Stay Hydrated While Hiking: Water Bottles, Bladders, & Purification

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How to Stay Hydrated – Water Bottles, Bladders, and more

Our bodies expel water in two ways: sweat and urine. We do this naturally throughout our day and even more so when we’re physically active.

Shelby and I always have water bottles within arms reach at all times of the day, whether we’re being active or not. We know it’s important to drink water throughout a normal day so you should know it’s especially important to stay hydrated throughout a hike. 

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Hiking requires a lot of energy. Depending on the weather and landscape you can quickly become dehydrated if you’re not drinking enough water.

But how exactly do you know if you’re dehydrated?

Side Effects for Mild to Moderate Dehydration

• Feeling Thirsty

• Mouth is Dry

• Loss of Energy

• Decrease in Amount of Urine Expelled

• Urine is More Yellow than Normal

• Headache

• Feeling Dizzy

Side Effects of Severe Dehydration Includes

• Light Headed

• Severe Dizziness

• Rapid Heart Rate

• Feeling Feverish

• Feeling Lethargic

• Confusion

• Poor Skin Elasticity

• Little to No Urine

• Urine is Dark Yellow or Amber in Color

It’s good to know the signs of dehydration, but it’s even better to take the proper steps to insure you’re always hydrated.

You can learn more about dehydration from Charles Davis, MD, PhD and Melissa Stoppler, MD on emedicinehealth dot com.

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1 Liter (34 ounces) of Water Every 2 Hours

This is a widely talked about standard for water consumption during an average day hike. We say this loosely as consumption will vary based on many factors including temperature, body weight, and level of activity.

If the heat is excessive in the area you’re hiking then we recommend taking even more water and re assessing your ability to sustain in such conditions.

So How Much Water Do I Need to Bring?

The average hiker takes about 30 minutes to complete a mile.

Hikes with intense elevation gain, extreme temperatures, and your level of fitness will affect this average, but again it’s an average. To do the math you simply multiply 30 minutes times the number of miles you plan to hike.

The Formula

Total Hours Hiking ÷ 2 Hours (Avg. 1L water per 2 hours) = Total Liters of Water Needed 

Example

6 miles x 30 minutes = 180 minutes or 3 Hours

3 hours ÷ 2 hours (1 liter water consumed) = 1.5 liters (or 48 ounces) water needed

This formula has been pretty accurate for us. With that being said, we personally always bring extra. We’d rather have too much water than not enough.

That’s a Lot of Water Weight!

No kidding. Water is HEAVY. If you want to shave some of that weight off your back then you should make it a habit to hydrate before you begin your hike.

We always drink about a liter of water before we set out on a hike. We’ll start drinking water from when we wake up, during breakfast, and on the way to our hike. This is another general tip you’ll hear from most avid day hikers and backpackers alike.

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Sip or Chug?

Can you simply chug a liter of water before you start a hike? How about during?

While chugging may save time or feel great in the moment of quenching your thirst, it’s actually best to pace.

When you consume a lot of water at once your body doesn’t have the time needed to absorb it all. You’ll end up needing to urinate more often, expelling much of the water your body is looking to hold onto.

Shelby and I like to sip sip pass throughout our hike so we’re continually keeping our bodies hydrated. It’s best to periodically drink water throughout your hike regardless if you feel thirsty or not. If you’re feeling thirsty you’re already becoming dehydrated. 

How Do You Carry Water on a Hike?

We like to keep water in vacuum insulated stainless steel water bottles. But there are a handful of methods to carry your precious fluid.

The list below is not in any order of importance.

