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How Much Water to Take Backpacking? Hikers Hydration Guide

How much water to bring on a hike? I’m sure you don’t want to lug gallons of water. In this post, you’ll learn about how much water to take backpacking: including volume, how to carry (and filter) water, hiking hydration tips, and more.

Hiking water guide

Exploration, fresh air and amazing scenery, are just some of the reasons why so many people head to local hiking trails to spend a few hours or a few days soaking up the majesty of nature.

Hiking is also one of the best ways to stay fit. Not only does it keep you healthy, but it also adds to your mental, spiritual and emotional well-being. Unwinding on a long walk is also a low-impact way to reduce stress levels, lower blood pressure and increase your heart health.

Water for Backpacking: Tips and Gear

As you head out – you have two options: 1) Bring water with you or 2) purify it on the trail. In this guide, you’ll learn how to effectively do both, plus we cover lots more.

To help you navigate this guide, we broke it up into these 5 main sections:

  • How much water do I need to bring on a hike?
  • Gear for drinking water 
  • 5 alternatives to carrying water: filtration and purification devices 
  • 6 hydration tips for healthy hiking 
  • 5 hiking safety tips 
How much water to drink while hiking

How Much Water to Take Backpacking?

This isn’t a simple question.

Everyone consumes water at a different rate. I’m sure you have a friend that seems to sweat more than you do (or a lot…) so the amount of water you need should be based solely on your needs and yours alone.

There are multiple factors that impact how much water you drink which we will discuss here. As you hit the trails more and gain more experience you will learn how much your body requires and how much to take with you.

While there are many variables (gender, weight, age, intensity/duration of exercise, etc) here are a few suggestions.

How much water should you drink while hiking?

  • Drink water 2-3 hours before beginning the hike. Use 500 ml (17 ounces) of water as a starting point.
  • Drink water 250 ml (8 ounces) every 30-60 minutes – or when you feel thirsty. This means that on a 4-hour hike, you’ll likely drink between 1 and 2 liters, in addition to what you drink before and after your hike.

Increase/decrease for your personal preference.

On an average day (without exercise) adults should drink two liters of water per day so when hiking you will need more. How much more depends on: the distance you are hiking, the duration of the hike, terrain, weather, exposure, climate and elevation.

For example: Hiking a flat, cool and shady trail would require less water than hiking straight up the side of a volcano in the harsh equatorial sun. Common sense, right? The more strenuous the hike, the more water you will need.

Hiking a volcano under direct sun, would probably require about a liter/hour or more. Whereas on the shady flat mountain path that liter might be enough for two or three hours, so you can see how the intensity of the activity combined with the climate affects how much water you will need.

Warning: Although dehydration sounds bad, according to the Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine, overhydration might be an even bigger problem.

It is a good idea to speak with a local guide, hiking group or experienced hiker to get an idea of how much most people need to hike the trail you are looking at.

If the amount they suggest you need is more than you can carry, then we have some suggestions to help you out with that as well, but first let’s discuss the different types of gear for carrying your water.

Safe hiking water

Here’s how to purify river water for drinking

Gear for Drinking Water

Probably the most common question asked by people new to hiking is: “Do I need to buy a hydration pack or is a water bottle okay?”

Both are great and all it depends on is how long your hike will be and how hard the terrain is. If it’s a hard slog, you’ll want plenty of water. On the other hand, if it’s easy and relatively short then a water bottle should be plenty.

Water bottles for hiking

The good news is that there are many types, sizes and makes of water bottles these days.

For hiking you want something that is made of sturdier stuff so if it happens to drop it won’t break and lose all of your water. A stainless steel or durable plastic bottle is best.

CamelBak Chute Mag

This 1.5l (50oz) water bottle is the perfect hiking bottle.

It has a wide-mouth. This makes it easy to clean, add ice, and purify with a Steripen. The spout is angled, has comfortable carry handle, internal cap threads and a magnetic handle to keep the cap out of the way while drinking.

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Of course, this is also BPA, BPS, and BPF free – ensuring that you’ll taste your drink and not the bottle. And all parts are top rack dishwasher safe.

HydroFlask: Stainless, Insulated Hiking Bottle

Hydro Flask has a great range of durable, stainless steel insulated, leak proof water bottles that are easy to carry, stow in a side pocket or attach to your pack.

Available in a fun range of colors, their wide mouth makes drinking on the trail easy and comfortable. From the smallest (just over 500ml) to the largest (nearly 2L) they are great for hiking.

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WaterFit has as exceptionally strong paracord carrier with a built in survival strap that fits most water bottles and provides some added safety to your hike.

A great gadget to have on the trail and makes attaching your water bottle to your pack easy and secure. Check current price on Amazon

Hydration Packs (Water Bottle + Backpack)

The great thing about hydration packs is that you can store additional essentials for those longer hikes, like a first aid kit, map and compass. It also has the added benefit of keeping your hands free to help you balance in uneven terrain.

For the photographers and birders out there it also means your hands are free to capture that perfect shot or grab your binoculars in time to see that rare beauty. They are also capable of holding more than a water bottle and are easier to carry.

