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Dry Camping Secrets

If water's in short supply where you're headed, know the secrets of dry camping.

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If water’s in short supply where you’re headed, know the secrets of dry camping.

The desert isn’t the only place where water is scarce. Some great hiking locales go dry due to drought or simply because of evaporation. Here’s how to hike safely where water is in limited supply.

For a single dry night

  • Take full advantage of each water source. Guzzle a quart or 2 at your last watering hole, then fill your bottles with enough water to stay hydrated until you reach the next day’s source.
  • Cook where you find water. Cook an early dinner at your last water source, or eat your hot food as a midday meal and save your cold lunch for the evening’s dry camp.
  • Plan your meals. If you want to cook at a dry camp, plan your meals appropriately. To minimize dishwashing, avoid messy sauces and tuna. Use bread or tortillas to wipe pots clean. Avoid soups and pastas, since they require a lot of cooking water. Instead, use rice, couscous, or quinoa, and carefully measure the amount of liquid you’ll need before leaving your last water hole.

For multiple dry days

  • Plan ahead. In moderate temperatures, drink at least 1 1/2 gallons of liquid a day; in hot weather, you need 2 to 3 gallons. Since a gallon weighs 8 pounds, you could carry up to 24 pounds of water for each day. Before setting out, check with rangers about water availability, and change your route if the water weight will crush you.
  • Sweat less and you’ll need less water, so hike during the cool of morning and evening. Rest in the shade, and walk under an umbrella. Slow your pace, especially when going uphill.
  • Place water caches if your planned route intersects roads or spur trails. Mark the sites on your map, and obscure the caches so they don’t tempt other hikers. Many national park and wilderness areas prohibit caches, so call ahead.
  • Use puncture-resistant bottles with secure lids, or sturdy, no-leak bladders. Pack bladders far from sharp objects.
  • Carry extra water in case of delay or emergency.
  • Leave water in your car at remote desert trailheads, in case the vehicle won’t start.
  • Leave bottles outside overnight so they cool. Your body absorbs cool water faster than warm water and your core temperature stays lower with cool water.
  • When in doubt, drink. If your chosen method of water purification fails, you’re better off drinking suspect water than avoiding it. You can deal with giardiasis later.

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