We have tried many different thermos configurations, and we have learned a great deal about ways to bring your tea with you into the wilderness. To start, many thermoses are insulated with glass, which breaks fairly easily. This is why we began using stainless steel. Not only is steel the safest way to store liquids due to its inert chemical properties, it is possible to actually brew the tea right in the transport container. We began using a single layer steel water bottle designed for hiking, we discovered that the vessel got dangerously hot for a very long period of time. Furthermore, once the container was cool enough to handle, the tea inside was now cold. Then we discovered the Hydro-Flask.
This brilliantly designed, sturdy vessel keeps hot liquids hot for up to 12 hours. It is perfect for the purpose of bringing your favorite tea to your favorite outdoor location. The product uses a dual layer of stainless steel, with a vacuum space between them. If the top remains on, the tea will stay hot much longer than if you take it off to pour, so just unscrew the lid enough to allow the tea out through the specially designed grooves in the cap threading (depending on your lid type as they have options). A word of caution: the tea may be very hot, so never drink directly out of the container unless you are absolutely certain that the tea is cold. Even then, we discourage drinking directly out of the vessel, as sharing with others requires a sanitary community vessel. There is no better way to make friends in the forest than a hot cup of tea on a cold day.
The next matter to address is the tea cup. Plastic is never a good idea for hot liquids, obviously, so metal is your best option once again. We have been using metal camping cups for some time now, and one of the best aspect for us is the warmth of the cup itself for chilly fingers. Be aware that if your hands are really cold, you will not realize that the cup is burning your fingers until it is too late, so be careful with this practice. Try holding the cup while you are wearing gloves. This will warm up the gloves, and protect your fingers at the same time. Some of the travel cups have a ceramic coating which can chip off if dropped, so treat your tea cups with love. You will also need a carabiner of some sort to hold the cup to the flask.
If you are like us, and you are often rushing out the door to go hiking, you will need a quick way to get the tea started, and let it steep as you drive to the trail. If you are using tea bags, just drop them in and run. You can keep your half and half cold in a smaller Hydro Flask. A great option for loose leaf tea brewing on the go is the large mouth Hydro Flask. It allows for the insertion of a tea ball. As with most tea balls, there is a metal chain and hook system to allow you to pull the ball out without burning your fingers. This system will not work with the Hydro Flask, as you will not be able to screw the lid closed but we have a fix. Instead, try using a thin but strong inert string that ties the tea ball's metal chain to the carabiner, like a natural hemp cord.
If you are really adventuresome, you may want to brew your own tea in the wilderness. This creates a more sustainable situation for longer hikes, especially if you have access to a water source. You can filter the water with the incredible Katadyne Hike Pro water filtration system if you please, but if you boil the water to make tea, the water should be safe to drink in almost every case. The easiest way to boil water in the woods is with a simple Sterno camping cook set, although a higher end version will boil water much faster. If you are really serious, there are very few products that compare to the MSR WhisperLite backpacking stove. What ever you choose make sure to get a good camping pot and make sure to always use standard outdoor cooking safety practices.
The bottom line is this: if you bring hot tea with you when you hike, you will feel more comfortable in the outdoors. If you feel more comfortable in the wilderness, you are more likely to stay longer, and appreciate the natural beauty of our living planet. You will calm down to the slow, healthy pace of the earth itself, and you will become well again. As you sip your wilderness tea while appreciating nature, you own true beauty will become abundantly obvious to you, and you will be at home wherever you are.
-Brian Germain has been an adventure leader for 35 years and is a bona fide tree-hugger, and tea-sipper.