Water Bottles and Hydration Gear
Avoiding dehydration is one of the most important problems you need to solve on the trail. Dehydration causes blood vessels in the skin to constrict and limit sweat production slowing down self-cooling of the body. This increases the risk for heat-related illnesses.
When you hike in a place where the air is hot and dry, sweat evaporates instantly, making its loss almost imperceptible. When you hike in a place where the air is cold and humidity is low, the little moisture that is around is quickly sucked up into the air. Moisture evaporates more quickly from your body drying out your skin, nose, and throat. Actually, cold weather further increases the risk of dehydration because lower temperatures suppress thirst even when the body requires fluids. That’s why people just don’t feel thirsty when the weather is cold and as a result, they don’t drink enough water which causes dehydration. Scientists found that cold weather reduces the body’s release of fluid-regulating hormones resulting in 40% reduction of the body’s sensation for thirst compared to warm weather. Walking in snow can dehydrate you as quickly as desert walking because the dry air sucks moisture out of your body.
On the trail, having enough food and water is not just necessary but compulsory. And of these, water is more important because you can survive without hydration just a few days. Water supply is among the most important things you want to know about a region you’ll be hiking in. How much water you need per day varies from person to person and depends on the weather conditions, the amount of energy you expend, and the type of food you carry. Sometimes carrying just a full water bottle can be enough if you go to a place where there’s plenty of drinkable water. However, on some occasions, you may have to carry much more water with you. In such cases, you’ll have to carry several bladders full of water in addition to a water bottle or a flask.
Types of water bottles and containers
Even where water is plentiful, you need some form of a water container. In dry, hot country several may be essential, and they need to be of good quality since a container failure could be serious. For that reason, it’s better to carry two or more containers, never just one large one. Water containers used to be simple items. Now we have hydration systems and reservoirs with drinking hoses, all made from flexible plastic, and the distinction between trail and camp containers has vanished.
Traditional rigid bottles come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and makes and in both plastic and metal.
Plastic water bottlesThese come with wide and narrow mouths and in a wide variety of sizes. Water bottles with wide mouth technology are the most useful since it facilitates loading, drinking, and cleaning. Quality bottles are leakproof and hardwearing, unlike some cheaper bottles that leak and crack along the seams after a relatively short time. Made of BPA-free and BPS-free materials, they make sure that you taste your beverage not the bottle. The Loop-Top bottles with attached caps are useful if you’re careless – using one of these lets you flip your lid, without losing it.
Soda bottlesEmpty soda bottles are good water containers for backpacking, especially if you want to carry a lighter pack and save some money at the same time. Needless to say, soda bottles should be replaced more frequently than plastic water bottles, however, if you’re like most people you probably buy enough bottled water or soda to get a regular supply of these bottles. One of the limitations of using soda bottles on the trail is that they’re no good for holding hot water.
Metal water bottlesQuality water bottles are made of food-grade stainless-steel. They keep liquids cooler in warm weather than plastic – up to more than 12-24 hours for quality stainless-steel water bottles (and won’t sweat on you). At the same time, they can keep your drinks warm in cool weather for as much as 6 hours. A lacquered inside stops fruit juice or sports drinks from dissolving the metal and tainting the drink. Food-grade ones don’t taint the water. They come in various sizes as the most widespread ones are 500 ml to 600 ml, although if you need to carry more water, you can also find and bigger metal water bottles. Insulated water bottles are durable and have screw tops with rubber seals that don’t leak and are safe for dishwashing. Wide mouth opening allows easy filling, pouring, and cleaning. Additionally, it fits many existing water filters and lids. However, quality and comfort come at a price – a stainless-steel water bottle can be 3-4 times as heavy as a plastic water bottle of the same size.
Thermos/FlaskIn winter and in cold temperatures, in general, a thermos is very useful. By filling it with hot water in the evening, you have warm water that soon comes to a boil in the morning, speeding up breakfast. Good flasks, thanks to the double-walled vacuum insulated construction, keep liquids hot for up to 12 hours so if you fill it before leaving camp, you can enjoy hot drinks during the day without needing to stop and fire up the stove. Additionally, they can keep your beverages cold and refreshing for up to 24 hours. The best ones are unbreakable stainless steel and usually weigh 400-700 grams depending on their size. Among the other features of a thermos water bottle are a skid-resistant bottom for stability and multifunctional cap with a handle that can be used as a serving cup meaning that you can save some space in your hiking pack. A good vacuum insulated flask is durable and long-lasting - it can be in regular use for more than ten years and still be in good condition.
