How Much Water Do I Need For Bikepacking And Touring: And how to carry it


I always find that choosing how much water to take on my bikepacking or a bike touring trip is a difficult decision. Not only can it be hard to work out exactly how much to take, but it’s also a challenge to work out the best way to carry it all. I’ve taken the time to find out how much water other bikepackers take with them, as well as the ways they store their water to help make this part of planning a trip easier. 

In general, you should take 1 liter of water for every 2 hours of cycling that you plan to do on your bikepacking or bike touring trip. On top of this base amount, you should make sure to take an emergency water buffer, this should be a minimum of 500ml.

While on average bikepackers take 3 liters per day for a bikepacking trip, the actual amount you should take is very dependent on multiple different factors. Not only will this depend on the type of riding you will be doing, but how far you will be traveling between refill points. We’ll also take a look at the best way to pack this water for your trip. 

A step-by-step guide to estimating how much water to take

Step 1) Plan how many hours of cycling you will be doing each day

For every two hours of cycling, you should estimate 1 liter of water to take on your trip

Step 2) Make adjustments for the environment you are cycling in

Double your daily estimate if you are traveling in hot or humid temperatures, or if you are cycling at high altitudes.

Step 3) Add any extra water requirements as required

Extra water requirementEstimated water usage
Cooking0-2 liters per day
Hygiene500ml per day
Washing up500ml per day

Step 4) Add an emergency buffer

Add 500ml of water to your estimate as a buffer. This should increase if you are cycling in hot weather or if you will have minimal access to refill stations.

How much water should I bring on a bikepacking trip?

We spoke to a range of bikepackers about how much water they took on each section of their bikepacking trips, the results varied from 1.5 liters all the way up to 8 liters. There was a range of factors that impacted our bikepacker’s decisions, but the most important were the environment they were cycling in, how far they had to cycle between refill points, as well as the individual person (some people just need more water).

Personal factors that impact water requirements

  • Size – The larger you are the more water you will require
  • Sex – Men tend to sweat more than women and so require more water during their cycling trips
  • Fitness –While it might be surprising, the fitter you are the more you will sweat  

How to accurately work out your bodies water requirements

If you are planning a long trip and need to know accurately how much water you will need to take with you, you can use the sweat rate calculation to more accurately work out your water requirements. To do this you will need to set aside a day of heavy exercise and weigh yourself before and afterward.

  1. Weigh yourself before exercising – First thing in the morning and after you’ve gone to the bathroom
  2. Weigh yourself after exercise – Make sure you’ve been to the bathroom
  3. Compare the figures. 
  4. For every kilogram of body weight you lost, your body has lost around 1 litre of fluid. You can use this to estimate how much water your body requires per hour. 
  5. It’s useful to do this test over a few hours of exercise that will be comparible to a day of riding on your trip to get the most accurate result.

How much do people actually take?

While having all this information can be helpful, actually seeing how much water people take with them on a trip is invaluable in working out how much to take for your own trip. We asked a large bikepacking community how much they take on a 2-night bikepacking trip and used this to work out how much each of them takes per day.

A bar chart showing the most popular amount of water to take per day on a bikepacking trip

The impact of exercise intensity on water requirements

The more intense your day’s cycling is, the more water you will require. On more easy-going days won’t require as much water and you gith get away with 2-3 liters a day instead. It’s also important to make sure that you are pre-hydrating. Pre hydrating is an important step and involves drinking around 500ml of fluid a couple of hours before you start exercising. This not only reduces your immediate need for water on your trip but actually helps to improve how effective your body functions while exercising. 

The impact of environmental factors on water requirements

Certain factors such as elevation or temperature will impact how much water you need. We look into these more in the section below on how much water you need for bikepacking in a desert.

The impact on refill station frequency on water requirements

The frequency of water refill stations will be important to how much water you should carry. While you might estimate you need 3 liters of water per day on your trip, this number may increase or decrease depending on how frequent and how reliable the refill stops along the way are.

If you are traveling through a lot of towns you will need to carry less water for each section of your journey as these are the most reliable locations to fill up. Lunch stops are also the perfect time to fill up on water as there is almost always a tap to use. In dry areas, you might need to carry water for a couple of days in a row, in these situations it is important to carefully plan your water stops around your itinerary.

