The symptoms of dehydration, such as dizziness, rapid breathing, heart palpitations, and fainting, become increasingly scary when they happen on a backpacking expedition. To ward off dehydration, you need to drink a sufficient amount of water. On an average day, this is about eight, 8oz glasses for an adult.
But when you are physically active, doing something such as backpacking, your body is almost constantly losing water. This happens not only through urination but by sweating. The water intake goal to stave off dehydration when backpacking is much more substantial.
So how much water do you need to drink when backpacking? When backpacking, you need to drink about one liter per hour to offset the effects of urination and sweating. This means 7 to 15 liters per day ( about 1.75 to 3.75 gallons ) under conditions that require exercise and sweating such as backpacking. However, if your hike is leisure and you are not sweating much nine to fifteen 8oz glasses of water per day or roughly 2 to 4 liters ( .5 to 1.25 gallons ) per day will get you through.
The quantity of water needed is affected by a wide variety of factors, and there are some additional considerations when deciding how much water to take backpacking. In this hydration guide, we will cover:
- Why you need to drink an adequate amount of water while backpacking
- Factors that can affect how much water you should drink while backpacking
- Considerations when packing water on a backpacking trip
Clickable Table Of Contents
Why You Need to Stay Hydrated On the Trail
Your body is approximately 60% water. Much of that water is lost during digestion, urination, tear production, and sweating. During vigorous activities such as backpacking or hiking, you can expect to be sweating more than if you were inactive.
To counteract the loss of fluids, you will need to drink more water than you usually would. When the body does not have enough water dehydration sets in. The symptoms of dehydration are:
- Dry mouth
- Lack of tears or sweat
- Muscle cramps
- Nausea and vomiting
- Heart palpitations
- Dizziness and fainting
- Rapid breathing
- Decreased urination
These symptoms can be pretty frightening, especially when you are in the backcountry carefully navigating your way up the side of a mountain, and are a decent amount of time away from emergency personnel.
Water is also necessary for cognition. When your body’s water levels are low, it can lead to poor memory, greater anxiety, and less energy. When backpacking in the wilderness, you need your mind to stay sharp, so drink up!
Though water itself rarely contains a long list of nutrients, it is required for helping your body to break down vitamins and minerals. A lack of water will slow your digestion and nutrient absorption, leaving you feeling sluggish.
If you are backpacking in the summer months, water can help you regulate your body temperature. Your body cools itself by sweating. If you don’t drink enough, sweat production will cease, and you will overheat.
Drinking around one liter an hour when backpacking is optimum. If you feel any of the symptoms of dehydration, drink immediately and more frequently for the duration of your trip.
On a typical day, medical professionals advise that adults should aim to drink eight, eight-ounce glasses of water per day. Just remember the 8×8 rule. But when hiking, you should try to drink close to one liter per hour, four times the amount recommended during leisure, for the various reasons listed above.
Water Considerations When Backpacking
Other factors can affect how quickly your body loses water and how much water intake is required to replace it. If it is particularly hot or humid when you are trekking, you will lose a greater amount of water quickly by sweating.
The same is true if you are physically pushing yourself to your limits. The intensity level is different for everyone, as each individual has different strengths and exertion levels. Similarly, people sweat differently, so adjust accordingly.
If you are backpacking at high altitudes, you will also need to take a drink more frequently. Any activity at high altitudes poses a greater risk for dehydration. At great heights, your body is less likely to feel thirsty, making it easier to skip sips.
Don’t be deceived by old man winter; water is just as vital during the colder months. You may not enjoy sipping on ice water, however, so consider a warmer alternative. Consult the forecast, maps, including topographical ones, and your bodily characteristics before determining how much water you will require on your backpacking expedition.
Packing a Sufficient Amount of Water
Now, you know why you need to stay hydrated while backpacking, and important factors that can play a role in your hydration. Let’s discuss how to lug all that necessary water around with you.
Water is heavy, weighing in at just over two pounds per liter. You will want to either map your route based on water availability or plan to carry water in your pack.
Refilling Out On the Trail
Some trails and paths have drinking fountains, pump stations, or water refilling stations available. If these are options, you will not need to pack as much water as long as you map a course that incrementally visits these stops.
If you plan to use a natural source for water, ensure that it is safe to drink. If the water is not potable or you are unsure, you should use a treatment method. Many tools are available for this, including pump filters, tablets or drops, and UV pens.
If there are not opportunities to refill while backpacking, you will need to pack your water bottles. During your hike you will want to sip water frequently, so even though you would usually put heavier items towards the back and bottom of your pack, this is not so with water.
Types of Water Reservoirs
Your water should always be accessible so you can rehydrate easily and often. So how do you carry all your necessary liquids when backpacking? You have a few options.
The first is a bladder or reservoir. These polyurethane bags can either be worn against your back or placed within your backpack. They have a long tube-like straw attached so you can frequently drink with minimal effort.
The benefits to these are that they can collapse when empty and provide easy access to your water. The downsides are that as they are often kept on your back or in your backpack, it’s hard to assess the amount of water you have left. Checking your water level usually involves taking the pack off.
Also, they can be difficult to clean thoroughly, as they are a sealed bladder. Although, most packs are now manufactured with antimicrobial linings. The final con is that they are susceptible to puncturing and leaking.
The second water storage option is hard canister water bottles. Unlike the bladders, traditional water bottles are durable and resistant to leaking. They can also be kept just about anywhere on or in your pack. Finally, water bottles make it easy to obtain a copious amount of water or chug from, unlike sipping through a bladder straw.
The average Nalgene water bottle holds about 1 liter of water. You should aim to drink 1 full bottle of water each hour when backpacking. If you are unable to stop at any refilling stations, this could add up to a lot of water bottles.
In addition, when those once heavy water bottles are empty, they still take up a great deal of space in your pack. Hard bodied water bottles are usually fine for short trips but are ill-advised for long treks.
The final option is a soft-bodied or collapsible water bottle. These bottles are a compromise between a hard-bodied bottle and a reservoir. They are small and malleable so they can fit almost anywhere. However, they are also at risk of puncturing like a bladder, and similar to rigid water bottles only hold a finite amount of water.
“Camel Up” and Pre-hydrate
It is important to plan your route and know of any water stations or opportunities to refill along your path prior to heading out. Once you have your route mapped out, you can choose the appropriate container.
Another tip when it comes to packing water is that you can save some space and water by pre-hydrating and by doing what is known as to “camel up”.
Before you set out for the day, either at breakfast or on your way to the trail drink around a liter of water. This will ensure that you are properly hydrated before you exert yourself. As with drinking throughout your backpacking venture, don’t chug when you are pre-hydrating.
Gulping water too rapidly can lead to the liquid passing through your system quickly and not being able to fully serve its purpose. Drinking normal swallows at frequent intervals is best.
“Cameling up” applies to drinking greater amounts when water is available. If you stop at a refill station, try to drink as much water as your body will reasonably hold and then refill your canteen. Again, don’t gulp and make yourself sick; the idea is to sufficiently rehydrate your body resulting in having to carry less water for the next leg.
Hydrated Campers are Happy Campers
Backpacking can be a beautiful and rewarding activity, but it is important to stay hydrated on your trip. Be sure to map out your route and locate water sources beforehand. Then you can determine which water container you should use and how much water you need to pack. Remember, when backpacking aim for consuming one liter of water each hour to stay happy and healthy on the trail!