Hiking Hydration: How much water should you take?

Hiking hydration is extremely essential to your safety and health.

I recently published an article about items not to take on a hiking trip. The main idea for the article was to make it humorous. I failed to make that clear. I should have and will do better in the future. But the article and the comments inspired me to write about the topic of hiking and hydration.

In my article, I suggested not bringing that much water. Obviously, it was taken the wrong way. But I also should have explained more about it and given further disclaimers, so I am definitely a cause of it being taken the wrong way, too.

Hiking hydration is an important topic. Every hiker, whether a beginner or expert, must know how much hydration to take and when to hydrate.

And that’s why I’m writing this article, to help those who need these answers, much of it based on my experience and errors that I’ve made as a beginner hiker.

What’s a good amount of Hiking Hydration to take?

In my article that sparked this article, I suggested not to take more water than you need. The interpretation of that should have been exactly how I stated it.

Bring enough water to meet your needs and the potential conditions that may elevate your needs.

If you’re going on a day hike along an easy short trail that you can easily hike out of or is popular with people and rangers, then you don’t need to bring a lot of hydration.

But you definitely need to bring enough for the trip.

Your water should be your heaviest item. It’s always my heaviest item. I carry about two gallons of water with me on every hike, aside from shorter ones on easier trails. When I lead paid hikes, I carry more than I would need to ensure that my clients have extra water if needed.

When I first started hiking as a beginner, I always brought way more water than needed. Eventually, the weight of my water and other things in my pack started giving me back and shoulder pain.

So, I started taking less water with me. It was fine until my first overnight hike.

I didn’t take enough water and carried the water purification tablets. But along my hike, very few creeks were close enough to filter from. I ran out of water at one point and started getting cramps.

That sparked my interest to learn more about hydration as a hiker, which is a very important factor to learn.

There is an amount that is a good amount to take when it comes to hiking hydration. But there is such thing as too much, just as much as there is such thing as too little.

A good rule of thumb is to bring enough water to last you a few days. But what many hikers don’t understand about this rule is that once you go over the amount of time you wanted to be in the woods, then you have to start rationing your water and taking only what you need and when you need it.

I take a few gallons with me now. This is because I’m 6’5” tall and sweat more than average people. I lose a lot of salt during sweating and need hydration. Because of that, I’ve learned additional ways to hydrate myself better.

Hiking Hydration

Hydrate with Electrolyte Replacement

The one thing that has saved me over the years is electrolyte replacement tablets.

There are many of these types of tablets available. I’ve used many. I don’t want to talk about brand names, but I personally like GU Energy brand or Hammer Nutrition. But the most important thing is to read the reviews and research before you try a product. Nothing is sponsored or endorsed in this article.

During each hike, I put two hydration tablets in one of my water bottles. I keep the other bottle for plain water.

I also keep a few hydration tablets with me in my pack in case I need to filter water and need additional electrolyte replacements.

During my hikes, I typically drink all the water with tablets in it and most of the plain water, especially during the summer.

It’s also important to drink a lot of water during the winter. Many of us fail to do so. I’ve been suspect of that, too.

Hiking hydration is important all year long, regardless of the season.


How to Stay Hydrated on the Trail

Staying hydrated, as I said above, is very important.

In the winter months, I usually failed at hydrating how I should have. So, as a response, I invented a system that you may use if you find it helpful.

I open one of my trail bars (I get ones packed with fruit and nuts for fuel replacement). I’ll eat about a quarter of the trail bar every half hour to an hour, depending on the temperature. Trail bars take a lot of chewing, and you need to wash it down your throat. That’s where hydration comes into play. I will typically take two to four big drinks to wash it down.

I’ve done this until I’ve made it habitual, and I recommend you do it.

Like water, it’s important to bring enough food to last a day or two. But trail bars packed with healthy carbs are a great meal replacement option for some people, especially on shorter planned hikes.


Emergency Hydration Situations

Sometimes you need to hydrate, and for whatever reason, you have nothing to hydrate with.

I had to learn this the hard way. I didn’t bring enough water because I didn’t want to bring too much because of the pain of too much water on my back and shoulders. But then I ran out of water and started feeling the effects of that mistake.

I realized I did two things wrong aside from not bringing enough water:

  1. I failed to research creeks in the area.
  2. I had the wrong type of filter system.

Knowing the creeks in the area could have helped me greatly. The creeks are needed for filtering water. I had to wait a while before finding a creek to filter from due to dry areas. It was actually a waterfall that I filtered from at the end of the day. Now, I’ve learned how to read maps, and I check the weather to see how wet it’s been.

I failed to bring the right type of hydration system because I brought filter tablets and didn’t read how to use them properly. The filtering time these took was about an hour to wait until I could drink my water. At that point, I was hot, deflated, and cramping from dehydration. After that, I bought a quicker-use filter, learned how to use it before using it, and I always test them periodically.

It’s important to plan for emergencies and have the needed tools to prepare for them.


And that sums up my hiking hydration recommendations. I wish there were a good formula for how much water to bring. You should always bring enough to last a few days but keep rationing in mind for that thought process. I would recommend at least two large bottles and possibly a hydration bladder. Please consider subscribing to my free monthly newsletter to stay up-to-date with my latest articles.

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Thanks again for checking out another one of my articles and until next time, I’ll see you on the trail!

Shawn Gossman

Shawn Gossman

Founder, Hiking with Shawn

Howdy folks! My name is Shawn Gossman and I founded Hiking with Shawn. I’m an avid hiker, cyclist and outdoorsman here in the Shawnee National Forest. I was born and raised in Southern Illinois and never want to leave. Click here to learn more about Shawn Gossman

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