Tips and Tricks for Staying Hydrated on the Trail

There are countless things to pay attention to while backpacking (the weather, your next resupply, how many miles are left for the day, and just how much elevation you will be gaining within the next mile… to name only a few).

However, constantly being aware of water sources may just be one of the most important things to always have in the back of your mind. Even if you manage to memorize the location and water flow of every source you will pass for the rest of the day, it’s easy to find yourself dehydrated as you roll into camp at night unless you make a conscious effort to drink water.

Simply put, you won’t perform at your best if you are dehydrated and those 20 miles days or 3 mile climbs will feel a whole lot harder than they already are if your body isn’t on it’s “A Game”. So, next time you’re on the trail, try some of these tips to help keep you fueled up and ready for anything!

Fill Up At Every Water Source

The number of water sources you will pass each day will largely depend on your geographical location. However, if you are hiking on parts of the AT, or really any part of the East Coast, there is a good chance that you will be crossing water multiple times a day. Don’t let this water go to waste – at each crossing, chug as much of your remaining water as you can before refilling. This ensures that you will keep drinking throughout the day, plus water sources make great places to take a break!

How Much Water Do You Really Need?

It’s can help to have a daily hydration goal set before you even hit the trail. Using a hydration calculator (such as this one from Camelbak) can help you get a good baseline of how much water you should be consuming each day. Your personal amount will depend on a lot of factors including your weight, the outside temperature, and how strenuous of a hike you are doing that day. In the end, listen to your body, but it definitely helps to have a rough goal set out for each day. On an average, not-entirely-strenuous day, consider 3-4 liters of water as a baseline. Drier/hotter days with more exertion will require more.

Use Camp To Camel Up

If you find it hard to constantly remember to drink water while hiking, then use camp as your opportunity to “camel up”. Drink a liter or two while you are setting up and eating dinner, and then try to drink another liter or two while you are breaking down camp in the morning. Just remember to stop hydrating a little bit before it’s time for bed or you will be unzipping your tent a few times in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom…

Bladder or Bottle

Backpackers employ a variety of methods for carrying their water. Whether it be a water bottle, a bladder inside your pack, or some combination of the two, make sure that whatever you’re using is easy and effortless for you to set up and access. Some hikers hate having to reach for their water bottle in the middle of a hike, while others can’t stand have to take out their water bladder to refill. Test out multiple methods and make sure that whatever system you end up using, it’s convenient so you’ll be more likely to actually use it.

Water Filtration

When deciding which water filtration system to use, you should be looking at it the same way you look at your water bottle situation: if it’s annoying or difficult to use, then you’ll put off getting more water and inevitably start getting dehydrated. There are many different filtration options to chose from; there’s bound to be one you enjoy using! Your water filtration method will also depend on where you are planning to be hiking. Make sure you do sufficient research on the flow and reliability of your potential water sources when looking into which filter is right for you.

Filters and water treatment drops are the most effective way to treat water, here’s the intel on the two most popular types:

-Sawyer Squeeze: This is the most often-used filter option for AT thru-hikers because it’s light, filters quickly, and you can screw the filter onto most threadable bottles like SmartWater. The filter comes with bags, but they aren’t the most durable, and you might find yourself replacing them with Platypus bladders. The only downside to this type of filter is if you are filling from a standing water source, the bags can be tricky to fill.

-AquaMira Drops: These water treatment drops use chlorine dioxide to kill bacteria. They will work in even the yuckiest muddy water, but they won’t get the grit out. If that bothers you, you’re better off with a filter. Water treatment drops are as light as you’ll get for water treatment, but be aware you’ll have to wait 30 minutes or so before drinking the water.


Flavored Water

Let’s face it, sometimes drinking water for every beverage throughout your day can get somewhat boring. Occasionally flavoring your water with dissolvable powders or tablets can help encourage you to drink more water, and depending on which brand you use, they can even fill you up with electrolytes and vitamins to keep you strong on the trail.

How do you make sure you stay hydrated out on the trail? Tell me your tricks in the comments below!

Happy Hiking!

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Comments 4

  • Chris : Feb 19th

    Sawyer makes an attachment where you can use their system to fill up your bladder without removing it form your pack(, it solved the getting the bladder out of your pack for me and now I use the bladder for hiking and then use smart water bottles to have some water for camp when I get there. Nice Article!

  • Larry : Feb 20th

    Nice article and thanks for the ideas. I’ve chosen to use a Swayer mini on my baldder to drink while hiking and as a gravity fill for my Swayer bags at night in camp. I’m also taking a Swayer squeeze to help with filling the bags as needed.

  • Barry Hudson : Feb 24th

    Great post! Staying properly hydrated makes all hikes more enriching, as it does in everyday life too. I’m a Platypus Gravityworks filtering person. Requires very little effort and allows me to do other things while my water is being filtered like having a snack and replenishing snacks in my hip belt pockets. Thanks for sharing!

  • Nancy King : Oct 26th

    Great article. Although less common, it is possible to over-hydrate. Marathoners have been known to over hydrate which can lead to hypo-natremia, which is really dangerous. My hikers got dehydrated on the first very warm day this spring and the next day over compensated and got quite sick. You should drink before you are thirsty but you also can’t drink to “store up” either. Hydration is hard; you have to plan ahead and listen to your body.


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