When you’re up for your next bikepacking trip bringing enough water is vital. Water adds a lot of weight but it’s essential to survival because it might take time before you find a proper water source. But how do you store all that water efficiently?
Bringing a lot of water ads a lot of weight but you want to minimize the risk of running low on water when bikepacking. You also want to keep it safe from contamination and filter water from puddles.
There are a few smart tricks to carry water around without the weight bothering you too much. Bladders and bottles are your first choice which can be stored using frame bags, bottle holders and fork mounts.
Water Carrying Systems for Bikepacking
There are a couple of ways to store water when bikepacking but there’s a difference between going out a day and a night and a week and the area you’re going to ride. First, you need to check your route for water sources, if there are many you can consider leaving a couple of bottles empty and filling them once you get there.
So how much water should you bring when bikepacking? It depends on the weather conditions, how fast you’re going and how long your trip is going to take. Bring as much water as you can carry with you. Store it in a water bladder or attach it to your fork using bottles and cargo cages. You need to stay hydrated until you find your next water source.
If you overload your bike with water there isn’t much room left for essential items and the bike will weigh a ton. Bring along filters and/or tablets so you can refill your bladders and bottles. So let’s go through a couple of options you can consider depending on the circumstances and where you’re going to ride.
Water Bladders and Frame Bags
Storing water in your frame bag can be a good option. The weight keeps the bike balanced but you’ll need to be sure the bladder isn’t easily punctured. It’s a great way to be able to drink without having to reach out too much.
This is the most common way of storing water and there are tons of advantages of carrying water this way. I wrote a more detailed post about bladders covering all the pros and cons and a few neat tricks. You can check it out here.
Careful when placing the bladder, make sure it doesn’t rub any zippers or can be punctured by other objects. Store the bladder low and pack items in tight with it to keep it from sloshing. A great option if you’re looking for a frame bag is the Blackburn outpost frame bag,
You can also go for just a big Dromedary bag, they even have a hose option available but that will leave all your eggs in one basket. If it gets punctured you’re out of water and if you’re unlucky you could be far away from the next water supply.
Dromedary bags are very durable and you can decide for yourself how much water you want to store. This means you can adjust the volume according to what you are carrying, leaving space for other stuff. They come in different sizes and are very affordable. Fill it up to about 75% and store it in your frame bag.
Bottles in Fork Mounted Cages
You can store up to four bottles on your forks, two on each side. If you’re able to store 1.5-liter bottles you’re already looking at 6 liters. This can get a bit heavy and may feel a bit restrictive when riding. The added weight will take away a bit of the responsiveness.
Make sure they aren’t able to move on bumpy roads or descents, because without retention they can eject. You run the risk of injuring yourself and losing your water. Also, be sure to get quality holders, cheap stuff might snap, and you really don’t want that to happen in the middle of nowhere.
Bottles on the Seatstay
This doesn’t work for all setups but can be pulled off in some cases if you have rack bolts. You can place two bottles on the rear fork and place a couple of zip ties to hold them in position. If you plan on doing this make sure you test it thoroughly. Alternatively, you can try to get two cargo cages attached.
Look around for mounts that can take a beating, if you go down this road make sure they can’t come off and cause problems. Bikepacking fork racks
Not everyone is a fan of fork racks but sometimes you need them to carry around extra gear or store water. It has some impact on how your bike handles and usually bikepackers advice not to put too much weight on the front fork. A couple of bottles of water aren’t a problem as long as you also store some lightweight items in there.
One of the better fork racks (or cargo cage) is the Blackburn Outpost Cage or the Salsa Anything cage (which is a bit smaller).
Rear Mount Water Bottle Cages
You can store two water bottles directly under your saddle. Rear mount water bottle cages or aqua racks are great if you don’t want too much weight on your fork. It doesn’t work for every setup because you’ll need some seatposting to stick out. They go well together with seatbags and won’t get in the way.
There are different types of saddle mount bottle cages that fit your bike. One type fits underneath your saddle and others can be attached to your seat post. I’d say this is one of the more convenient methods of storing water you don’t need direct access to when bikepacking.
Handlebar Mounted Cage
Not everybody is a fan of storing large amounts of water on the handlebars because they don’t like the extra weight in front. Some don’t mind and don’t really notice a difference in handling where others only use a handlebar-mounted cage for quick access to water.
