How to Cut Water Weight: A Backpacker's Guide to Hydration

Updated on May 25th, 2021
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© Joshua Wolf Tippett

Proper hydration is just as important as proper nutrition. You need to know how to stay fueled AND hydrated without the weight.

Water is heavy - over 2 lbs per liter. Considering you will only carry about 2 lbs of food per day, water can add a serious amount of weight to your pack. And only when you have a loaded pack with lots of trail to cover and a questionable water source ahead, do you begin realize how thirsty you are. 

*Tip - The best way to see if you are well hydrated on the trail is the color of your urine. Your urine should be a "transparent yellow" color.

How to Carry: Bottle vs Bladder

Main ways to carry and transport water - water bladders (Camelbak, Platypus) or water bottles (Nalgene, reuse bottle). There are hikers that swear by bladders, and others by water bottles. Some bring both. In the end, it’s all personal preference through experience.

Container Look Pros Cons

Bladder/ Reservoir


camelbak hydration pack

Can hydrate without stopping.

Harder to clean. 

Less durable/ can puncture.

Can't 'chug'.



 nalgene water bottle

Affordable and available anywhere.

Durable and can store anywhere.

Can be heavy and bulky.


Collapsible Bottle


platypus collapsible water bottle



Less durable/ can puncture.

How Much Water Should I Drink?

According to Healthline, humans should consume approximately 2 liters daily. A 10-mile day hike is a different story though. Variables like terrain, weather, and pace will dictate how much YOU need to drink... potentially much much more than 2 liters.

*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.

sawyer water filter and smartwater bottle on a lake background
A Sawyer water filter attached to a Smartwater bottle

How Much Water Should I Carry?

It can be tricky knowing actually how much water to carry. It depends if you plan on filtering your water (you will need to know where the water sources are as well as how reliable they are) or if you plan on carrying it all (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.

Plan ahead of time exactly where you’ll be filling up next. Knowing where your next source is determines how much you’ll have to carry in between. When you do arrive at the oasis, you’ll want to make sure the water is safe to drink.

Water Filters: How to Drink Safely

*Tip - A water filter is the best way to cut down on water weight. It enables you to drink from any source (stream, pond, etc) instead of carrying all of your water. 

Every water purification has it's advantages and disadvantages. But, most remove Giardia and Cryptosporidium, which are common parasites in water unseen to the naked eye.

Filter Method Squeeze (Sawyer) Pump (Katadyn) Chemicals (Aquamira)
Device sawyer water filter katadyn water pump aquamira water filter
How to Use Fill water container with dirty water. Screw this on top of your container. Squeeze.  Stick chord directly in water source and pump into your drinking container. Fill your water container with dirty water. Add both drops. Wait. 
Weight 2 oz. 11 oz. 2 oz.
Note Super fast, simple design and ultralight. Once setup, can purifier a lot of water at once. Heavy and clunky though.  Cheap and ultralight. Chemicals though and have to wait.

What happens when you arrive at your water source to find it’s bone-dry? Stay calm, follow stream beds toward their source, climb higher for signs of water below in valleys, or start digging if you spot a damp, green patch. Also if a muddy puddle happens to be your source, try a bandanna to filter out the chunks.

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.

Chris Cage photo

About Chris Cage

By Chris Cage Chris launched Greenbelly Meals in 2014 after thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail for 6 months. Since then, Greenbelly has been written up by everyone from Backpacker Magazine to Fast Company. He wrote How to Hike the Appalachian Trail and currently works from his laptop all over the globe. Instagram: @chrisrcage.
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