Australian Hiker

Regardless of the gear we do or don’t carry and the passionate arguments about which is the best thingamajig, the one thing that you can guarantee is in every hiker’s pack is water.

Water is essential to our wellbeing and without it we can’t survive. How long we can live without water is not a straightforward question and while the often-quoted figure is approximately three days, the answer is going to vary depending on many factors. Believe it or not, it is also possible to die from drinking too much water on a hike, it does happen!

As hikers, we should be carrying adequate water on every hike but how much water is enough? And how should we carry it?

You can listen to this article as a podcast at 029-Water on the Trail: How much and how to carry

How much water should I carry?

This question is a bit like asking ‘How long is a piece of string?’ In other words, a difficult question to answer that depends on many factors. However, it is a question you should be able to answer as you gain experience as a hiker. The factors that you need to consider include:

  • How long is the hike? Is this just a short half day hike or a longer multiday hike?
  • How far to the next guaranteed water source?
  • How hot is it?
  • Are you just drinking the water or will you also need water for cooking?
  • How hard are you going to be exerting yourself?
  • How exposed to the elements are you?

While I am in the process of trying to lighten my load to become an ultra-light hiker, water is one thing I don’t skimp on. I hike year round and during the middle of summer the temperatures can be approaching 40 degrees Celsius during the hottest part of the day so it’s crucial I carry enough water to prevent heat exhaustion/heat stroke.

Shorter hikes

On short hikes, 3-4 km in length, I drink very little water. On the very hot days I will water load before the walk and sip from a water bottle/bladder on the hike. What this means is that on a hot day when temperatures become extreme, I will start by drinking about 750 ml at the start and up to 3 Litres during the day but will carry 2 Litres just in case. During the cooler months, I may only drink ½ Litre at most.

Long hikes

By long hikes I mean hikes where I will be hiking between 6-15 hours and travelling anywhere up to 30-50 km in a single day, or doing multi day hikes.

A good example here is a three-day hike I did on the Canberra Centenary Trail during mid-summer where the temperatures reached 37° Celsius at their hottest. During the biggest day of this hike, I travelled just over 58 km in distance, over 13 hours, and drank 7 litres of water. This is an extreme example that most people are unlikely to ever experience but this provided me with a good indication of my water use. Based on this hike, I now know that in mid-summer I need about 600 ml per hour on average but will typically allow 1 litre/hour.

Rough guide

Over the past few years I have been monitoring my water usage and now know that:

  • In the cooler months I drink around 1 litre of water / 10 kilometres travelled.
  • In very hot weather (typically 30 degrees celsius +) I will allow 1 litre of water / hour.

How can you minimise your water carry?

Plan your hike

  • Know what your water consumption requirements are likely to be based on the environmental conditions and your likely usage
  • Know how much water you are likely to need overall for the day
  • Know where the reliable refill points are. Do you need to filter?
  • In very hot conditions, hike early and late, resting during the middle of the day
  • Work out your options in case you run out of water

Drink regularly

  • Load up at the start of the day, drink at least 500 ml before you leave camp
  • Drink up big at each water source
  • Fill up at every available water source
  • Drink at the end of the day when you have finished hiking

Monitor your water consumption

  • Monitor your water use and make sure you and your group members are drinking
  • Use urine colour as a guide. This is not a perfect measure but if your urine colour is dark, then it is likely you need to drink more
  • If you start to feel a headache coming on, it may be due to drinking too little

Now that you have some idea of how much water you need to carry, the next thing you need to consider is how you will carry the water.

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Rigid water bottles

This is probably the most common way to carry water. Water bottles can be made of either a plastic compound or less commonly metal.

