chain grocers like Stop & Shop. International brands like Klass and Zuko from Mexico, and Rasna from India, are available across the U.S. too, broadening the spectrum of fruit flavors beyond orange, fruit punch, and Berry Blue. Dissolvable powdered teas and other international non-juice drinks expand options even further, as do the myriad of new boutique nutritional and CBD-infused drink powders, too vast a genre to delve into here.
Don’t settle for bug juice. Stock up on these just-add-water powdered drinks for your next foray into nature.
Even at the height of Tang’s popularity, it’s hard to compare it to powdered drink titan Rasna, which retains powerful nostalgic appeal for customers in India. Since rocketing to popularity in the 1980s with celebrity brand ambassadors, affordable pricing, and adorable commercials, Rasna has become a household name with flavors like Nagpur orange and jaljira (a spiced drink featuring cumin), but mango is one of a few available online that the brand exports widely. You won’t confuse it for real juice, but it’s an excellent alternative to America’s own space age juice powder.
In the bag, guanabana (soursop) flavored Zuko smells creamy, almost like one of those ’90s yogurt cups with sprinkles, but once you mix the powder with water, the smell teleports to a batido shop. While the resulting drink is thinner than a fruity guanabana milkshake, it still satisfies with the same velvety, mouth-coating, sugary fruit flavor. This is dessert in a glass, the perfect send-off before climbing into a sleeping bag.
Salep (Sahlab) is a sweet, lightly spiced, comforting drink brewed from Turkish orchids, popular across the Middle East and Europe. It’s usually mixed on the stove from fresh orchid powder, milk, sugar, and cinnamon — which you might have on hand if you were preparing a nice steaming cup in your home kitchen or glamping cabin. But if you’re huddled over a campfire at the crack of dawn with a saucepan, some water from the campsite pump, and some instant mix, you can still cook up a blissful little decaf alternative to morning coffee or afternoon tea. You can get a tin from Turkish coffee chain Kahve Dünyası, but Nestle’s packets are more convenient (if wasteful) in the wild.
Brands like Snapple and Gatorade also grind their iconic drinks into powders (including the best-selling diet peach iced tea and fruit punch, respectively), but AriZona Arnold Palmer is the best of the bunch. (Snapple’s powder tastes a bit flat, while Gatorade’s dust comes in packets that are difficult to rip and requires a whopping 20 ounces of water to dissolve.) AriZona does a good job reproducing its distinctive Arnold Palmer and provides that hit of comfort you need after a long hike. Just don’t look too closely at the disturbingly dark powder as it emerges from the packet or the oddly foamy head on the finished drink.
Most drink mixes seem designed for young children, who don’t mind tooth-numbing sugar. Nitto Kocha Royal Milk Tea offers convenience without the extreme sugar intake (or unnerving technicolor). While the tea dissolves better in hot water and the drink may benefit from milk or a dash of sugar, it’s equally soothing made with cold water, preferably with ice. Each Nitto Kocha sachet does require a little more water and time to mix than your standard pack of Tang, but that will just leave you with more tea to share. Look out for Nitto Kocha’s strawberry-flavored milk tea, which lands somewhere between saccharine powdered juice and delicate tea, and the brand’s Torokeru Peach sticks, like a lighter version of Snapple.
You’ll find purple corn-based drinks across South and Central America, both freshly prepared from kernels and in powdered mixes. Peru’s chicha morada is often lightly spiced and sweetened with pineapple, quince, apple, or other fruit, and it may be fermented too, creating a juicy, sort of nutty, deep purple beverage sometimes compared to mulled wine. The mix from Doña Isabel, one of a few brands available stateside, delivers a simplified version of chicha morada’s distinct flavor in a camp-ready package.
It’s not quite as peppy as a jug of hibiscus tea made from dried flowers, but the flavor from Klass is still pretty satisfying, like a mellower fruit punch. Of all the contenders here, it’s also the best candidate for large-batch brewing, since it comes in a single large ziptop bag instead of individual packets. Mix up a pitcher with plenty of ice and nurse it with a few friends around the campfire.
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