Western Traveler

Water Transport System

This may sound like a bad pun, but everything in your backcountry experience “boils down” to having enough drinking water. No other single factor is as important for your pleasure or survival.

When considering what type of water container to use, you’ll need to ask yourself a few questions. First, how much water do I need to carry? Next, will this container be inside or outside my backpack? Lastly, how often do I need to take a drink?

Let’s start with canteens and/or water bottles. Canteens have evolved away from metal construction to various types of plastic. The most durable and most common types are now made out of polyethylene. These are very tough, lightweight and don’t add a “funny” taste to your water. They come in a variety of sizes, most with some type of carrying pouch or harness. For day hikes, or to add extra water capacity to your backpacking trip, these are a nice option.

Water bottles come in various plastic forms also, the two most common being Lexan and Nalgene. The Lexan bottles give you the advantage being able to see completely through them. If you’re mixing up some sports drinks, it helps in being able to see how the concentration is doing. They have clearly-marked graduations on them for measuring (handy for cooking). The Nalgene bottles are opaque and cannot be seen through. The advantage to Nalgene however, is that they’re less susceptible to breakage, either from dropping or freezing. They will expand if frozen. Both types come in small-mouth, or large-mouth models. Whatever type you choose, make sure to get bottles with permanently-attached tops. A lost lid in the wilderness can spell big trouble.

One of the newer categories of water containers is the collapsible type. The most well-known of these is called the Platypus®. They are made of 3-ply, lightweight laminate plastic, with welded construction. These are the most lightweight water carrying option in the back country. They come in a variety of capacities, and with a ton of options. Some include: a “hoser” system that allows you to drink from the container directly without having to remove the cap, protective sheaths called “over coats” for carrying outside your pack and push-pull caps. Some features of these that make them especially attractive are: that they won’t add flavor to your water, that they can be used for drink mixes, they stand on a stable base, they can be boiled or frozen and can be rolled up into a small space when empty.

The last category for back country use is something called a hydration system. In a nutshell, imagine a collapsible bag that fits into your backpack, or into a specialized pack designed for hiking and/or bicycle riding. These too come in a variety of sizes and configurations. Each of these offers a hose that is attached to your collar and utilizes a “bite” valve. These are by far the most convenient system out there.

While hiking through Little Wild Horse & Bell Canyons, I learned how much of an advantage these are. My buddy Jeff had one, I didn’t. Every time I wanted water, I had to stop, open up my day pack, drag out my water bottle drink, and then repack to continue. Jeff on the other hand was sipping throughout the hike.

Every “expert” in the world will tell you that it’s better to drink small amounts of water continuously vs. drinking larger amounts when you’re thirsty. They all agree that once you’re thirsty, you’re already on your way to dehydration.

Just a reminder, if you have to refill any of these, make sure to use a filtration, or chemical system that will remove or eliminate pathogens that may be in the water. Check out the article on Water Purification Systems.

Last modified on: March 15th 2012.
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