Carrying water is hard work. It weighs about 8.3 lbs. per gallon. A single gallon could outweigh your entire sleeping system or even your tent! Because it is so heavy, you should think carefully about how much water you should carry while you’re camping.
An easy way to do this is to create a water plan for your trip. Make a little chart for your reference. Add columns for each day and rows for the different categories of your liquid needs. Fill in each row and column with your plans. Then add up the total. The total is the amount of water you should bring camping.
To help you do this, you can answer two basic questions.
How do you use water during camping?
This is one of the first questions you can ask to determine your water needs. Carrying water that you don’t need and don’t use is a waste of effort. Instead, you can plan for how you will use every drop you lug around.
Drinking is the most obvious use for water. You need to drink water in order to stay alive. Without any water, you will only survive for around three days. So, how much water do you need to drink?
Men should around drink thirteen cups of fluids each day. Women need a little less – about nine cups. These are the recommendations from the USDA. There are sixteen cups in a gallon. Therefore, a man should carry, as a minimum amount, almost a gallon of water per day. A woman needs to plan for just over half a gallon per day.
Those figures are the bare minimum for survival while avoiding dehydration. Activities boost these requirements significantly. Dehydration is defined as losing 1% of your body weight as fluid. As you are hiking, climbing, cycling, or whatever else you choose to do while camping, you are probably going to sweat.
You can use a sweat calculator to calculate your fluid loss through activity. Or you could just plan for the average amount people lose while exercising, which is about 2 lbs. or ¼ of a gallon per hour. You should try to replace about 1.5 times as much fluid as you have lost through sweat.
Maybe an example can help you with planning for drinking plus exercise. Imagine you, a man, will drive to your campsite, set up camp in the morning, hike two hours to your favorite waterfall and back again, and then finish for the day. You could plan to carry 13 cups of water as a minimum plus another gallon to replace fluids lost while hiking. Therefore, a simple overnight trip, including a hike to a waterfall, requires about two gallons.
As you can see, you will drink most of the liquid you carry.
Many people enjoy cooking outdoors and the campfire forms a central part of their camping experience. Cooking often requires water, though. You can plan for water used to cook your food when you are calculating how much water you should bring with you for camping.
These calculations are simple, though. If you will boil it to drink it, then plan for it. For example, if you’re like me, then you drink two or three cups of coffee in the morning. Each cup should be included in your water plan for your camping trip. Camp meals requiring boiled water can also be included. Evaluate your meals and add the required fluids to your water plan.
While camping, you may need to clean two things: your supplies and yourself.
After your gourmet outdoor culinary experience, you might need to wash the dishes. This requires liquid and you should plan for it. If your camping trip involves dirty activities, then you might need to plan for fluids to clean some of your gear. Because your camping trip is unique, we can’t tell you how to plan for your water usage for cleaning. Consider this a friendly reminder, though.
You might also choose to clean yourself. Some people have full showers while others merely wipe their face. Whichever you choose, you should plan for your needs.
How can you add water while camping?
What if you cannot reasonably carry enough fluids for your trip? If you went camping for one week with activities each day, your water plan could add up to a lot of water. Hikers cannot carry as much as they will consume over a trip like this. You may have to add some during your trip. Here are three tips for helping you do so safely and efficiently.
If you need to add water during your trip, then you will have to find it first. Thankfully, this isn’t too difficult for most places. One of the easiest solutions is to use your map. Sites like omnimap.com have maps for all the States, national parks and common hiking trails.
If you don’t have a map, then here are some simple tips for finding extra hydration:
- Follow animal trails if you can find them. Animals need to drink, too. They live in the area, so they know how to quench their thirst.
- Go uphill for visibility and downhill for discovery. You can climb a small hill or even a tree to get a good look around. Then head down into valleys or dips to find fluids where they collect in lower places.
Clean water is important. Here are a few survival rules for getting it:
- The cleanest form will be rain collected from your tarp or shelter.
- After this, you can collect dew by using a cloth or your bandana.
- Rivers, lakes, streams, and ponds can also be safe to drink from.
- Moving water is better than still.
For more information, here is a great article debunking some of the common myths around water location and use.
After you have found a place to collect a sip from, you should filter what you find. This isn’t the same as sanitizing it. Filtration means removing particles from the liquid. Sanitation means killing harmful organisms.
To filter your drink, you only need a fine mesh to pass the fluid through. Two or three socks together will probably work just fine. The aim is simply to remove dirt such as mud, sand, and other particles. This does not make it safe to drink, but it will make it more pleasant!
A simple tip is to take along some coffee filters. They work great for your coffee, but they also work well for filtering water you find outdoors.
Sanitizing your tipple makes it safe to drink. Microorganisms can make you ill so killing them is important for your health. Happily, this is easy to do. Just boil your drink. Bringing it to the boil will kill all the little nasties.
If you don’t want to boil your water, then there are other simple and elegant solutions. One is to pack a water filter. These often filter and sanitize in a single step. Another is to carry iodine tablets or other purification tablets. These will kill all the microorganisms and can be very useful for sanitizing large quantities of liquid for a campsite.
Tips for good camping water use
We have three tips for efficient H2O use on the trail or at the campsite. First, drink it instead of carrying it. Second, reuse it when possible. Finally, get hydration from food.
Drink it, don’t carry it
Why should you put a gallon of liquid in your backpack if you can put half of it in your stomach? Drink before you leave the house. This reduces the amount you need on your first day. If you come to a good place to drink from, then fill up your bladder as well as your canteen. Doing so will reduce the amount you need to carry.
You can try to find ways to reuse water. A simple example is cooking and cleaning. The fluid you boiled for spaghetti can be used to clean your pots afterwards. You may discover more ways to recycle as you create your plan.
Get water from food
When you think about weight, water is heavy. So is food! You can try to plan for using food to get calories as well as stay hydrated. For example, an orange is about 88% liquid. Watermelon is over 90% fluid. Many foods contain lots of aqua. Try to include these in your plan so you maximize your carrying efficiency.
The simple way to determine how much water you should bring camping is to make a water plan. Think through your days and activities. Add up how much you will require during each day. Use the total figure as your baseline for your needs. Once you have a plan, then you know how much water you need for your adventure.
Use your map to plan refill points to limit the amount of liquid you must carry. Camp near source to reduce your need to bring water from home. Filter and sanitize any water you collect from the outdoors.
Following these tips will help you plan a safe trip with plenty of water.