Advantages

  • Most, not all, plastic bottles for hiking are transparent so it’s easy to gauge water use
  • Relatively inexpensive
  • Robust
  • The wide mouth versions are easy to fill up
  • Narrow mouth versions are easy to drink from

Disadvantages

  • More of a conscious effort required to get a drink
  • Heavier than the other options
  • Most bottles smaller in size up to one litre so if you need large amounts of water then water bottles are not your best choice
  • Wide mouth bottles take a bit of skill to learn to drink from
  • Narrow mouth water bottles are harder to fill up

1 Litre/750 ml/500 ml had plastic water bottles. The 1 Litre bottle has a wide mouth, the 750 ml bottle has a sipper tube and the 500 ml bottle has a narrow mouth

Soft /collapsible water bottles

Soft water bottles are becoming more common on the trail and while not as durable offer more versatility in how you carry them.

Advantages

  • Lightweight
  • Collapse to almost nothing when not being used
  • The flexibility of these bottles means you have more options for storage

Disadvantages

  • Not as durable as hard water bottles
  • Can be difficult to clean
  • Small spout can be difficult to fill
  • Usually small size (½- 1 Litre) so you may have to carry several them if you need large quantities of water for multi day trips

Platypus 2 Litre soft water bottle. Note the small opening which can be hard to fill

Hydration Bladders

These large sized flexible bladders will fit into a dedicated pocket that many packs now have and the smaller bladders are also capable of being strapped to other pockets/parts of the pack.

Advantages

  • Able to carry larger amounts of water. Typical sizes range from 1.5-3 Litres
  • Very easy to access so you will be more likely to drink
  • Usually have a good-sized opening for refilling

Disadvantages

  • Depending on how the bladder fits into the pack, you may have to unpack much of your pack when you refill the bladder
  • Harder to keep clean, may require a special cleaning kit in some cases
  • A bit more fiddly to fill

Two types of water hydration bladders

Soft Water Reservoir

These large capacity soft reservoirs are ideal when you have no choice but to carry 2-3 days of water or your water sources are limited or unreliable.

Advantages

Disadvantages

  • Expensive compared to other options. This is more an issue with the amount of water you are carrying rather than the container
  • Are difficult to drink from – they are a reservoir rather than a drinking container

4 Litre soft plastic water reservoir versus 2 Litre soft water bottle

The final word

Everyone is going to carry water in a slightly different way and will carry different amounts. The main thing to remember is to do your planning so you can carry the minimum amount you need without putting yourself at risk. The key here is to carry less but not drink less!

The Water Crisis

Water connects every aspect of life. Access to safe water and sanitation can quickly turn problems into potential – empowering people with time for school and work, and contributing to improved health for women, children, and families around the world.

Today, 771 million people – 1 in 10 – lack access to safe water and 1.7 billion people – 1 in 4 – lack access to a toilet. These are the people we empower.

771 M 771 million people lack access to safe water 1.7 B 1.7 billion people lack access to improved sanitation

A women’s crisis

Women are disproportionately affected by the water crisis, as they are often responsible for collecting water. This takes time away from work, school and caring for family. The lack of water and sanitation locks women in a cycle of poverty.

Empowering women is critical to solving the water crisis. When women have access to safe water at home, they can pursue more beyond water collection and their traditional roles. They have time to work and add to their household income.

A woman carries a water vessel in Hyderabad, India

Water Crisis

A health crisis

The water crisis is a health crisis. Nearly 1 million people die each year from water, sanitation and hygiene-related diseases which could be reduced with access to safe water or sanitation. Every 2 minutes a child dies from a water-related disease. Access to safe water and sanitation contributes to improved health and helps prevent the spread of infectious disease. It means reduced child and maternal mortality rates. It means reduced physical injury from constant lifting and carrying heavy loads of water. As we face the COVID-19 pandemic, now more than ever access to safe water is critical to the health of families around the world.

A children’s and education crisis

Children are often responsible for collecting water for their families. This takes time away from school and play. Access to safe water and sanitation changes this. Reductions in time spent collecting water have been found to increase school attendance, especially for girls. Access to safe water gives children time to play and opportunity for a bright future.

How Much Water to Bring While Hiking? 1 liter per hour

hiking water

It’s perhaps the most important question on the minds of many new and experienced hikers – exactly how much water should I bring on my next hike?

