This is the 9th part of a series. Today is a double post day!
What to drink on the trail and how much water do you carry? This largely depends on where you hike but I will say that hydration starts before you ever step food on the trail. If you start off dehydrated, you will have issues, even if you drink enough while you’re hiking. Get fully hydrated the day or two before you go hiking. Alcohol dehydrates you. Keep that in mind. While water is great, electrolytes also play a role. If your electrolytes are low (through sweating, for example), just drinking water isn’t enough. There are tablets/supplements you can add to your water that add electrolytes. This will play a larger role in arid environments or if you are an excessive sweater.
How much water do you carry? This largely depends on where you are hiking. I “camel up” or drink a lot of water at the source before refilling my water bottles so I carry less water overall. Where I spend most of my time, water is never far away so I rarely carry more than a quart or two. If you are hiking in the desert, you HAVE to know your next reliable water source and plan accordingly because it can be deadly thinking you can make it to the next water source but it being too far away.
How do you treat your water? There are several options here. There are chemical treatments, pumps, gravity or squeeze filters, boiling, or the least preferred – not treating your water.
There are several chemical treatments sold. They are one of the lightest forms, but after the chemicals are put into the water, there is a period of time that you must wait before the water is safe to drink. The older methods of backcountry filter was the pump filter. Once you find a water source, you had to insert the intake for the pump and pump a small handle to push water through the filter into your receiving container. This is time consuming as most of the time the pump handle is rather small and it takes many pumps to move a relatively small amount of water. If the intake rest of the bottom of the water source, sediment can be sucked up into intake and clog the filter. The newest trend of water filtration is the gravity filter or squeeze filter. There are several brands, but Sawyer is one of the most popular brands I see on the trail. The water is collected in one bag, the filter is attached, and by squeezing the bag, water is pushed through the filter into your container. These can also be set up as a gravity fed system. In this method, the bag of water to be filtered is hung up and gravity pushes the water through the filter into the collection container. This is the method I use because it is a hands free method and gives me “water on demand” at camp.
The old fashioned method of boiling water to sanitize still works and I often use this method by boiling water to put into my food. The only drawback to this method is that it does take time to boil water and if you plan on drinking it you have to wait for it to cool down before you drink it. The least preferred method is not treating your water. I ALWAYS treat my water regardless of how far I am out in the backcountry because I never know what happened upstream of where I am getting water.
Regardless of which method of water treatment you select, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, you must know the capabilities and limitations of your method of treatment. Most water filters currently sold filter down to 0.01 micron. This type of filter will remove the two most common threats found in North America – Guardia and Cryptosporidium. These are parasites that come from the guts of infected people and animals. This is why I ALWAYS filter my water. I don’t know if an infected animal pooped upstream of where I am collecting. The parasites are larger than 0.01 micron and most filters will remove them. This filter size will NOT remove viruses but having viruses in backcountry water in North America is uncommon and even rare. Most of the water in my favorite backcountry area is spring fed. While it may be safe to drink, it only takes a few minutes to filter my water which is much better than days of sickness. I only filter from flowing (moving) water and highly suggest you do the same and avoid stagnant water, but that might not be an option in your area.
I prefer separate water bottles versus a water bladder. It is easier for me to monitor how much water I have consumed using the separate bottles. However, I do have a 2 liter bladder I use for camp. I use it for cooking, drinking, and cleaning up or “bathing.” I have a squeeze lock device on the line coming from the bladder to stop the flow. If you are interested, I have several detailed blog posts about my water system.
I mostly drink water. Often at meals I will bring some type of powdered drink mix for a treat and/or variety. Most breakfasts include coffee in all except the warmest of days. Even then, I can have my version of “iced coffee” where I drink it cold instead of heating it up. If you decide to flavor your water, I would suggest against doing it in the water bladder, but use some type of bottle instead. The added sugar and other ingredients in the drink mix can turn your bladder into a microbiology experiment rather quickly. I also learned this through experience.