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Standard Backpacking Water System and Camp Shower: "The Alex" | High Sierra Backpacker

Standard Backpacking Water System and Camp Shower: "The Alex"

Alex Wierbinski's picture

By Alex Wierbinski - Posted on 14 April 2013

Complete Camp and Trail Backpacking Water System

backpacking water system in break mode.

Above: Taking a break and lesiurely enjoying filtering water as needed while cooking up some food and coffee. No sitting by the creekside filtering water I'm just going to boil anyway.

Second Use: Fire Suppression

Backpacking Water System

Every backpacker and group of backpackers need a water system that works on the trail and in camp. The system I use  is the simplest, cheapest, most efficient, and expandable backpacking water system available. Now it even expands into a camp shower too, thanks to backpacker innovation. And, you put it together yourself with low or no cost materials. Except for the water filter. There is no such thing as a low cost water filter. 

My claims are based on this system's suitability for my uses and demands, which includes water on trail, efficient break and lunchtime water on the trail, and finally, water in camp for our evening and morning requirements as well as to get us back on the trail fully refreshed and watered up for our first segment of trail.

I save at least an hour a day by not needlessly filtering water. This also saves filter life, or time and batteries for you Steri-pen users.

Your demands may very well differ from mine, though I doubt it. What differs is how people like to do the things they have to do. You may have a different stlye for delivering your required water, but your system will be heavier, require more work, not be as flexible, and cost more. That it works for you is good enough for me.

The KEY advantage to my system is that we NEVER filter water that we are going to boil for food and hot beverages. And we always have water on hand for cooking or filtering.

The System

Basic elements

20 oz dasini water bottle, plastic.

Gallon water Jug, plastic.

Pur Hiker Water Filter.

Expandable elements

Modified "Shower" Cap for jug.

Cord hanging system for shower.

In Camp

After arriving at camp and securing the food, we will go to the lake or river and fill up the gallon jug. No, we don't sit by the creek and filter anything. We carry our full water jug back to camp, fill the pot to boil water for a fine blast of hot chocolate with a little coffee, then put the intake hose of the filter into the jug to do any necessary pumping from the comfort of camp.

My rule is to consume at least one 20 oz bottle of water after I get off the trail, so I may have to pump some water if my bottle is empty coming off the trail. My priorities are set by conditions. Pots of water for coffee and food are going to be boiling in quick succession.

Food and water setup for unresupplied TYT in '09.

After getting water for boiling and drinking, I leave the filter hose in the jug and place both in a convinent position. At this point I will likely have to go back to the water source and refill the jug again.

Filter and water jug ready for use.

Above: Filter and water jug positioned for easy use in camp. Grab the jug for cooking water, grab the filter for drinking water.


After locating a nice break spot, like the one pictured below, with its fine great granite seat-back, which you see I converted into a natural chair with the addition of my sleeping pad as a nice cushion, I remove pack, stash food, unstrap and unsecure the gallon jug, and go fill up at the lake or river that created this fine break opportunity.

Returning to my break chair, I unsecure the daily food sack from its easy access location strapped to the outside of my pack, set up the stove, and kick back. I pour unfiltered water from the jug into my cooking pot to get that started, then insert the intake tube of the filter into the jug, and put it aside for later use. 

My point is that I am cooking, filtering, and handling my business from a very comfortable position in a very short period of time. I'm eating and drinking hot beverages before you are done filtering. Hiking the High Sierra Trails is hard work. Your gear setup should facilitate resting and recovery, and not be a job in itself. 

I filter less than half of the water than the average backpacker who filters all their water they use for both cooking and drinking.

Backpacking lunch-break water system at East Carson River.

Above: Luxury lunch and water needs well-met on the PCT at the East Carson River junction. 


The first assumption of my system is that you can even get to your water bottle stashed on your backpack while hiking without taking off your pack.

I use an old camptrails pack that has a water bottle pocket accesible while hiking. This is of vital importance. The preponderance of internal framed packs without water bottle pockets has brough about the rise of "bladder" water systems. A bladder does not fit into my system for many reasons.

Many fine internal framed packs now have pockets on their lower sides where backpackers can reach water and snacks.

The second assumption is that my 20oz water bottle will cover between 7 and 11 miles of hard backpacking, the actual number depending on temperture, elevation, and steepness of climb.


I tie a piece of light cord  to the neck of the bottle with a loop tied in it's end. The end of the loop is securely clipped to my pack, in case of wrecks. I also attach my external food bags in the same way. The water bottle and food bags are prevented from bouncing around by two bungee cords. 

Backpack fully loaded for 11 day unresupplied Tahoe to Yosemite Trail hike.Above:  Backpack fully loaded for 11 day unresupplied Tahoe to Yosemite Trail hike. Two external food bags are lashed on exterior of pack, as well as my water jug and bed pad.

 Below: Food bags and water jug clipped in, ready to be slung over top of pack and strapped on.

Loading heavy backpack hiking Tahoe Yosemite Trail unresupplied.

Below: Clip in system to assure you arrive with what you departed with. This really helps to keep your gear when you fall down long and hard.

Clip on then lash heavy gear, and your water jug, to your external frame backpack.

Above: The white cord of the water jug is clipped in, as are two external food bags. The jug and food bag lines will be slung over the top of the pack, then strapped in by clipping two bungee cords together. Note the hook end of one of the bungee cords hooked around the pack frame.

I've tested this system many times, and it really holds together when things go bad during Summer and Winter conditions.



If I do not believe the 20 oz water bottle will suffice for the projected distance, I add water to the gallon bottle necessary for the distance. This one "extension" of the Alex system. You can fill that gallon jug up with the water necessary to push  your range, and your pack weight, way up.

Custom Camp Shower

Another fantistic extentsion was related to me by Sue and George. They sent me the video below of two significant modifications to my jug system to expand its utility into the pleasure and convinence of a warm shower on the trail. 

I had bragged that the jug system allows me to "take remote baths,"  by pouring water from my jug onto myself. Try doing that with a bladder or a bag. George and Sue noted the primitive nature of my approach, and added features to my jug system that really expand its utility. They christened their  backpacker camp shower device "The Alex." I'm honored and tickled at the same time!

Check out the video George sent me below.

George converted his jug into a shower with two steps. First, he obtained and modified a second cap, drilling it to both let water shower out of this series of holes and one hole fitted with a plastic tube to allow air in above the water, which allows proper water flow for a good shower. The second modification George crafted was a sling to convinently hang our warm shower off a tree branch.

Warming the water is done by filling the jug and letting it solar heat in the sun. Find a hot spot in a field of boulders, and let it heat up!

George says,

"I really didn't do any fancy calculations on the holes it just sort of worked good on the first try. I used a 1/8" vacuum tee from the auto parts store, drilled a hole in the cap, shoved it in and put a piece of hose on it long enough to reach the bottom. When it's upside down the sir goes in the 2 holes in the tee outside the cap & supplies air to the bottom of the inside of the jug & you get a very nice, 3 minute shower! The holes in the cap are about 1/64 & there are about 25."

Thanks to George and Sue for this innovative idea. (Only TW members can view profiles)

Fire Suppression

Video embed 2: 
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