Hoping to make a little series of these deep dives on specific areas of my kit and how I save weight and why I use the gear that I do. Today's topic is water, and we will first go over how much water, then what to carry it in, then how to purify it.
HOW MUCH WATER SHOULD I CARRY?
I don't intentionally go out of my way to piss off vets, but it inevitably happens anyways so let's rip this bandaid off now: infantrymen carry way too much water. This is a BAD habit that is often blindly carried into the civilian world by veterans. But if you're not an infantryman in the big green weenie and there's not someone screaming at you to carry X amount of water, you'll find you're much MORE operationally effective, not less, by carrying a fraction of the normal water amount.
Let me be clear: NOBODY in the modern hiking world does this. If you told them you're carrying ten liters of water, they'd think you're crazy.
I used to be a "carry 6 liters of water" guy and bawked at the idea of carrying only two liters when first I heard it. But some very persistent friends made me see the logic of it, so now I'm gonna try to pass that on.
The idea is this: you carry two 1qt / 1L canteens. Every chance you get, you refill them at a local water source (stream, pond, spigot, etc) and purify them. Drink one, refill it, and while it is purifying, drink the other. Keep cycling them out like that.
Now lets debunk the usual arguments against this:
"I must carry everything I need for the mission on me at all times"
Lets play the weight game. A full 1qt USGI canteen weighs aprox. 2.5lbs. Conservatively, a man drinks a gallon a day (though that can double in hot weather and during physical activity). So that's 10lbs worth of water per day. So for a 2 day op, you need 20lbs worth of water. For a 3 day op you need 30lbs worth of water. That's almost the weight of my entire three day combat load, just in fucking canteens of water. How much faster can I move with my two canteens weighing 5lbs versus your 20lbs or 30lbs of water? If I was chasing you, do you think you could outrun me? Who will lose combat effectiveness first? You can see that for any op more than a few hours, the weight cost of carrying all your own water becomes absolutely ridiculous, and a potentially lethal hindrance.
"I can't resupply water in the field because there are no water sources in my AO"
Now if you are operating in an honest to God desert, then fine. Carry more water. But I hear this claim from people living on the east coast. What the fuck do you mean there's no water? Water is the lifeblood of everything living. If a land has plants and animals, then there is water somewhere. Learn how to source water from your environment. That's a much more important skill than patrolling or gunfighting.
"Water sources are danger areas, I'll get ambushed if I try to resupply at one"
Again, if you are in an honest to God desert where water sources are very scarce, then fine. But similar to the previous point: Water is the lifeblood of everything, and in most places it is everywhere. You don't need much of it. A trickling spring, a small, stagnant pond, or even puddles will do in a pinch. Think about how many of these minor water sources exist within one square mile of your AO. Do you really think your enemy has the manpower to watch every one of them? To lay an ambush on every side of every pond, and every turn of every stream and river? I think if your AO is decently watered and you are not INCREDIBLY unlucky, then you can resupply water all you want without running into any bad guys.
"It will slow me down too much to keep stopping all the time to resupply water"
If you have to filter your water on-site through a pump or gravity filter, then yeah, perhaps you're right. But not if you use purification tabs. I can refill my canteens and drop a tab in them and be on the move again in less than thirty seconds. I think that 30 second pause is well worth the increased speed I can move at from not having to carry eight fucking liters of water on my back.
"Local water isn't safe, I will get sick"
This may be an issue in some places with extreme contamination from mining or other industries, but for most AOs it is fine, and the fear just stems from people's ignorance about water purification. More on this in the purification section.
"My mission dictates I have to stay in my position for a long time without leaving to resupply water"
Now this is a legitimate issue. If you're in some hide watching a trail, perhaps sometimes you can sneak away to get more water, but often times you can't. In that case, you're going to have to bring a bit extra into your hide with you. I've got some ideas on this that I'll touch on later.
TL;DR the maneuverability gain offered by reducing your carried water weight to a minimum is worth any of the supposed downsides.
WHAT SHOULD I CARRY MY WATER IN?