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On an average hike in 20°C (68°F) weather, you should expect to drink 0.5-1 liters (2-4 cups) per hour. However the exact amount of water you’ll need depends on how efficient your kidneys are, how hot and humid the climate is and how many water sources are available along your route.

In warmer weather or if you’re sweating heavily you’ll want to drink more to replace the lost fluid.

Table of Contents

What color is your pee?

Every hiker is different and over time you’ll get to know how much water you’ll need in different conditions. The best way to check if your drinking enough water is to look at the color of your pee.

A clear sign that you’re drinking enough water is your urine should be straw color or pale yellow. If it’s darker then you will likely benefit from drinking more water and if it is clear then you’re drinking plenty.

Planning how much water to bring

Water is usually ones of the heaviest items in our backpack (- along with tents, sleeping bags, and stoves.) and with many hikers preferring to pack light and have less weight on their shoulders – choosing how much water to bring can be a real challenge.

No one wants to bring so much excess water that their packs are weighed down and yet on the other end it can be dangerous and even a fatal mistake to not pack enough water with you.

The key is to plan your route and be aware of any water sources that may be en route. For most hikers, there will be a stream, a creek or a water source that can be used to fill up water filters – for others hiking in the desert or in dry conditions there may be no water sources – and so you will need to bring all your water with you.

Bring a water filter

MSR TrailShot Micro-Filtration System

Most hikers and backpackers will benefit enormously from carrying a water filter or purifier. This will allow you to top up all your water bottles en route and means you can pack less water but be confident that you’ll stay properly hydrated.

Water filter technology has been improving rapidly and there are some amazing lightweight filters that make collecting and purifying water super simple and easy to do.

⚠️Be aware that many water sources are not available all year round. Only rely on a water source if you’re positive it has enough water in it to get you through your hike.

From the ultra-minimalist water bottles with built-in filters to the high powered water pumps like the MRS trailshot (read my review) that will create 1 liter of fresh filtered water every minute.

tmini works filter review

Water filters are pretty incredible, they make most river or creek water (that’s not been contaminated with heavy metals or industrial pollution) relatively safe to drink.

For higher risk areas opt for a water purifier like the MSR MiniWorks Ex Microfilter (read my review) which not only filters our bacteria and particles of sediment, but also the much smaller viruses.

P.S I wrote an entire buyers guide to water filters looking at the major differences between filters and how to decide on the best one for you – for high capacity to ultralight (prices range from $30-300).

I can still remember the first time I used a water filter…I stopped at a stream and pumped 2 liters of water into my platypus hydration system. It was one of the most liberating moments I’ve ever experienced hiking! I knew from then on, that the distance I could hike in a day would never be limited by the amount of water I could carry in my pack.
Nick from Hiking Ambition

How long will you be hiking?

At a minimum, you’ll want to have at least a few liters of water in your backpack to take you through your hike. If you’re planning a multi-day backpacking trip then you’ll likely need a water filter (more on that above) to allow you to top up our bottles during your journey.

The average moderately fit hiker will manage to walk around 3mph (or 20minutes per mile). For steeper or rockier terrain this will take longer whereas flat sections could be walked at a brisk pace of 5mph.

Formula for calculating water consumption

If your day hike is 12 miles and if your walking at an average pace of 3mph and you stop for one hour for lunch and breaks throughout the day. We can say that you’ll need 5 hours to walk this distance and so five hours worth of water.

  • Distance / Speed = Time + (Rest time) = Total hike time
  • 12 miles / 3mph = 4 hours + (Rest time) = 5hr

If we take the 0.5-1 liter (2-4 cup) per hour average, on the conservative end we can say bring 5 liters (21 cups) of water.

  • Hike time x water consumption = Total water needed
  • 5 hours x 1 liters per hour = 5 liters

This formula is based on averages, but you should adjust it to match your water needs and to account for the weather on the day and the difficulty of the hike – the more extraneous it is the more water you’ll need.

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If you’re confident that there are at least two water sources en route where you can use your filter – then you could bring just 3 liters of water (the lower end of your water needs 2.5 liters + 0.5 liters safety net).

