Hydration on the trail
Issued: 19 Aug 2020

When hiking in Queensland National Parks you can really work up a sweat! Staying hydrated, with access to plenty of clean drinking water, is essential.

Photo credit: Greg Cartwright © Queensland Government


When hiking in Queensland National Parks you can really work up a sweat! Staying hydrated, with access to plenty of clean drinking water, is essential.

There’s nothing worse than making it to the top of a long, steep climb, dripping with sweat and gasping for water with a dry mouth, only to put your bottle to your lips and realise it’s empty.

Always carry more water than you think you’ll need. We all react to heat and humidity differently, but generally, the hotter and more humid it is, the thirstier we will be. As you do more walks you’ll learn how much water you usually need for a hike, and notice how weather, wind and heat and humidity affect your thirst.

As well as how much water you need to stay hydrated on a hike, there are several other factors to consider in your preparation. Here’s our hiking hydration guide.

Access to water

Water bottle sits in a side pocket on a day pack.
Water bottle on side of pack | Greg Cartwright © Queensland Government

Accessing a water bottle stored on the side or back of your pack while you walk is not easy. You may be tempted to delay drinking when you’re thirsty, either because you don’t want stop for a sip or you don’t want to hassle another hiker to grab your bottle for you.

Water bladders or hydration packs solve this issue. You wear the pack on your back with the easy-access drinking tube close at hand, hooked into your shoulder strap. This way you can sip water whenever the need arises, without having to stop or even slow down.

Water bladders are great … until they malfunction! If you spring a leak (or put the lid on incorrectly), you’ll lose valuable water, so it’s wise to have a backup. Carry 2 small bottles (600ml or more) as well as your bladder. Refill your bladder from the bottles as needed, or drink from them if the bladder malfunctions.

Wide-mouthed water bottles are easier to use than narrow-necked bottles, if refilling with water from a creek (any water you collect requires treatment before drinking). They are also easier to use if you are using a water filter to treat your drinking water. If you’re using water treatment tablets, pop the tablets into the bottle and leave it to work while you walk, refilling your water bladder later.

Whichever water container you choose, make sure you test it out and practise using it first before heading out for your hike.


Child in a hat sips from a water bottle.
Mix electrolytes in your water bottle | Greg Cartwright © Queensland Government

For hikes longer than 3 hours, consider bringing some electrolytes to replenish the salts you lose when sweating. You can put electrolytes into one of your bottles and sip throughout the day.

Test them out on a training walk first to see how you feel after drinking them. They are made to work in a specific dilution so don’t be tempted to double the amount of water specified for one tablet or sachet—always mix according to the instructions.

When to hydrate

Woman pours from a wide-mouthed water bottle.
Wide-mouthed water bottle | Greg Cartwright © Queensland Government

Before your hike, drink water, herbal tea or coconut water on your way to the trailhead. Don’t think that you can get out of bed (after not drinking for hours), grab a coffee and head off—you’ll be dehydrated before you start.

During your hike, drink when thirsty! Take small sips, often, to stay hydrated.

But don’t drink too much. New hikers often make the mistake of gulping down bottles of water, thinking they are doing the right thing. Over-hydration can cause discomfort in your gut, especially when climbing steep terrain, and you’ll have to stop to urinate frequently.

After your hike, drink again to replenish your fluids. Leave a bottle of water, coconut water or electrolytes in your car for when you finish your hike. If you store it in a small esky so it stays cool, even better!

Collecting and carrying water

Walkers carry water bladders on their backs.
Water bladders are easy to access | Greg Cartwright © Queensland Government

You might think that collecting water during your hike is a good idea and saves carrying water. However, water sources in parks and forests may not be reliable. Both droughts and heavy rains can affect the availability and quality of water sources along a trail. And any water you collect requires treatment to be safe for drinking.

Do your research about the park you plan to visit, and if you do intend to collect water along the way, make sure you have an adequate water treatment system, have practised using it and have charged any batteries before you set out.

For day hikes, it is best to carry all the water you’ll need so you don’t have to spend time treating water on the trail.

If you’re carrying a 2–3l water bladder and 2 water bottles, you’re adding 4kg extra weight to your pack. The good thing is—your load will get lighter as you go!

Share the weight between your group. Work out how much water the group will need for the hike you’re planning to do and check that each member of your group has sufficient water. If some members of your group are fitter and stronger than others, ask them to carry an extra water bottle or two as back up.

So that’s a wrap!

Hiking equipment including a water bladder, water bottle and spare clothes laid out on a rock.
Water hydration equipment | Greg Cartwright © Queensland Government

Adequate hydration is one of the most important aspects of your preparation for hiking. Remember, hydrated hikers are happy hikers!

Find out more about walking safely in Queensland National Parks.