1. Plastic Water Bottles (Nalgene)

Pros
• Durable
• Cheap
• Lightweight Once Empty

• Easily Monitor Water Levels
• Accommodates Heavy Swigs

Cons
• May Leach Unfavorable Flavors
• Not Hands Free
• Bulky
• Not Insulated (warm water by mid/end of hike) 

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2. Vacuum Insulated Stainless Steel Water Bottles (Hydro Flask)

Pros
• Clean Tasting Water
• Durable
• Lightweight Once Empty
• Easily Monitor Water Levels
• Accommodates Heavy Swigs
• Ice Cold All Day Long (no matter the temperature outside)

Cons
• Not Hands Free
• Bulky
• Expensive (Increase Your Budget Today)

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3. Collapsible Water Bottles (Platypus)

Pros
• Ultra Light Weight
• Compact
• Easily Monitor Water Levels
• Accommodates Heavy Swigs

Cons
• Not Hands Free
• Prone to Punctures/Rips

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4. Water Bladders (Reservoirs)

Pros
• Easy Access (Sip from your shoulder)
• Hands Free
• Great Foot Print to Water Ratio
• Good Weight Distribution 

Cons
• Water Level Unknown
• Cleaning is Cubersome
• Likely to Grow Mold
• Prone to Punctures/Rips
• Can’t Take Heavy Swigs
• Water Can Heat Up or Freeze within the Tube

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We’ve tried every option here. We personally like ice cold water and the ability to take heavy swigs throughout our hike. A mouth full of ice cold water helps relieve the heat better than sipping on a narrow straw or taking a swig from a bottle of luke warm water.

But everyone has their preference and there is no 100% right answer!

Shelby and I do have to stop and ask one another to open our pack for water. (Perk to traveling in a group) Or we have to take off our backpacks to retrieve our insulated water bottles. For us it’s not a problem, but to others this may be considered a hassle.

Whatever container you decide on make sure you add it to your Master Packing List. It doesn’t do you any good if you’ve left it at home! 

Can I Drink From Natural Sources of Water Along My Hike? 

In short, yes you can. But take the proper precautions.

Although the movies portray people diving face first into a natural body of water drinking as if they’re trying to quench the thirst of the Sahara desert, it’s generally advised you don’t drink natural water without proper filtration or sterilization.

Drinking natural water can lead to diarrhea and infection. Our spoiled bodies no longer have the immune systems to combat the bacteria found out in the wild. Luckily we have several options to reduce and eliminate the risk of these unfavorable outcomes. 

Sawyer Squeeze Water Filter System and Life Straw are 2 highly recommended systems that eliminate 99.9% of all threats from natural water sources. Water is either squeezed or simply sipped through a filter. 

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As for purification or sterilization, there are tablets, liquid products, as well as UV light solutions for destroying 99.9% of all harmful components of natural water sources. Potable Aqua, Aquamira, and SteriPen come to mind for your purification needs. 

We personally carry water purification tablets as well as a Life Straw. We do own a Sawyer Squeeze Water Filter System in which we keep in a bail out bag at home.

We’ve never had to use any of these products in the 5 years we’ve been regularly hiking, but we’re happy to know we have the option to use natural resources should we need to. 

Ultra Light Hiking

For some hikers ounces are pounds and will take any means necessary to shed excess weight. You can ditch a water bottle, fill up half your bladder, and carry any of the above water systems if you know you’ll be running into an accessible water source during your hike. These systems are useless without a water source! Go figure. 

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Once You’re At Half It’s Time to Turn Back

Another handy rule of thumb is to head back once you’ve depleted half your supply of water.

If you’re new to hiking or hiking outside your comfort zone this can be an invaluable tip. Drinking more than half your water before turning around could mean a dry mouth or even more severe dehydration symptoms on the way back. 

Especially if your route back is mainly an incline, then your body will have to work extra hard just to return to your car. Meaning you might need more water than usual for your return trip.

Stay Thirsty Hydrated My Friends 

So now you know what the effects of dehydration are, how much water you should bring, how often you should drink it, and how you should carry it. Also, you now have the information and ability to drink from natural water sources! 

Hydration is the 1st essential out of the 10 Essentials for hiking. Make sure you learn the other 9 before you hit the trails!

What’s your favorite method of carrying water? Do you prefer to drink from natural water sources? We want to know in a comment below!

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About the Author

Nathan Bernal is the co-founder, editor, and author of We Who Roam. As a life long adventure and gear enthusiast Nathan combines fun and expertise when out exploring the natural world. He's here to share his knowledge and inspire the adventurer in you.

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