HYDRATION SYSTEMS… Everything you ever wanted to know



Being 2% dehydrated, makes you 50% less efficient. That statistic alone is enough to make drinking more important than just quenching thirst.

But let’s not get too over enthusiastic about what we drink from, a throw away old soda bottle will carry water and can be re used – we do not have to have an expensive system, but they do have some advantages.

There are so many different types and designs of items we can carry water in and drink from, that it will be impossible to cover every possibility in this training material, so we will look at what we need to stay alive and leave the rest to you to decide based on personal preference.

There is one undeniable fact about anyone on a walking trip – the amount of liquid you will drink is directly proportionate to how easy it is to access the liquid.

If your water container is tucked away in you backpack and out of easy reach whilst walking, the chances are you will drink less as it requires you to stop to get to the container. If you can drink whilst walking, you will tend to sip all day, and if totalled up you will find you have drunk more. This makes a hydration system better for you.

In Brief if you don’t have time…

  • You will need at least 1 to 2 litres of water carrying capacity but check with your leaders as to how much your particular trip needs you to carry.
  • Water containers should be shatterproof, watertight and clean.
  • Try to have your own system which allows easy access to water even whilst you are walking
  • Whatever system you use, it must be cleaned and disinfected after and before every trip
  • Make sure your system is easy to fill from shallow water.
  • Mould spots that have been scrubbed and disinfected are not a safety problem as these are stains in the container
  • Dehydration is the single biggest cause of loss of efficiency on a trek
  • The choice between a bottle and a tubed system is personal and no one system is always right

The Detail…


Any watertight clean bottle will suffice. Be careful of bottles that are easily crushed or can break into sharp pieces. You want a bottle than can take a bit of a beating.

Some walkers prefer a bottle on a long sling, so they can hang it across their shoulders and have easy access to it. Others find the strap an irritation and put the bottle in a side pocket of their pack that can be reached without taking the pack off.

Bottle types range from an old soda bottle which costs you nothing, to hi-tek bottles with built in filtering and water disinfecting systems which cost a lot of money but may be worth it depending on where you are going.

Size also depends on the easy availability of clean water on your trip. The less water available the more you must carry. In most cases a 2 litre or 2 x 1 litre bottles is fine. However, some trip requires much more. Check with your trip leaders.

Hydration Systems & Bladders

Hydration systems are water containers that have lengths of tubing attached that allow one to put the container in your backpack and run the top around to your mouth allowing you to drink on the go. These tubes come with a bewildering selection of attachments, most of which are not necessary. These include digital flow meters, built in filters, valve protectors and insulated covers for cold weather. Some sort of valve to close the end off is the only necessary part you must have. These valves range from simple ‘bite’ valves which open when bitten gently with your teeth, to push/pull and twist valves. Sometimes these latter valves also have a secondary bite valve.

The common thing about all these categories of hydration systems, is they have a bladder of sorts to hold the water. At the basic end of the market are bladders with a drinking tube and bite valve attached, and that is all. These work fine but need care when placing in the pack to not puncture the bladder.

Higher up the range you will find bladders with protective covers, and then bladders built into their own mini backpack. These latter versions are specifically designed for extreme sports persons that do not also need to carry other gear, and only have the mini hydration pack to carry. For the average hiker / trekker this is not suitable, and a simple bladder is best as it can go into your regular backpack.

At the end of the day, you want something that:

  • Carries sufficient water for your needs
  • Allows easy access to drink whilst on the move
  • Is easy to fill
  • Is easy to clean inside
  • Is resistant to damage

The rest is all up to personal choice.

Cleaning & Storage

No matter what type of system you use, they must be washed out, disinfected and stored dry at the end of each trip. With bladder systems, this is more of a job, as the inside of the bladder, the tubes and valves are generally not easy to clean. Special kits can be bought, but many handy trekkers will find a way to clean the system without extra expense.

If mould or discoloration happens to develop…

  • Use hot water and 2 tablespoons of baking soda or bleach. Mix the solution inside your bladder and hold it up above your head while you pinch the bite valve (with your fingers), allowing the bleached water to run through the tube.  You can also use special bladder cleaning tabs.
  • Let the bladder and cleaning solution sit for about 30 minutes.
  • Wash the bladder with hot water and mild soap. Be sure to completely rinse away any bleach or cleaning solution before using again. You can also use special brushes to scrub your bladder and tube.  Brushes are the best way to ensure you are scrubbing all the areas of the bladder clean.
  • Once the bladder is clean, be sure to air dry the bladder so no moisture is trapped inside, which can cause mould to grow.

The same process can be used for bottles.

If you have spots left from the mould, they will never come all the way out because the bladder is permanently stained, but still safe to use.

Store out of direct sunlight in a cool environment.

Ensuring your water is clean is a topic covered in the H&S section of this course.

Andrew Friedemann

Author: Andrew Friedemann

Andrew holds qualifications in South Africa, Australia and the UK as an Outdoor Recreation Instructor and qualified Mountain Guide and Instructor. Passionate about developing the Adventure Industry in South Africa to make it safer and provide opportunities to a younger generation of adventurers. Represented South Africa on the World Mountaineering Federations (UIAA) International Training Standards Commission for 10 years and has administered the South African Mountaineering Development & Training Trust. A qualified Wilderness EMT and Emergency Care Practitioner. Qualified as an Skills Development Practitioner, he has been intimately involved in the development of Adventure based qualifications particularly with regard the quality management of adventure qualifications. Founder of Adventure Qualifications Network, he was instrumental in the development of National Vocational qualifications for the adventure industry in South Africa, but also worked closely with Australia where he attained the Cert IV in Outdoor Recreation Instruction. Currently resident in the Scottish Highlands - UK, with his wife, Michelle, they travel to many areas of the world gaining information and skills. A keen adventurer, Andrew has participated in mountaineering, skydiving and scuba diving among other activities.

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