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Water is Heavy in Pack

This advice is primarily for hikers on established trails with good knowledge of their water sources.  Please read comments below for a number of other perspectives.

Fears tend to drive what we carry.  The three hardest fears I have dealt with are getting cold, hungry and thirsty.

I want to talk today about water management.  A number of you carry a 100oz. Camelback filled with water.  This approaches 8 pounds for the container + water plus you never really know how much water you have drunk nor how much you have left.  Why carry so much when you have known water sources on your hike?  How long and how many miles can you walk around your home without taking a drink?  For me it is 8-10 miles or 3-4 hours.  Try it!  Learn your limits.

Water management can be one of the big challenges that can truly affect your pack weight.  Are you ready to be pushed out of your comfort zone?

When getting ready for bed I make sure I have a number of liters of water that are treated & ready for me and others in the morning (especially w/ Scouts).  If the next day’s hike has known sure water sources I drink a couple  liters of water before leaving camp then only carry ~ 500mls of water with me until I get to the water source.  When I get to the water source again I drink 2+ liters until the next water source. An ultralight water filter also helps minimize the amount of water on a hikers back.

Instead of 8+ pounds of water I’m carrying only 1 pound.  A huge difference.

-article by Doug Prosser and Editor

10 Responses to Water is Heavy in Pack

  1. Dave9 December 8, 2010 at 3:51 pm #

    Um, but if you drink 2liters at each break, you are carrying 4 pounds inside you. So as far as your feet and legs are concerned, whether you drink 2 liters at a break and only carry 1/2 l while walking or carry 2 1/2 liters in your pack and sip it is the same.

  2. Rab December 8, 2010 at 11:31 pm #

    Coming from the desert and spending a lot of time hiking in the heat I always err on the plus side of carrying too much water. I have had “known” water sources turn out to be non existent. I do cut back when I am for sure hiking to water. Thanks for the great message & ideas.

  3. Rich December 9, 2010 at 4:35 pm #

    Most of the people I hike with carry too much water but carrying the “right” amount of water is a real balancing act. I typically hike trails that I’ve never been on before so I’m reliant on maps to tell me where water sources are. My experience is that these sources can be very seasonal and water quality varies. I’ve made the mistake of trusting a map only to find out that the source was dry. I had drank all my water and had to hike several more (very hot and sunny) miles to get to the next source. I wasn’t in immediate danger, but the thought of not having water was unpleasant and my mouth was extremely dry. What if the next source had been dry too? I learned a lesson that day and now err on the side of carrying more water than needed. I also drink as much water as I can stand before heading out of camp. Dehydration is a killer in the backcountry and I’d hate to see someone die trying to save a few pounds on water weight.

  4. Phil December 10, 2010 at 4:23 pm #

    Over here in moist Scotland I rarely carry more than 500ml of water (in a recycled plastic Irn Bru bottle) thanks to the profusion of delicious streams in the mountains. Care is required to ensure that the apparently clean water is free from human or animal pollution, but away from obviously populated areas I have no qualms about relying on these sources. As such, I generally carry a small cup on a string on my rucksack strap to facilitate speedy swigging. Drinking clean, fresh mountain water is one of my favourite aspects of being in the outdoors, and I hate having to add chemicals or wait for a filter.

  5. UltraDave December 13, 2010 at 2:49 pm #

    I speed pack often in the desert & agree with Rab (above).
    I have experienced dehydration way too many times. It is nothing but dangerous!
    My grandfather was one of the last “mountain men” left. He thought me many Indian ways.
    One was to carry a round pebble from a stream. Place it under your tongue. It stimulates the saliva gland & tricks your mind into thinking you are “drinking”.
    In the deserts of Southern California we do not have enough water flow to round pebbles so I substitute dried beans. They are CHEEP and work great. I carry 10 to 12 because, if you have a bad one, it may split apart. A key point: remember to star using the bean well before you start to feel thirsty.
    The danger is that you are still loosing your body reserve of water even when you think you are not. I have experimented in various conditions running. For me, @ +/- 100 deg F, I can go 20 to 27 miles with out danger. But, I better have water after that, including enough to make up the deficit.
    Remember, your results may very. I suggest trying the method, under controllable conditions, before relying on it.

