When I started hiking one of my customers told me that he’d been drinking stream water for over 60 years out in the hills and ‘it never did him any harm’. Here, you’ll learn why hydration and water purification is so important in the mountains today.

Well, that’s as maybe, but I prefer to be sure that the water I’m drinking is clean. There’s not always a crystal clear stream running past you is there? Coming down off Skiddaw one winter I was so thirsty I drank from a pigs’ trough!

How did I live to tell the tale? More later.

First, let’s look at why we need water, hydration, and what happens if we don’t drink enough, dehydration.

Hydration – Dehydration

Water is a nutrient essential for life and health. The European Food Safety Autority recommend a man takes in 2.5 litres of water a day and a woman 2 litres, 20% or so of that will come from food. Your age, sex, body mass, etc play a big part in what you specifically need of course, not to mention your physical activities, like climbing mountains!

Plenty of water in the Lake District
Plenty of water in the Lake Districtwater-in-the-lake-district

Dehydration is simply this – your body is not getting the fluid it needs. In its mildest form it can effect your short-term memory, arithmetic efficiency, motor speed and attention. It can also effect your short-term memory 😉 I get bad headaches when I’ve not drank enough and get physically sluggish.

Dr Lawerence Armstrong took on the job of charting the colour of peoples urine which gives us a good indication of how much our body needs fluid. You don’t need a chart to tell you that if your pee is any darker than pale, your body is in need of water. Another more obvious sign that you need some water is that you feel thirsty.

Some signs that you need hydrating:

  • Dry, sticky mouth
  • Dark yellow or brown urine
  • Constipation
  • Few or no tears when crying
  • Headache
  • Increased thirst
  • Muscle tiredness
  • Sleepiness or tiredness

So, listen to your body and keep a tab on what you drink.

Water Purification

When you’re out in the mountains it’s really inefficient to keep carrying clean water up with you. Every litre of water weighs 1kg so doesn’t it make more sense to pick up water when you need it instead and purify it on the go. Walking the Ullswater Way in the Summer of 2017 I didn’t carry water for even a hundred metres, there are plenty of water sources so I just filtered and drank half a litre as I found it.

Water Filters

Sawyer MIni Water Filter
Collecting water with the Sawyer MIni Water Filter

A water filter will clean water for you. The Sawyer Squeeze water filter removes 99.9999999% of all bacteria, such as salmonella, cholera, leptospirosis, and E.coli, and removes 99.9999% of all protozoa, such as giardia and cryptosporidium. The ‘S Series’ now filters viruses but as it’s very rare you would find viruses in the mountians in the UK so I won’t say any more about them. Good for expeditions abroad.

Drinking From Streams

Why not just drink straight from the beck? Well, on day one of the Coast to Coast I got to Nannycatch Beck a mile or so before Ennerdale Bridge and drank a load of filtered water, I was very thirsty after crossing over Dent Hill. We found this dead sheep a couple of hundred metres upstream! There were the bones of another in a beck deeper into the Lakes a couple of days later.

Filtering water from a stream on Raven Crag
Filtering water from a stream on Raven Crag

There are a number of water filter bottles available, Water-To-Go, Bobble, Lifestraw. You can even get the Bobble in supermarkets now. I had a Water-To-Go when it first come out and refused to move on to the Sawyer for about a year, it did the job well (although made a horrible noise) but when I started camping and the Water-To-Go wouldn’t let me filter water into a pan I had to move on.

I’ve discussed water purification tablets and pens but I honestly don’t think they’re worth talking about much in the context of hiking for a couple of days. Tablets don’t taste nice and I just can’t get myself to trust a UV pen. If you disagree please let me know.

My Water Purification System

So my system now comprises of the Sawyer Squeeze filter, a 1L squeeze bag (sometimes 2) and a clean bottle. The whole system (3 items) only weighs 174g, rolls up small and fits in the side of the bag. The Squeeze is guaranteed to be able to filter more water than you would ever drink in your lifetime so as long as you clean it you only ever need to buy one.

Sawyer Squeeze Water Filter
Sawyer Squeeze Water Filter
Sawyer MIni Water Filter
Sawyer MIni Water Filter

Using The Sawyer Filter

The 1L bag goes in the stream to collect ‘unclean’ water (so the bag is ‘unclean’ in effect), the filter screws onto the bag and you squeeze the bag. The water coming out of the filter is clean. You either drink it straight from the filter, it goes in your bottle for later or in your pan for cooking.

Very simple.

Water Sources

It’s very handy to mark on your map or route potential water sources. The water is not always there remember, last summer I did a 30km walk and marked 11 sources on the map, only 4 of them were reliable.

Back of Blencathra route
Back of Blencathra route

The two tarns on the map and the frozen puddles I’d seen in the Winter were nowhere to be seen in the warmth of the Summer. Sometimes little pools on a map just don’t exist in the real world!

Netherbeck Round Route Extended
Netherbeck Round Route Extended

If you’re following one of my Wainwright Routes you’ll see that I tag the water sources in with a blue circle. On this Extended Netherbeck Round Route you may have a drink from Nether Beck at Overbeck Bridge but you’ll get nothing over Yewbarrow. You may have marked the tarn as you come down Stirrup Crag but it’s full of peat and although you can filter it, and I have, you will eventually clog the Sawyer, you’ll wish you had a Millbank bag. You’ll survive. There’s a trickle coming down by the path up to Red Pike but you’re not to know that looking at the map.

If you’re thirsty on Little Scoat Fell after a waterless excursion to Pillar you’ll need to drop to Scoat Tarn where you’ll have enough water for a lifetime but you’re still dropping 17 contours to do it. Do you chance the beck coming off Scoat Fell? Do you carry on to Haycock and realise you have 200 metres to descend? Planning is essential for a two day expedition.

If you want to discuss this subject or come out on a Wild Camping Expedition where you’ll find out exactly how to plan and execute a two day trip in the wild please get in touch or take a look at our wild camping page… Just sayin.

Wild camping on Scoat Fell Netherbeck Round
Wild camping on Scoat Fell Netherbeck Round

Thats pretty much it, if this has been helpful please comment and feel free to share.

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Now, Food…

What will you eat in the mountains? – 5 Benefits of Freeze Dried Food

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