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Clean water is a necessity when camping, hiking, or backpacking, but can be hard to come by in some situations. Here’s how to ensure you always have potable water on hand in the wilderness.

Whether you’ve gotten a bit of hiking inspo from following the National Park Service on Instagram or just want to recapture the fun of camping during childhood summers, it’s the ideal time of year to spend some time outside. In addition to familiarizing yourself with campsites and trails (plus the critters you may encounter along the way), you’ll want to make sure you have enough to keep yourself hydrated while you explore the great outdoors. Here’s what you need to know about H2O before you leave home.

How Much Water to Bring With You

Before you decamp for, well, camping, make sure you grab the right amount of agua for your adventure. “Generally my rule of thumb is 0.5 liter per hour for a tough hike,” says outdoor expert Cris Hazzard, of “So a standard 3-liter hydration bladder gives me roughly six hours of hiking. I adjust that number based on the effort level. If the hike is flat and relatively easy, I can use about half that. If it’s a hot hike in the desert, it can be double.”

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How much you need to tote along with you will depend on your situation, though. “The amount of water needed varies significantly depending on body weight, pack weight, temperature, fitness, terrain, elevation gain, so there really isn’t a simple formula that works for all people in all situations,” says Laurie Potteiger, Information Services Manager at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. She recommends taking the opportunity to drink some every time you come to a water source. (TMI alert: Aim for urinating multiple times per day and pale yellow pee, she says.)

The best advice is to carry more water than you think you need, and to drink more than you think you need,” Potteiger says.

How to Keep It Cold

Want to keep your water cold during a hot hike? Fill water bottles halfway up and put them in the freezer the night before you head out. Top them off in the morning and wrap them in a hand towel; that will keep the water chilled most of the day, says Potteiger.

Read More: The Best Reusable Water Bottles | You Are Not Cleaning Your Water Bottle Often Enough

How to Treat Water to Make Sure It’s Safe

Water pump filtration instruction. Image courtesy REI

So what happens if you run out of water and don’t have access to a source of clean, safe water? You’ll want to turn up the heat at your campsite. “Boiling is the most effective method of treating water in the backcountry to make it safe for drinking, but impractical for most backpackers,” Potteiger says. (The CDC backs this up; boiling is the top dog when it comes to water treatment.)

If boiling isn’t feasible for you, there are a few other methods, too. “There are several other methods, and each has its advantages and drawbacks,” Potteiger says, pointing to filtration, iodine, chlorine dioxide, and Ultraviolet light as other options. “It’s a good idea to carry a backup method in case a filter gets clogged or the battery in a UV light water purifier; also, combining filtration with chemical treatment increases their effectiveness.”

Related Reading: How to Eat So Well While Backpacking, It’s Like You’re Glamping

Hazzard’s recommendation? “I used to use iodine tablets which are small and simple, but take some time (30 minutes) to treat the water,” says Hazzard. He says filter technology has recently improved, so he now uses this small pump. “It removes viruses, bacteria, protozoa and dirt, and works right away,” he says.

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Prepare, Prepare, Prepare

“Plan Ahead and Prepare” is the phrase that should be top of mind before heading outside. “It’s important to make sure your water treatment systems are checked and ready before you go, and ensure that they are working properly when in the field,” Potteiger says. “It may sound obvious, but it’s important to read the manufacturer’s instructions about using and caring for your product. Many hikers have preventable problems because they didn’t backflush their filter, or carry plungers for flushing, spare parts or batteries. If you have spare parts and/or extra batteries that may be needed, and a back-up method, this is very unlikely to happen.”

Hikers should maintain good hygiene, avoid sharing food or water bottles, and wash their hands at least 200 feet away from water sources before and after eating and after going to the bathroom. Happy trails!

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Header image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Kelsey Butler is a reporter and editor based in New Jersey. She has written for a number of health and lifestyle publications, including Women's Health, Brides, and NBC News Better. Hot sauce, black coffee, and bacon make up 50% of her diet.
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