Deciding how much water to bring backpacking can be a bit tricky when it comes to backpacking. First, you don’t want to make the mistake of carrying too water. Water is heavy, I have been there before and having too much weight really is a pain in the back, literally.
But you do not want to have too little water otherwise you risk dehydration or having to filter water more frequently. In this guide I am going to help you figure out how much water to bring backpacking along with some of my recommendations.
- Calculate your individual hydration needs based on the temperature, elevation, activity level, and your body weight.
- Consider trail conditions and weather to assess how much water to carry
- Plan ahead for water sources and ensure you have a way to purify it.
How Much Water do you Need Backpacking?
Based on my experience how much water to bring backpacking can really depend on the temperature, terrain, and elevation. But a rule of thumb that I have used in moderate temperatures and terrain is to bring about 1 to 1.5 liters of water per 5 miles of hiking or backpacking. Though this will depend on person to person and on environmental context, as we will explain in further detail.
Understanding Your Hydration Needs
Staying hydrated is more than just quenching your thirst; it’s a matter of survival, especially when you’re backpacking. It helps your body control heat, prevents cramps, and saves you from dehydration.
My recommendation of 1 to 1.5 liters of water per 5 miles is a loose guideline which many variables. And depends on a few factors such as:
- Weather Conditions
- Terrain difficulty
- Duration or distance
- How conditioned you are
Personally, I like to be slightly more hydrated than not. I have been dehydrated on a backpacking trip due to the difficulty, elevation, and the fact I was not being good at staying hydrated. I felt weak, tired, and just ill by that night and started to ingest electrolytes to try and play catch up.
Now I drink till my urine is slightly yellow but mostly clear. The color of your pee can be a good indicator for hydration. If it’s clear or light yellow, you’re on track. But if it’s darker, you need to up your fluid intake.
Also, if you do get behind avoid chugging large volumes of water. Learn to sip throughout the day and avoid big amounts here and there.
Factors That Affect Hydration Needs
The terrain difficulty, weather conditions, duration, and own fitness level can make you work harder and require more hydration, which means you need to carry more water or filter more often.
The type of terrain you’re hiking on can significantly impact your water needs. Hiking on rocky or steep trails requires more energy and effort, resulting in more sweating. As a result, you should increase your water intake to maintain hydration.
Backpackers can encounter a variety of terrains, including:
- Rocky trails
The tougher terrains, like rocky trails and mountains, are more physically demanding and thus require more water. Moreover, the rougher the terrain, the harder it is to reach the next water source, meaning longer gaps between water sources.
Weather conditions can significantly influence your hydration needs during a backpacking trip. In hot or humid conditions, you should aim to increase your uptake and monitor your levels through urine color. As the temperature rises, you should consider increasing your water intake by an extra 150-200 ml per hour for every 10 °F increase from your usual hiking temperature.
Humidity can make you drink twice as much water as you would on a normal day, making it crucial to keep sipping water regularly. Rain can also affect your water needs, as it increases humidity and sweating. Besides, finding clean water during rain can be tricky, emphasizing the importance of carrying enough water or having a way to purify it.
Duration or Distance
The distance from water sources can also be another easily overlooked area. The longer the distance you have to go without a water source will mean you will have to be able to have a higher carrying capacity. Also, the opposite is true if you have multiple water sources and don’t have to go far you can probably get away with being able to carry less water and just filtering more often.
Condition often goes overlooked but it cannot be left unsaid. If someone is not in great shape or has not been training, they will require more resources due to increased exertion out on the trail compared to someone adequately trained and conditioned.
Planning Water Sources and Purification
While charting out your backpacking journey, consider the availability of water sources throughout the trek. Some trails don’t have much water available, especially outside of certain seasons. You need to figure out where the water is and estimate how long it’ll take to get between each spot.
Here are some recommendations when trying to find hiking water sources:
- Start by doing some research on sites protecting organizations for the are such as recreation.gov or similar depending on on where you will be hiking. Look for any comments about available water sources. Also, if unsure give them a call and speak to a ranger if able.
- Next, start looking at hiking apps I usually start with a few trail apps like Alltrails, Gaia, and FarOut Guides. Doesn’t have to be all of them you can pick one.
- When looking at theses apps you are going to be locating the trail you are going to be on and any nearby creeks, rivers, or lakes that were recommended by the ranger and website.
- Take notes of these potential water sources and other sources you find just in case. I like to do this on a hard map that I either printed online or made from one of my hiking apps. You can also usually create a marker on these sources when creating your map online as well.
- Next, I like to read through forums, app reviews, and any other sites to find out more about potential water sources. I like to look back the last 2 or 3 years in various seasons to see when and which sources fluctuate based on temperature change.
In addition to planning water sources, you also need to consider water purification. Using wild water sources requires a reliable and effective water purification system to ensure safety and cleanliness. It is essential to protect against any potential contaminants. Learn how to purify water when backpacking.
Estimating Water Consumption
After finalizing your water sources and purification methods, you should calculate just how much water you’re likely to consume. A popular rule that is often used is to carry a half liter of water for every hour of hiking, which translates to about one liter for every two hours on the trail.
I like to drink about 1 to 1.5 liters of water per about 5 miles give or take depending on person and environmental factors. Again, these are both loose guidelines that depend on your own needs and various conditions. But you can use them as a guideline to help plan when to gather water and the most capacity you’ll need to be able to carry.
