How To Carry Extra Water On Your Bicycle

A few days ago I received two closely-related emails from two separate readers.

The first email was from John and it read:

My sleeping bag is huge and would entirely fill one of the rear panniers. What type of sleeping bag do you use? Also, do you stuff your sleeping bag in a waterproof sack? Thanks.


The second email was from Jessica and it read:

Hi Darren,

How are you? You’ve inspired me to take up bicycle touring this summer! I’m planning do my first tour across Ontario, Canada. What concerns me about taking such a trip is that I can only carry so much water on my bike in the beginning of the trip. What happens when my water supply runs out and I’m in the middle of nowhere? How do you manage when you go touring? Keep up the great work!


At first glance, these two questions do not appear to be related… but they are… and here’s why:

John is commenting on an article/video I produced over a year ago in which I recommend placing your sleeping bag inside one of your panniers in order to protect it from the elements and ensure that it does not slide off the back of your bike while you are riding. He’s obviously tried this and found that placing the sleeping bag inside his pannier takes up almost the entire bag. In his question, he’s wondering if I am using a different sleeping bag than he is (possibly a smaller one?)… and also wants to know what kind of cover I am using to protect and compress my sleeping bag in the first place.

As I mention in the video above, I am currently using a North Face 4-season sleeping bag. It really doesn’t matter what kind of sleeping bag it is however. It is a large bag, and just like John’s sleeping bag, when I place it inside one of my rear panniers it does indeed take up almost all of the space inside that particular bag. As for the compression sack I am using, it is the same one that came with the sleeping bag. It is water resistant, but definitely not water-proof.

Again, none of this really maters. What is important to note here is that I choose to place the sleeping bag inside my rear pannier for 3 main reasons:

1. Placing the bag inside one of my rear panniers provides an extra level of weather protection for the sleeping bag. I could obviously purchase a water-proof stuff sack for the sleeping bag and that would enable me to store the sleeping bag on the rear rack of the bike and not have to worry about it getting wet… but that’s really not the MAIN reason I store my sleeping bag inside one of my panniers.

2. The main reason I store my sleeping bag inside one of my panniers is because I believe that if you have your tent, sleeping bag, sleeping mat and other potential items strapped to the rear rack of your bicycle… and you have your panniers filled to capacity, you are simply carrying too much stuff! Storing your sleeping bag inside one of your panniers forces you to pack less.

3. Finally, (and this is the most important part of this article) the reason I pack my sleeping bag inside one of my panniers and do my best to keep my rear rack free is because packing in this way gives me the option of taking my sleeping bag out of the pannier and storing it on the rear rack if I so choose, so that I can take on additional items, such as food, water, souvenirs and/or cold-weather gear. Removing the sleeping bag from my rear pannier and strapping it to my rear rack frees up a huge amount of room inside my panniers, which I can then temporarily fill with other items – such a water!

This, of course, is where Jessica’s question about water comes into play. She wants to know how to carry extra water when going into remote locations where there may not be any known sources of water for several hundred miles/kilometers.

This is how you do it Jessica! You simply free up some space inside your panniers and then purchase inexpensive liquid containers (like the one I display in the video above) to carry as much water as you need for your trip. You then use those cheap containers to store your water through those long stretches of road. Once you are back in a civilized part of the world where water is more readily available, you can simply dump the extra water containers and return your sleeping bag to it’s rightful place inside your panniers.

I’ve used this technique to carry as much as 10 liters of water on my bicycle… and it is a technique that might just save your life one day. But it doesn’t work unless you have some extra space on your bike to place all that extra water. If you are stuffed to capacity from the very beginning of your trip, you won’t have the space needed to carry additional water containers… and you find yourself in a dangerous situation where dehydration and death is a real possibility. PACK SMART!

Like all of the articles on, this is just a suggestion on how to pack and plan out your travels. There are a number of other ways to carry extra water and gear on your bicycle, but this is the method I have found to work best for me. Try it out and let me know how it works! If you have another suggestion on how to carry large amounts of water on your bike, feel free to share it with me by leaving a comment down below.



6 thoughts on “How To Carry Extra Water On Your Bicycle

  1. Geoffrey says:

    How far would you generally travel with just two water bottles? What is the span between towns you would go without packing extra water?

    Obviously in general situations you’re going to be able to find water every 30 or less miles. For those situations two bottles is fine. But if you’re in an isolated area with no potable water between you and another say town or rest stop… how far would you go before you wanted to bring more than two bottles?

    Obviously heat is going to affect this, we’ll say in mild temperature conditions mid 70s?

    This isn’t really vital to any plans I have. I just am curious at how much water a more serious touring cyclist would go through. I myself am just getting into touring.

  2. Bicycle Touring Pro says:

    It’s really hard to say. It depends on so many different things. I will say, however, that I rarely pack much extra water. I’ll pick some up if I plan to camp/spend the night in an area where I know there won’t be water. And I’ll pick some up if I know I’m going into an area where there won’t be much water for a very long time. But most of the time I usually just have those 2 water bottles… and maybe another, smaller bottle of orange juice or something like that packed away inside my panniers.

    I would say that if you are planning to go 50 miles or more and know that there will be no opportunities for water inbetween, then you need to get some more water. But again, this depends on the weather, the terrain, the services along the way, whether you will be camping or not, etc.

  3. peter gordon says:

    we biked across Australia before Christmas – we had legs of 185, 185, and 200 km between water stops, and 2 weeks of over 45 degrees celcius – we carried 25 litres of water on 2 bikes

  4. Eric says:

    I carry an MSR water filter which is great if you’re traveling in the hills or mountains where streams are plentiful but may or may not be ok to drink from. Pump it through the filter and nothing to worry about. Sometimes this saves me from going out of my way through a town just to get water or allows me to camp in one spot for more than one night, take a break from the bike and hike the peaks!

  5. Brian Offord says:

    Hi Darren,
    I think buying water in a plastic bottles is a no go where do dump them when emty?I can carry 3 one ltr water bottles on the bike if I need more i also carry with me a ortlieb water bag they go from 2ltr to 10ltr and when empty they roll up to be stored in my pannier pluse with the shower head it has a double use and if its going to be a long day with no water top up points I also take with me a KATADYAN pocket water filter me to top up at any other sauce that I find.
    And as to carrying a tent or sleeping on the rear rack I allways pack mine in a
    ortliebs dry bag one for the tent and one for the bag.

  6. Kerry Aldrich says:

    filter and carry as little as you absolutely need, provided you are in an area of plentiful running water. In oregon and alaska, my most traveled states, this has worked very well for me. I use a katydan pocket filter with clorine tabs for use if human virus are suggested. Never a problem, even have pulled water from a mud puddle one time but that’s another story from a very dry alaskan summer.
    Carrying water weight up hills is a huge expense of energy. I carry over one hundred pounds on expedition trips on my trike with a trailer and the weight of water is one place I can cut back and use the weight for comfortable bedding.
    Well, this is my 2 cents worth.

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