Trust The Trail Podcast
Blog, Outdoor Skills

When Should You Cache Water?

Often when we hit the trail for a overnight or multi day trip we plan how and where we will get water. Usually next to a creek or river maybe even a lake. For the majority of trips across the Country there is a water source of some kind. However, there are times when there is no water to be found and most likely, you pack will be a bit heavier to make up for the difference. There are even times when carrying enough water still won’t sufice, and you will have to make a plan to either have water delivered to you, or cache it. There in lies the challange.

Caching water does not usually mean hiking the exact same route carrying all the water you will need. It usually involves multiple shorter trips, carrying only what you will need when you reach that particular location. For example: On a 50 mile hike you may have a cache advance deposit of water in 3 different locations. Depending on mileage and how difficult the terrain is, it might be more or less.

But why would we need to cache water? Hiking in heat most backpackers require at least a gallon of water per day, per person. Less we forget, a gallon of water weighs 8 pounds. So on a 4 day trip for example you would most likely carry 4 gallons of water. Yes, 4 x 8 = 32 pounds of water. This is of course in addition to the rest of you gear. Hiking in heat, dry and rough terrain. No thank you.

So for a week long trip in the desert would therefore require 7 days x 8 pounds = 58 pounds of water per person. A standard rule of thumb for pack weight is 25% to 30% of your body weight. So if your body weighs 150 pounds, your pack (with water, food, tent, stoves, fuel, sleeping bag, etc) should weigh between 37 pounds and 45 pounds. Unless you are carrying a lot of helium, I am not sure how you squeeze 58 pounds of water into that total weight range.

So again, you will have to make a plan to cache water.

How do I know how much water to cache?

Here is a simple rule to follow when carring water in your pack. Most of us understand 2 liters of water, 3 liters of water. But look at it this way. 3 liters of water equals 100 ounces. A bottle of water equals 16 ounces of water. Therefore 100 divided into 16 is 6.24. Which means you can drink only 6 full bottles of water until you have reached 3 liters of water. So when you plan on caching water think 16 ounce bottles and what you will need to replenish your supply or water needs.

Most will ask: But what happens if I cache water, and someone finds it. As a practical matter most backpackers will respect your water cache. In 20 years of backpacking I have never had one taken. But planning is the key here. You have to remember where you put it.

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Here are some tips on how to cache water.

Hide caches so they are not visible from roads and mark with name and ETA date. If you don’t put a date on it, how will anyone know when or why it’s there? It is essential to HIDE your caches.
Mark cache location with a GPS waypoint to ensure you can find them. Or take a photo of your hiding place with your smart phone. All photo’s are usually GEO Tagged on your Smart Phone.
Avoid using flagging which can draw attention to your cache. If you deem flagging essential to recovering your cache (hiking without GPS device) please be sparing and pack out all traces to comply with Leave No Trace principals.

If you are hiking the PCT or have to bury your cache, place water/supplies in a 5 gallon bucket to prevent animal’s from getting into it. Animals get thirsty also. Cover completely with dirt/rocks and GPS waypoint the location. If supplies have an odor, odor proof barrier bags ( should be used inside the 5 gallon bucket.

Rules for Caching Water?

Yes. Each land manager has their own cache and carry rules, but they usually involve:

What, if anything, can be cached (water, food, gear) how it must be marked (name, date, phone number) how long it can be cached (how far in advance, total time) pack it in, pack it out
As you recover and use your cached water jugs, you will have to carry out the empties. You can simply cut them up and hide them in your stash of trash. Another option to consider, however, is to display them proudly on your pack, making your water caching cleverness clear for all to see… or at least to the two or three others backpackers you might stumble across in this wonderful waterless wasteland. Always Plan & Prepare.

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In 2003 I completed a Thru-Hike on the Appalachian Trail. Since then I have over 12,000 miles underfoot and 20 years of backpacking, and camping experience. Certifications include WFA, WFR, LNT Trainer, and belong to AORE. Have been guiding backpacking trips for over 10 years. The outdoors has taught me one thing. Trusting the Trail! really does provide everything a person needs.

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