You may have already noticed but I never seem to use hydration bladders. Used to, then got canteen pilled. Hydration bladders puncture and leak much easier, they are much more high maintenance and likely to grow mold, they are a pain to get out of your gear and refill, they make it difficult to track and ration your water intake, and in cold weather the tubes freeze solid, rendering them nearly useless.
So that leaves the wide world of canteens and water bottles. I started on USGI 1qt canteens. Nobody can fault their durability. I have some dated from the 1960s that are still usable. But that durability comes with a cost. They weigh 6oz empty, which in the world of water bottles is ridiculous. They are also opaque, which makes it hard to judge how much water is in them and if they have gone moldy.
Next I tried the Nalgene Oasis. Basically a copy of the USGI 1qt but in a lighter weight, clear plastic. Lets me see inside which is nice, and weighs 4.6oz, which is better but still heavy.
Then I noticed that a lot of ultralight people were rumbling online about using disposable sports drink bottles, such as those from Gatorade or Powerade. Just the kind you buy in a gas station. I found some 1qt Gatorade bottles and never looked back. They are less durable, but despite people constantly warning me that mine are gonna break and get me killed in the streets, some of mine have been going for 3 years now without issue. Simply pour out the Gatorade, clean them, lightly sand them, then spray paint them a subdued color. Leave an unpainted strip so you can see how much water is inside. Cheaper, lighter, and more user friendly than almost any other canteen.
People occasionally ask me about Nalgene canteens, stainless steel water bottles, and other, special snowflake canteens like the SADF canteen and the Platatac canteens. I would lodge at them the same complaints as the USGI canteen: heavy and opaque, and in this case often expensive too.
Now previously I mentioned that you may need to carry extra water to your static hide for an extended stay. What I would recommend in this case is some large collapsible water bladder. This is because the weight savings of a collapsible bladder outweigh its downsides versus a bunch of canteens once you get into the larger (5qt+) sizes. Plus you can roll it up when not in use. Now there's a USGI 5qt bladder. I've never used it. Might be good, might be a piece of shit. My money is on it being a piece of shit. Instead you could try an MSR Dromedary bladder or a Sea to Summit bladder. I have several of both and they are both very lightweight but durable. The other field expedient solution I like to do is you take someone's roll top dry bag that they normally put their sleep system in, run down to your local stream, and fill it up with water. Those dry bags keep water IN as well as they keep water OUT. this gives you the capacity to carry extra water if needed, without changing what equipment you carry at all.
HOW SHOULD I PURIFY MY WATER?
One solution is to carry a lightweight filter. Notable examples are the Sawyer Squeeze Mini and the Katadyn BeFree. I have both and have used them plenty. a Swayer Mini weighs less than 2 oz. But I have also personally cracked and rendered useless two separate Sawyer filters from normal use. That seriously hinders my trust in them. All hollow fiber filters also have this issue: you can NEVER let them get below freezing temps. Do this once, and the filter is permanently damaged and unsafe. This rules them out for long term caching, and means that you have to carefully baby them in the winter. Oh, and did I mention they won't filter out viruses?
Instead my preferred solution is to now use Aquatabs. Water purification tablets have come a long way since the iodine tablets of the Vietnam era. If that's your mental image of purification tablets, forget all that. Modern tablets are simple to use, highly effective, and tasteless. Simply drop in a single aquatab per quart, wait 30 minutes, then your water is safe to drink.
No, Aquatabs doesn't pay me to talk them up. I just legitimately love them as a water solution. They take up basically zero space. Each tab weighs about 0.001oz, making them weigh as close to "nothing" as possible. For the weight of a Sawyer Mini, you could carry enough Aquatabs to provide all your water for six months. They work in the cold, they can't break, they can't freeze, they have a shelf life of at least five years, they are extremely cheap, AND they kill both bacteria and viruses. I keep a dozen or so rubber banded to the side of each of my canteens so they're always with me.
So there you go. Spray paint some Gatorade bottles from the gas station, buy some aquatabs off ebay, and you have what is, in my opinion, a highly effective solution for providing yourself with clean drinking water when in the field. As always if you have questions, feel free to DM me on Instagram or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.