Backcountry Hydration 101

Water makes up 60 percent of our bodies, but chances are we don’t drink enough of it, especially in the backcountry. We’re going to help you change that by learning how to stay hydrated miles from any potable water source. 

Recognizing & Preventing Dehydration

At some point in your life, you’ve been dehydrated. Whether it was after a night on the town or on a knife-edge ridge, dehydration is debilitating. There are a few tell-tale signs of dehydration. Headaches are usually first, then nausea, then fatigue. No one wants any of these situations on a backcountry hunt. If you don’t take a break and get some fluids in you, cramps will set in, then heat exhaustion, and eventually even heat stroke is possible. 

dead bull elk on truck

Other factors like elevation can also contribute to dehydration. If you live in Missouri one day and then you’re chasing bighorn sheep at 9,000 feet the next, you’re a great candidate for altitude sickness, which dehydration will aggravate. When you’re chasing goats at 11,000 feet above most water sources, the risk of dehydration is even greater. 

It’s easy to drink fluids on a hot day, but those cold days will deceive you. It feels good to drink water when you’re hot and sweaty. You might not feel like drinking water in cold weather, but you’re still losing moisture from your body. You need plenty of water in cold weather to replenish moisture loss from dry air, especially at those high altitudes. 

To keep performing at your peak, consider supplementing your water with electrolytes, which help carry electrical signals from cell to cell. Gatorade powder is a classic go-to, but other products like NUUN tablets and Tailwind take up little pack space and come in a variety of flavors, which is handy if you use chemicals to treat your water (more on that below).

Beware the Nasties 

Watch almost any old Western mountain man movie and there will inevitably be a scene in which some crusty old guy bends down to a seemingly pristine creek and takes a big, long drink. Don’t do that. There is no way for you to know what’s upstream, be it a rotting carcass or a beaver dam that doubles as a beaver latrine. If you’ve ever had Giardia, you know exactly what we’re talking about. Giardia symptoms are many, and they are ugly. In addition to Giardia, untreated water can contain other bacteria, protozoa, cysts, and viruses. Chances are you’re looking forward to spending time in the mountains. Why ruin it with beaver fever? 

How to Treat Your Water 

In the good old days, the only way to treat water was to boil it. You can still boil water for three minutes to purify it, but it costs time and fuel and doesn't need to be your only option these days. Whether you’re an ultralight ounce-counter, a car camper or somewhere in between, there’s a water purification option that will work for you. 

If your goal is to go as light as possible, you can use chlorine dioxide tablets or drops made by Aquamira. This beats the old days when hikers had to use iodine tablets that gave water a funky taste. The downside to the tablets is that you have to wait 30 minutes to neutralize Giardia and up to four hours to neutralize other nasties like cryptosporidium, which is an other microscopic parasite that causes trip-ending, dying-on-the-inside diarrhea. 

If you don’t mind carrying things that need batteries, you can try an ultraviolet light purifier. Stir the SteriPEN UV light around in your 32-ounce Nalgene for 90 seconds and you have drinkable water. Just pack extra batteries.

Steri Pen

For a decent balance between weight and convenience, a filter of some sort is hard to beat. You can opt for the hand pump filters made by Katadyn that take up a little room in your pack but can filter a lot of water quickly. They do need to be cleaned on occasion as they will clog and also freeze in really cold temps. For a lightweight, space-friendly alternative, check out the mini-filtration systems made by Sawyer. This filter is the size of a candy bar and fits right inline with your water bladder tube or screws into your water bottle. Like larger filters, they can freeze and clog, but a little maintenance will prevent that. 

Water Haulers 

It’s pointless to carry bear spray stuffed somewhere inside your pack. An angry sow protecting its cubs isn’t going to wait for you to take off your pack and rummage around for that canister. Now, apply that same logic to your water bottle.

evo 3300

Will you drink more often if your water supply is at your fingertips or buried in the bottom of your pack? Keep your water supply handy and convenient. If water bottles like Nalgenes are your preference, you need to be able to reach water without taking off your pack. That’s why Stone Glacier developed pack accessories like the Hydro Sling and Hydro Holster

“But I hate water bottles,” you say. Then use a water bladder like the Platypus Big Zip™ EVO 3L and carry it with the SG Hydro Sleeve. The access to a bladder hose makes hydration on the go about as easy as it gets, and the sleeve allows you to conveniently carry a three-liter water bladder inside a Stone Glacier pack. The sleeve mounts to the sewn in 3/4" black trislides on the inside back panel of all Stone Glacier bags. We also have many other hydration products available on our website.

With so many options for hauling, filtering, and treating water, you really don’t have an excuse for letting dehydration sideline your hunt. Choose the system that best suits your needs and keep that water bottle or bladder hose accessible, because staying hydrated means staying in the mountains.