Water, the Search for Delicious Across the Desert

One of the reasons why I love backpacking is because walking from point A to B with all your essentials on your back simplifies life to its basic level. Each day all I need to do is walk and make three decisions. That’s it. Just three decisions:

Where will I get water?

Where will I sleep?

What will I eat?

In the next three posts I’d like to focus on each one of these basic principles of survival. Let’s start with water- the driver of everything in the arid and desert sections of Southern California. 

Water is essential each day for hydration, cooking and cleaning. As hikers, we determine daily mileage, next destinations, the time of day when we will hike, and what we will eat based completely on the availability of water. We always know exactly how much we are carrying and how much we will need per mile on trail.

I generally drink one liter of water for every four miles, but that can vary widely if the terrain is uphill or the mercury is rising. I’ve already had a couple close calls where I underestimated my consumption and had some long, hot miles getting to the next water source.

This little trickle of water saved this thirsty hiker one hot day!

On the PCT, and most other long trails, hikers use a GPS app called FarOut which pinpoints with extreme accuracy our location and the location of water sources near the trail. Then hikers leave up-to-date comments describing the flow and ease of filling our water bottles each day. Using the GPS and the comments, I can be assured to find water if it exists.

Being in the arid Southern California desert has definitely presented a few water challenges. Some streams are still flowing, but as spring is heating up, many of the streams are down to a trickle or have already dried up for the season. It is common to have to ration our water for 8-10 miles. The longest water carry I’ve had so far was 14 miles, all uphill. 

A natural Tule Grass spring where we scooped up very iron-rich water and were happy for it on a very hot day!

That said, water carries would generally be much longer if it wasn’t for the generosity of three entities. First, many local volunteers stash water caches at remote cross-roads. Some of these cashes are huge with hundreds of gallons of bottled water waiting for thirsty hikers to arrive.

A well-known water cache organized by volunteers under the highway overpass at Scissors Crossing.


After a 14-mile uphill slog, we were so thankful to find the “3rd Gate” water cache well-stocked and waiting for us- maximum three liters per hiker.


A water tank maintained by a local named “Mike”.


Hikers waiting to take a precious “bucket shower” at the Warner Springs Resource Center.

A second source is the spring-fed troughs created by farmers and ranchers. As we’ve been going along, these natural springs and concrete tanks have been quite helpful.

My friend Snow-Dancer filling up her water bottles at this remote water tank.

Thirdly, the Forest Service and BLM have also provided water tanks and underground cisterns as a source of water in many remote areas.

This is an underground cistern that needs a little repair.

Luckily my friend Lisa had long arms and could reach the water level for me.

We are all so thankful that there are multiple efforts to get us water on the trail. And yes, I always filter my water before drinking it!

Water filters are a must in the backcountry and the go-to filter that almost everyone uses is the lightweight hollow fiber micro-membrane filter called Sawyer Squeeze. Our health depends on this little device. I just have to remember to clean out the grit and crud that clogs it up and compromises its efficiency.

I fill my bladder with water and then filter it into my water bottle using my Sawyer Squeeze.

And yes, on the PCT, water is the most delicious of all! 

Affiliate Disclosure

This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!

To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.

What Do You Think?