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. Read: How long to complete a hike
Step 2: Calculate Cups per Hour
The general rule for how much water to bring when hiking is as follows:
- Adults: 2 cups (about 1/2 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 (2.3 liters) 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.
*Depending on the terrain and incline, it can take a lot longer or shorter to hike a mile. Thus, the “cups per hour” approach is more accurate than “cups per mile.”
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.
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.
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.
Hiking in cold weather?
Drinking cold water will make you feel colder. You will need an insulated water bottle that you fill with hot water on the start of your hike. If it is snowy or really cold, then you will also want a water bottle with a giant lid which you can easily remove while wearing gloves. Read more about water bottles for cold weather here.
Not sure what to eat while outdoors? I’ve just written an eBook with over 50 dehydrator trail recipes, plus tons of advice on meal planning for backpacking trips.
Water Bottles that Hikers Love
It is completely fine to use a plain-ol’ plastic water bottle for hiking. However, people who go hiking more frequently will usually get a good water bottle or bladder. Why get a hiking water bottle?
- Can be attached to your pack: This ensures you won’t lose it and also makes it easier to access.
- Easy open: This is particularly important if you are hiking with gloves on.
- No lost lids: When the lid is bigger or attached to the bottle, you are less likely to lose it. Not only are lost lids a pain, but it means you are a jerk who is littering nature.
- Hands-free access: If you get a water bladder instead of a bottle, then you will put it in your backpack with the hose poking out. Then you can drink without having to constantly remove anything. In my experience, the easier water is to access, the more you will drink. That’s a good thing!
- BPA free: Having chemicals leach into your water is not fun. :/
- Insulated: In case you want to carry hot or cold drinks with you.
Top Picks for Hiking Water Bottles