Hydration 101: Your Guide to Water While Hiking
Water is one of the unsung heroes of backpacking and hiking trips. Humans can only survive about three days without water, and our need for it increases with our activity level, as we lose fluids through sweat. But it can be hard sometimes to gauge just how much we need. If you’re newer to backcountry travel, you might also have questions around where to source your water or the best way to carry it.
Well, never fear! Our Hydration 101 blog is here to help answer all of your questions about water on the trail, including:
- How much water should you drink while hiking?
- What is the best way to carry your water while hiking?
- What water is safe to drink in the backcountry?
- What are the signs of dehydration?
Let’s dive in!
How Much Water Should You Drink While Hiking?
It would be great if there was a hard and fast rule for how much water to drink while hiking, but the total amount you intake will depend on a variety of factors, including:
- Intensity level and duration of your activity
- Personal needs based on things like age, body type, sweat rate, or medical needs
- Weather conditions
- Terrain and altitude
Under moderate conditions and exertion levels, a good baseline to shoot for is a half-liter per hour. If your hike is more strenuous or if it’s a hot or humid day, you’ll want to increase this, as needed. You should also consider adding an electrolyte powder to your water, which can help your body replenish important salts and vitamins lost through sweat.
Additionally, you’re more likely to dehydrate at higher altitudes, so be mindful of your elevation and drink more water if you’re climbing.
Winter can also be a tricky time for hydration. While it’s likely you won’t need to drink quite as much as you would on a blistering summer day where you'll be sweating a bunch, you do need to make sure you keep drinking. You might not have the urge to intake as much water in winter, but this can lead to dehydration if you’re not careful.
It’s also a good idea to pre-hydrate. In the day or two before your hike, make sure you’re hydrating well in general, and don’t be afraid to have some water on your way to the trailhead. Pee breaks are a good excuse to slow down and enjoy the journey, while also putting your super-cool Gossamer Gear Kula Cloth to use.
All in all, while you can start with the half-liter per hour rule, you’ll want to listen to your body and adjust as you need. As you pay more attention to your body’s hydration needs and gain more experience, it’ll be easier to feel out over time.
You may want to try keeping a hydration log to discover your hydration sweet spot. Take notes on how much and how often you drank during your journey, whether you started out well-hydrated, and how you feel mentally and physically at different points of your hike as a result. You can also pay attention to how often you urinate. On average, well-hydrated people pee every 2 to 5 hours. If you’re going less than this and also noticing that when you do pee, your urine is darker in color, take that as a sign to drink up!
What Is the Best Way to Carry Water While Hiking?
Water is heavy! One liter weighs about 2.2 pounds. This means that one of the best ways to carry water is to only carry what you need. Before heading out, plan your route to know what distance you have to cover between water sources. For example, if you’re hiking around a 2mph pace and conditions are moderate, a liter of water could last you about four miles. Look on your map and in your resources to see if you can expect to pass another water source within that distance.
You can choose to carry a little more or a little less depending on how far you need to go between sources. A little planning in advance keeps you safer on the trail—plus, your shoulders and back will thank you!
A lightweight option for carrying water is to reuse Smart Water bottles (you can even upgrade them a little with our kit) or plastic collapsible water bottles. If you’re hiking where water is scarce, you’ll need to carry more at a time. Keep the extra weight close to your back, in the center of your pack. It’s also smart to use multiple carry options if water is scarce. This way, if one of your containers has a failure, you won’t lose all of your water.
Additionally, in the winter, be mindful if you’re using a hydration bladder with a hose, as the hose can be prone to freeze if you don’t keep it insulated.
We also highly recommend the Gossamer Gear Bottle Rocket for quick-grab access to your water at any time on the trail. No more reaching around to try to grab it out of a side pocket or needing to take your pack off. Hydrate, and keep hiking!
What Water Is Safe to Drink in the Backcountry?
No matter how pristine a water source looks, the reality is that it can contain harmful bacteria or viruses that can make you sick and lead to diarrhea and dehydration. The safest way to protect yourself from a very bummer and potentially dangerous trail situation is to filter all of your water.
There are a variety of water filtration systems available, including pumps, gravity filters, chemicals, and more.
One of our favorites is the Sawyer Micro Squeeze Water Filter. It weighs just two ounces, fits in the palm of your hand, and can screw right onto its included drinking pouch, standard disposable water bottles, or hydration packs. You can also use the straw to drink directly from a water source. It removes 99.99999% of all bacteria, such as salmonella, cholera, and E. Coli; 99.9999% of all protozoa, such as giardia and cryptosporidium; and 100% of microplastics. It’s rated for up to 100,000 gallons.
In addition to using a water filter, look for water that is flowing well, like a river or stream. The movement helps prevent the build up of algae or other potentially harmful microorganisms. If you only have still options, like lakes, ponds, or slow-moving streams, look for areas with the least amount of sediment to avoid clogging your filter. Also try to source your water farther from the shore where microorganisms are more likely to concentrate.
What Are the Signs of Dehydration?
We hope that with all of your awesome new knowledge about water while hiking, that you don’t find yourself with a bad case of dehydration.
However, it’s good to know the signs and symptoms of dehydration so you can spot them early in yourself or a hiking buddy if the situation arises. It’s always better to take appropriate action to get rehydrated sooner rather than later.
Some of the key signs of dehydration include:
- Dry mouth
- Infrequent urination
- Dark-colored urine
- Sweating less than usual
- Dark-colored urine
- Dry skin
- Muscle cramps
If you begin to notice mild symptoms of dehydration while on trail, pause and drink some water. You might also want to add electrolytes to your water. A good way to avoid dehydration is to remember to take sips of water frequently throughout your hike rather than saving it for every-so-often chugs.
Keep Hydrated on the Trail for Happy Hiking
Whether hiking in the dog days of summer or the chill of winter, good hydration is an important task to remember. We hope some of these tips help you prepare for a well-hydrated hike ahead!
If this was helpful, you might also enjoy some of our other resources on the Light Feet blog:
- 5 Tips for Keeping Cool on Hot Summer Hikes
- Tips and Techniques for a Successful Dry Camping Trip
- Peeing in the Woods With Help From Your Pelvic Floor
And if you’re looking for some new hydration gear, make sure to check out some of our favorites:
Have your own hydration tips to share with our community? Spread the love with us by tagging Gossamer Gear on social media (@gossamergear) and using the hashtag #takelessdomore.