  6. Tom Terrific December 13, 2010 at 6:37 pm #

    I start out with two 1 liter soda/water bottles (your choice of flavors), then re-supply myself lightweight on the go from any water source using the Aquamire Pro sold right here. One bottle becomes the soiled bottle, the other pristine. I keep the filter in my glovebox. You just never know.

  7. Bill December 27, 2010 at 12:56 am #

    Sorry, but I think you are offering irresponsibly dangerous advice here. It is too easy to get into trouble in the outdoor pusuits your customers engage in: snakebite, sickness, injury, unexpected weather conditions, etc., etc. There are many ways for your stay in the outdoors to suddenly become longer and more difficult than you planned. The one thing you should always carry more than enough of is water. You will wish you had when the unexpected happens to you. More than anything else you carry, your life, and lives of your companions could depend on it.

  8. Danneaux December 27, 2010 at 7:46 pm #

    I, too, have had to err on the side of caution while bicycle touring solo in the deserts of America’s Great Basin. I cross 40+ miles of open desert playa where there are no non-alkali water sources and I am unlikely to see another vehicle for as much as two weeks at a time. My last trip through the length of Nevada’s Black Rock Desert in June saw nighttime lows of 19F and daytime highs of 100+F. In the heat of the day — on the bike with no cover from the sun — I burned through a pint of water every hour of travel, with every fourth pint fortified with electrolytes to avoid depletion and cramping due to over-dilution. During the more remote stretches, I carried 3.3 gallons (over 12 liters) so I had a day’s reserve at this rate without rationing. Carrying 25-27 pounds of water while climbing 12%-14% grades or riding through loose playa is taxing, but I decided it was best to play it safe. In fact, the water alone weighed as much as all my other gear except for food. Yes, I reacted out of fear, but weighing the consequences, it wasn’t worth the risk to carry less. As it happened, I depleted about 70% of my reserves between refills, and it was good to know I had a margin in case of a stranding event like an unexpected fall or injury, especially solo and in a remote area with unreliable cell phone service and no available emergency services (Nevada’s N. Washoe County). Pre-ride caching of water stores was not an option on a ride so far from my home in western Oregon. I welcome any and all suggestions readers might have for practically minimizing water weight in areas that offer little or no ready opportunity to resupply. It *is* a bit discouraging to minimize weight in so many areas only to add it back in water, but sometimes there is no ready alternative.

  9. Dr Nicole Anderson January 13, 2011 at 7:37 pm #

    I agree with Bill here – this is bad advice. Simply drinking 2L water at each stop and carrying only small amounts represents a very poor understanding of human thermoregulation and fluid shifts. Our gut can only process 300-400ml fluid per hour, maybe more with better electrolyte combinations. Insensible losses through the respiratory and skin systems vary greatly. Urine and gut fluid losses tend to attempt balance with the fluid shifts between cells and in the vascular system. Overhydration can result in small bowel paralysis (ileus) and hyponatraemia which is deadly. Also as stated above, you are still carrying what you drink. If you simply chug 2L then your body will take what it needs and ditch the rest in urine (or put you into a hyponatraemic state – even worse) – and you run the risk of dehydration if your next water source is not as expected. I strongly recommend Gossamer gear remove this advice article from their website.

  10. Gossamer Gear January 14, 2011 at 6:21 pm #

    We thought we would leave this post active so that our readers can see that there are many factors governing how much water you should carry. We know Doug well and he hikes primarily on very known trails with very predictable water sources and offers advice consistent with that environment that we know quite a few hikers follow. We also know that there are many conditions that this might not apply and we have edited the article to reflect this. We would like to thank all those that commented to give this topic more depth and information than originally published.

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