Need to Know: What’s the Best Way to Carry Water While Hiking?

Have you ever been curious about the best way to carry water while hiking? I have. Water is heavy, so I wanted to know the most efficient options.

For new hikers, learning the essentials about proper hiking gear, hydration, snacks, and what to wear can seem overwhelming. It doesn’t have to be.

Water Bottles - Hiking Hydration

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Gauging how much water you need to drink and carry is not hard. It’s pretty easy to remember, too.

Read on for what you need to know about calculating how much water you need on the hiking trail, as well as the very best ways to carry water while hiking.

How Much Water Do I Carry While Hiking?

The general rule of thumb for how much water to carry while hiking is half a liter per hour in moderate weather, and 1 liter per hour in hot weather.

You can create your own hiking water calculator equation by estimating the number of hours on the trail, then factoring in weather and elevation gain.

hiker at water crossing

For a moderate hike in moderate temperatures, multiply .5 x (hours) to find out how many liters of water you will need for your hike.

If the trail is strenuous or you will be hiking in hot temperatures, multiply 1 x (hours) to calculate the number of liters of water you need.

Two liters can be visualized by thinking of a 2 liter bottle of soda. For a two hour hike in the summer heat, you’ll need at least 2 liters of water.

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However, you should plan to carry more water than you think you’ll need in case of delays, accidents, etc.

How Much Water Should I Drink?

Plan to drink half a liter of water per hour on moderate hiking trails in moderate temps. Don’t drink all your water all at once.

While hiking, spread out your fluid intake and drink a little every hour. This helps ensure proper hydration for the duration of your hike.

hiking water crossing

If you’re hiking in extreme heat, extreme cold or on a strenuous trail, you should drink a full liter of water every hour. Spread out intake over each hour.

Dehydration can be more than uncomfortable. It can be life-threatening. It can threaten your safety on the trail by making you feel disoriented.

It doesn’t take long to become dehydrated in hot weather or while doing strenuous activities. That’s why drinking water every hour is essential.

Best Ways to Carry Water While Hiking

The longer your hike, the more water you’ll need. From water bottles to hydration packs, you have a lot of options. Some are easier to manage than others.

Hiking Fanny Pack

Single use water bottles are not a good idea. They’re bad for the environment and simply aren’t enough water for a hike of any length.

You will need a lot more water than a single use bottle can provide, and environmentally friendly is the way to go.

Hydration Bladders

Hydration bladders are exactly what they sound like: bladders that hold fluid. They’re typically made of a soft, drinking safe plastic.

Hydration bladders typically come in 1L, 2L, and 3L capacities, which is perfect for a long hike. You can even carry multiple if necessary.

To carry a hydration bladder, like a Platypus, you can put it in any backpack. Just be sure the pocket is free of items that can potentially puncture it.

Water bladders typically have a drinking tube or a wide mouth for pouring. They are a great water container for hiking hands-free.

Nalgene-Style Water Bottle

A reusable plastic water bottle, like the Nalgene brand, is a popular water bottle for hiking. These bottles hold 32oz, or just under 1L.

Nalgene water bottles come in many different styles and have a wide mouth when you want to drink water. You can carry them in your pack or by hand.

The top of the water bottle comes with a loop that holds the lid so you don’t lose it, but you can also attach it to your pack with a carabiner.

Nalgene bottles are popular option. However, since they are plastic, be sure to rinse them and dry them daily.

Stainless Steel Water Bottle

Stainless steel water bottles are great for hiking, and better than plastic in many ways. Sure, they’re heavier, but they’re safer too.

Plastic bottles – even those that are BPA free – can potentially leech chemicals into your water. Plus, they’re porous which creates a breeding ground for bacteria.

One study found that plastic water bottle can leech chemicals into water, including DEET. Stainless steel is non-porous, more durable, and less prone to odors. 

Stainless steel water bottles for hiking come in many different sizes. Some are even insulated, keeping your water cool all day long in the summer heat.

Hydration Pack Backpack

A hydration pack backpack, like a Camelback, is another great way to carry water while hiking. This is a hydration bladder and backpack with a drinking straw.

These packs come in many different sizes. You can get one that only holds the bladder and nothing else, or you can get one that doubles as a full daypack.

These handy water carrying backpacks have a handy drinking straw that comes out of the backpack and attaches to your shoulder strap for access.

This is arguably one of the best ways to carry all the water that you need, and also carry the hiking essentials all in the same bag. Hands free, too.

Where Do I Keep My Water When Hiking?

Depending on how long you’re hiking, you may need a lot of water. Water is heavy and you need easy access, so where do you keep it?

Your backpack is a great place to carry your water, but it can be annoying to have to stop and dig in your pack every time you need a drink.

kids hiking

If you want to use your backpack, either opt for a hydration pack backpack or a daypack that has side pockets big enough to hold your water bottle.

You can also get a hiking fanny pack with water bottle holders. It’s important to be hands free while hiking, so easy access water  pockets are ideal.

How Do I Get More Clean Water?

If you’re backpacking, it might just be a physical impossibility to carry all the water that you will need for your entire trip. So what do you do?

If you know for a fact that there are natural water sources along the way, you can carry a water purification system, like one made by Sawyer.

Hiker Crossing Water

You can get water from streams, rivers, creeks, and lakes, depending on what’s available and what you bring to purify and filter your water.

You can purchase water purification tablets, a water purification system, a LifeStraw or iodine tablets for quick or emergency purification.

Water tablets and iodine work in a pinch or in emergency situations, but the water won’t taste great. Using a Sawyer or LifeStraw is a better option.

Can I Drink Directly Out of a Stream?

Drinking water directly out of a stream can make you really sick if you don’t do it the right way. You should never drink unpurified natural water.

However, you can carry tools like a LifeStraw to filter natural water sources and drink directly from the source.

A LifeStraw is a small, portable personal water filter that can be used to drink directly out of a stream or creek.

One LifeStraw will filter up to 792 gallons of drinking water and it removes 99.9999% of bacteria including e-coli, protozoas, and more.

This is a handy tool to have while hiking, camping, or just in your regular emergency preparedness kit. LifeStraws last indefinitely, too.

If you want to fill a water bottle with stream water, opt for a Sawyer water filter. It works like a LifeStraw, but comes with a collapsible bottle to carry with you.

Wrap-Up Notes

Learning what the best way to carry water while hiking depends entirely on your situation and the duration of your hike.

If you’re a parent, you might also be responsible for carrying water for your little ones. In many cases, a hydration pack backpack is a great idea.

hiking backpack forest

Using a backpack or fanny pack to carry water leaves you hands free and evenly distributes the weight across your body.

If you plan to backpack or simply can’t carry all the water you need, you can drink from natural sources with the proper tools.

While you can use water purification tablets or iodine to purify natural water, a Sawyer Squeeze or LifeStraw water purification system is easier and all-natural.