Planning a camping trip involves careful consideration of various factors, and one crucial aspect is ensuring an adequate water supply. Water is essential for staying hydrated, cooking meals, and maintaining personal hygiene while camping.
In this guide, we will explore the question, “How much water to bring camping?” and provide you with useful insights, tips, and guidelines to ensure you have enough water for a comfortable and safe camping experience.
When heading into the great outdoors, it’s important to estimate your water needs accurately.
While the specific amount of water required may vary depending on factors such as climate, activity level, and personal preferences.
As a general rule of thumb, you should plan on bringing at least one gallon (3.8 liters) of water per person per day for drinking and cooking purposes.
It’s worth noting that this estimate assumes moderate temperatures and activities.
If you’re camping in hot weather or engaging in strenuous activities like hiking, you may need to increase your water supply accordingly.
It’s always better to have more water than you think you’ll need, as it’s essential to stay hydrated in outdoor environments.
Factors Affecting Water Needs
The type of camping you will be doing
There are a few ways the type of camping you do can affect your water needs:
- Backpacking – If you’re backpacking, you’ll need the most water per person since you have to carry all the water you’ll need in your pack. This limits the total amount you can bring, so you need to be efficient with your water usage. 1-2 gallons per person per day is common.
- Car camping – If you’re car camping, you have more flexibility since you can always go back to the car to get more water. However, 1-2 gallons per person per day is still a good baseline to aim for.
- Water activities – If you’re doing water activities like swimming, boating or fishing, you’ll use more water for cleaning up, drinking while out on the water, and replenishing what you lose through sweat. Plan for an extra 1-2 gallons per water activity, per person, per day.
Duration of the camping trip:
The duration of your camping trip can significantly impact how much water you need to bring. Here are some points to consider:
- Short overnight trips: For one or two night trips, 1-2 gallons per person per day is often sufficient. You likely won’t be doing as many water intensive activities.
- Multi-day trips: For trips lasting 3-7 days or more, you’ll need to calculating the total water needed based on the number of days. Even if your daily per person usage stays the same, you’ll need more total water.
Trip duration is one of the most important factors impacting how much water you should bring camping. The longer the trip, the more total water you’ll likely need even if your daily per person usage remains the same.
Potential Water Sources
The availability of potential water sources can significantly impact how much water you need to bring camping:
- Reliable water sources: If there are known, reliable water sources at or near your campsite – like a lake, river or stream – you may be able to bring less baseline water since you have an alternate source.
- Unknown water sources: If there are no known water sources near your campsite, you’ll need to plan to bring all the water you’ll need. You can’t rely on finding creeks, ponds, etc.
- Resupply: If you plan to resupply water during your trip, like at a general store or park headquarters, you can bring less initial water. But plan conservatively in case resupply isn’t possible.
- Winter conditions: In cold weather, streams and lakes may be frozen, so potential water sources may be unavailable. Plan to bring all needed water.
- Unfiltered groundwater: Groundwater or natural springs can potentially be a source, but will likely require additional filtration due to higher contaminant levels.
- Water filtration/purification: You’ll still want to bring some form of treatment, like tablets, a filter or UV system, to make the water safe to drink from sources in the wilderness.
In summary, potential water sources in or near your campsite can allow you to bring somewhat less water, as long as you have a way to treat the water. No known sources, winter conditions or unknown water quality mean you’ll need to plan to bring all your water with you.
A wide range of environmental factors like heat, humidity, altitude and campsite exposure all influence how much water you’ll need while camping. The more extreme the conditions, the more you’ll likely need to bring, sometimes significantly more.
- Hot weather : The hotter it is, the more water you’ll use. People sweat more in the heat and also tend to spend more time in the water to cool off. Plan for 50% more water or even double in very hot conditions.
- Humidity: High humidity can make the heat feel worse and cause you to sweat more, even if the temperature is not that high. Moderate humidity still requires more water.
- Altitude: The higher in altitude you go, the more dehydrated you can become due to lower oxygen levels. Plan for 10-20% more water at moderate altitudes and even more above 8,000 feet.
- Campsite exposure: Full sun exposure all day at your campsite vs shade part of the time can impact water usage due to more time spent cooling off and seeking refuge from the heat.
- Weather changes: Unpredictable weather shifts, especially swings from cold to hot temperatures, can cause you to use more water than expected. Plan for a buffer.
- Air quality: Poor air quality from wildfire smoke, dust storms or pollution can exacerbate dehydration. You’ll likely use more water to compensate.
Check out this comprehensive guide to How Cold is Too Cold for Camping
Camping water needs for drinking
How much water each person needs
1 to 2 gallons per day for adults and 0.5 to 1 gallon for children is a good guideline, though some factors can increase those amounts, especially for children.
- Six to eight 8-ounce glasses per day, according to “The Cardinal Rule,” is the minimum amount to drink for adults to maintain good levels of hydration.
