How much water to take on a hike – or not to take!

Knowing how much water to take on a hike depends on your body weight, the physical exertion of your hiking and the climate.

We’ll take a look at 5 main topics around water and hiking:

  • how to determine your water intake
  • which vessel is suitable for you
  • utilising resources along the way
  • whether water filtering or treatment will be required
  • hydration is not just water

 

Water intake – how much should I drink?

As a baseline – regular recommended daily water intake is 8 glasses @ 200-250mls(approx.8oz) per glass every day and that’s without hiking.

Personally while hiking I drink 200ml – 400ml/hour unless it is extremely hot thenperson drinking water I would double that on a moderate track. Everyone is different and the best way to work out how much water to take hiking is to do shorter hikes in varying weather conditions. Look at the profile of your hike and the weather forecast ahead of time. Shorter walks are great for breaking in new gear and testing your hydration patterns.

Tip: Hydrate before and after your hike!

 

Water vessels – bottle or bladder?

Bottles and bladders are the 2 main types of vessels.

They vary in their manufacture from stainless steel, glass and various plastics & vinyl, polyurethanes some being eco-friendly, BPA & PVC free and others not. Whichever material you choose based on your personal preferences, they all come in various weights.

a group of four drinking bottles

 

Glass is barely used and heavy compared to the stainless steel and plastics and also highly breakable, the last thing you want is to lose your drinking vessel but I am mentioning it as some people may be limited due to a number of reasons and also there are protective covers available for glass bottles.

Bottles and bladders come in so many different sizes. The advantage of carrying larger vessels means you don’t have to top up so much but the disadvantage is you carry more weight and the larger vessels are bulkier.

Large bottles just do not sit well in some of the pockets provided on backpacks so this introduces a whole other hassle of keeping it in your backpack or adding an extra bottle holder to your straps to accommodate – more baggage around your body!

For day walks, a 2Ltr(68oz) bladder is great or a couple of 500ml(17oz) bottles that can be refilled along the way.

We are all about keeping our hiking load light so pay attention to the tare weight of the bottle or bladder weight i.e. the empty bottle/s or bladder/s before you fill up with water. 60ml/gm(2oz) or less per vessel is a reasonable guide.

Water along the way – man-made and natural resources!

You may have options to top up along the way – this is the best solution when trying to reduce your weight providing it’s not too far off your path. Water along the way is available from shops, water stations (during events), parks and reserves, natural sources such as rivers and streams, melted ice and snow.

When planning your walk, find out about the availability of water from people who have hiked the route before, park rangers, the internet, information from local councils for parks & recreation contactable by phone. Also, speak to people along the track to gather additional information as you go.

I carried an extra 4litres(136oz) of water bottles for a team while going into a mountain area we had never hiked before, this was one of my OTT planning episodes – there was a lot of breathlessness on hill climbs, and slow descents down the steep escarpments carrying an overweight backpack with my 2litres plus another 4litres plus countless other items I had not yet learned to leave out of the pack. If I had just planned water sourcing better I would have found out there was a stream at the bottom.

Tip: knowing how much water not to take is important too!

 

Water Treatment – chunky bits and unseen critters!

If you are relying on obtaining water along the way, depending on your source, you may need a water treatment plan.

Tap water in parks and reserves is often not treated, it will come from underground wells and bores or rainwater tanks. Water in rivers and streams and from ice and snow should be treated.

Because of parasites found in water such as cryptosporidium and giardia and the presence of viruses found in water sources in some countries, there are various water filters and treatments that are available.

Ice and snow will need to be melted before drinking and treated once melted as freezing does not kill all viruses or parasites, they will lie dormant until thawed.

Your treatment plan can affect your pack weight. You can use a combination of water filter and water sterilizing additive to avoid unnecessary weighty equipment but make sure you have tested them out before you set out.

I boiled my drinking water each night while hiking in Fiordland, NZ because the DOC(Dept. of Conservation) huts provide gas for cooking and water from rainwater tanks and by the morning my water was cooled down ready for the next day of hiking. Rainwater is clean but the water tanks are not.

crystal clear river
Crystal clear waters  Milford Track, NZ

You would think you could drink from the pristine rivers of this beautiful location but unfortunately, they have become contaminated over the years with the increase in human activity.

