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  • Aria Zoner

How to Complete a 20-mile Waterless

It seems that every major long-distance trail has one, but how do you overcome them when they arrive? In this post, I share my 3 go-to methods for surpassing a 20-mile waterless section plus the 3 techniques I use to stay ultra-hydrated during them. WARNING: This is a face-paced post to the source of life.

Trailside art along a waterless section of The Hot Springs Trail

Not one to waste time during a waterless section, let’s get right down to business.


How to Complete a 20-mile Waterless


Method 1: Carry enough water to go 30 miles

In a situation where the next water source is unreliable or could be dry, I may be forced to carry enough water to go further than 20 miles. When this is the case, I’ll carry up to 4 liters and will ration my water to a little less than a liter for every 5 miles gained. For this, and every method, I start out already hydrated.

Method 2: Carry enough water to go 20 miles

If the next water source is reliable, I’ll only carry enough water to get me there. If I'm trying to surpass the section in one day, I’ll start at dawn and hike ~10 miles in the morning then shade over for the day - eating foods that don’t need additional water for cooking - then, I’ll hike the remaining ~10 miles to the next water source during the evening hours, rehydrate and go to bed. If my goal is to get it done quickly, I'll get up extra early and do the 20 miles by noon (20 by 12).

Method 3: Carry enough water to go 10 miles

This is undoubtedly my preferred method. What I’ll do here is leave the first water source well hydrated, fed, and pretty much ready for bed. I’ll hike ~10 miles in the cool of evening – only eating trail mix-type snacks – have a few sips before passing out, then wake up, have a few more sips, then do the other ~10 miles during the cool of morning. Since I'm starting off mega-hydrated, I don't need to drink any water for the first 5 miles. And since I'm not sweating much by avoiding the sun with my timing, I don't develop as much of a thirst or lose precious moisture to sweating during the mid-10. I'll also keep my pace mellow so that I'm not huffing and puffing. And finally, I can show up a bit dehydrated, so I usually don't drink very much the last 5 miles either. In this way, I've gone 20 miles on 2 liters many times.


Depending on the circumstances of each waterless section, how much water I carry for it changes. But one thing that doesn’t change, is how I stay hydrated during them. Which brings us to…

3 Techniques for Staying Hydrated

1. Add a pinch of sea salt to your morning water or shake mix. Too much salt in your diet and you can become bloated, not enough and you can die.

2. Eat foods that have liquid content. Fresh foods may be heavy but they keep you feeling supple, moist, and in the case of cucumber, aloe, or lemon – hydrated.

3. Avoid sweating as much as possible by utilizing shade, optimizing your pace, and timing your hike to decrease your exposure to the sun.


*Always carry more water than you think you’ll need, just in case you get held up or run into someone else who has.



1 gallon of water = 8 pounds

20 miles at 3 mph = ~7 hours

~4 hours of hiking in the AM

~4 hours of hiking in the PM

This still leaves from 11am to 5pm, or almost half of the day, to enjoy the places that the trail visits; and the best part, these off-hiking hours can be spread out over the course of the day giving you virtually limitless options for tackling the sub-stages of a waterless section.


What’s your method for completing a 20-mile waterless? Share below…



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