Many bottles have caps with valves so you can drink from them without removing the cap, often by squeezing the bottle. These are convenient if you want to drink while hiking, but sometimes they leak easily, so you’d better carry them outside the pack in a mesh pocket or external bottle holder.
Collapsible water bottlesLight, foldable and compact water bottles. Ergonomic design offers easy grip, tip, and sip; flatten and roll up when empty, save space; easy to fill and carry. Made of nylon, polyethylene, silicone or another light and relatively durable material, collapsible water bottles are great for day hikes, camping, traveling, backpacking etc.
Squeeze water bottlesMade of LDPE (low-density polyethylene) or polyurethane, they are light and handy. Ideal for cycling, yoga and fitness, running, travel, camping, hiking and any other indoor or outdoor activity. They have a valve, instead of a regular cap, which operates with a squeeze so there’s no need to pull open the top with your teeth if your hands are full. Squeeze water bottles are no good for holding hot liquids.
Hydration systems are flexible water containers (also known as water bladders) with long tubes attached that dangle over your shoulder so you can drink while hiking. Most hikers go from one extreme to the other – they either like using bladders or totally dislike them and prefer to stop and use a sports bottle for drinking water. Nowadays, hydration systems are so popular that many packs come with sleeves for the water bladders. Having quick access is a good idea, of course. Carrying a water bottle in a mesh pocket or bottle holder on the side of the pack means that you can reach it easily.
There are various kinds of insulated water bottles and bladder covers:
Hydration packsHydration packs are designed principally to transport water and make drinking convenient and efficient. With most hydration packs, you don’t have to stop, or even slow down, to take a sip of water because of the drink tube that’s connected to the included water bladder. When you’re shopping for a water bag, you want to consider things like capacity, fit, and extra features. Common features of most hydration packs are ventilated back panel, adjustable sternum straps for better fit, various pockets with zippered closure for storing items secure and organized. Other uses of a water bag are like a portable shower and as a pillow. They aren’t, however, very good for carrying water in the pack.
Hiking packsHydration compatible packs with a special pocket for water bladders (often such kind of a pack offers 2.5 liters of hydration) are no exception. They have become more and more popular in the last a few years and today you can find one of these easily.
Hydration vestsUsed mainly for running. With stabilized design, main compartment with tube holder, secure zip pockets, phone pocket, adjustable straps for individual fit, breathable mesh shoulder strap, reflective trims and so on. Not very convenient for hiking, in general.
Hydration beltsThey have a stabilized design to reduce bouncing as you work out. They’re lightweight and comfortable to hold. Hydration belts have contoured shape for a great fit to your body and might have some other features such as secure zip pockets, reflective accents for nighttime activity, additional pouches for mobile phones etc.
Hydration handheldsLight and functional – allow for natural grip and easy access to fluids; adjustable hand strap enables grip-free movement. Additionally, they might have a zippered pocket for on-the-go storage of small items like keys, snacks, ID. Hydration handhelds are convenient for running but not that much for hiking.
All these covers won’t keep liquids hot for long, so they aren’t suitable for coffee unless you like it lukewarm, but they’re fine for other drinks.
Storing and maintenance
It’s best to store water containers uncapped, so they can fully dry and not become musty. If ordinary washing doesn’t clean them fully, soak them in a mild solution of bicarbonate of soda. Iodine, chlorine, or bleach can also be used for disinfecting bottles. Wash containers regularly to prevent the buildup of dirt, especially around the screw threads.
Having an access to enough drinking water should be one of the major considerations in planning your hiking trip. The types and sizes of your water bottles, and your water purification system, should be dictated by the frequency and quality of water sources. When water is readily available, carry no more than two water bottles. In drier locations, you’ll have to carry more capacity and give greater consideration to the weight and volume of the containers when not in use.
There’s a trade-off between weight and comfort. Rigid metal water bottles are heavy and bulky compared with the flexible ones, however, they can keep liquids hot and comforting or cold and refreshing for much longer than plastic water bottles or collapsible bottles can. Now, knowing more about water bottles, flasks, and hydration systems you can choose the right water containers for your next hiking trip.