More than an overlander, I’m a gear-head. I love to outfit my 80 Series Land Cruiser with the latest equipment from suspension to lighting to tech-y stuff — all in order to make my time in the backcountry a little more comfortable. But the single most important thing you need to consider on an overland trip isn’t the newest shiny gadget. It’s water.
That said, knowing exactly how much water to bring on an overland journey isn’t always easy — especially if you’re new to overlanding. I’ve been overlanding for more than a decade. In that time, I’ve adopted a good system for exactly how much water to bring for my journeys as well as tools to make toting large quantities of water on the trail easier.
Water is life
Humans and animals can go without food for about three weeks, but would only last around three to four days without water. On average, and in perfect conditions, the typical person drinks about two liters of water per day, though that can change dramatically with the amount of exercise you get or the relative outdoor temperature.
The general rule for overland travel is one gallon of water per person per day. This includes water for drinking, cooking, cleaning, and personal hygiene. So, for a single person, a three-day trip into the backcountry requires a minimum of three gallons of water.
And, no, beer and whiskey don’t count toward your water requirement — as much as you’d like them to. Alcohol dehydrates, so you will actually require more water each day.
Where do you store all of this water?
First let’s talk about the weight of water. One U.S. liquid gallon of fresh water weighs roughly 8.34 pounds (lb) or 3.785 kilograms (kg) at room temperature. Given that measurement we can extrapolate that a full 20-liter/ five-gallon jerry can (that weighs 4.3 pounds empty) plus 44.3 pounds of water is around 48.9 pounds total. It is easy to see that carrying a lot of water with you can get pretty heavy although not carrying water with you is a recipe for disaster. So, you be the judge.
If you are storing water in your rig, remember that it is heavy, it is probably best to store these lower in/on your vehicle to keep weight near your vehicle’s center of gravity.
Storage can be as simple as a Scepter Jerry Can, Rotopax, or a larger water tank like Front Runner Outfitters Slanted Water Tank. We’ll take a look at these options below:
Scepter Jerry Can: Built to military specs and used widely around the world by military and NATO, these five gallon food-grade, low-density polyethylene (LDPE) and high-density polyethylene (HDPE) construction cans are BPA-free and will not add taste, odor or any chemicals to the water. The Scepter Jerry Can features a single carrying handle and a screw-top cap that locks securely in the closed position. The small spout makes it easy to fill water bottles and the breather hole with its own cap provides great airflow for easy pouring. I’ve used two of these mounted in a rack on my Land Cruiser for ten years and they haven’t let me down yet.
RotopaX Water Can: RotopaX are a popular choice for overland travel as they are durable, lightweight, and don’t leak. These two (2) gallon roto-molded water cans have thicker walls and stronger construction to make it leak-proof – along with a sure seal gasket to guarantee your spout won’t leak or vibrate loose. RotopaX mounting kits are sold separately, but this solution provides a lot of options for placement in or on your vehicle.
Front Runner Outfitters Slanted Water Tank: If you’re looking for a semi-permanent water tank, it is hard to pass up the Front Runner Outfitters Slanted Water Tank. This tank holds 50 liters or 13.2 gallons of water and includes two channels for mounting straps to make sure the tank stays where you want it. Made from BPA-free polyethylene, this tank includes plastic fittings that allow you to connect a hose for easy access. The slanted design fits perfectly behind back seats in most SUVs.
What if you don’t want to carry water with you?
If you’re already pushing gross vehicle weight, you might not want to carry a bunch of heavy water with you. In this case, you should have a way to treat water while you’re out on the trail.
Let me be clear that I don’t recommend this option unless you are absolutely certain that you have access to a water source nearby. When I’m traveling, I can never count on being near a water source at any given time so I can fill up, but your mileage may vary.
The options below are typically used in conjunction with the products I outlined above so you have a treatment AND a storage solution.
Katadyn Base Camp Pro 10L Water Filter: The Katadyn Base Camp Pro is a 10-Liter soft-sided water reservoir that is easy-to-fill and removes bacteria, sediment, and cysts through gravity action using a pleated glass-fiber filter. The Base Camp Pro features a quick-release valve with easy shutoff.
SteriPEN Adventurer Opti: The SteriPEN uses UV light to kill giardia, cryptosporidium, bacteria, and viruses in just a few seconds, so you can stay hydrated in the backcountry without having to worry about getting sick. At a weight of 3.6 ounces and 6 inches long, the Adventurer Opti won’t weigh you down or use up a ton of valuable space either. I wish I had one of these when I rode through India in 2007, but that’s a story for another time.
Lifesaver Jerrycan 20000u: The Jerrycan 20000u is a great hybrid treatment/ storage solution. Its carbon filter removes viruses, bacteria, cysts, parasites, chlorine, taste and odor out of 20,000 liters worth of water. The Jerrycan itself can hold 18.5 liters of water. The replaceable filter exceeds NSF P248 compliance standards, and the container is BPA- and BPS-free.
Whichever route you end up going, the most important thing to remember is that your solution needs to be easy-to-use. Knowing before you leave for your trip that you have clean water – or at least access to water that you can treat – is vitally important. Thinking about these things before you go is much better than winging it and not having enough water.
Author: Anthony Sicola
Anthony is the Director of Sales for Overland Expo and travels extensively with his wife Astrid and his dog Sir Digby in his 1994 Toyota Land Cruiser nicknamed Hank the Tank. Follow his adventures on Instagram @overlandnomads