Water Storage in the Desert


New member
I am planning one doing some extended backcountry camping in dry desert areas. This isn't going to be an overlanding through-trip, it will be an extended camp at a single location for up to 2 weeks. While we are planning to bring water filtration in case we are able to refill from a spring or stream or other water source, we want to plan on having a safe amount of water for 2 people for a 2 week period for drinking as well as washing. I am planning on 1 gallon per person per day for drinking, and an extra gallon each for washing. For 14 days that means 56 gallons of water. I am planning on bringing 60 gallons in the form of 12 stackable plastic 5-gallon containers.

Under normal circumstances, I would expect that water packed this way would have no problem staying fresh in these containers over a 2-4 week period of time. However, stored in a vehicle, in the desert heat, might be a different story. Everything I've read has said water stored in plastic containers should be good for a year.... if stored in a dark cool place. I'm also worried about the potential for heat to cause the plastic to leech chemicals. We *are* going into the desert for our health, after all. There are lots of articles online with doctors warning people not to drink from plastic water bottles that were left in a warm car.

I was wondering if anyone had strong opinions on the best way to manage this. I was thinking of bringing an awning to provide shade over the vehicle or trailer where these containers will be stored. However, at this time I have no way of knowing just how high those temperatures could get. I'd be interested in hearing more from experienced desert overlanders but I'm not sure which is the best subforum. Anyway, right now I'm most interested in figuring out water storage because you ain't gettin far in the desert if you ain't got water.
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Officious Intermeddler
Your focus on protecting your drinking water is makes sense and is laudable.

Your 2 gallons pp, per day sounds reasonable as a minimum but I’d guess you guys will wind up also wanting to drink about half of the washing water gallon daily, if it’s really, really hot where you are. But OTOH, finding a known , active spring somewhere this year, with all of the late winter rains and snows potentially feeding underground flows, may be more of an opportunity than in recent years.

You’ll want a filtration system, of course, for any spring water you use so maybe you can use that same filter on your stored water too? Otherwise, a BHP free water storage system might work best.

The biggest BHP free water bottles I’ve seen for sale are only 2 gallons. Does anybody even make a BHP 5 gallon water container? If so, that could take care of one of your concerns about the hot water.

One other idea, instead of just shading your water bottles, why not consider digging a storage pit and keeping them covered up and in the cooler dirt? You could even cover the top of the buried cans with some wet burlap to help keep the water cool. Of course, that means that you’d need to bring more water with you!
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Well-known member
Perhaps keep the sun off the water container(s), insulate the water container(s) from the heat with old comforters/blankets/sleeping-bags, and uncover them to cool off once the temperature drops enough in the evening/night?

You probably want more water per person for drinking, cooking, and washing. (As @AbleGuy has mentioned.)


nomadic man
We use 7 gallon water jugs from Reliance called Aquatainers. They are BHP free and hold up very well.
Being blue in color helps to keep the nasty things to a minimum. I store mine in a spot that keeps them out of the sun,
It can still get pretty warm inside the RV at times but I haven't had a problem.
We drink spring water and keep enough to last about 6 months between me and my buddy.
We also keep a silver dollar in each of the jugs, as silver helps as well.


Rendezvous Conspirator

For reference, here's a water dump where the PCT crosses Wendigo Pass/OBDR#3 in Oregon. These bottles sit out here for quite a while so that through-hikers can take what they need. In the desert, tossing a moving blanket over them might make mid-day use more palatable, but otherwise, I expect you'll be fine for the kind of time you're talking about.

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