Water in the Desert

Water in the Desert

By Bryn Wooten

When planning a backpacking trip, one of the most important factors to consider is water. Where will you get it? How much do you need? How many opportunities will you have to refill your water bottle each day?


Sometimes the answers to those questions take a while to find, sometimes they’re simple in a way that presents a new challenge. In the backcountry of Joshua Tree National Park, surface water is scarce if present at all. Even if you do happen upon some, park rules prevent you from using it as it is vital to the survival of wildlife.


So how do you plan for a multi-day backpacking trip with no access to water once you enter the park? There are two main methods to go about this. If the park allows it, you can stash water along your route at points that would be easy to access from the trail. This requires a day of driving around the edge of the park to tag and hide your caches. The other option is to simply carry in all the water you will need for the duration of the trip.


Earlier this month, I opted for the second method. This was my first backpacking trip without regular access to water, so I was excited for a new challenge. After meticulously planning our meals and measuring out how much water we would need to cook and drink, we decided to try and stay for two nights with half days at the beginning and end.

We set out at midday after filling every container we had with water. We had a total of 228 oz, and hopefully not a drop would be spilled! After removing the 100 oz we would need for our meals, that left us with 128 oz to drink.


Any outdoorsman could do the math and realize that 128 oz between two people is not enough for a trip in the desert. We planned for this though, and added electrolyte and rehydration packs to all of our drinking water in order to stay hydrated. We also knew we could rely on the fact that the winter sun wouldn’t bring much heat, and that our hike would be relatively flat and relaxed.


Overall, the trip went well and I learned a lot about what it’s like to have to carry in all your water (mostly how much lighter my pack was on the way out!). We took our last few sips of water right as we reached the trailhead and counted it as a successful trip with a healthy amount of type 2 fun!

About the Author

Name: Bryn Wooten

Year in School: Junior

Major: Neuroscience and Psychology

Hometown: Colorado Springs

Favorite Outdoor Activity: Climbing

Favorite Camp Food: Mac and cheese with taco seasoning

Ideal Outdoor Adventure Trip Destination: Climbing and backpacking in Southeast Asia

If you were stranded on a desert island, what/who would you bring with you: a boat