Getting water while backpacking can seem like it might be challenging, but it does not have to be. One of the most important things to factor into your plans is water. How you can get it while backpacking and how to treat it once you’ve found it are two crucial things that every backpacker should know.
You can get water while backpacking from streams, lakes, water caches, waterfalls, rivers, and even animal watering basins along your trail. You can purify water by boiling it or using purification tablets, a UV pen, a sip or squeeze filter, or carrying a bottle with a built-in purifier.
In this article, we’ll discuss how to get water while backpacking, how to treat it once you’ve found it, and what to do if there are no water sources available on your trail. Now let’s get started!
Getting Water While Backpacking
If you’re going backpacking for an extended period of time, whether it be a few days or for several weeks, you’ll need to know how to access water along the way. Drinking enough water while backpacking is essential for keeping your energy up and will make you less susceptible to experiencing things like hypothermia or sunstroke.
Water can quickly weigh down your backpack, but you will need to carry some to start off your hike with. If you’re hiking near or in the direction of a water source, you will be able to carry less water, as you can replenish it along the way. To do this, you need to know where to find water along your trail, as well as how to treat it once you’ve found it.
Study Your Potential Water Sources
Before you set out on your chosen trail, you should study all of the potential water sources you could find along the way. This could be anything from streams, lakes, and caches to waterfalls and large rivers. Some more established trails may even have designated water points along the way where you will be able to find clean, fresh water.
To do this, you can use Google Maps to locate some water sources before you set out to go backpacking, and then map out a route that will take you to those water sources. You could also use a good ole map to find water sources in the area of the trail you’re planning to take, or you could get an official trail map if you are hiking in a national park or nature reserve.
Know How to Treat the Water You Find
Once you’ve found a water source where you can refill your water container (whether it be a bladder or a simple water bottle), you need to know how to clean it so that it’s safe for you to drink. The general rule of thumb is that it is always better to collect water from a moving source than from a stagnant water body.
Even a small trickle is better than water that’s not moving at all, as stagnant water is much more likely to harbor bacteria and parasites.
No matter where you get your water from, you’ll need to purify it at least a little bit. This will ensure that the water you are drinking is clean and free of most (if not all) of the bacteria and parasites that may have been in it. There are many ways you can go about cleaning your water, and we will go through several of them now.
- Boil your water. This is one of the oldest and most tried-and-true methods of purifying your water, and it seldom lets you down. Ensure that you bring your water to a boil for around 1 minute at a lower altitude and 3 minutes if you’re at an altitude higher than 2000 meters (6500 feet).
- Use purification tablets. Another popular way of purifying water is by using purification tablets. They are small and lightweight so that you can keep them in your backpack at all times. They are also an effective way of purifying water; the only downside is that you often have to wait 30 minutes or longer before you can drink the water.
- Use an ultraviolet light purifier. Ultraviolet Purifying Pens are a great way to eliminate bacteria, viruses, and protozoa that don’t get removed through standard filtration methods. They should be used as a secondary purification method after your water has already been filtered once.
- Carry a bottle with a built-in filter. Water bottles with built-in filtration systems are great to use if you are hiking on a trail with water sources at regular intervals at which you can fill up your bottle. This is also a great option to choose, because you will be able to decide the size of the bottle that will work best for your needs.
- Use a sip or squeeze filter. Sip and squeeze filters are one of the most lightweight water purification options on the market. They do a great job of cleaning your water and removing harmful bacteria and protozoa from it. They also come in several variations, from a straw that lets you drink directly from the water source to a mini-filter that can be attached to a drinking bladder, a regular water bottle, or hydration pack.
Most Popular with Thru Hikers – Sawyer Mini on a Smart Water Bottle
The number one water filtering combination chosen by thru-hikers is the ‘Sawyer Squeeze,’ which is essentially a Sawyer Mini filter attached to a squeeze bladder. It is effective in filtering out bacteria and protozoa, and has a great flow rate.
People like that it is detachable, meaning that you can attach the Sawyer Mini to either a hydration bladder or a water bottle, depending on your preference. It is lightweight, easy to use, and maintains its durability over time.
Backpacking With No Water Sources Available
If you’ve decided to go backpacking, but the trail you’re going on doesn’t have any water sources available, or at least in close proximity to the trail, this can create a problem. You need to have enough water to keep you hydrated, but you’ll have to carry all of the water you need with you for the whole hike when there isn’t any water available.
This can weigh your bag down quite a bit, depending on how much water you need to carry with you. For this reason, we wouldn’t recommend going backpacking for longer than one overnight trip if there aren’t any external water sources along the way. Otherwise, your bag can get unnecessarily heavy and will make your hike quite unpleasant.
Nonetheless, if you’re going backpacking with no water sources available, you’ll need to know how much to carry with you. You can calculate how much water you should be drinking on an average day by taking your weight (in pounds) and multiply it by ⅔. That should give you a rough estimate of how much you should drink on the days that you don’t exercise at all.
As a general rule of thumb, you should drink an additional 12 ounces (355 ml) for every 30 minutes that you spend exercising. So if you know roughly how long the trail that you’re going on should take, you can calculate how much water you need to carry with you, in addition to what you should be drinking daily anyway.
It would be best if you also carried some sports drink tablets or powder mixes with you that you can mix with some water to help replenish your body’s electrolytes and the vitamins and minerals you lose by sweating as you hike. However, it is imperative to make sure that you are drinking enough water because your body needs water to help it process the electrolytes you are taking in.
Making sure you stay hydrated while backpacking is essential, but so is eating enough, so make sure to carry some snacks in your backpack too. Things like protein bars, pretzels, jerky sticks, nuts, and trail mix are all good snacks to carry with you.
Apps like Guthook Will Help You Locate Water
However, if you’re more of a tech person, you could use an app like Guthook, which will keep all of the information you need for backpacking (like maps, guidebooks, a compass, and water reports) right on your phone. This means that you’ll have all of the information you might need at your fingertips at all times.
There are several topo map apps on the market and many will also include potential water sources.
Having clean water to drink while backpacking is essential for keeping you hydrated and feeling good. Luckily, there are many ways you can find and purify water from sources near your trail; all you need to know is how to do it properly.
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Erick is a freelance writer and outdoor enthusiast. Growing up in Nairobi Kenya and now calling Glasgow, United Kingdom home. Sipping on homemade spiced swahili tea and enjoying a good book is his idea of bliss.