Everything you need to know about drinking water while hiking

Water is important. We need it to live. Duh.

When a person hikes, they drink water. When a person hikes harder, they drink more water. When its hotter out, people drink more water. Etc.

Here is a list of things to know about water and hiking and backpacking and such:

These are your enemies: 

1. Cryptosporidium – This stuff majorly sucks. Crypto is a protozoan that makes you wicked sick if you ingest it. Crypto in the body = diarrhea. Click the link for more info.

2. Giardia – This crap is a parasite and comes from crap. Literally. It exists in the wild most often when an animal has defecated in the water supply. Like Crypto, it makes you sicked sick. Not good.

3. Other. There are all sorts of weird things that want to get into your water supply.

Here’s how you fight your enemies:

1. Filtration – This is where bad stuff is taken out of your water. Short of drinking out of the LA River or the Cal Sag Channel (shout out to Chicago!), filtration works for most hiking/water needs in the U.S. I personally have had good luck with the Katadyn Hiker Pro and the Sawyer Squeeze Filter. However, if you’re traveling internationally or if zombies are taking over the world and our water treatment is going down the tubes, you wanna kill some stuff too… which brings me to purification…

2. Purification – This is where crap is killed and not just strained out. Viruses must be killed. Fortunately, we don’t have many viruses in our water domestically. Purification just about always makes water great for drinking. Methods of purification involve boiling water (cheap, but takes some time), UV light (like the Steripen, which only takes 90 seconds but adds a few ounces to your pack), and Chlorine Dioxide/Iodine (cheap, super light, but can take 30 minutes to 4 hours to work).

What I would recommend is filtration for domestic use and, both, purification (to kill bad stuff off) and filtration (to take dirt and sediment out for taste). Sometimes its also nice to prefilter water for your filter with a bandana or coffee filter. That way your filter does not clog up quite so quickly.

How much water do I drink while hiking?

How much water one drinks is affected by temperature/sun exposure, how hard they’re working, how often they’re drinking, the shape they’re in, and how much they’re talking (wink!). Everyone is different here. I tend to drink about 20 oz (just over half a liter) per hour under normal conditions.

Also, this is a big reason why planning is important before hiking; you want to make sure to check out where you can resupply your water. Check the map of where you’re going first and then check on trip reports for websites like Santa Barbara Hikes, Summitpost, and the San Gabriel Mountain Forum to ensure that those water sources are still dependable and flowing well.

Bladder/Hydration pack or bottles?

I find that using a hydration bladder (e.g. Camelbak Antidote or Osprey Hydraform Bladder) allows me to drink more often but less water overall than drinking out of bottles. The rule of thumb for drinking is that when you are getting thirsty, it usually means you’re dehydrated already.

One tip I’d impart to y’all is the freezer method. I fill my bladder up about a quarter full with water and throw it in the freezer. That way, when I’m ready to hike, I have ice water for much of the hike. This also helps to cut down on bacteria/mold build up. Highly recommended. I also do this with my water bottles, where I fill them with a quarter of water, cap off, and freeze them. Ice water is muy bueno.

Which water to drink

Running water is almost always best. Water that is still tends to get much more build up of yucky crap. The smell of the water can indicate the overall condition of it sometimes. Also, the color can be an indicator. The same goes for snow. If you see snow with pink coloring in it, it’s bad, and should be avoided if you have alternatives.

Furthermore, keep an eye out for things like animal tracks and feces, which could mean that water is dirtier than otherwise. Also, if you ever see a pump or some sort of irrigation, get the heck out of there asap. This could mean that a drug plantation is near and this means big time danger. Think drug cartels and big guns. Call the ranger as soon as you can to report this.

Did I leave anything off this list? Is there anything else about water you would like to learn about? Hit me up. Peace out home skillets.

Posted on June 30, 2012, in hiking and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Saign really wants to get a water filter for hiking! If you had to choose from the 2 you mentioned, which would it be?

    • I really like this Sawyer Squeeze that just came out. It should last forever as long as its used right and it’s less than half the weight of my Hiker Pro. However, if Saign wants a filter for more than just him or he wants to pump the water directly into a camelbak bladder, go with the Hiker Pro. That thing pumps water so fast, is only a little more expensive, and will last a long time.

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