Rethink Your Hydration System to Lighten Pack Weight

Ultralight hiking and backpacking hydration system
Average read time 2 min

Many hikers are concerned about the weight they’re carrying. Any hiker can tell you water adds a lot of weight to your load. You can lighten your load by carrying less water, but that’s not always practical. If you are hiking in an area where reliable water can be found, then go for it, hike with less and refill.

Having said that we need to look at the total weight of our hydration system. What does that include?

  1. Water
  2. Containers
  3. Purification method

Thus no matter what the strategy you’ll need to do the math. I mean water + bottles + purification = weight of hydration.

Therefore it’s not just about the water you carry. Yes, water weighs the most in that equation but the other items count too.

The weight of water

As stated above, water is the weightiest of the items in your hydration system. The less you carry the lighter your pack. But it’s also critical to being healthy in the backcountry, don’t skimp.

1 liter of water weighs 2.2 lbs or 35.2 oz. Adding an electrolyte or flavor to it won’t change the weight. Add away! In our examples we are going to use the liter as our water measure for consistency, but keep in mind, various water bottles contain different volume capacities.

But what about the other items? We’ll use two products we’ve used in the past for comparison.

  • Orange Nalgene® Bottle:  4.4 oz. (if you carry 2 – 8.8 oz.)
  • Katadyn® Pro Microfilter: 11 oz.

Using the above and carrying 2 liters of water our equation is – 70.4 + 8.8 + 11 = 90.2 oz

Consider using ultralight bottles and purification items

Ultralight hiking and backpacking hydration system
Our Ultralight backpacking hydration system (2 people)

Use lightweight plastic water bottles (i.e., SmartWater®) that you can buy at almost any store for a couple of dollars.

Sawyer MINI works well with the SmartWater Bottles
Sawyer MINI Filter works well with the SmartWater Bottles

Move to using the Sawyer® MINI Filter which can double as the second “water bottle” with its drinking pouch.

  • SmartWater®: < 1 oz.
  • Sawyer® MINI Filter 2 oz.

Again, carrying 2 liters and using our equation – 70.4 + 1.0 + 2.0 = 73.4 oz

So, how’d we do?

Our first calculation was at 90.2 oz. with the second coming in at 73.4 oz. a savings of 16.8 oz.

Or a savings of 1.05 lbs.

When we add this into a planned ultralight system of hiking or backpacking and with the idea that every ounce counts – this is important. In this case, it’s a pound!

Some final thoughts

Lightweight plastic bottles like SmartWater®, may not withstand boiling water and winter conditions. As these bottles empty they may not keep their form, so make sure they are always secure. Our SmartWater® bottles hold 33.8 oz (they have other sizes) which is greater than the Nalgene® which holds 32 oz.

You can measure specific amounts of water into your bottle and mark the oz. levels for cooking purposes.

If you have any tips, please share them in the comments!