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 then 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.
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.
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.
Never 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”!