It’s always better to have some water left over at the end of your hike than to run out a few miles before the end of the day. At best it can be uncomfortable and at worst it could be deadly.

Factors that affect hydration

Temperature ?

The hotter it is the more you will be sweating and losing fluids from your body. To replace these lost fluids you need to be drinking more than you would otherwise be drinking. So in warmer weather, you may need to increase your water consumption to 1-1.5 liters (4-6 cups) per hour of hiking.

Even in cold temperatures your body still sweats and staying hydrated in just as important. If you have a backpacking stove with you then you can use it to melt snow in an emergency or fill up your water bottle and keep it inside of your jacket to melt.

Humidity ?

When the air is saturated with water, it takes longer for sweat to evaporate from your skin – which makes the body’s natural cooling mechanism less effective and your core temperature heats up (source) making you sweat even more. In humid conditions, you need to be aware to drink more water to replace the lost fluid.

hiking trailHike Difficulty

Hikes that are continuously uphill or across open areas with no shade are going to be more difficult for the body. Your muscles will be burning more calories and you’ll be pushing your body harder. The harder the hike the more water you will need to stay hydrated.

Salt levels

Snacking on high calories food like nuts is often encouraged and I myself love to get my fill of Macadamia’s and roasted Cashews – but beware that consuming too much salt can make you really thirsty and lead yo to prematurely drink your supply of water. Try to drink your water slowly and be mindful of spreading it how throughout the day, rather than guzzling 1 liter and then peeing it all out in the next hour.

The USDA recommends no more than a teaspoon (2,400 mg) of sodium per day, maybe a bit more when you’re sweating heavily.
Backpacker

That said if you’re sweating alot and in a humid climate then having a bit of extra salt is a good thing – just be mindful of your consumption.

What you’re wearing

Wearing the right clothes for the climate is important while hiking. Too restrictive or materials that

Symptoms of dehydration

Common telltale signs that you need to drink more water often include the following:

  • Dry mouth and lips
  • Dizziness
  • Tiredness
  • Lack of concentration
  • Thirst!

If dehydration is left untreated it come become dangerous, so the key is to stay properly hydrated – it will make hiking much more fun.

You can drink too much water ⚠️

There is a risk of drinking too much water which can be dangerous if you excessively over-hydrate.

Over-hydration is rare, but in extreme cases, it can lead to water intoxication or hyponatremia– when the electrolytes in the body are moved beyond their safe limits (source).

To exceed the body’s ability to excrete water, a young adult with normal kidney function would have to drink more than 6 gallons of water a day on a regular basis.

Overhydration. James Lewis MD. Source.

Those most at risk are extreme marathon runners and hikers who overcompensate by drinking too much.

If your pee is clear and you have no thirst and you have been drinking lots of water – take a break and don’t consume fluids until you feel thirsty.

Drinking too much water is not a concern for most hikers and usually, the opposite is true, but it is worth noting and something you should be aware of.

Why is water so important?

The human body relies on water for many of its vital functions and 50-60% of our body weight comes primarily from water (source).

Water helps us in all sorts of ways from creating saliva to breaks down solid fuel to lubricating our joints and tissues (source).

Final thoughts

Having enough water is crucial for your enjoyment and in some cases your survival. Here are the key takeaways to remember for your next outdoor adventure:

  • Always plan your route and hike with more than enough water to see you through the trip.
  • Bring a lightweight water filter with you to use as a backup and to collect water as you go.
  • Don’t assume that water sources are available year round.
  • Stay hydrated and drink plenty of water (but don’t over-hydrate).
  • Be aware of how much salt your consuming and don’t overdo it.

author

Hi, I’m Simon, the hiker behind OutdoorYak.I love to love to travel, hike and explore new mountain trails. Read More.

Source https://australianhiker.com.au/advice/water-and-hiking-how-much-and-how-to-carry/

Source https://water.org/our-impact/water-crisis/

Source https://outdooryak.com/how-much-water-to-bring-while-hiking/

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