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I'm planning a hiking and photography trip to the Rockies in January as a follow up to a similar trip last year. The major difference in this case is the length of some hikes, with a handful of out-and-backs scraping 25km.

Under normal circumstances, in the summer, I'm able to do 25km with my photo gear (about 20lb), some snacks (usually 2-4lb), and a 2L Platypus/Camelbak bag of water in my backpack without any issues, but I have some concerns following last year's trip.

My major concern is that I won't be able to get to my water easily; though I put the water tube from the Platypus bag into a thermal sleeve, after about an hour the water there would freeze regardless of how often I'd take sips. This wasn't a major obstacle on shorter 10km hikes, but at 20-25k this isn't something I want to run the risk of having to deal with. I also know that winter conditions mean more effort, and that makes water even more crucial.

What are some good ways to retain access to water on longer hikes in cold weather? Does having a life straw in winter conditions make much sense if I'm not expecting much access to water besides snow? Alternatively, are there any good snacks which can fill that role without running the risk of freezing?

To give an idea of size constraints: my current planned backpack for this trip has about 10L of non-camera space plus a 2L pouch for water bags, plus a bunch of generously-sized pockets all around.

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    why not use a water bottle/canteen? it won't be nearly as susceptible to freezing, especially if you put in something that lowers freezing temperature (could be gatorade type stuff helps there). Oct 23 '20 at 17:37
  • @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica it's definitely on the table, but the 10L compartment of my backpack is completely uninsulated — it's just a single layer of nylon weave. Would you recommend any techniques for insulating that, or any specific well-insulated bottles?
    – Jules
    Oct 23 '20 at 19:32
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    I don't think a bottle will freeze very quickly in a backpack. The narrow tube is the likely weak link which is why I'd not even consider a camelback. In any case, you could rotate in smaller bottles onto your chest - in a side pocket or under the vest if they're flat and warm them up. Oct 23 '20 at 20:51
  • @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica According to What is the safest and most effective additive to keep drinking water from freezing? and How to calculate how much sugar to use as antifreeze in drinking water? you can't get enough into solution to help
    – Chris H
    Oct 30 '20 at 8:47
  • What's the expected temperature range?
    – njzk2
    Oct 30 '20 at 23:59
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Carry your water in wide-mouth bottles rather than using a camelbak. Pack the bottles close to your body, so that your body heat will help to keep them from freezing.

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    Also, pack bottles of water upside down, water freezes top down, so when upside down, you won't lose access to your water!
    – adeadhead
    Oct 24 '20 at 22:54
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    upside-down bottles leak a lot more than right-side up bottles. just sayin'. Oct 25 '20 at 5:43
  • This seems like the best option, as long as there's no risk of the wide-mouth bottles becoming brittle in the cold (I know the classic Nalgene bottles are made from some fairly rigid plastic out-of-the-box). I'm not too worried about leaks, but great advice on bottle orientation!
    – Jules
    Oct 26 '20 at 14:20
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    Never had a bottle become brittle so far
    – njzk2
    Oct 31 '20 at 0:04
  • This could perhaps even work with a hydration system. An advantage I can imagine would be lack of sharp edges against the skin. But most importantly, be sure your jacket has large internal pocket(s).
    – Vorac
    Nov 15 '20 at 9:19
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For the few day-hikes I did at around the freezing point of water, I still used a Camelbak-like thing (actually from Deuter). There was never a danger of freezing inside my backpack, but I kept it close to my back and more or less tightly wrapped in other gear.

But most importantly, after the first hike where I experienced the tube freezing, I made sure to blow back any water left in it after each sip. This always worked really well. Sometimes, depending on the mechanism, the internals of the mouth piece froze together a bit, but that could always be resolved by sucking a bit on it. Or, depending on my clothing, I kept it within my outer layer to keep it somewhat warm.

Also, if you stay overnight, make sure to put the Camelbak in your sleeping bag. Just like other things you don't want to freeze overnight.

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Water stored in your pack shouldn't freeze during the day. At night, keep your water inside your tent (along with any other gear that doesn't work well when cold, like batteries and stove fuel canisters). So the Platypus pouch in your pack is fine for carrying your water supply. The challenge is how to get that water to your mouth while you hike. Here are a few options.

