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About Water when backpacking

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Water on the trail topics

Water weighs about 8 pounds per gallon, and normally most humans require at least 1 gallon or about 4 liters per day. So it's really not practical to carry all the water you will need for more than one day. Since most backpacking trips will last more than 1 day, backpackers need to find how to gather water in the wild that can be used for drinking and eating(mixing with dehydrated food).

Hence, in the wild, you need to be able to gather water at least once per day, and normally you will need to filter that water to make is sufficiently pure to drink. This is because most free flowing streams have the possiblity of animal urine or feces in the stream, and bacterium from those sources and other sources. Bottom line: Always plan to filter water unless you are certain of it's purity. In other words always filter water from a stream, pond or lake. There are a very small number of streams that have polution that will not be resolved by filtering. For example if there tailings from a uranium or radium mine that are somehow swept into a stream by rainfall runoff, or through other means, that radioactivity can not be filtered out. It's dangerous, and you need to find another source of water in that case. There are tributaries to the colorado river that have radium polution, and should not be used for a water source. This is a very rare condition, but when in doubt or if you don't know, Check with national park or forest rangers to be certain of the water safety. Normally they will know the water quality in the area where they are responsible for managing the national resources.

When you are doing your planning for a backpacking trip, find where there are year around safe sources of water, and plan your campsites around where the water is located. The best place to set up a campsite is "near" a water source. However, with proper planning, you can set up your campsite anywhere, as long as you get water where you know it exixsts, and haul water to where you will use it (campsite). This method may be necessary in the desert especially, where the water sources are few and far between. This is a special consideration on the PCT(pacific crest trail) in southern California, and on the Arizona trail in some of the southern (desest) sections, and really anytime you are camping in the desert, or in a draught stricken area that is non- desert climate normally.

Filtering can normally be accomplished by scooping up a "clear" volume of water with some kind of vessel (bottle or dish, etc.) and using a filter mechanism, either squeeze the source of water, or suck or pour the water so that it goes through the water filter, and then the water that comes through the filter will be safe to drink. Normally the filter mesh needs to be less than 0.2 microns, the smaller the better in terms of blocking materials other than water, right down to the dimension of a molecule of water in the extreme. Normally the smallest that you will need to use will be 0.02microns, which will also block viruses if that is a worry. Normally on only needs to worry about bacteria and 0.1 or 0.2microns will get that job done nicely.

When hiking your need for water will depend on how far you hike, and the conditions, especially the heat and shadiness of the trail. Unshaded trails in the daytime in the desert in a canyon where there's not much wind mid summer can require a lot of water. Adding electrolyte tablets to your water can reduce your need for water considerably. Under some circumstances, it is necessary to hike after the sun goes down to prevent overheating, and to reduce the need for water to replentish the body moisture lost to perspiration, due to hiking in the heat of the day in the sun. This is especially true in hot canyons or desert situations.

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    Last Update: May 4, 2015

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