Children generally need 0.3 to 0.5 gallon of water per day while camping, depending on their age .
- Younger children (under 8 years) tend to need closer to 0.31 gallons per day (4 to 5 cups) for hydration.
- Older children (8–16) typically need around 0.5 gallon (7-8 cups) of water per day while camping.
c) Factors that increase water needs:
- Weather: Hot weather significantly increases fluid needs, especially for children who have a harder time regulating their body temperature.
- Activities: More physically demanding activities mean more sweating and water loss for both adults and children.
- Illness: Anyone who is sick, especially with vomiting or diarrhea, will need extra fluids to rehydrate.
- Individual factors: Some people naturally sweat more than others or have a higher basal metabolic rate, increasing their water needs.
- Age: Young children have a higher surface area to body mass ratio, losing more fluid through evaporation.
Pets’ Water Needs:
Pets’ water needs while camping depend on several factors:
- Size: Larger pets like dogs need more water than smaller pets like cats. As a general guideline, dogs need at least 1/2 to 1 ounce of water per pound of body weight per day . Cats typically need around 4 to 6 ounces of water per day, regardless of size.
- Breed: Some breeds of dogs are predisposed to needing more water, like bulldogs and pugs, which have difficulty regulating their body temperature. Research your pet’s breed for specific needs.
- Age: Older pets generally need more water due to kidney function decline and medical issues. Puppies and kittens also have higher fluid requirements due to growth.
- Temperature: Hot weather significantly increases pets’ water needs, up to 1.5 times more. Pets lose fluid primarily through panting instead of sweating like humans.
- Activity level: More active pets that exert themselves need more water to replenish lost fluids. Plan accordingly based on your pet’s planned activities while camping.
- Health issues: Pets with medical conditions like kidney disease need more water. Consult your vet for specific requirements.
In general, double check that your pet is actively drinking the full amount of water you provide each day. Signs of dehydration in pets include:
- Dry mouth and nose
- Loss of appetite
- Dark urine color.
- Excessive panting
If in doubt, provide extra water and monitor your pet closely for any signs of dehydration. It’s always better to have excess water available for your furry companion while camping.
Water for cooking and dishwashing while camping
There are a few factors that determine how much water you’ll need for cooking and dishwashing while camping:
- Number of people: The more people you have camping, the more water you’ll need for cooking meals and washing dishes.
- Type of meals: Meals that require a lot of prep work and cooking, like stews and casseroles, will use more water compared to simple boil-in-bag meals.
- Cooking method: Methods like boiling or steaming use more water than frying or grilling. Plan accordingly based on your cooking plans.
- Washing dishes: Roughly 1-2 gallons of water are needed per person per day for basic dishwashing while camping. More if you have lots of pots and pans to scrub.
- Water sources: If your campsite has a spigot or other water source, you may be able to refill it when needed for cooking and dishes. But plan to bring some initial water.
- Reusability: You can often reuse some dishwashing water for subsequent loads to minimize water usage. Only change the water when it gets too dirty.
As a rough guideline, plan on:
- 1 gallon of water per day, per person, for basic cooking needs
- 1-2 gallons of water per day, per person, for dishwashing
- So for a family of four camping for two days, you’d plan to bring:
- 4 gallons for cooking over 2 days
- 8–16 gallons for dishwashing over 2 days
For a total of 12–20 gallons of water, depending on how intensive your planned meals and dishwashing will be. Excess water can usually be stored for future use.
Water for Personal Hygiene While Camping
The key to determining how much water you’ll need for personal hygiene while camping is estimating your hygiene needs based on planned activities and then factoring in a buffer to account for any unexpected needs.
- Showers: If showers are available at your campsite, you’ll need the most water for hygiene. Plan on 5–10 gallons per shower, depending on length.
- Baths: Taking baths while camping uses less water than showers, around 20–30 gallons total for a full bath.
- Hair washing: Washing longer or thicker hair uses more water, around 2–5 gallons for each wash.
- Hand washing: Roughly 1/4 to 1 gallon of water is needed for thorough hand washing. More if doing full-body washing.
- Toilet use: Modern camping toilets use very little water—less than 1 gallon per flush. Older toilets may use more.
- Brushing teeth: Only about 1 cup (8 ounces) of water is needed for basic tooth brushing.
- Laundry: Doing laundry while camping generally requires the most water, around 15-20 gallons for a full load in a portable washer or 2-3 gallons per item if hand washing.
As a general guideline, plan on:
- 1-2 gallons of water per day, per person, for basic hygiene needs (hand washing, teeth brushing, toilet use)
- 5–20 gallons of water total for each shower or bath, depending on length and hair washing
- 15-20+ gallons of water if doing laundry while camping
How much water should I bring while backpacking?
There are a few factors to consider when determining how much water to bring backpacking:
- Trip length: The longer your trip, the more total water you’ll need, even if your daily usage stays the same. Calculate based on trip duration.
