How Much Water Should You Bring When Hiking? | Hikers University

Since hikes take a long time, hikers have to bring necessities like water with them. But how much water should you bring when hiking? Read on to find out!

Not having enough water can have varying consequences that range from slight discomfort to severe dehydration, and none of these are desirable if you want your hike to remain a positive experience. To avoid such issues, you have to stay hydrated. However, bringing too much water creates another issue: how do I carry so much water on a hike? Luckily, seasoned hikers have an answer to this question.

As a rule of thumb, you should bring one liter of water for every two hours of hiking. Following this rule has proven to serve hikers well. However, this rule would have to be slightly adjusted with a 20% increase for advanced hikes on difficult trails.

While you are planning how much water you need for your hike, you need to ensure you have an adequate amount of water. This amount should meet your hydration needs while also being comfortable to carry on a long hike. You must also understand how the body functions are affected by water and the importance of hydration while hiking.

I have prepared this post by carrying out by studying hiking guides and taking input from best practices used by hikers. I have also consulted books written by military veterans who know how important load distribution is during long-range foot patrols. They are the ones for whom having just the right amount of water can be the difference between failure and success of a mission.

Table of contents


Why Is Bringing Water to Hikes Necessary?

Water is necessary for the proper functioning and maintenance of the human body. When you exert yourself physically, the amount of water needed by your body increases, and drinking water becomes even more important. Water is one of the prime requirements for living, and it has various vital functions. If your water intake is not adequate, you will face the following problems.

  • Your body temperature will rise, and you will feel a little sick. This happens because, in the absence of body fluids, your body cannot sweat properly and faces issues in heat regulation. Sweating has a cooling effect, which happens when evaporation occurs on your skin’s surface. Once you can’t sweat properly, it causes your temperature to rise.
  • You will feel more fatigued than usual and find it difficult to continue. I felt fatigued during one of my hikes because I was low on water. Soon, I burned out much quicker than I expected to, even when the difficulty level of the trail difficulty was not as much as I was used to. I learned the importance of being hydrated that day.
  • Dehydration affects mental clarity and function. Along with a headache, the ability to think properly goes away when you are not fully hydrated. It becomes harder to concentrate, and your brain begins to function with less than full efficiency. You also find making decisions difficult in this condition. Being dehydrated can be lethal on trails located away from the population. Extended dehydration can even cause nerve damage!
  • The most common yet painful effects of dehydration are the stomach cramps and digestive issues that accompany it. The biggest cause of dehydration is an upset stomach. We can easily imagine that stomach issues while being already dehydrated would be even more painful.

Signs of Dehydration

Now that I have shared the dangers of dehydration, you need to know the signs you need to look out for if you feel that dehydration is setting in.

  • The first sign is having a dry mouth and feeling an urge to drink water. Experiencing these conditions signs doesn’t necessarily mean you are extremely dehydrated. However, it is an indicator you need to take a look at and then replace your body fluids quickly before your condition worsens.
  •  When dehydration worsens, you will feel cramps in your lower limbs and particularity in your calves. This is the first real sign of danger. In this case, you not only have to drink water but also replenish your body salts, such as sodium, which prevent muscles from cramping up. This step means you need to take oral rehydration salts or some form of electrolytes.
  •  If you are extremely dehydrated, your mental faculties will suffer. You will feel mentally exhausted, light-headed, and irritable. Your hand-eye coordination will deteriorate. You might even start mumbling or stumbling. When these signs appear, it means that your health is in a critical state. If you experience it and see it in anyone, get water and medical assistance as soon as you can access it.
  • Another telltale sign of dehydration is when you have dark-colored urine. Depending on your urine’s color, you can gauge how hydrated you are. The lighter it is, the more hydrated you are. The darker it is, the more dehydrated you are.

How to Calculate Water Required on a Hike?

As a general rule of thumb, a liter of water every 2 hours or two glasses per hour of hiking is an adequate amount of water. However, various factors can increase or decrease the need to carry more water.

Remember, pack wisely and carry just the right amount of water, so you can enjoy your hike without worrying about dehydration. When you bring the right amount of water, you also avoid feeling uncomfortable carrying the water’s weight around.

Here are four factors to help you determine how much water you require during a hike.

1.      The Duration of Your Hike

The duration of your hiking will depend not only on the distance you require to cover but also on the terrain. We all know that 1 km in the plains would be quite different from 1 km in mountainous terrain. So, it is wise to count the length of a trail in terms of time instead of distance. Once you have a rough estimate of the time required, use the rule of 500ml per hour rule to get a base figure.

2.      Factor in the Effect of Temperature

Perhaps the most important factor after the length of a trail is the temperature expected on the trail. If you are hiking in deserts or arid mountains, you need to increase your amount of water by at least 20% to account for the extra body fluid you will lose when you sweat more on the trail.

3.      Factor in Water Sources Along the Way

If you have clean and regulated water sources on the way, you don’t need to carry a lot of water initially. Refill your bottle on the trail. Considering that the number of water sources on a trail can number from zero to multiple sources, this factor can increase or decrease water content by as much as 50%. Therefore, use your best judgment. Even if there are multiple sources, carry at least 50% of your requirement as you don’t want to stop too often, and you need to be independent.

4.      Factor Additional Requirements That You May Have

We need water more than just for drinking and hydrating. While on the trail, we sometimes need water to fulfill our cooking requirements and sometimes even perform hygiene tasks. Keep that in mind when you decide on your water. Remember, you have to plan meticulously, keeping all factors in mind, if you want to have a smooth hike. If you do not consider these factors, you will feel discomfort during your hike at multiple levels.

Hike Hydration Hacks

I’ve come up with certain hacks using the best practices of hikers and military veterans who have experience in long-distance walking. I feel these hacks will benefit you on your hikes.

1. Drink Up Before the Start of the Hike

This simple and ingenious trick is not new to most of us. The more we drink before a hike, the more we will be able to resist drinking from our own tank. However, don’t drink too much as it can also cause discomfort. It is best to stock up even one night before.

2. Wear Proper Layered Clothing

Even in the hottest weather, try not to expose your body directly to the sun. This is because your body temperature will increase, and you will lose body fluids much more quickly. Wearing ventilated, light-colored, and layered clothing in hot temperatures is the way to go.

3. Sip, Don’t Chug

Sipping has been shown to be better for hydration than gulping huge quantities of water. You consume less water and don’t have to take frequent pee breaks.

4. Pack a Purifying Straw

A purifying straw is handy for hikes that have water sources on them. If you keep this tool on your hike, you will be able to have a near-infinite supply of water. These life straws have a life span of 500 to 1,000 liters. It’s a must-have for all hikers, especially those who don’t want to carry around too much water.

5. Set a Reminder to Drink Water During the Hike

Set reminders to drink water during the hike as it is possible that you may forget due to

being too focused on achieving your goals. It would help to use a water reminder app to make sure your body stays hydrated during the hike.

Hiking is more than just a sport of physical endurance. It is also a mental challenge as you need to prepare beforehand while embarking on a hike. Water management can ensure you don’t feel uncomfortable on hikes or bring too much water that’s hard to carry. This post should help you make sure that you can manage your hydration effectively and efficiently. Best of luck hiking!


Peter Brooks

Peter Brooks

I’m a hiker, backpacker, and general outdoor enthusiast. I started hiking out of college while working for the National Forest Service, and have been hiking ever since. I’ve been solo hiking and leading hiking groups for two decades and have completed hundreds of small hikes and some majorones such as the Appalachian Train and the Pacific Crest Trail, and hiked on four continents. I’d love to share some of my insight with you.

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