Miracol Hydration Backpack (2L Water Bladder)

Miracol has a great hydration pack that is thermally insulated to keep you water cool while being lightweight and durable.

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It’s easy to just replace the bladder as needed and all straps are adjustable to every body type so you are guaranteed a comfortable walk no matter if it’s for an hour or a day.

The whole thing is made of breathable fabric so you aren’t sweating more than you need to, and with all the pockets and outside mesh holders you can fit everything within easy reach. Affordable and strong, these will last for years of hiking adventures.

Drink water while hiking

Camper Guide to Safe Water: How Long to Boil Drinking Water

5 Alternatives to Carrying Water

If you are hiking for days on end, camping and completing a long trail then you won’t be able to take adequate water with you because it’s just too heavy and you couldn’t possibly carry it.

So, before you have visions of pulling a little red wagon behind you fully loaded with huge water bottles (or hiring a donkey) there are lightweight, safe and easier ways of meeting your water needs.

Alternatives worthy of looking at are purification tablets, small pump purifiers or sterilization straws and pens. We’ve included examples of each so you can get an idea of which one appeals to you and would suit the terrain you will be hiking through.

1. Steripen UV Water Purifier

This is my favorite way to purify water. Simply collect the water, insert the UV light and wait. Treatment takes just 48 seconds (500ml) or 90 seconds (1 liter).

According to Steripen, each treatment “destroys over 99.9% of bacteria, viruses, and protozoa”. A few years ago, I ran a lab test to see how well it works – here are the results.

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Treat up to 50 liters of water per charge – and charge up to 300 times. Each Steripen treats up to 15,000 liters. This unit charges via USB – from your laptop, wall charger, solar panel, or power bank.

The Steripen allows you to treat water, and keep hiking. Or filter in advance for food preparation.

2. LifeStraw

Personal hydration straws that filter water from rivers, lakes, streams and other water sources making safe drinking water are a great option.

They are lightweight, sturdy, safe and ensure you will never get dehydrated. Dehydration would increase your chance of hypothermia or altitude sickness if hiking through mountainous areas.

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Lifestraw has a microfiltration membrane that provides clean, safe drinking water from any source. Removing 99.999% of waterborne bacteria and parasites means you could even drink from a puddle if you wanted to. Capable of filtering 4,000 liters of water (1,000 gallons) it is an indispensable bit of kit for those longer times spent roaming the wilds.

With a passion for clean, safe drinking water, Lifestraw also pledges that with every straw sold a needy child receives clean and safe drinking water for an entire school year.

3. Tablets for Water Purification

Potable Aqua water treatment tablets are a great bit of gear to have stowed away in your pack. They are good on their own or as an accompaniment to other filtrations systems – as a backup.

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Just add one of the germicidal tablets to your full water bottle and in just over half an hour you’ll have safe drinking water.

4. Water Filtration Mini Pump

Sawyer Products have another great option with a personal mini water filtration system that only weighs 2 ounces so is easy to take with you.

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Providing microfiltration removing 99.999% of bacteria and protozoa it is capable of delivering 100,000 gallons of fresh clean drinking water.

5. Boil Water

If you’re on a hike, you can just make a fire, boil some water and enjoy.

According to the US Center for Disease Control, bringing water to a rolling boil for 1 minute will kill all pathogens. But it isn’t always that simple. Here’s more about purifying water by boiling.

Purify water by boiling

Here are the best travel water filters – they are portable, effective, and great for travel and outdoor adventures.

6 Hydration Tips for Healthy Hiking

  1. Drink light and often: It’s best to drink a small amount, more frequently. Before you even get thirsty get in the habit of taking a sip of water often to ensure your body stays hydrated.
  2. Take a break: Experts and experienced hikers will all say the same thing. Take a small 5-10 minute break every hour or so. Not only does this help keep you hydrated as we always seem to automatically drink water when we stop, but it also helps move along the metabolic waste that builds up in your legs reducing your soreness the next day.
  3. Walk at your pace: If you find yourself huffing and puffing, it can have a negative impact on your body. Hiking should be fun and if you are puffing it means that you are not getting the amount of oxygen your body needs to function properly.
  4. On hot days: Soak a sock (preferably clean) and put your water bottle in it. When you hang it on the outside of your pack it prevents it from getting too hot.
  5. Hydration salts: Keep a sachet of hydration salts or other electrolyte drinking powder to add to your water when going on an extended hike. Not only do they taste yummy but your body will thank you for it when you aren’t as sore the next day having stayed better hydrated and replacing some of those precious liquids we lose through sweat.
  6. Drink even in cold weather: People often don’t feel thirsty during cool weather or at higher elevations so it is a good idea to frequently take a sip to replenish what your body is losing even though you may not feel like it.
Purify river water when hiking

More reading: Best Survival Gadgets and Tools

Learn more about bushcrafting and the skills to get started.

Your Turn

How to do you plan to travel with enough water for your hike? Let me know below:

Guide to hiking water