Water is heavy and at 2.2 lbs per liter, it’s probably the heaviest thing you carry in your backpack. Despite this, many hikers and backpackers still carry much more water than they need when hiking or backpacking. That’s wasted effort if you know you can find water along your route to satisfy your needs without compromising your safety. If you consistently end up at your destination with one or two liters of water that you haven’t consumed, maybe it’s time to rethink how much you water you carry.
Here are a few ways to reduce the amount of water you carry and still remain hydrated:
Get out a map and figure out where the water sources are on your route. They could be streams, rivers, wells, springs, water faucets, drinking fountains, ponds, or lakes. Carry a water filter or purifier with you if the water quality is suspect or unknown. If you know the distance between water sources and how much water you prefer to consume per hour, you can time it so you arrive at the next water source when it’s time for your drink or bottle refill. For example, I typically drink a liter of water every 2-3 hours and hike at a 2 mph pace, which gives me a range of 4-6 miles before I need to refill my 1 liter water bottle.
Consume Water at Water Sources
Drink water at water sources, so you don’t have to carry it away with you. But do so in moderation. Your body can only absorb a half liter per hour or slightly more in extreme heat. Don’t try to “camel up” with more than a liter of water at a time. Drinking too much water can disrupt your body’s electrolyte balance, lead to hyponatremia which is caused by low sodium levels, and make you feel like shit.
Cook Food at Water Sources
If it’s near meal time and you need water to cook or rehydrate your food, prepare and consume it at the water source so you don’t have to carry extra with you.
Drink a half liter to a liter of water when you wake up in the morning or in the car on the way to a trailhead. If you’re well hydrated at the start of the day, you’ll need to carry less water to catch up at the start of your hike.
- If you don’t know the state or location of the water sources ahead of you, hedge your bets and carry more water.
- If you hike in the desert or in an extremely arid climate, careful planning and carrying extra water may be required.
- If you find it difficult to drink enough without a hose/hydration system, by all means, carry one.
- If you eat healthy snacks or food as you walk, you can usually avoid relying on electrolyte mixes and the added sugar that most include.
- If you hike with people who don’t want to stop at each water source or wait while you refill your bottle, carry more water or find new hiking partners.
- If it’s really hot outside, slow down your pace or rest until the temperature drops, and then resume your journey. It’s much easier to manage your hydration level if your body isn’t stressed.
Carry More Than One Water Bottle
While you’re trying to cut down on the amount of water you carry, there will be times that you do have to carry some, including times when you’ll need to carry much more. I like to hedge my bets and carry 4L of capacity on backpacking trips for those times:
- when I want to camp in between distant water sources
- when it’s very hot and I need to consume more water, more frequently
- when I am not certain where the next water source is or I suspect it’s dry
- in case I lose a bottle or destroy it
This is best done with soft water bottles, like 1L and 2L Platypus bottles, which are very lightweight and can be rolled up and packed away easily. Having lost or cracked bottles in the past, you’d be foolish to just carry one container without a backup.
This is Difficult
Training yourself to carry less water on hiking and backpacking trips is one of the most difficult backpacking skills to learn because we’re instinctively programmed to fear thirst and will do anything to avoid it. But if you can cut down on carrying excess water, you will notice a big difference between carrying one liter of water instead of two or three at a time. It’ll definitely put the spring back into your step!