  1. Carry the Platypus water pouch in a bag on your front. You can wear the bag outside your coat or inside it, depending on temperatures. Keep the tube in its insulation sleeve, but tuck it inside the bag when not in use. This way you can still get to it while hiking, without needing to stop.

    Hydration front packs don't seem to actually be available off the shelf, so you will need to improvise something. A cheap, off-brand hydration pack might be a good option (for example, this one is $25). The one shown below is just an example; you would want to find one with a pocket, or that unzips at the top so you can put the hose inside. You could cut off the straps, and modify it to clip to your backpack straps. If you sew, it wouldn't be terribly difficult to make something from scratch. The key is to find a system that you can easily open, pull out the hose to drink, then put the hose back and close the bag, all one-handed while walking.

    Pros:

    • Carrying some weight on your chest balances the load more evenly than carrying it all on your back. So it actually improves the ergonomics and reduces fatigue while backpacking.
    • Easy access to your water while hiking. You don't need to stop to drink.

    Cons:

    • The front pack will insulate you and reduce the ability for sweat to evaporate, so there's a risk that your clothing in front gets wet (which will lead to heat loss when you take off the front pack).
    • Not available as an off-the-shelf option; you have to make it yourself.
    • Might not be lightweight (depends on how much you can cut down the bag).

enter image description here

  1. Carry a 1L canteen, bota bag or water bottle on a shoulder strap / sling. Keep your 2L water pouch in your backpack, and use it to refill the canteen when you stop. You can get an insulated bottle like a Thermos, or put a bottle or canteen in an insulated pouch.

    Pros:

    • Inexpensive.
    • Available off-the-shelf.
    • Holds enough water for half a day, so you don't have to refill very often.

    Cons:

    • The bottle will flop around and bang into your tummy or leg as you walk.
    • You have to stop (or at least slow down) to drink from a bottle.
    • Many canteens are not very lightweight.

enter image description here enter image description here enter image description here

  1. Carry a small (~0.5L) bottle in an insulated pouch with a clip. Clip it to your waiststrap or shoulder strap. Carry the rest of your water in the Platypus inside your backpack and use it to refill the small bottle. Or carry several small bottles inside your pack, and swap them out. The bottles can by very lightweight, just buy the kind of bottled water that comes in really thin plastic bottles with minimal caps.

    The bottles that the Smart Water brand comes in are a good balance of sturdiness and weight, and you can reuse them. And the spouts are very easy to drink from. Don't carry a Smart Water bottle with a spout in your pack, though; eventually the fliptop gets bent and doesn't close securely.

    Pros:

    • Very inexpensive.
    • Available off-the-shelf.
    • Lightweight.
    • Not as floppy as a canteen on a strap.

    Cons:

    • Still somewhat floppy. The bottle will still bang into your chest and arm as you walk.
    • You have to stop (or at least slow down) to drink from a bottle.

enter image description here

  1. Carry a flask in a pocket. Refill it as needed from your water pouch. Cut down on the time it takes to refill the flask by carrying two flasks, one in your pocket and one in your pack. Swap the flasks on short breaks, refill them on long breaks.

    Pros:

    • Very inexpensive.
    • Available off-the-shelf.
    • Lightweight.
    • Not at all floppy.

    Cons:

    • Low water capacity. Frequent refills.
    • You have to stop (or at least slow down) to drink from a bottle.

enter image description here

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  • "Water stored in your pack shouldn't freeze during the day." Why not? "At night, keep your water inside your tent" What do you expect that to do? (I mean beside the obvious, having water accessible during the night)
    – njzk2
    Oct 30 '20 at 23:59
  • It's warmer inside the tent than outside the tent.
    – csk
    Oct 31 '20 at 1:40
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Many jackets for cold temperature have inside "drop pockets", large enough to carry a water bottle. (Also convenient to warm-up a gas canister before using it)

If you have the extra carrying capacity, a thermos bottle with hot tea is also really nice when it's cold.

If you're camping out, hot water in the bottle at night, keep it in the sleeping bag. It provides extra warmth, and the water won't be frozen in the morning.

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    +1 And one can periodically fill up the bottle with snow to get sustainable water resupply. Use freshly fallen snow(to avoid contamination), do it before water runs out - the resulting slush of snow+water melts much faster, don't depend on the produced quantity of water too much - in my experience it's up to 1 liter/day.
    – Vorac
    Nov 15 '20 at 9:24

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