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Figure Out How Much Water to Bring Hiking in 5 Simple Steps

how much water to bring hiking

The most important thing to bring with you hiking (aside from your wits) is water.  But how much water should you bring hiking?  On one hand, you want to make sure you’ve got enough water to stay hydrated for the trip.  On the other hand, you don’t want to bring too much because water is so heavy to carry.   Here is how you can calculate how much water you will really need for your hike.


Step 1: How Long Will You Be Hiking?

If you’ve never been hiking before, this can be a bit tricky.  Depending on the difficulty of the trail and your abilities, it will probably take you 30 to 60 minutes to walk a mile.  Or, if you are hiking with a small child like I do, it could take you 2 ½ hours to walk a mile!

Usually trail guides will list the distance and the estimated time it will take to complete the trail.  Be honest with yourself when looking at the time.  Don’t assume you can “finish the trail faster” because you are in good shape.  And, if you know you are in bad shape, add some extra time.


Step 2: Calculate Cups per Hour

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
  • Children: 1-2 cups of water for every hour of hiking

So, if you calculate that your hike will be 5 hours, then you need to bring at least 10 cups of water per person.  Bear in mind that these are just general rules!  Some people drink a lot more water than this.  However, it is a good guideline to go by.


Step 3: Factor in the Weather Conditions

Obviously, if it is a hot day, then you are going to need to drink a lot more water than on a cool day.   In hot or humid conditions, calculate 4 cups (1 liter) per hour!


Step 4: Is There a Reliable Water Source on the Hike?

The key word here is reliable.  Sometimes you will go hiking in the summer only to find out that the stream on the map has dried out for the season.  There goes your water source!  But, if there is a reliable source of water on your hike, you can just calculate how much water you’ll need to the refill point.

Remember to never drink stream or river water – even if it looks clean.  You could end up with a parasite like giardia.  Instead, take your water filter along. I use the Sawyer Mini, which is super small and lightweight. You can buy it here.  Or Read my review of the Sawyer Mini here.

Filtering water on the trail with my Sawyer Mini


Step 5: Factor in Your Thirstiness

I drink A LOT of water.  On my last hike with my daughter, I emptied our 2 liter water bladder in under 2 hours, and it wasn’t even that hot.  Since I know this now, I always make sure to pack extra water so I don’t end up dehydrated.


Water Tips:

Err on the Side of Caution:
If you aren’t sure how much water to bring hiking, always err on the side of caution and bring more than you think you’ll need!  For your first hike, calculate double the amount.  You’ll be glad to have it (especially if you get lost 😉 )

Drink Up Before You Start Hiking:
Before you start your hike (and still have a water source), drink up a lot of water.  This is especially good if you are trying to cut down water weight.

Take Small Sips As You Go:
If you feel thirsty, then you are already dehydrated.  You should take small sips of water before you feel thirsty.  I generally will take a few small sips of water every 10-15 minutes or so.  This will help prevent you from getting dehydrated.

For Kids, Use a Water Bladder:
When hiking with kids, there is always a chance that they will knock the water bottle over and spill your precious water supply.  For this reason, it might be better to use a water bladder than a standard Nalgene-style water bottle. This water bladder by Platypus will can take a lot of abuse without breaking.


Image credit: “A Rainbow of Nalgene” (CC BY-ND 2.0) by  iriskh 

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About the author /

Diane Vukovic is an avid traveler, outdoor enthusiast, beetle lover, sometimes sculptress, couchsurfer, and loves finding ways to explain complex topics to her 6-year old daughter. Follow MomGoesCamping on Facebook and Twitter @MomGoesCamping to stay in touch!

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