Zero Waste Ways To Pack And Carry Water On The Hiking Trail

Written by: Paul Lewin

As we explore the great outdoors, it's important to remember the principle of leaving no trace and minimizing our environmental impact. One way to achieve this is by packing and carrying water using zero-waste methods.

We're all aware of the negative effects that disposable plastic bottles have on the environment, but they're also quite inconvenient compared to more eco-friendly alternatives!

In this article, I'll discuss some zero-waste approaches for packing and carrying water while hiking, helping you stay hydrated, and contributing to protecting our planet.

Using Natural Water Sources

Imagine hiking a picturesque trail with breathtaking scenery. Your water supply dwindles. 

Establishing a hydration plan, including bringing sufficient water and knowledge of water sources, is crucial. However, emergencies can leave even well-prepared hikers relying on natural sources.

But fortunately, natural water sources such as streams, rivers, lakes, and springs are nearby.

Natural water sources present risks, such as waterborne illnesses from bacteria, viruses, or parasites. Safe drinking water requires proper purification techniques or a reliable treatment system.

DIY filtration methods, chemical treatments, portable water purification, gravity-fed systems, and UV sterilization are all viable options for ensuring safe drinking water on the trail.

Water Filters

As mentioned, accessing natural water sources can be risky due to the potential presence of waterborne illnesses. 

According to the water filter review site,, having a reliable water filtration system with you is a good option.

  • DIY filtration methods like sand or charcoal filters can work well in a pinch but may not be as effective as other more advanced systems.
  • Portable water purification devices like straw filters or pump filters are convenient and easy to use but can be bulky to carry.
  • Gravity-fed systems like the popular Sawyer Squeeze filter allow for hands-free operation and don't require any pumping or batteries. They're also lightweight and compact, making them ideal for backpacking trips.
  • For those who want a high-tech solution, UV sterilization devices use ultraviolet light to neutralize harmful microorganisms in seconds.

Chemical Treatments & Purification Tablets.

Chemical treatments, such as iodine or chlorine tablets, provide another method for purifying natural water sources. 

To use them, simply follow the instructions on the packaging, which typically involve adding the appropriate number of tablets to the water and allowing it to sit for the recommended time. Outdoor Action at Princeton University has more detail if you want to know the full process.

This process effectively kills bacteria and viruses but may leave an unpleasant taste or odor. To address this issue, you can use neutralizing tablets or drink mix powders to mask the taste. 

Remember that chemical treatments may not be as effective against some parasites, like Cryptosporidium. Combining chemical treatments with a reliable water filter can offer a more comprehensive solution for safe hydration on the trail.

Reusable Water Containers

Reusable water containers are an excellent choice for hikers looking to reduce their waste, but other eco-friendly options are also available.

They come in a few different shapes and sizes: 

Hydration bladders

One alternative is to use a hydration bladder made from eco-friendly materials, such as recycled plastic. These bladders come in different sizes and offer insulation options to keep your water cool in hot weather. However, they can be bulky and heavy, so it's important to consider size and weight before purchasing one.

Another factor to consider is compatibility with backpacks. Hydration packs are designed to be worn alone or clipped onto a backpack. Make sure the pack you choose fits comfortably with your existing gear. Some packs even come with attachment points for trekking poles or other accessories.

Collapsible water bottles

Another option is a collapsible water bottle made from silicone or similar materials. These lightweight bottles can be rolled up when not in use, taking up minimal space in your pack. They are easy to clean and maintain but lack insulation options.

Collapsible water containers come in various sizes ranging from 0.5L to 10L. Consider the length of your hiking trip and how much water you need when choosing a size option that suits you best.

Steel or Aluminium Bottles

A third option is a stainless steel or aluminum bottle with an insulated sleeve. They come in various sizes and have different insulation options to keep your water at the desired temperature for longer. They are durable and easy to clean but can be heavy compared to other options.

Our Nomad Packable Backpack has two bottle holders, perfect for a standard-sized reusable metal bottle. 

Tips For Reducing Water Usage On The Trail

Here are nine tips for using less water on your trip. 

  1. Plan your route to include water sources and refill points.
  2. Bring a water filter or purifying tablets to treat water from natural sources.
  3. Use a water-saving cooking method such as one-pot cooking to reduce water usage.
  4. Reuse water for cleaning dishes or personal hygiene by using biodegradable soap.
  5. Bring water-dense foods such as fruits and vegetables to reduce the water needed for cooking and hydration.
  6. Wear lightweight, UV-resistant clothing to reduce sweating and the need for frequent water breaks.
  7. Use a hydration system that allows for deliberate access to small amounts of water instead of constantly sipping from a water bottle just because it's there.
  8. Avoid activities that require excessive sweating, such as hiking during the hottest part of the day.
  9. Choose camp locations close to water sources to reduce the need for carrying extra water.

If the weather is going to be hot, see our post, ‘Hot Weather Hiking Tips,’ for more practical advice.


Stay hydrated & leave no trace

Proper hydration is crucial when hiking or backpacking but carrying enough water can be challenging. To make life easier, have a plan and minimize your water usage so you don’t need to transport as much! 

And remember to always practice Leave No Trace principles by properly disposing of waste and avoiding activities that can harm natural water sources! 

Happy hiking! 

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