When camping, having enough water is one of the most important things to consider. Not only do you need water for drinking, but also for cooking, cleaning, and personal hygiene. The amount of water you need to bring will depend on a number of factors: the type of camping, weather conditions, the location of your campsite, the number of campers, and the length of your trip. In this blog post, we’ll cover how much water to bring camping and the best way to determine how much you need for each trip.
How Much Water You Need While Camping
Recommendations for how much water to bring camping vary. Your use will also change greatly, depending on the type of camping you are doing, the weather conditions, and how you are preparing food. If you relax all day in a hammock while car camping, you need less water than if you are backpacking in hot, dry weather. Generally speaking, you need enough water for drinking, cooking, and personal hygiene for the entire trip. If no water sources are available during your trip, you need to plan the amount carefully.
Drinking Water for Camping
The most important thing is to make sure you have enough drinking water. A good rule of thumb is that each person should have a minimum of 64 ounces (8 glasses) of drinking water per day. If you prefer to measure water in liters, then you need 2 liters a day per person. Some experts question this number when you are less inactive. However it’s a good idea to have this much clean water available for your camping activities. If you are active or camping in hot and humid weather conditions, more water will be necessary than in cooler temperatures. Here are some general guidelines for drinking water:
- 2 liters or 64 oz of water (½ gallon) per day for each adult
- 1 liter for every 6 miles of hiking or backpacking (mild weather/easy terrain)
- 2 liters for every 6 miles of hiking or backpacking in (hot weather or difficult terrain)
Here is an example from an outdoor forum I saw recently. One a 9 mile group day hike through a swamp in 90 deg heat, everyone carried 3 liters and some finished it during the last mile.
Water for Cooking
The amount of water you need for cooking depends on what kind of food you plan to prepare during your trip. If you plan on grilling food or eating sandwiches, then no additional water is necessary unless. Dehydrated meals usually require 12-16 ounces of water per meal. Boiling water for pasta may take several quarts of water if you are cooking for multiple people.
There is really no general guideline – write up a list of all meals you plan to eat and an approximate amount of water needed for each. Don’t forget the prepared drinks! Coffee, tea, or hot cocoa all need water also.
Washing Dishes and Personal Hygiene
The amount of water you need for cleaning will usually vary between car camping and backpacking or remote backcountry camping. Car camping frequently involves more dishes, both for cooking and eating, so you will need some soapy water for cleaning several dishes at once and more for rinsing. With practice, you can get away with a few ounces of water depending on how much you need to wash. For backpacking, you often only have one pot to wash or none at all for dehydrated meals you add hot water to the meal package.
Water for Personal Hygiene and Portable Showers
For personal hygiene, washing hands and brushing your teeth can be done with a small amount of water as well. A few liters of water should be plenty for car campers who have room to carry it. You can reduce the water you need to carry with large wet wipes which clean without needing to rinse.
If you have a portable shower, your water needs will go up dramatically. Expect to use 3 ½ to 5 gallons of water for each shower. If you want to carry less water, but still get clean, consider taking a sponge bath with a gallon or so of water.
You need to plan for all of the water that you will use, but you may not need to carry it with you. Depending on the type and location of your camping trip, there may be potable (drinkable) water sources which are common at established campgrounds. Natural sources of water may also be available but you should assume they need to be purified with portable water filters or chemical treatments such as iodine tablets or chlorine dioxide tablets. You can also boil the water to kill most microorganisms and make it safe for drinking and cooking.
Natural sources available may include rivers, lakes, ponds, springs, and streams. These sources should be researched beforehand so that you know they are reliable sources during your trip (especially during droughts). Beware that some natural sources may contain contaminants from agricultural runoff that cannot be filtered or purified – they are not safe to drink under any condition.
Water for Car Camping and Backpacking
The type of camping you do will also affect how much water you pack. Car campers and boondockers often have access to a drinkable water source, plus the weight and size of water jugs are less of an issue when you need to pack water. For backpackers and some types of remote campers, the heavy weight of carrying water limits your options and requires more planning. Plan to make use of natural sources for your water needs when possible, and carry extra water only if the sources are not reliable or safe.
