A general guide to water storage containers, bladders, and packs for the off-road wanderer in all of us.
With all of the gear that is brought on a weekend camping trip, there is nothing more important to plan for, than water.
Water intake is the body’s most essential requirement. Without food, the body can survive weeks before survival becomes a threat.
But without water, it may only be days or hours depending on the conditions.
We will provide some basics on how much water to bring on your trip, and the products to bring it in.
General consumption rates:
Note: These rates are suggestions, and your usage will vary.
Water usage includes drinking water and minimal cleaning/bathing requirements under normal conditions. Hotter weather, higher altitudes and drier climates will require more water consumption
- 1.5 – 2 gallons per person, per day
- 0.5 – 1 gallon per dog, per day (40-50 lbs.)
The Extended Weekend
Long weekends require more preparation, especially with water usage. Those trips tend to be in more remote locations where water re-filling can be more difficult. Therefore, storing a larger quantity of water is a must. To meet my storage requirements, I use Frontrunner’s 45L water tank for these longer trips.
It has a wide mouth tank fill and two threaded outlets. This makes it easy to fill with a Brita pitcher, or my personal preference, an RV filter and food grade hose hooked up to my hose bib in the garden. It comes from Frontrunner with a metal strap kit for their roof racks, but it can be secured with regular straps very easily.
I use a brass ball valve and a copper spigot to control the flow from the tank and have kept it a simple gravity feed system. A pump on the outlet would allow for a pressurized faucet, but that’s a later project.
My only gripe with this tank is the lack of internal baffling and water level gauge. When stored inside the vehicle, you can hear the water sloshing around in the tank on uneven terrain. After a while, the sloshing becomes white noise, but baffling would be very welcome in a tank this size.
An added gauge would be a great addition for being able to quickly see water levels. Despite these shortcomings, this is one seriously durable and sizable water storage vessel for your longest trips.
Frontrunner hydration stats:
- 45L (11.9 gallons)
- BPA-free polyethylene
- Threaded brass outlets
- Multiple tie-down options
- Solo: 6-8 days
- With dog: 4-6 days
- With Wife: 3-4 days
- With Wife, with dog: 2-3 days
Alternative large storage:
- Rotopax (1, 1.75 and 2-gallon options), check here for current pricing
- stackable, packable, and versatile
- can be rack or bumper mounted
- roto-molded plastic
- waterspout stored within the cap
- Scepter Jerry Can (5-gallon), check here for current pricing
- BPA-free polyethylene
- lots of storage options for racks and bumpers
- one of the most trusted ways to transport water
- conversion kits for a pump faucet available
The Weekend Warrior
A quick overnight trip can be the perfect way to spend a weekend. Water is an important resource for these smaller getaways, however, bringing a larger tank isn’t always desired or needed. For these shorter trips, water bladders can be a great option as they are light, easy to store and portable.
I chose to purchase a Hydrapak 8L Expedition storage bladder for weekend expeditions in the mountains. At just over 2 gallons of storage, it can support a single person for 1-2 days of camping. It comes with their Plug-n-Play cap, which includes an on/off valve making use in camp very easy and spill-free. Internal baffling keeps the bladder in shape when full, and makes it easier to carry the bladder with its grab handle.
The bladder can be secured using the fabric webbing on both sides, or hung from a rack or tree for easy access when filling a container or showering. This bottle can also be paired with any 63mm filter system, such as an MSR Guardian filter, to act as a bladder for filtered water on the trail from lakes, rivers or streams.
These smaller storage solutions are a great addition to a vehicle as a primary or secondary form of storing potable water. On longer trips, they can be folded and stored away, and in the case of an emergency, they can be filled from a primary tank for a portable storage solution.
A 2-gallon bladder is much simpler to handle and carry than a full 12-gallon tank in an emergency scenario where the vehicle must be left behind.
Due to most bladder sizes, these are suitable for one person and more than one can be brought for multiple people if they are used as the sole source of water.
Hydrapak hydration stats:
- 8L (2.1 gallons)
- Thermoplastic polyurethane
- Fabric loops on the sides
- Internal baffling
- On/off spigot
- Handle for easy carrying
- Solo: 1-2 days
- With dog: 1 day
Alternative bladder storage:
- MSR Dromedary 10L, check here for current pricing
- tough outer material
- time-proven design
- multiple sizes to suit different needs (4L, 6L, 10L)
Water tanks and large bladders are great for storage, but not for direct consumption. You need an intermediary vessel to drink from.
I have always used Hydroflask water bottles with great success. They come in a variety of sizes and colors for personal preference and offer a vacuum regulated dual wall main chamber.
This means that your water stays colder longer, even in hot conditions.
They are impact-durable and stand up to below freezing temperatures without deforming or allowing the water inside to freeze.
Bang for buck, they are a great way to stay hydrated, and I never leave for a trip without one, or three.
Trail tip: Keep a similar sized Nalgene water bottle in a cooler or fridge after filling from the main storage tank to cool the water to a comfortable drinking temperature before filling your Hydroflask
Hydroflask hydration stats:
- 18 – 64oz. options
- Narrow and wide mouth
- Double wall, stainless steel
- Available straw lids or screw tops
- Depends on size of vessel
Alternative vessel storage:
- Nalgene bottles, check here for current pricing
- multiple mouth size and volume options
- BPA-free polyethylene
- simple, bulletproof, proven design
- cheap and easy to replace
- Yeti Rambler bottles, check here for current pricing
- vacuum sealed, dual wall stainless steel vessel
- various sizes, colors
- Hydrapak Stow, check the price
- Hydrapak Stash, check the price
- soft bladder is lightweight, packable
- collapsible for easy storage
- thermoplastic polyurethane design
- available in multiple sizes
Water on the go in an emergency
Storing water in the vehicle is pretty straightforward. But what happens when you need to leave the vehicle?
Water bottles such as the Hydroflask have a high weight to volume ratio for packable storage, so a water bladder is the best option for packing out water in an emergency.
As a form of habit, I always keep my Osprey Raptor 14L hydration pack full of water and a few other items in the vehicle when on an adventure.
This provides me 3L of emergency water in case I use the entirety of my primary storage, or I need to travel away from the vehicle.
This water backup and go-bag combo is a very good item to add to any adventure packing list. It might be the most important thing you have in your vehicle if you need it.
Don’t put yourself or those that are with you in a situation where water need becomes crucial. Calculate days out, consumption per day, and time between fill up opportunities.
Then you can design an appropriate water storage plan for your vehicle and your trip using what you have learned in this article to guide you.