A good option is to attach an adjustable bottle holder. It can fit vacuum thermal bottles or smaller water bottles. One option is to attach a holder made by Bikase, which has a tight grip on bottles so no annoying rattling and no problems having water bottles slip and bounce while riding bumpy roads.
You can store bladders or bottles as long as you make sure that they don’t get damaged and leak.
Handlebar feedbags are great for storing quick-access water. You can easily swap bottles and some handlebar feedbags have insulation capabilities. This can either keep your drink cool or warm.
Camelbaks & Backpacks
In general, you should avoid backpacks because they will start to annoy you. They shift around and your back gets hot and sweaty. Though Camelbaks can work to keep you hydrated many find them uncomfortable while bikepacking.
Water Purification Systems for Bikepacking
This probably goes without saying but don’t drink water before you decontaminate. The last thing you want on your bikepacking trip is to suffer from cramps and or getting sick.
Water purification is a great way to save weight, but you’ll need to make sure you’ll run into a water source when you’re out there. Make sure you know how to use a purifying system, read the manual and test them. You don’t want to read a manual when you’re in need of water.
There are a couple of systems to clean water that are portable, durable, and suitable for bikepacking.
Of course, bringing a couple of water purifying tablets is really all there’s to it, not everybody is a fan of the taste they bring. From a survival perspective, this isn’t really an issue so it’s always a good idea to bring a couple of tablets along. Some tablets taste worse
Water Purifying Kits
As for water purifying systems, there are many options available but a few stand out. One highly recommended tool is the Sawyer hooks inline with hydration packs. They are pretty easy to set up, very cheap and the Mini kit comes with a flush pump which you can use to clean them when you come back from your trip.
Water Purification Droplets
Cheaper than tablets, you just need a few drops, 25 minutes and you’re good to go. Not so much an “I need water now” option but it’s cheap, lightweight, and most importantly it works.
Aquamira drops are perfect for mountain streams that are sediment free and run clear water. They are easy to carry with you, lightweight and don’t take up a lot of space.
UV Filtering System
While a UV filter can be an option, it only is effective against bacteria and viruses. It doesn’t clean contaminants like heavy metals, volatile organic compounds or chlorine and should only be used as a last resort. UV filters are heavy and unreliable because technology can fail.
Even sunlight can be used to clean water. Just put a transparent bottle in the sunlight for at least 6 hours and the UV-light will kill most of the microbes. You should still add a purification tablet just to be sure, but if you don’t have anything else, the sunlight can save your life.
UV filtering isn’t going to filter out mud or rust from a well so if you can, filter it again with a regular water filter.
Water Quality and Safety Tips
Now that we covered storage options and water purification it’s also important that water remains drinkable. Be mindful that you’ll also need electrolytes, potassium, salt and magnesium to keep you hydrated and your muscles fully functioning.
Your water should stay clear of any contamination hazards, not freeze solid or be too warm for that matter. So here are a couple of tips to keep your water drinkable
Be Mindful of Contamination
Be careful of contamination. A mounted water bottle on your downtube is more likely to be contaminated in areas with a lot of livestock. If you cross roads where livestock are herded your bottles could come into contact with excrements. You really don’t want that on your bottles.
On the other hand, it’s a great option to store water and keep your center of gravity low. Bottles stored using fork mounted cages also run more risk of contamination because they’re more exposed.
Dealing with Sediments
Take the area you’re going to ride into consideration. When you cross rivers that have a lot of sediment or glacial rivers you should consider a pump filter with a pre-filter attached to the hose. Another option for camp sites is a Sea to Summit foldable bucket. You can just fill it and let the sediment settle at night. This bucket comes in a small ouch and can carry up to 10 liters (300+ oz).
Always Keep a Spare Bottle
A bottle of water for emergencies is probably a good idea if you’re going to take a long trip of ride desolate areas. Always keep a spare bottle and reserve it for cooking at the end of the day, if things go south you’ll still have an extra bottle!
If you’re really unlucky you can get sick during your bikepacking trip. Vomiting and diarrhea will dehydrate you fast and you really need to consider that this could happen. What if you’re 20 miles away from the nearest water source feeling violently sick? Better to overpack a little and carry a bit of extra weight than being short of water.
