How to keep your water from freezing during a winter hike


February 22, 2024


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Staying hydrated during a winter hike is just as important as it is during a sweltering summer one. However, it is far from being as easy! Picture this: you’ve reached the top of a steep hill, you grab your water bottle to take a refreshing swig of water, but nothing comes out as your entire bottle has turned into an ice cube. Sounds familiar? Keeping your water supply from freezing on a hike, particularly a long, multi-day one, requires careful planning, but it can be done. Whether you’re heading out for a few hours, or spending the night in a cabin or a tent in the middle of the wilderness, expert Éric La Violette from Passionnés de Rando shares his top tips for never finding yourself out of drinkable water in winter.

In this article, you will discover helpful hydration tips for your winter adventures:

  1. Why it’s important to stay hydrated in winter
  2. The right type of water bottle for winter hiking
  3. Short winter hikes: top tips to keep your water from freezing
  4. Backpacking expeditions: how to make your water supply last
  5. FAQ

Staying Hydrated in Winter

While you may not feel as thirsty during a winter outing, the simple act of breathing is causing you to lose fluids. Winter dehydration is a real thing, and it can escalate quickly, making you feel cold, lightheaded, and fatigued. Staying hydrated will help you regulate your temperature by allowing your blood to flow better and circulate around your body.

However, drinking glacial water has its drawbacks as it can also lower your body temperature and cause cramping. So, to drink or not to drink? The answer lies in keeping your water at the right temperature while you’re out playing in the snow!

Water Bottles for Winter Hiking: The Pros and Cons of Each Hydration System

Insulated water bottles

There are several hydration systems out there, not all of which are suitable for winter adventures. Here’s why.

Insulated water bottles

Insulated water bottles, such as those offered by brands Yeti or Thermos, are great for keeping your water from freezing on longer outings. In short, they keep cold stuff cold and warm stuff warm thanks to a double-walled vacuum that minimizes heat transfer. A feat of engineering for your drinking pleasure! Their only disadvantage: their heavy weight. The weight of a couple of stainless-steel water bottles is not negligible, and this could be a consideration for those hoping to pack light.

Plastic water bottles and insulating sleeves

While they are much lighter, plastic bottles will not keep your water from freezing for very long. But what about slipping them into an insulating sleeve? This can help. However, many models have an open-top design, which makes it easier to access your water, but doesn’t stop the heat from escaping. If venturing out on a particularly cold day, opt for a sleeve with a zip-up top so your entire bottle is covered.

In winter, use a wide-mouth bottle, so you can break the thin layer of ice formed on top with a knife should it become necessary.

Hydration packs

“If you want trouble on your hike, make sure you put all your water in a hydration pack,” says Éric. “These are fantastic for hiking when the temperature is above 0 ℃, but not below,” he adds. The issue isn’t the pouch full of water; it’s the tube. It is very difficult to completely empty it, and the remaining water inevitably freezes, stopping the flow of water. The mouthpiece in particular retains a lot of moisture, and no tricks have worked so far for our expert hiker.

Top tips to stop your water from freezing on short winter hikes

Hikes lasting only a few hours require less planning, but it is important to ensure you’re prepared for emergencies. Éric recommends always taking two water bottles with you. The first one should be an insulated bottle filled with hot water, stashed in your backpack and wrapped in a few layers of spare clothing (read our top tips on how to stay warm with the layering system). Look for brands Yeti or Hydro Flask for some good insulated options. By the time you need your water, its temperature should be just about right!

Your second bottle should be easily accessible as you walk. Fill a wide-mouth plastic bottle (such as a Nalgene model) with warm or room-temperature water and keep it fully covered in an insulated sleeve. As an extra precaution, store it upside down so that any ice forming is at the bottom. Also, keep your water as close to your body as possible.

Pro tip: if the taste of hot (or even room-temperature) water is something you hate, try adding some flavour to it.

Managing Your Water Supply During Backpacking Expeditions

Managing Your Water Supply During Backpacking Expeditions

Multi-day winter hikes, while extremely rewarding, pose a few logistics challenges. One of which is ensuring you can access your water supply at all times.

Melting snow

Those staying in cabins will likely have access to a wood burner and a metal bucket for exactly that purpose, and huge quantities of snow can be melted at once, making it easy to refill your water containers for the next day.

Camping in a tent? Get your calculators out! Melting snow will require a lot of fuel, as a large quantity of snow is needed to produce a small volume of water. Éric recommends testing this operation beforehand. Start by weighing your fuel canister, then melt snow until you have two litres of water. Weigh your canister again: this is the amount of fuel you will require each day to have a fresh water supply. Add a buffer for cooking, as well as for emergencies, and voilà! You’re ready to head out with enough fuel to stay hydrated.

Another one of Éric’s top tips: if possible, fill your water bottle with boiling water and slip it into your sleeping bag to warm it up. The result? A toasty sleeping bag that will stay warm for hours. Have a look at our blog for more tips on how to prepare for a long winter hike.


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