How Much Water To Bring Backpacking?

by Julien Heron
Last Updated: August 8, 2021
Close-up on intermediate climber tying her shoelace

It can be tough to pack everything for your first big backpacking adventure. From socks to your tent, blankets, and sleeping bag, you also need to remember the most vital part of any hiking trip: water.

How much water should you bring backpacking? The standard amount is a half-liter of water per hour in moderate temperatures. However, this estimation also depends on your body weight, weather, and activity.

You'll have to do a little math and calculate how hot the average temperatures will be. Always err on the side of caution, and if you're unsure, always bring more water than not enough.  

In this article, we'll detail how much water to bring on your backpacking trip, as well as what preparations you should keep in mind.

What Kind of Water Bottles To Bring

You must bring a wide-mouth water bottle, as this will help during your trip. 

Why? Because it's a great advantage if your water bottle allows for easy opening, refilling, and cleaning. The bottle should also be easy to open or close – even while wearing gloves. Additionally, a wide-mouth water bottle lets you easily insert ice cubs if you need to cool down in a hurry.  Because of this, light weight wide mouth water bottles are the vest to carry backpacking.

The Hydro Flask Wide Mouth 32 oz. is our top pick for the best water bottles to bring on your hike or backpacking trip. However, they do have a  downside: the Hydro Flask Wide Mouth is rather heavy and bulky. If you're hiking through more moderate temperatures, you might skip this bottle and go for another wide-mouthed, lighter hydration pack. The CamelBak Chute Mag Vacuum 20 oz is considerably lighter than the Hydroflask water bottles and is still a wide mouth.

Lighter bottles are better when you're doing heavy backpacking with steep elevation gain. Soft bottles also are very popular amongst backpackers as they're easier to manage. So, if you have steep elevation gain, fend off heat exhaustion and keep proper hydration with a lighter hydration bottle.

How Often Should I Be Drinking Water?

How much water is enough? You must drink regularly to prevent dehydration. How much you need to drink depends on several factors: the level of activity, intensity level, duration, weather, body type, and more. 

As the temperature and activity level rises, you need to increase the amount of hydration consumption.  For example, strenuous hiking in high heat may require that you drink 1 liter of water or more per hour. As you gain experience, you'll be able to fine-tune how much you drink.

It's always better for the human body to take small, frequent sips, so remember to hydrate throughout the hike. You should also be drinking enough electrolytes: you should drink a combination of plain water and sports drinks during your backpacking trip. 

Cold Water Versus Warm Water

To protect your body, you must hydrate at a temperature that helps your body with hydration on your hiking route. There's quite a bit of confusion over whether drinking warm water is better than drinking cold water and vice versa. Let's put this argument to rest.

Cooler water is only a concern because the cold temperatures restrict your digestion and may lead to digestion problems. However, studies show that people who drink warm water are less inclined to drink water and, as a result, they can become dehydrated. Not only that but drinking cooler water helps if you are overheated, which is another hurdle backpackers face when traversing through hot regions. 

Neither one are a make or break for you - it depends on personal preference. If you're on a backpacking excursion and you are already worried about how all that canned food will hurt your digestive system, maybe try soothing your body with warmer water on your trip. If you anticipate a lot of hot weather on your day hike, maybe stick to colder water.

Dehydration Warning Signs

Dehydration occurs when your body lacks the amount of water it needs to function correctly. You can have mild to severe dehydration; it all depends on how much liquid is missing from your body.  

Signs of moderate dehydration include:

  • Thirst
  • Dry or sticky mouth
  • Not peeing very much
  • Dark urine or pale yellow pee
  • Dry, cool skin
  • Headache
  • Muscle cramps

If you are severely dehydrated, some of the warning signs may look like this:

  • Not peeing or having very dark yellow pee
  • Dry skin
  • Dizziness
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Rapid breathing
  • Sunken eyes
  • Sleepiness, lack of energy, confusion, or irritability
  • Fainting

When To Seek Medical Attention

If you are experiencing one or more of these severe symptoms, you must rehydrate immediately. Moderate to severe dehydration needs medical attention. 