- For car camping: Bring 2 gallons of water for each person for each day (plus more for showering)
- For backpacking: Carry 2+ liters and a filter or purification tablets if you have access to reliable water sources
- For kayak or other remote camping: follow the amounts for backpacking
If you plan a trip in an area with no water sources (like the desert), you may end up carrying a lot of water which is heavy and takes up space. A gallon of water is heavy! Consider your needs well in advance as you plan your trip.
Other Factors to Consider
While these general guidelines work for most situations, be sure to consider the other factors which may change your needs. Here are some things to consider when determining how much water you need:
- Number of Campers – While this may seem obvious, more campers means more people who need drinking, cooking, and cleaning supplies. Try to calculate the amount of extra water necessary for each camper when making your plans.
- Children – Children need less drinking water than adults. For small children, reduce the water needs by half. For teens, keep the quantities the same as adults.
- Pregnant Women – Pregnant women require more hydration, so take extra caution to ensure they stay hydrated.
- Weather Conditions – Hot or cold weather will affect how much water you drink and use for cleaning. In hot weather, more frequent hydration breaks are necessary as well as more frequent cleaning activities. In cold weather, you need less water, plus drinking less will lead to less frequent trips outside for bathroom breaks. Just be sure to store your water to avoid freezing in cold conditions.
- Higher Elevations – When camping at higher elevations, you will generally require more water than at lower elevations due to increased respiration rates from thinner air. It also takes longer for food items cooked at higher altitudes since water boils at lower temperatures.
- Long Hikes – If you plan to go on a long hike during your trip, you will need to plan for increased water requirements. Plan to add an additional liter of water for every 6 miles of hiking in mild conditions and 2 liters per 6 miles in hot or difficult terrain.
- Location – The location of your campsite can also affect how much water you need. If there is easy access to potable or natural water sources, then bring less water than if there were none available.
How To Pack and Carry Water when Camping
There are several options available for carrying enough water when camping. The most popular option to carry water is usually plastic or stainless steel reusable water bottles since they are easy to carry, lightweight, and durable enough for many trips without needing replacement (if cared for properly). Smart Water is a popular brand of disposable water bottles which many backpackers (including myself) use as refillable containers. The 700ml size fits easily in backpack side pockets, they are durable enough to reuse for weeks and much lighter than hard plastic bottles. They are also inexpensive and easy to find at your grocery store.
Other options include reservoirs that fit inside most backpacks like a Platypus water bladder. These are great hands-free options during hiking and other activities.
For larger quantities of water, you can also use collapsible water containers or water jugs which can be refilled at any faucet. Large plastic jugs are also an option, but they are much heavier and harder to transport than the other options. I recommend sticking with 1-3 gallon containers unless you are carrying water for a large group. Divide your water into several containers so that a leak doesn’t become a disaster or safety concern.
No matter how well you plan for your trip, there is always the chance that you may become dehydrated. If you are properly hydrated, your urine will be transparent yellow in color. Symptoms of dehydration include dizziness, headache, lightheadedness, dry mouth and lips, fatigue, confusion and disorientation. If any of these symptoms occur during your trip, be sure to stop what you are doing and get some fluids immediately. If the symptoms become severe or worsen rapidly, seek medical attention right away.
What to do if you don’t have enough water
If you are running low on water, ration what you have until you find a potable water source. Save all your remaining water for drinking. Cut your trip short if necessary rather than risking dehydration. In an emergency, try to find a natural water source and boil the water if you have no treatment gear. Drink untreated water from a questionable source only as a last resort.
Planning how much water to bring camping is one of the most important things you can do for a successful trip. It is best to plan for more than enough so that everyone has plenty of drinking and cooking water as well as enough for keeping yourself clean and comfortable during your stay. The best way to determine how much you need is to consider all of the factors such as type of camping, weather conditions, location, and the number of campers in your group. Double-check to make sure that all natural sources of water are reliable in drought conditions and carry extra water if you have any doubts.
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