How Much Water Do You Need on a Hike?

by Nomad | Last Updated:  July 12, 2020
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About 60 percent of the adult human body is made up of water, and through physical exertion and sweating, you can deplete that percentage rapidly and find yourself slowing down. The effects of dehydration on a hiker can be lethal, as it can lead to disorientation, confusion, nausea and extreme dizziness.

What may start as a simple headache can quickly devolve into an incredibly dangerous situation where you become ill-equipped to get yourself to safety and potentially find yourself hurt. With that taken into consideration, how much water do you need on a hike?

A good calculation of how much water you should bring on a hike starts by calculating how long your hike will be and what temperature. For moderate activity at a moderate temperature, half a liter per hour of activity should be enough. Still, if your hike is incredibly involved and the temperature rises, you may need a liter per hour. However, this ratio can be altered for your own needs and should be considered based on how much climbing and running you may be doing and at what temperature. 

It would be best if you kept your water available to you through the entire trip and made it handy. Hydration reservoirs for mountain climbing, biking, and longer hikes are a good idea, but if you prefer a water bottle, it should be kept in the backpack’s mesh side pouch.

If you’re going for a simple run on a trail, a hand water bottle can also be an option. Wherever you decide to keep your water bottle, it should be easy to access, and not be stashed away hidden in a big back of other supplies. 

Another essential tip to hydration is to drink often instead of chugging water infrequently. This can help you avoid cramps, but also continuously effectively hydrate yourself.

Additionally, you want to be replacing the shed electrolytes in your system throughout your hike. In only hour-long activities, this is less of a problem, but you should focus on replacing potassium and sodium, as well as magnesium and calcium throughout your trek.

This is why athletes drink sports drinks, and those are highly recommended for any outdoor physical activities. An electrolyte replacing sports drink, or dissolvable tablets that can be pre-mixed into your water are both effective ways of ensuring that you are replacing your electrolytes. 

What Are More Tips for Staying Hydrated?

There is more to ensure that you don’t dehydrate yourself than just planning to drink a litre of water per hour. Depending on your route, your plan, and the temperature outside, you should be planning for different means of hydrating yourself. 

Planning Ahead

If you plan on taking a well-trekked trail or a long hike, consider the weight of your water supply and how you’ll avoid being weighed down by the extra strain. Water is surprisingly heavy, and when you’re hiking, riding a bike, or mountain climbing, you do want to reduce the unnecessary weights as much as possible.

Water is a necessary weight, but if you know that the trail you’re taking has fountains throughout or is broken in half by a rest stop, you should plan your hike around refilling. 

Find the most up-to-date, reliable map of the area with water fountains and rest stops labelled clearly, and figure out how long it would take you to get to each checkpoint.

This way, you can plan only to carry as much as you need to get to the first checkpoint, with a little extra for insurance, and you can save yourself the extra water weight that would otherwise hold you back. 

If you’re travelling in the mountains, or on a trail next to a river, this option can be replaced with a water filter. There are plenty of water purifiers that allow you to fill up at a lake or stream if there is no other option.

However, the last thing you want to happen is planning on a hypothetical that may prove undo-able and getting stuck without water. Until you know the terrain and feel confident in your plan to refill your water, you should bring enough to act as a fail-safe in the worst-case-scenarios that may arise. 

Pre-Hydrate and Rehydrate

Though it is incredibly important to stay hydrated throughout the journey, it can be just as beneficial to hydrate before and after your hike to ensure your health and hydration.

Pre-hydrating (Camelling Up)is common among hikers and athletes to hydrate before they begin their exercise, or in this case, hike. About two hours before you hit the trails, it’s recommended you drink about 17 – 24 fl. oz. of water.

After your exercise or hike, you want to get your fluid levels back up to a normal level and help your post-exercise recovery. Re-hydration is as simple as it seems, a glass of water after you get back home to rest should be enough to help bring your fluid levels back up to a normal level.

However, if you’re planning on going for a morning hike, this step needs to be reversed. After a long period of not drinking anything, you need to rehydrate yourself before you pre-hydrate for your workout. This can be after a long night’s sleep, or even just after a day of not keeping an eye on how much water you’ve drunken. 

Temperature and Altitude 

When the weather is hot and muggy, keeping yourself hydrated and drinking while outdoors is essential to avoiding dehydration. However, it’s not just hot days that you need to ensure that you’re keeping yourself hydrated.

Even though it’s easy to feel like you don’t need to be hydrating as much in the winter, the fact is, it is just as important to hydrate during the winter as it is to hydrate during the summer. 

Though a cold glass of water on a winter idea may not seem appealing, you should still find a way to stay hydrated on a winter hike. Bringing along a thermos with a hot drink on your journey isn’t bad when taking a long winters hike or going cross country skiing, for example. 

Additionally, understanding that you can become dehydrated quickly while in higher altitude as well, but are less likely to be aware of your thrust. You will find that you need to hydrate while you’re not craving water or anything to drink at higher altitudes, but this is true in general about drinking. 

In high altitude and colder temperatures, one surefire way to ensure that you keep yourself well hydrated is to set a timer. A timer is a more reliable way to ensure that you aren’t forgetting to keep drinking and that regardless of altitude and temperature, you’re encouraged to drink.

The general recommendation is to set the alarm for about every 20 minutes or so to remind yourself to take a quick drink. Remember, you shouldn’t be chugging the water, but a quick sip should be enough to keep you going safely. 

What Are the Signs of Dehydration?

Knowing the dehydration signs may be necessary to keep yourself safe out on the trails, they can include but aren’t limited to all of the following:

Signs of Dehydration - How Much Water Do You Need on a Hike

If you are exhibiting any combination of these symptoms, drinking some water and taking a break is strongly advised to help get yourself feeling better. It’s recommended that you do not exert yourself for several hours while you continue to take sips of a sugar, salt and water combination to get yourself feeling better. 

Final Thoughts on How Much Water Do You Need on a Hike

Making sure to drink enough water and not to start becoming dehydrated is super important when you are out on a hike. The availability for support services to reach you while away from the roadways can lead to very dangerous consequences should you push past this limit.

Make sure to take the time to drink even when you don’t necessarily feel thirsty as it is important to your overall hydration.

Nice to meet you, my trail name is Nomad the founder of Nomad Hiker and I love being outdoors and exploring nature! I now want to help spread that love through information back out to everyone to help them feel the same excitement with the world that I feel while in the back country. My current goals are to thru hike all the trails in the greater Texas region and to show everyone it is easily achievable at any age!