- Weather conditions: Hot weather significantly increases water needs. You may need 50% more water or even double it in very hot or humid conditions.
- Altitude: The higher the altitude, the more dehydrated you can become and the more water you’ll likely use. Allow for 10–20% more water at moderate altitude.
- Activity level: more strenuous hiking and climbing use more water. Plan accordingly based on your planned route and mileage.
- Available water sources: If you have reliable water sources along your route, you may need to carry less water between sources. But still carry a backup supply.
As a baseline for planning purposes, aim for:
- Minimum of 2 liters (0.5 gallons) per person per day for basic needs
- 3–4 liters (1–1.5 gallons) per person, per day, for moderate conditions
- 4-6 liters (1.5-2 gallons) per person, per day, for hot or strenuous trips
Also, carry a way to filter or treat water from sources like lakes and streams. And pack at least 20–30% extra water as a safety margin.
Backup and emergency supply:
When camping, it’s important to bring extra water as a safety margin and an emergency supply in case:
- Primary water supplies fail: Your main water containers could leak or break, requiring you to dip into backup reserves.
- Unexpected needs arise: You may use more water than planned due to unexpected conditions or activities.
- Water sources become unavailable: Potential water sources at your campsite could dry up or become contaminated, leaving only what you packed in.
Visit this topic for more information on campsite safety tips
As a general guideline, aim to bring:
- 20–30% more water than you expect to use for your planned trip. This accounts for unforeseen circumstances while still being reasonably packable.
- At least 1-2 liters (0.25–0.5 gallons) of extra water per person is an absolute minimum emergency reserve. This can tide you over until help arrives, if needed.
- Multiple types of water containers: mix durable hard containers with flexible soft bottles in case one type fails.
- A means of filtering or purifying water: This allows you to treat potentially unsafe water sources as a last resort.
- The ability to ration water if necessary: Only drink the minimum required to survive if you run out of packed-in water.
In an emergency situation where you’ve run out of packed-in water:
- Prioritize drinking water above all other uses.
- Avoid strenuous activity that increases sweating and water loss.
- Seek help as soon as possible from park rangers or other authorities.
- Stay calm and confident; help will arrive soon. Panicking only accelerates dehydration.
Carrying extra water as a safety margin and being equipped to handle potential water emergencies can significantly increase the margin of safety for your camping trip.
Dehydration signs while camping
Here are some of the effects and symptoms of dehydration while camping, with links to trustworthy sources:
- Fatigue or weakness: This is one of the earliest and most common symptoms of dehydration, as your body runs out of energy. Even mild dehydration of 1–2% of body weight can cause fatigue.
- Headache: Dehydration can cause headaches due to decreased blood flow to the brain and lower intracranial pressure. Even mild dehydration can trigger headaches.
- Dizziness or lightheadedness: When you become dehydrated, your blood pressure and blood volume decrease, causing dizziness and lightheadedness. This is common with 3% or more fluid loss.
- Confusion or irritability: Severe dehydration (over 10% fluid loss) can affect your mental state and mood, especially in young children. Symptoms include disorientation, confusion, and irritability.
- Dark urine or low urine output: As dehydration worsens, you produce more concentrated, dark yellow urine. Reduced urine output is a later sign of severe dehydration.
Source: Mayo Clinic
These effects range from mild to severe, depending on the level of dehydration. However, even mild dehydration while camping can reduce performance and lead to further issues if left untreated. Proper hydration is key!
Tips for conserving water while camping
- Reuse dishwater and bathwater: Reuse the same “greywater” for multiple tasks to maximize its usage. Use dishwater for hand washing and bathwater for cleaning.
- Take Navy showers: Wet down, turn off water, lather up, then rinse briefly. Limit shower time to 2-3 minutes total.
- Use wet wipes for hygiene: Use baby wipes instead of showering for quick cleanups between proper bathing. Save showering for every 2-3 days.
- Bring a kit of washcloths: Use washcloths to bathe individual body parts instead of taking multiple full showers. Rinse cloths in one pot of water.
- Break camp during rainy periods: Rain collects water you can then drink or use for washing. Timing your breaks well can cut down on water needs.
- Cook with a stove: Boiling large quantities of water for dinner uses less water per meal than other cooking methods.
- Only drink when truly thirsty: Experienced campers train themselves to drink deliberately, only when their body truly needs it.
- Pack a platypus: A collapsible water bladder reduces airspace and waste compared to traditional rigid bottles.
- Don’t overpurify water: Some silty water may be drinkable with just filtering instead of iodine treatment or boiling.
- Keep hydrated to avoid thirst: Enter your trip fully hydrated to avoid feeling thirsty and compelled to overdrink the first day.
- Bring a backup filter: In case your primary filter fails, have another one packed as security against dangerous dehydration.
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We hope this guide has shed light on the crucial aspect of water management during camping trips.
By being well-prepared and bringing an adequate supply of water, you can stay hydrated, prevent dehydration-related issues, and fully enjoy your time in nature.
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