Originally published November 16, 2009
My grandfather, “Pépère,” is eighty-three years old. We call him “Pep” for short, and the nickname suits him…he’s in better shape than I am. A couple of years ago (and I do mean only a couple), while vacationing in Hawaii, he climbed Diamond Head on Oahu. Now, Pep is a smart guy, with lots of common sense and life experience. On that climb, however, he made a very common mistake for a novice (or overconfident, as the case may be) hiker: he didn’t bring enough water.
It all worked out okay for Pep, don’t worry. He made it to the top, where some nice folks commented that he was by far the most senior person they’ve seen climb the volcanic crater. But when he tells the story now, he puts a lot of emphasis on how hot he was and how he regretted not bringing more than a teeny little water bottle.
You see, kids, he didn’t follow Rule No. 5:
You’re Not Ghandi: Pack Food and Water
Not packing enough food and water is a common mistake, even for experienced hikers. It’s very easy to over- and underestimate your water needs. If you’re new to hiking, you don’t have any frame of reference as to how much water you’ll need. If you’re new to hiking in a particular climate, particularly one that is hotter/drier/more humid than you’re used to, you can’t use past experience to guide you. If you are an experienced hiker, you can sometimes get overconfident (which usually leads to not packing enough water instead of packing too much).
The same is true for food. As an experienced hiker, there are times that I just want to head out on the trail and not take the time to pack anything to eat. Having found myself hungry on the trail, however, shaky from exertion and wishing I had at least a Powerbar, I know better. Remember that while hiking you’re going to use up more energy than while sitting around — and maybe even more than your normal workout routine. You won’t usually find (thank heavens) a convenience store at the top of the mountain where you can replenish your supplies, so plan ahead.
Wait, wait. I know you have questions. Go ahead.
But, Her Side, I don’t want to have to carry too much! Water is heavy!
Sure, but being dehydrated is worse than carrying a little extra weight. And it will get lighter as you go (and drink it), or you can empty some out if it becomes clear you’ve overestimated your needs.
I’m only going to a hike for a couple of hours. Do I really need food?
Yes. You should have something, even if it’s just some fruit or a couple of granola bars. After all, look what could happen on a simple hike.
Will I ever be able to refill my water while on the trail?
Sometimes. On the Bright Angel Trail in the Grand Canyon, for example, there are water stations at intervals of the trail into the canyon (which is a darned good thing because it is HOT there). If you have a water purification system, you might be able to refill from nature (of course, that requires packing the water purification system, so…). You can usually find out whether there are opportunities to refill before you go. However, I wouldn’t skimp on the water anyway, just in case.
I was thinking if I didn’t drink too much water, I wouldn’t have to use the facilities — or lack thereof — while on the trail. I think peeing in the woods is icky.
Get over it. This isn’t a reason not to bring water or keep yourself hydrated. Stop being such a wimp.
Fine, I’ll pack extra water. But how do I know how much I need? And is there an easier way to carry it?
There’s no mathematical formula that I can give you to tell you how much water to bring. I can tell you that it’s always better to have too much than to not have enough. Don’t despair, however. You can, in fact, make it easier to carry. Get yourself a hydration backpack. Those things hold liters of water (usually plenty for a day hike, even in the heat), and aren’t difficult to carry because the backpack sits comfortable on your back.
Now, if only I had written this post before Pep climbed Diamond Head…
© Her Side of the Mountain, 2009.