Summer hiking – carry enough water

Water.

That is one of the most important items for a successful hike – especially in the summer.

Whether I’m hiking in the Grand Canyon or the Smokies, I’m amazed — and concerned — to see so many people carrying little or no water. A couple or a family may have only one 16-ounce bottle of water to share as they hike.

Cedar Ridge is a 3-mile round-trip hike on the South Kaibab Trail in the Grand Canyon. This rest location for hikers and the mule teams has a few shrubs and trees for shade and non-flush toilets — but no water. The photo at the top of the blog post is about mile from Cedar Ridge. For most of the day, the trail is exposed. Photos by Julie Dodd

Perhaps these hikers just stepped out of an air-conditioned car or the park bus. They can’t imagine how thirsty they are going to be as they hike. They have only a small bottle of water because they don’t realized how much water they will need for the hike.

A hydration system and wide-mouth bottles are important parts of your hiking gear.
Photo by Julie Dodd

How much water do you need to carry on your hike?

REI recommends drinking a half liter of water (about 16 ounces) every hour during moderate activity and temperature. And it’s best to take sips regularly rather than waiting and then drinking in large gulps.

Don’t think that you don’t need to carry water if a stream or lake is nearby to drink from — unless you carry water treatment gear. Even if clear, the water should be treated before drinking because the water can contain parasites and bacteria.

A hydration system, with a reservoir and a tube for sipping, makes drinking easy. However, many park visitors won’t have that level of equipment.

A range of wide-mouth bottles can be purchased that include clips for attaching bottles to packs or belts. The bottles are easier to fill (and add ice if available) than small individual plastic bottles.

You can check online to determine the location of water sources before your hike and plan accordingly. Many parks have water stations for visitors to use to refill their bottles.

But those water sources aren’t at most trailheads. You need to purchase and fill water bottles before reaching the trail.

Who is carrying the water?

On a hike in the Smokies returning from Mt. Le Conte, we encountered three young women asking if we had seen their boyfriends, who were ahead of them on the trail. Based on the descriptions, we had seen the boyfriends, who were hiking quickly and were at least 20 minutes ahead.

Unfortunately for the women, their boyfriends were carrying all the water. Unless the boyfriends realized their girlfriends would need water and stopped to wait for them, the women wouldn’t have water for about two hours when they reached the top of Mt. Le Conte.

So carry your own water.

Record heat in 2021

The Summer of 2021 is setting record temperatures in locations across the country.

The Grand Canyon restricted hiking on the Bright Angel Trail in July due to dangerous heat, with temperatures more than 115 degrees.

In most cases, you don’t have to forgo hiking because of high temperatures, but you do need to follow safety precautions when hiking in hot weather.

And one of the most important steps is to carry adequate water and stay hydrated.

[Be sure to check out the Ten Essentials the National Park Service encourages you to carry when you hike.]

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