Water Carriers

With sweat pouring down your face, your swollen tongue sticking to the roof of your mouth and a regular sledgehammer-thump in your head you stagger towards the dark water, fall to your knees and gulp mouthfuls of the wonderfully cool liquid.

Melodramatic maybe, and certainly not something common in the British hills, but I've felt like that on a few occasions when I've neglected to drink enough and cursed not diverting to a nearby water source because, at the time, it seemed too far. And I've experienced this in the Lake District as well as California.

While consuming enough liquid in hot, dry weather might seem obvious drinking regularly is important even in damp, humid weather. Dehydration is unlikely to kill anyone in Britain, except perhaps in a heatwave, but well before it endangers your health dehydration can dull your mind, spoiling your enjoyment and making it hard to think straight - not a good idea if there's any difficult navigation to do. The best way to avoid becoming dehydrated is to drink often whether you feel thirsty or not. A good indicator is the colour and amount of your urine. It should be clear and copious. The yellower it is, the more you need to drink.

How much liquid you need depends in part on how hot and dry the weather is, your energy output and, for backpackers, the type of food carried. In cool, damp conditions I can get by with little to drink during the day, though I don't recommend doing this. However I have also drunk ÿ and needed - a litre an hour on very hot days in shadeless places. In camp at least four litres are needed for drinks and to rehydrate dried food. That doesn't include water for pot or personal washing either.

When you have to carry water such calculations become important as water weighs more than a kilo a litre. In the deserts of the Southwest USA I've carried up to eight kilos of water, a massive amount when added to the weight of a backpacking load. Luckily there's never any need to carry that much in most places and certainly nowhere in Britain. "Dry" camps away from water sources, often high up on mountain ridges or even summits, might require three or four litres of water but often this can be picked up late in the day so it only has to be carried for a few hours.

On day walks most people of course carry water or other drinks with them. In case this isn't enough it's still advisable to know where water sources are on your route. In the hills this usually requires little thought, as there are plenty of streams and pools in most areas. However rocky ridges can be dry for long distances. It's easy to get parched in the Cuillin on Skye.

There is of course the question of whether water is safe to drink. Clarity is not necessarily an indication of purity. However, water in the hills, away from habitations, farmland and grazing stock, is generally okay. In lowland areas I'd avoid drinking from streams and pools. There's too much likelihood of them containing industrial, agricultural or domestic waste. Finding water from a tap or buying drinks isn't a problem in most places of course. Water can be filtered and purified but this isn't always necessary in Britain.

Water containers used to be simple items. There were small rigid bottles for use while walking and large compressible bags for use in camp.
Now, in addition to these, we have small soft containers that take minimal room in the pack when empty and hydration systems with long tubes, on which we can suck while we walk ensuring an effortless drink whenever we want. There are also water containers in the form of bumbags and even small rucksacks for times when water is all that has to be carried. These last are not, I think, of great interest to British walkers.

However even on a day walk a water container is needed. When little water needs to be carried, half litre bottles are adequate, but I prefer the litre size. Empty soft drinks or mineral water bottles can be used but these don't usually last very long and often have lids that leak after not much use. For regular use higher quality bottles are better as they are very durable and shouldn't spring leaks.

Outdoor stores stock many different sorts of water containers, some of which aren't actually very good. In particular the lids often leak. Before buying an unfamiliar brand I'd fill it with water and shake it to see what happens. Bottles with push-pull spouts seem particularly prone to leakage. Even a slight leak can result in a lot of liquid escaping into your rucksack over a period of several hours, so a bottle with a properly sealed top is well worth having.

There are also many large collapsible, roll-up or foldaway containers for use in camp. Again, many have a tendency to leak, though this isn't that important if you're not going to carry water in them in the pack. Of more significance is the weight and bulk. Some don't actually compress that much and are made from thick heavy material.
To save weight some backpackers don't bother carrying an extra water container for camp use. However, if you make do in camp with a water bottle plus your cook pots, you will spend a lot of time fetching water - fine in sunny weather but not so nice when it's wet and stormy. At the same time constant trips to fetch water can lead to path scars being created. Collecting all the water needed for camp at one time is both convenient and has less impact on the area.