You know you need to bring water when you’re hiking but do you know how much to drink? Is it OK to drink from a crystal clear stream high in the mountains? Here’s what you need to know about water when going for a hike.
How Much Water to Drink When Hiking?
Having enough water with you during a hike is essential if you want to maintain your energy and feel good. Getting dehydrated on long hikes can be very dangerous. In addition to feeling weak, being dehydrated makes you more susceptible to sunstroke and hypothermia. It also makes you more likely to get disoriented which can be fatal for hikers. Source: American Hiking Society.
Everyone’s water needs will vary depending on their body weight but generally speaking, you should aim to drink ~ 1 litre (~1 quart) for every two hours of hiking. Source: SectionHiker. Aim to drink it at regular intervals and not gulp it all at once. It’s important to drink even if you don’t feel thirsty, as you’re losing fluids through hiking. This is especially important if you’re hiking in cooler temperatures. You may not even realize that you’re sweating but you are.
But water isn’t the only thing you need to replenish. You’ll also be sweating out salt and electrolytes. That’s why I also recommend carrying soluble re-hydration salts. It’s especially important if you have low blood pressure like I do. If I’m doing a strenuous hike and it’s hot, it’s not uncommon for me to feel faint. Rehydration salts and water is a much more effective combination than just water.
Water is, unfortunately, heavy and quickly adds weight to your pack. It’s a fine balance of carrying enough and carrying too much. If you’re hiking near water sources you can get away with carrying less as we’ll explore later on.
Best Way to Carry Water When Hiking
Check out contributor and avid hiker’s Lourdes recommendations below of how she likes to carry water. She likes to use a combination of bladders and water bottles. Here’s why:
Hydration reservoir or bladder – These are soooo practical, I love them! I bought a 2 litre hydration bladder and it lasts me all day. You don’t need to stop, take off your backpack and open it. The only downside is that the water in the hose tends to get frozen in cold climates, making it useless.
You might be able to find some sort of sleeve that covers the hose and prevents it from freezing but generally, these aren’t a good option in extreme climates.
Water bottles – There are two kinds: 1) plastic water bottles and 2) stainless steel water bottles. Personally, I prefer the stainless steel ones because I feel like the plastic bottles change the taste of the water. Plus, stainless steel bottles prevent your water from getting too warm in hot climates. They also tend to hold up better if you drop them.
I like to have one or two water bottles in my backpack in addition to a hydration bladder. Sometimes I use it to hold Gatorade or a similar drink that I don’t need to drink regularly but it’s good when you stop for a meal to help with re-hydration.
Another perk of water bottles is that if you put them in your backpack near your back they aren’t as likely to freeze in cold temperatures. That way, even if your bladder freezes, you aren’t as likely run out of water.
I think her method makes a lot of sense but after puncturing my bladder and losing all my water on a hike, I now just use bottles that I fill up on home. I also prefer stainless steel over plastic.
How to Get Water When Hiking
While drinking water from lakes and streams isn’t the worst thing you can do, you should avoid it according to Dr. Troy Madsen. It can cause diarrhea and infection. In some parts of the world, like where I grew up in the Canadian Rockies Beaver Feaver can be a concern. While hiking with diarrhea certainly isn’t fun, the real concern is if you’re doing a long distance hike you’re likely to get dehydrated.
If you’re going on a trek and you know there are water sources along the way, you can reduce the amount of water that you carry and drink stream water – IF done properly.
Your first option to use purifying tablets. They weigh almost nothing and take almost no space in your backpack. Just fill up your water bottle from the stream, drop in a pill and you are ready to go.
The second option is bringing a water bottle with a filter, like LifeStraw. Look for a reusable one with a long lifespan.
Finally, if you’re camping you can boil water. Let it boil for 1 to 3 minutes. Then it’s safe to drink according to AMC Outdoors.
Now let’s say that you’ve run out of water but come across a stream. You don’t have purifying tablets or a filter water bottle with you. What should you do? According to Dr. Troy Madsen, go ahead and drink it. The risk of immediate dehydration supersedes the delayed effects of diarrhea and infection that you’ll get from drinking the water if it’s contaminated.
As a general rule of thumb, I tend to bring 3 litres of water with me on a 6-hour hike. That’s in accordance with the guidelines above. I also carry rehydration salts which tend to stay in my daypack at all times in my first aid kit. I don’t use them on most hikes but I’m grateful for the times I have needed them. I also snack on salty foods like nuts to replace lost salt.
If there’s any doubt that you’ll be able to find water along the way, stock up in advance.
Keep these water guidelines in mind when hiking and you’ll stay hydrated and healthy!
Bonus: Taking a sip of water every couple of minutes will keep you better hydrated. If you drink a whole half litter at once your body won’t have time to fully absorb it, so you will only pee a lot but it won’t mean you are hydrated.