Water Containers for Kilimanjaro

While you are in camp, your porters and guide will take care of all of your liquid intake. They will have fresh water (fresh spring water right from the volcano!), tea and coffee. However, while you are trekking from camp to camp, you will need to carry and drink lots of water to stay well hydrated on your journey. You have some options on how to carry your water, but regardless of your preference, you should be prepared to carry a minimum of 3 Liters of water (more if you tend to drink a lot of water).

Your options are:

  1. Water Bladder (2 or more Liters) – Sometimes referred to as a “Camelbak” (which is a popular brand name). If you are accustomed to using this type of container, go for it!
  2. Nalgene 1L Water Bottle (32 oz.) – You need to have at least one of these hard-sided containers (regardless of the size of your water bladder). If you don’t want to use a bladder, you need to have 3 of these.

Water Bladder

A water bladder system is essentially a plastic bag with a hose connected to it. The hose has a valve/nozzle on it that blocks the water from coming out of it until the user wants to drink. To take a drink, the user usually bites slightly on the nozzle and sips a drink (as if from a long straw). The water bag (or “bladder”) goes into your backpack and the hose comes out the top of the pack. The hose is generally connected to your shoulder strap so it sits conveniently by your mouth and as readily available for you to drink anytime you wish.

Using a water bladder to carry your water has distinct advantages and disadvantages. On the positive side, this option is by far the easiest to drink from while you are hiking. With a little practice, you can easily take a drink anytime without ever stopping (don’t try that with a water bottle!). Not only is this convenient and less disruptive to the team, it also generally promotes hikers to drink more water, which is very critical on Kilimanjaro.

However, there are a couple of potential disadvantages. One disadvantage is that it is difficult to monitor how much you are drinking, since the container is inside your backpack. Consequently, sometimes hikers tend to actually drink less water because they are concerned they may run out before reaching camp. For this reason, we require that you carry a full liter of water in a Nalgene (even if your bladder holds a full 3 Liters of water). Consider it your insurance backup in case you drink all of the water in your bladder. The other way to combat this problem is to check and see how much water is left in your bladder during each sit-down break.

Another disadvantage, which is much more concerning, is water leaks. Water bladders tend to fail quite often and leak. This especially a problem if you over-stuff your pack (which often happens on summit day where you need to take every layer of clothing, more gear and lots of food). If your water bladder fails and leaks, you not only get all of the gear in your pack wet, but you also lose the majority of your water (and summit day is the WORST day for this to happen).

For this reason, if you have not used a water bladder setup in the past, we recommend you not take one to Kilimanjaro. If you do decide you want to use one, please ensure you have a big enough backpack that will fit all of your summit day gear and still easily fit your water bladder without putting too much pressure or force on it. And do many full-day hike test runs with all of it in your backpack.

Some tips on using a water bladder:

  1. Do not overfill the bladder. This often leads to the bladder lid failing and leaking. This ends up happening once you’ve put it in your bag and starting adding more gear into the bag.
  2. Blow into the hose after you take a sip. This prevents the water from sitting in the tube. On warmer days, the water in the tub gets warm (who wants a drink of warm water on a hot day?). By blowing the water back into the bladder it stays cooler (especially since the bladder is insulated by your backpack). On cold days (e.g. summit day), this is even more important, since the water in the tube can easily freeze and prevent you from taking a drink at all.
  3. Draw measure markings on the outside of your bladder. Use a permanent marker to clearly draw measurements on the outside of your bladder. We recommend making a mark in 16oz intervals (16, 32, 48, 64, etc.). This will help you better assess how much fluid is in the bladder when you take your breaks. Keep in mind that you’ll need to pull the bladder up out of the bag to assess the water amount (if it is compressed, it will look to be fuller than it is). Even if the bladder already has measurement markings on the outside, we highly recommend using a think black pen to highlight those markings (they are notoriously hard to see). If it doesn’t have markings already, you can put them on. While at home, just fill it up with 16 oz. of water and draw a line, then add 16 oz. more and draw another line. Keep doing that until its full. You will thank yourself while on your Kilimanjaro trek!

Nalgene Water Bottle (1L) (1 or 3 depending on whether you are using a bladder)

In nearly all of our gear recommendations, we don’t specify a specific brand. However, this is the one exception. We cannot speak highly enough of the hard-sided Nalgene water bottle. The container itself is rock solid. To this day, we have never seen one leak or puncture. We’ve seen these bottles take a 20 m (60 foot) vertical fall and come out with only a scratch. The lid is also bomb-proof. Even after years of use, we have never seen one of these bottles leak.

Be sure to select a bottle that is hard sided with a solid lid. Nalgene does make soft-sided bottles with “squirt able” tops (like cyclists use), but you do not want this type. If you are not sure, flick your finger on the side of the container. It should make a knocking sound! And the lid on your bottle should be a solid (with no easy-drink spigot).

The clear disadvantage to this type of bottle is that you must screw off the lid to take a drink. But this is quite easy to do. And the confidence of knowing that you run next to zero risk of losing your water and soaking your gear more than makes up for the inconvenience of having to unscrew the bottle.