Carrying and Storing Water
The method you choose to transport your water can greatly shape your backpacking adventure. Three main options for portable water containers are hard-sided bottles, hydration bladders, and collapsible bottles. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages.
Hard-sided bottles are a popular choice among backpackers. They’re tough, don’t leak, and are easy to wash. However, they can be heavy and take up a lot of space. Common hard sided bottles are the Nalgene, CamelBak, or Hydro Flask.
There are several types of hard-sided bottles, made from materials like plastic, stainless steel, and aluminum. Each type has its own advantages and disadvantages, so it’s worth considering your needs and preferences when choosing a bottle. I like hard sided bottles when I am doing more front country hiking or camping.
If backpacking I use SmartWater, LifeWater, or others of the like. These bottles are more like semi hard sided bottles but are ultralight and work really well out on trail. Both SmartWater and LifeWater bottles are compatible with the Sawyer Squeeze filter that I use on trail.
Soft Bottles and Collapsible Containers
In contrast to hard-sided bottles, soft bottles and collapsible containers are lighter and take up less space. They’re perfect for backpackers looking to travel light and save space in their packs.
However, it’s important to note that while these water bottles options are lightweight and convenient, they might not be the best choice in all situations. For instance, hard-sided water bottle is usually easier to refill because they don’t flop as easily and are more durable.
Tip: When it comes to carrying water, I really like to use a CNOC or Evernew Collapsible containers. I use the CNOC mostly as my dirty water container to scoop water from the surface and filter with my Sawyer Squeeze. The water is the squeeze/filtered into either my SmartWater bottles or Evernew for clean drinking water.
Hydration systems are another great option to carry water during a backpacking trip. These systems typically include a water reservoir or bladder that goes into the backpack and is hooked up to a drinking tube. This design allows you to drink water without stopping and taking off your backpack.
While hydration systems offer convenience, they come with their own set of drawbacks:
- Cleaning and drying the system can be a bit of a hassle
- There’s always the risk of leaks
- They take up extra space and weight in your backpack compared to other water storage options
- You cannot see how much water you have left without taking the bladder out also you do not know how much water you have drank without checking
*Tip: I personally prefer bottles over reservoirs specifically 1-liter SmartWater, LifeWater, or Platypus Soft bottles because:
- Bottles are lighter
- I can see water volume easily (so I know what I have drank and what is left)
- Super easy to refill because they are compatible with my Sawyer Squeeze Filter
Here is a list of my favorite water bottles for hiking
Recognizing and Addressing Dehydration
Despite meticulous planning and preparation, dehydration is a potential risk, particularly during extended or intense hikes in cold weather. Knowing the early signs of dehydration can help you address the issue before it becomes severe.
Symptoms of dehydration include:
- feeling thirsty
- getting mild headaches
- having darker urine
- muscle cramps
- a decrease in hiking performance
If you notice any of these symptoms, start drinking water right away and take frequent sips of water often to replenish lost fluids. Consider adding a electrolyte mix to replenish lost electrolytes. Here are some of my favorite electrolytes.
Adjusting Water Intake for Group Hikes
For group hikes, adapting the water intake and planning is crucial to ensure everyone’s hydration. The group’s water needs depend on various factors, including the hike’s duration, intensity, and the individual needs of each member.
Encourage everyone in the group to drink a lot of water before the hike and at each water stop. Also, ensure everyone sips water every hour during the hike to stay hydrated. Remember, hikers at different fitness levels might need different amounts of water, so it’s important to ensure everyone drinks enough water to stay hydrated.
Monitoring and Adapting Water Needs
During your backpacking journey, it’s essential to constantly observe and adjust your water requirements. If you experience any of the following, it might be time to increase your water intake:
- Feeling thirsty
- Feeling dizzy
- Feeling fatigued
- Noticing that your urine is dark
Checking the color of your urine is a simple way to monitor your hydration levels. It’s also important to adjust your water intake based on factors like the hike’s intensity, your personal needs, and the weather.
Water Conservation Tips
Preserving water holds equal importance to maintaining hydration during a backpacking journey. Knowing how much water to bring backpacking can help make sure you have enough, though sometimes things happen and it does help to know how to save water when needed.
When it comes to cooking, there are several tricks to save water, such as:
- Making one-pot meals
- Opting for dehydrated meals that only need hot water for rehydration
- Using lids to cook faster
- Eating straight from your cooking pot to minimize washing.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do backpackers carry water?
Backpackers typically carry water in plastic disposable water bottles or reservoirs, such as Smartwater bottles, for their lightweight and durability. Some also use hydration bladders as an alternative. For stored clean water a CNOC or Evernew work really well to carry 2L and then transfer to other containers or bottles as needed
How many liters of water do I need for a 10-mile hike?
You’ll need at least 2 – 2.5 liters of water for a 10-mile hike but adjust based on the trail difficulty, temperature, duration, and your own personal fitness level.
How much water should I bring on a backpacking trip?
It’s generally recommended to carry at least 2 liters per person per day on a backpacking trip with the ability to filter water. as needed.
What factors influence my hydration needs while backpacking?
Your hydration needs while backpacking is influenced by factors such as the weather, hiking intensity, elevation gain, terrain difficulty, and your personal needs. Keep these in mind to stay properly hydrated on the trails
Remember to consider the weather, terrain difficulty, duration, and your own fitness/personal needs when out on the trails. Now that you now understand how much water to bring backpacking you are sure to be able to comfortably hit the trails without having to worry about dehydration.