How Much You Need To Drink When Backpacking

Backpacking can be a strenuous activity, but it can also be quite a relaxing experience too. No matter how far or how high up you plan to hike, it’s important to consider what you need to bring with you. One of the most important factors to consider is how much you need to drink when backpacking.

You should drink around half a liter, or about 17 ounces, of water per hour when backpacking. This number increases if your hike involves a lot of elevation, and especially so if you’re hiking in hot weather. You also need to consider the terrain and your walking speed.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at how to stay hydrated when backpacking, and discuss the different options for taking water on the trail. But first, it’s worth considering why you need to stay hydrated when backpacking in the first place.

Why Hydration Is Important For Backpacking

Hydrating before, during, and after exercise is very important for maintaining the body’s ability to regulate our temperature. It’s important for cooling yourself off in the hot summer and warming you up in the winter.

Our bodies are made up of nearly 60% water. Therefore, to keep proper balance, we need to replenish what we lose through activity. Our bodies are very complex, and every day we require water and electrolytes to perform tasks efficiently. But on a physiological level, water is key to just keeping us alive.

To Regulate Your Core Temperature

If it is hot around us, we need to reduce our core temperature, and if it is cold we need to increase our core temperature. That is why hydration plays a large role in how we feel temperature-wise on our hikes.

To Maintain Heart, Brain, And Muscle Health

When we are dehydrated it puts strain on our hearts. Our heart rate can elevate, and moderate to severe dehydration has been also known to cause heart attacks. Our brains also require a delicate balance of fluids to prevent us becoming confused, agitated, or lightheaded. When you backpack you want to be on alert and ready at all times.

Our muscles require the proper fluid balance as well as electrolytes to function efficiently. Dehydration can lead to sluggishness, weakness, and difficulty maintaining balance on your longer more strenuous hikes.

To Lubricate Our Joints

When we hike up and down mountains, our joints take some pounding. They rely on a balance of fluid to function correctly, and so if you are dehydrated that balance decreases and puts undue strain on your knee joints.

To Transport Nutrients To Your Cells

Our cells require lots of energy to perform at their best. For that reason, staying hydrated helps the cells get the nutrients they need throughout the hike.

To Remove Waste From Your Body

As we hike, our bodies use our food for energy. Therefore, the end products of this metabolism for energy are waste products. Because of that, hydration plays a large role in removing waste through perspiration and the gastrointestinal tract.

What Are The Signs Of Dehydration?

The common signs of dehydration are dry skin, increased heart rate, increased breathing rate, sleepiness, confusion, lack of energy, fainting, irritability, dark urine, and dizziness. You may experience one or many of these symptoms, and it’s important that you address them as soon as possible.

Factors That Affect How Much Water You Need To Drink When Backpacking

The Temperature And Humidity On The Hike

The humidity of the air around you plays a key role in how much water you need to drink when backpacking. As the air has more moisture in it, it takes longer for sweat to evaporate, thus leaving us feeling hotter, and therefore we need to drink more water to compensate for this.

However, if the heat is dry, you’ll often sweat more as it evaporates faster. So, you still need to drink lots of water, but due to a higher loss of water through sweat rather than just a higher core temperature.

Your Personal Sweat Rate

It has been found that people with more body fat tend to have more difficulty regulating body temperature due to the increased metabolic heat load compared to the size of the surface area to dissipate heat. So, you may need to drink a lot more water if you have a higher body fat percentage.

What Physical Shape You Are In

A person who is in great hiking shape tends to sweat less on exertion than someone just starting out. Therefore, the out of shape person will sweat more and require more water to regulate their temperature.

Men Sweat More Than Women

Testosterone is believed to boost the sweat response. This means men tend to sweat more than women, and so this is an important factor to consider too.

Altitude Increases The Rate Of Dehydration

Hiking at altitude requires 1 to 1.5 liters of additional water for the lungs to hydrate the air and to help prevent altitude sickness.

How To Stay Hydrated When Backpacking

For proper hydration, you need lots of fluid balanced with electrolytes. Water is easy, but to get enough electrolytes you can consume things like sea salt, coconut water, lemons, green vegetables, bananas, and even sugar-free electrolyte drinks. Also, there are a number of electrolyte tablets, like Nuun for example.

Hydration Packs

Camelbak was my first hydration pack. I still use hydration packs and seldom carry water bottles on day mountain hikes. Check out Camelbak models here. However, you may want to consider water filters or purifiers instead, so you can have fresh water on the go. Note that these are only useful if your hike is going to bring you near water sources.

How Much Does Water Weigh?

One US gallon of water weighs 8.34 pounds or 3.78 kilograms. Carrying 64 ounces of water, just under 2 liters, weighs 4 pounds, which should be enough for about 4 hours of moderate hiking. This can be more than your tent and backpack together, so it’s important to consider this before you head out. 

Final Thoughts

You need to drink about half a liter – or 17 ounces – of water each hour when backpacking. You will need to drink more if you walk particularly fast, if the hike involves a lot of elevation change, and if you’re hiking in particularly hot weather.