Updated: Feb 8, 2020
We all know it is important to bring water with you when venturing out. But how many of you know how much water is enough? You may have heard that you should aim to drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day. How much you should actually drink is more individualized than you might think. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommends that we
drink at least 104 ounces of water per day, which is 13 cups. The general rule for how much water to bring when hiking is as follows: Adults: 2 cups (1 liter) of water for every 1 hour of hiking. Carrying or finding water can sometimes be a quite a chore. You can pack a filtration/purifier system with you if you want to lighten your load, but make sure there is going to be a water source somewhere along your hike. Check your topo map for possible water sources you will encounter and how far apart they are ("Want to know how to read a topo map?"- Go to www.ozarksummers.com). I like to bring one with me anyhow. Believe it or not, not all water sources are on the map. You can come across run-offs after heavy rains, springs that are dry during the summer months, or secret pools of stored rain water. Always take a water container with you,too. Even if its an empty water bottle. Fill it every chance you get!
I highly recommend products by Life Straw and Sawyer Filters. Some of these personal filters can filter up to 100,000 gallons! Water treatment is important to maintaining your health in the outdoors. Not all water sources are unsafe, but even the most pristine-looking source can make you sick. If livestock, wildlife or humans can reach an area, so can contaminants transmitted via their fecal matter.
As more and more of us explore wild places, contamination levels rise. Why play intestinal roulette when you have so many options for treating your water?
Water filters work by physically straining out protozoan cysts (such as Cryptosporidium and Giardia lamblia) and bacteria (such as E. coli, Salmonella, Campylobacter and Shigella). These biological pathogens are the main water concerns if you’re traveling in the U.S. and Canada.
Water purifiers also combat viruses, which are too tiny for most filters to effectively catch. If you’re traveling in less-developed areas of the world, consider products that also provide protection for viruses (such as hepatitis A, rotavirus and norovirus).
Every filter and many purifiers include an internal element or cartridge, a component that has microscopic pores that catch debris, protozoa and bacteria. Over time, strained matter gums up an element’s pores, requiring it to be cleaned and eventually replaced.
Most purifiers use chemicals (such as iodine) to kill viruses, which are too small for most filter elements.
Many filters and purifiers also include activated carbon in their elements because it’s effective at removing unpleasant tastes from things like leaf tannins. Activated carbon also reduces contaminants like pesticides and other industrial chemicals.
Water Treatment Tips and Best Practices
Avoiding a few key mistakes and taking a few precautions will make any treatment method more effective.
Separate and clearly designate dirty and clean water containers. Pay close attention to directions because every product has detailed steps to avoid cross contamination (introducing nontreated water into your treated water).Seek out clean water because sediment impairs treatment effectiveness. If only murky sources are available, use a prefilter or allow sediment to settle from gathered water.Keep your hands clean by packing hand sanitizer and using it often.Keep camp, toilet and dishwashing areas at least 200 feet from any water source. For details on all Leave No Trace principles see LNT.org.
*Tip - Pre-hydrating before hiking is essential as it gives your body a “head-start” on fluids you’ll lose and it means you’ll be carrying less weight on your back.
Drink around a liter anytime before setting off. This means during breakfast, heading to the trail, or just before leaving a water source during the day. Avoid chugging if you can as it’ll pass through you quicker. Get into the habit of sipping often throughout the day instead. In more extreme temperatures, hydration should be a constant flow. Aim to get 1 liter of water in your system every hour on hot, humid days or when hiking at higher altitudes. Seek shade and take a big break around lunchtime and avoid unnecessary water loss. Don’t let winter fool you. Fluids are constantly being depleted no matter how low the temperature. Once you finally arrive in camp for the evening, wash dinner down with another liter of water to replenish all you lost throughout the day. If you plan on carrying all your water in, you will need to know how much you will consume. Some backpackers carry at least 2 liters of water at a time. Some don't carry any - electing to only drink at the water sources. Either way, you should try to drink up at sources so you have to carry less down the trail. Hydrating properly and keeping your pack light are both important. But, by planning your water sources, exploring ways to carry, being smart about water filtration, and strategically hydrating, you can be stay hydrated without the weight.