How to Pack Water for Backpacking – Hydration Systems
When it comes to staying hydrated while hiking, you need to be able to answer three main questions:
1. How often can I refill with water?
2. How will I carry that water?
3. How will I make that water clean for drinking?
Between the three of these, you should be ready to stay hydrated while hiking.
The first question, of water access, is something you should have the answer to well before you leave for a long trip. Check your map to see where permanent and seasonal streams will be, and read trip reports if possible to determine whether the water quality is high enough to drink and what parts of the year seasonal streams will be flowing. Once you know the answer to this, move on.
Since you already know how often you’ll have access to fresh water, you should also have a good idea how much water you’ll need to carry at any given leg of your trip. Staying hydrated is important, so if you’re new to hiking plan on carrying the upper limits of what might be necessary. Ideally, you’ll want to have around 1.5 gallons per day for drinking and around 1/2 a gallon per night on the trail (that would be around 7L, for our metric readers). However, keep in mind this is a daily total and not necessarily how much you need to carry at once. Use your knowledge of water refill points to determine what your longest stretch of trail without fresh water access will be, and have enough carrying capacity for that. There are, basically two options for how to pack water you’ll need to carry.
Hydration Backpacks. While actually hiking, we tend to have much better success at staying hydrated with a hands-free water backpack. With these you’ll have no need to stop, dig a water bottle out of your bag, then re-pack and then continue. Instead, you can just hit the hose every so often as it occurs to you to drink water. The most popular brand of these by far is CamelBack, but any old one will do as long as it has a hose and doesn’t leak in your pack. Try to find something at least 70oz / 2L so you don’t have to refill too often. (As a plus, the Camelbacks come in their own packs – this can be handy for dayhikes.)
Water Bottles. While hydration packs are ideal for the trail, proper water bottles are much better in camp. We’re particularly fond of Nalgenes because we’ve used them since forever, but they do include measurements on the side which can come in handy for camp cooking. For these, 1L / 33 oz is a pretty common size. For dayhikes, if you don’t have a hydration pack a small waist pack with a couple of bottles can also work.
Finally, water treatment. While there are any number of fresh mountain streams in some of the less explored parts of Asia, you should still be careful about drinking untreated water. A giardia infection is a nasty thing, and not something to be taken lightly when you’re far away from treatment. No matter which method you decide to use, make sure to find the cleanest water you can to start treating from.
The easiest and lightest water treatment method is iodine. Available in both dropper and tablet form, you simply fill up with water, add iodine, and wait 45 minutes or so to drink. That being said, this treatment gives a pretty distinctive taste to the water to consider packing (sugar-free) drink mixes to cover it up.
The other two popular options are UV Purification and Water Filtration. We’ve been using UV Purification (a SteriPen Adventurer) for the past year or more and find it to work well. Before this we’d used Katadyn Filters, which are a bit bulkier but also filter out sediment (which the SteriPen doesn’t help with).