The impact of extra water requirements on how much water you should take

On top of the water you will need for drinking, you will also need water for any other camping needs. This could be for cooking, washing up, making coffee, or washing on longer trips.

The amounts of water needed will be very specific to how you plan to camp, whether the campsite has a water source or the type of food you plan on cooking.

To estimate this stage we would suggest the following rough estimates in the step-by-step guide or measure how much water you need for each of the tasks you will need to perform on your trip.

How much water do you need for a desert bikepacking trip?

In a desert environment, you will have to carry more water, both due to increased water requirements and the lack of refill stations. In hot weather conditions, it is worth increasing your estimated water requirements to 1 liter for every hour of cycling. This might mean you are carrying up to 8 liters per day.

Water sources in the desert can be much more infrequent, as a result, it is important to take advantage of these whenever possible. Even if it has not been long since your last refill station, top up all the water bottles that you need, and make sure to actually have a drink from them before you fill them up. Water sources will be much less frequent 

When cycling long distances in hot or desert environments, it is important to top up on electrolytes as much as it is to stay hydrated. As you sweat you lose electrolytes such as sodium and potassium and these will need replacing. Many cyclists use electrolyte replacement powders mixed into their water to help with this. 

There are many tricks you should use to help when staying hydrated when cycling in the desert, such as covering your mouth with a mask or scarf, which reduces the water loss through your mouth and helps to relieve excess feelings of thirst.

The best way to carry water on a bikepacking trip

Water weighs 1 kilogram per liter, which can add up quickly when you might be carrying up to 8 liters at a time, especially when bikepacking bikes can weigh up to 15kg. There are a variety of different ways to carry water on a bikepacking trip but there are a few ways that are more popular than others.

Obviously, on a normal cycling trip, you would use water bottles attached to cages inside the bike frame, however for many bikepackers, their large bike frame bag makes this option impossible.

Of the bikepackers we spoke to, a majority of bikepackers used multiple different options in combination to give them more versatility. They use this flexibility to adapt how much water they carry and to help balance the weight over their bike.

When carrying a large amount of water, people used a large water bladder (sometimes up to 3 liters) to carry the majority of their water, they either place this inside their frame bag or where this wasn’t possible, was carried in a camel bag on their back. If you thinking about carrying your water supply on your back take a look at our tips on how to bikepack with a rucksack.

As well as a large water bladder, many riders used small 1-liter bladders to supplement their carrying capacity. This allowed them to increase or reduce their water carrying capacity as required. These smaller 1-liter bladders are very versatile as they can be tucked into many different bags on your bike and help spread the weight out more evenly, this is especially important when the average bikepacker is only taking 30-40 liters of bikepacking bag space.

For people looking for increased water carrying capacity, many riders suggested fork cages that can allow you to carry two extra water bottles. Another great option is slide cages. These are great new accessories that can adjust the position of your water bottle inside your bike frame, helping to fit the bottle around smaller frame bags.

When buying gear to carry your water, it is important to check that the water bottles and storage options you choose are compatible with any water filter or water purifying system you plan to use.

How to plan and find water sources on your bikepacking trip

As we’ve established, one of the main factors in deciding how much water to take for a trip is how often you will find a refill point for water. But how do you actually find these on your trip?

First of all, established routes will have set water refill spots on the route plan. Just look online or at the official route site for details of different stops. You can also ask other bikepackers or locals before your travel about places they may suggest. Just make sure to include these stops on whichever tool you are using to navigate on your bikepacking trip.

Another key place that you can get water refills is at towns or campsites. These locations are great as they are very reliable spots to top up your water bottles.

While it might not be your first thought, one of our bikepackers said he often used graveyards for water refills! Especially when he arrives in a town late at night when other locations such as shops have closed. Graveyards almost always have a tap available that is used for watering the plants and so can be a great option (although we appreciate this might be a bit too spooky for everyone).

The final point in this section is to consider taking a method of purifying your own water. Personal options for water purification include water purification tablets or water filter systems. By taking these with you, you can greatly increase your possible refill locations, especially on trips in less urban environments.

Overall

Overall, the amount of water people take on a bikepacking or bike tour trip is very variable, but we would always suggest taking at least 2 liters per day with you for each trip. While some experienced bikepackers can get away with less water than this, these are often in very specific situations where the cyclist understands the reason they can get away with a lower amount of water.

Mark Holmes

30-year-old doctor with an interest in cycling, bikepacking, and statistics.

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