Water plus: hydration is not just water

Hydration is not just drinking water to replace fluids in your body, it is also necessary to replace lost minerals and energy. As you sweat and lose fluid from your body you are also losing and affecting the balance of essential minerals in your body such as sodium, calcium, potassium and magnesium.

There are various ways to rehydrate replacing minerals, energy and fluids.

Sports drinks on the market contain these minerals, water and glucose or sugars. Read the labels and if unsure seek advice from a qualified person in the medical or sports nutrition areas.

Some additives are available in tablet, paste, powder and liquid form. Make sure you try them out and get used to the doses, they can make you feel nauseous and sick in the stomach if you take too much.

See what works for you, I found alternating between water and water+supplement worked well for me – shorter walks one bottle of each and longer walks I kept water in the bladder and water+supplements in a couple of bottles.

Tip: to aid in hydration, you can utilise some foods that have moisture in them such as fruits. Mandarins were a favourite little powerpack for me, they are already packaged in their skin so they sit in the pack well as long as they are not crushed at the bottom – they are energising and tiny.

Summary – Trial and Plan!

Trial different options on short walks, get to know your hydration requirements and your vessel requirements – take notice of what your walking buddies and other people are using, ask them for their opinions and see what works best for you in different circumstances.

 

a stick figure person sweating in the sunNever underestimate the importance of hydration because if unchecked it creeps up on you and by the time you realise you are dehydrated it is too late.

Planning is your friend – have a hydration plan that includes any of the above topics.

 

Tip: on some of our long hikes we nominated a water monitor
who would call out every 20mins “SIP”!

 
Wilderness footprints

10 comments

  1. Great info, particularly about hydration being more than just water. I think it’s something a lot of people just don’t know.

  2. Hi,

    how long can water sit in a plastic water bottle before it should be replaced? Not just a hiking question, I often find my kids drinking out of a water bottle and I assume it might be from the day before (or maybe two?). Should I worry?

    1. Hi Carolyn, when not hiking I often have water left over but I never leave my water overnight, even in my stainless steel bottle – not so much because of the plastic or stainless steel but because of what can potentially grow in stagnant water. With your childrens bottles you are best to check with the manufacturer because some bottles can leach chemicals depending on the plastic type, temperatures & the water composition itself. Plastics are often graded with a triangle numbered 1-7 which gives you alot of information regarding toxicity. Google plastic water bottles for drinking but here is a blog with some info that might be useful https://theberkey.com/blogs/water-filter/what-numbers-of-plastic-for-water-bottles-are-safe-for-you-the-numbers-behind-plastic-bottles – thanks for stopping by Carolyn!

  3. Good information. I do search and rescue with my dog and have moved from Virginia to desert country in Utah. One of the biggest differences for me was water availability. There is rarely any natural water, so I have to take enough for both my dog and myself. He drinks more than I do! He’s moving faster over more terrain and panting–all that uses a lot of water!
    I give anyone with me water to carry beyond what they have for themselves, and have actually had to decrease what I carry in my pack to leave room for more water.
    I am constantly aware of how much water I have left, and that often determines when I need to turn back whether just out on a hike or searching.
    Living in the desert gives you an even greater appreciation for water!

    1. Keith, it sure is very different going into desert country – I love that the Aboriginals in Australia always knew where their water sources were in the desert and left special markers such as drawings on rocks to the next water source but we don’t all have that at our fingertips so as you say our hike is the limit of the water we can carry (love that you are so considerate to your companion and rightly so). I have a couple of questions about your desert: Is your terrain mostly flat or varied? Your search and rescue sounds interesting – do you need to find people missing in the desert?

  4. Preparation, preparation and then perspiration! The golden rule of hiking. When I go hiking my rule is to overdo it a bit on the drinking water the day before the hike and right before I leave. Take too much water is better than too little – My load only get slighter.

    Suffer in the first few kilometres to enjoy the last few. I always take 2 “drinking straws” – not sure of the actual name of the device pretty cheap water filter device. One is for emergency use – the other I tape to a tree somewhere just beyond a danger zone and no return point, not far from a river on the trail and marked for emergency use.

    Might just save someone’s life.

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