[pct-l] Amount of water containers

Erik The Black erik at eriktheblack.com
Sun Apr 19 23:28:51 CDT 2009

Water is such a sensitive subject (and a personal thing)...

On one hand, carrying too little water can be one of the biggest mistakes
you can make.

On the other hand (to a lifelong desert resident like myself), one of the
biggest mistakes I observed was hikers carrying TOO MUCH water, because they
didn't really know how much to carry, and were always erring on the side of

I knew hikers who carried anywhere from 8 - 11 liters of water through some
of the longer stretches which, in my opinion, is totally overkill.

Water is HEAVY... And the more weight you carry, the more you sweat, and the
more you sweat the more quickly you dehydrate... so it's kind of a "Catch
22" situation. 

But there are some things you can do to stay safely hydrated, and keep your
water requirements within reason: 


1) Rest at water sources, drink your fill while you wait, and then "Camel
up" before you leave. My standard routine in the desert was to casually
drink 1 liter of water while taking a break at a water source, and then chug
another liter before heading out. 

I didn't see very many other hikers doing this, which surprised me. But the
net effect is that you leave the water source with half a gallon of water in
your belly, instead of on your back. That's a savings of over 4 pounds! And
when the weight is in your stomach close to your center of gravity, you
don't even notice it.

2) Do not hike in the direct sunlight. Carrying a Ray Jardine-style umbrella
might get you a bit of playful teasing from your fellow hikers the first few
days, but they won't be laughing when they are drenched in sweat in the
Mojave and you are nice and cool with your portable shade, even when the sun
is high in the sky. I carried an umbrella from the border to Kennedy
Meadows, and I swear by them. 

A hat just doesn't have the same effect. A hat sits right on top of your
head, creating a sort of "oven for your head". A little pocket of hot air
just sits there and swirls around, baking your noggin (no matter how
"breathable" the hat supposedly is). 

An umbrella, on the other hand, keeps the sun off, but allows cool air to
circulate underneath, and perspiration to rise off your head and dissipate,
instead of collecting underneath a soggy hat.


3) Find the right pace. There is a "sweet spot" where you are not hiking so
fast that you are sweating and over-exerting yourself, but not so slow that
you are "plodding along". I discovered that when I was in this zone I could
really conserve the water. 

For me it was about 3 mph, but you'll figure what it is for you. The
important thing is having the discipline not to hike faster, even though you
can, when the desert is really pissing you off and you want to hurry up and
get where you are going. Slow and steady wins the race.


4) Hike when the sun isn't so harsh. A lot of hikers like to get up really
early at like 4am or 5am and get in some big miles before the sun gets too
high in the sky. I am not a morning person, so I could never bring myself to
do that. Sounds like a good idea though. Instead, I would do a lot of night
hiking. Which I find really pleasant. 

The desert is really beautiful at night. There is a lot more ambience than
in the day, because all of the desert creatures know better than to go out
in that heat. They sleep in the day, and come out at night. 

With a full-moon to guide you, crickets chirping, owls hooting, junebugs
zinging, coyotes howling (and hopefully no rattlesnakes underfoot) a desert
night-hike can be one of the most pleasant experiences on the trail.


5) Don't camp in the middle of a long waterless stretch. I disagree with
Jardine on this one. I remember he had a bunch of strategies for doing long
waterless stretches that involved "dry camping" in the middle. But for me,
camping is a surefire way to use up water quickly and not gain any mileage
for it. You may be different, but I tend to use up a lot of water in camp. 

Even if I don't cook a meal that needs water, eating dry food makes me
thirsty, and I get thirsty throughout the night. I could never get into and
out of camp without using up at least a liter of water and sometimes closer
to two, no matter how hard I tried. So I would rather be on the trail
getting some miles for that water than just wasting it away and not making
any progress.

There are some situations where it is unavoidable (like 30 or 40 mile
waterless stretches) but those are very few and far between. When it comes
to the shorter stretches, like the 20 - 25 milers, I think it's much better
to camp at the water, then just hike through to the next water before
camping again, taking a siesta in the middle if you need to.


Just as a point of reference, here is how much water I typically carry: 

Hot weather: 1 liter per 5 miles
Normal weather: 1 liter per 7 miles
Cool weather: 1 liter per 10 miles

The most water I would consider carrying is six liters, which would be good
for up to 30 miles. If I had to go further than 30 miles, I would strategize
a way so that I didn't have to carry more than six liters. Like cameling up
and doing as much hiking as possible when the sun is down, taking siestas
during the day, etc.

My water carrying apparatus consists of two 2.4 liter platypus bladders and
two plastic 1 liter "soda" bottles.

Happy Trails!
Erik The Black

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