If you are experiencing severe dehydration, seek immediate medical attention by calling 911 or going to an emergency room. Untreated dehydration can cause brain damage, seizures, or death. 

Planning Ahead - Carry Water and Filters!

It's critical to plan ahead when going on a backpacking trip. When it comes to your health and safety, winging it can be dangerous or even fatal. 

A great tool you can bring to prepare for water shortages are water purifiers and water filters. You can use these tools to purify fresh, running water you find along your route. However, these pumps can break easily, so make sure to be prepared and bring extra. 

Drink electrolytes, and pack hydrating beverages that also replenish electrolytes like electrolyte-infused water or your favorite sports drink. Make sure to bring your sports drink in a bottle with the lightest weight option and where you can have easy access to it so that you don't lose electrolytes.

Pre hydration is important.  It's very common to pre-hydrate before going on a long hike. A general recommendation is to drink about 17–20 fl. oz. about two hours before heading out.

It's key to thoroughly plan your route so that you know how much water to bring. Water weight can be a concern if you are already carrying a full backpack, so it might be a good idea to plan your route by a water source where you can use your filters to purify the water. 

If there are no natural water sources available, some hikers use their cars as an additional water source. Keep plenty of extra water in your vehicle, and make sure that it's close enough to your campsite that you can go back to it should you need extra water. 

Some hikers have difficulty remembering to drink enough water when they're caught up in other logistics of the trip. For hikers who have trouble remembering to hydrate, try setting a timer on your watch or phone for 20 minutes as a reminder to take another sip.

Can I Drink Dirty Water?

While it may be tempting to drink water that you find along the trail, drinking naturally occurring water can be extremely dangerous if you are uninformed about doing it safely. Unclean water sources should be avoided at all costs, even if you have water filters or purifiers. 

Drinking dirty or stagnant water sources is a bad idea because stagnant water is often riddled with diseases and bacteria that can lead to serious health complications or even death. For example, when people drink stagnant water, they suffer from diarrhea or vomiting, which will then lead to further dehydration. As a result, drinking from unclean water sources is very dangerous and should be avoided at all costs.

If you do decide to drink liquids you find on the trail, make sure that it is running water. You can then use your water filter, or water filtration pumps to further purify the water. You could also purchase purification tablets to further filter water. While this may be an extra cost, this could save your life if you run out of water. Always pack an extra water filter in addition to carrying water.

FAQ

What Does Yellow Pee Mean?

If you see that your pee is bright yellow, orange, or becoming darker, these are signs that you are dehydrated.  The darker colored pee, the more this means the hydration bladder is poor. It also indicates high sodium levels in your urine. 

Drink fluids immediately. You also might want to drink electrolytes to hydrate you faster. 

Do I Need To Add Water When Cooking Dinner?

There are a lot of great backpacking food packs that you can bring that offer plenty of nutrients and help save space (especially when backpacking in tight spaces). 

However, many of them require adding water to the packs. When you plan out your trip and how much water you should bring, make sure to account for any food that requires the addition of water.

What To Do In Cold Weather

When backpacking in cold temperatures, it's a smart idea to drink hot liquids. You may not want to consume water when you're cold, so to increase your ability to consume body fluids, drink warmer liquids. 

Final Thoughts: The Importance of Your Water Bottle

Many first-time backpackers want to know: how much water to carry? Having the proper water intake is essential to the health and safety of your trip. 

If you find yourself suffering from dehydration symptoms, replace electrolytes immediately. Remember to drink half of a liter of water per hour of moderate activity in moderate temperatures, but one liter may be necessary for extreme activity. The best way to stay hydrated is by constantly sipping water. You can also use electrolyte tablets to increase your hydration. 

Start shopping for a wide mouth bottle, hydration packs, plan out a route next to a water source (like a hydration reservoir or hydration reservoirs), to stay properly hydrated on your next backpacking journey!

Julien Heron
I’m passionate about all things outdoors, bridging the gap between generations and sharing my passion for hiking and camping. My goal is to spread the endless benefits of being outside, always striving for better performance, new challenges, and ways to explore responsibly.
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