Start drinking more water a week before your trip, just binging a lot of water right before you go won’t do anything, your kidneys will just flush it out. Also don’t avoid salt, you’re probably going to sweat (and stink) a lot so you’ll need salt!
Store a bottle with an electrolyte mix to your water or take a salt tablet during long rides. Don’t forget to try this out first to see what works for you.
Food also plays a part here, you’ll need enough magnesium and potassium to avoid muscle cramps. Tofu, broccoli, leafy greens, lentils, etc contain magnesium and bananas, beets, tomatoes, oranges etc contain a lot of potassium.
Tips to Prevent Your Water from Freezing
If you’re going it to really cold areas your water might freeze so take some precautions to prevent this from happening. Cold water will drop your body temperature and even cause cramps.
Sleep with Your Bottles or Bladders
I’m sorry, that came out wrong. When you’re at your campsite and want to call it a night you can put our water bottles in your tent or sleeping bag. If it gets really cold the latter will prevent your water bottles from freezing. Make sure you keep the lids and caps tight, a wet sleeping bag is a nightmare, especially in cold weather conditions.
Hold Your Bladders Under Your Clothing.
This is only in extreme condition but you can stow away your water blatter under your clothes while you’re riding. Your body temperature will prevent the water from freezing but it might feel a bit inconvenient at first. It’s about survival so inconvenience is probably the last thing to worry about. I would leave a layer of clothes between your skin and the bladder to make it slightly more comfortable.
Turn Water Bottles Upside Down.
For this, you’ll need a bottle that doesn’t leak. Turning them upside down will stop them from freezing at the top. This works fine when you’re riding as the water also moves inside your bottle. Even if the bottom freezes you can still drink water from the top.
Move Your Bladder to Prevent it from Freezing
Moving around your water bladder while riding will prevent it from freezing. Squish it and mush it to keep the water in its liquid state.
Get Insulated Bottles
If you’re going on a ride in cold conditions get insulated bottles instead of regular ones. Keep the water at room temperature or boil it to keep it warmer for an extended period before you head out.
Bury Your Water Bottles
Dig a hole at your campsite and put your bladder or bottles in there, the deeper you dig the warmer it gets but I guess you won’t be bringing a shovel on your bikepacking adventure rendering this tip useless.
Boil Before You Leave Camp
Before you hit the sack use your stove to boil water and put the bottles in socks. You can use these to pre-warm your bag and they won’t freeze. You can put one in the toe box and another one in the chest. This way you don’t have to melt snow or ice before breakfast and it keeps you warm and the water liquid.
Drinking Warm Water/Keeping Water Cool
Just like drinking water too cold can give you a nasty headache, drinking warm water can be very unpleasant. If you really hate drinking warm water you can try to get a pouch that has a few layers of insulation for the maximum longevity of cooler water.
These pouches usually go in front and some can be mounted on front of a handlebar bag. A cheaper solution is to just freeze your bottles before you go, so they stay cool for at least some time.
So What About Food?
I already mentioned a bit about what to eat to get properly hydrated before you go but it’s always a good idea to bring some fresh vegetables along if you can. You’ll thank yourself for adding something fresh to the mix instead of just the same boring food. Also, you’ll need those electrolytes and salts to keep you going, just water isn’t going to help.
I’ll go into the proper type of food some other time before I go off topic but bring food that has a good weight/calorie ratio. Nuts, protein bars, chocolate or fatty food for example. Bringing dry food also saves you weight because you don’t have to cook with water. A proper warm meal can make you feel like a million bucks though after a rough day.
The exact amount of water to carry when bikepacking is hard to calculate. There are just too many variables that come into play. It’s like asking how much toilet paper you need to bring for a certain amount of food. Obviously, you need to bring a lot more water in hotter areas than in colder environments.
Make sure you have a proper system to store your water and bring along water purifying systems to filter water. There are many options that might work for you, it’s a matter of what you prefer.
Check out the route and see where you can get water. Don’t be shy to ring a doorbell and ask for water if you have the opportunity.
Some people say can never drink enough water and others say we overestimate how much you really need. Even food partially consists of water. It really depends on how much you need and that is something you have to experience during your trip. You won’t learn this from a blog or message board but at least it gives you an idea of what to expect so you can prepare yourself.