Staying hydrated while hiking is crucial but drinking gallons of plain ol’water isn’t going to keep your taste buds entertained. One of the main reasons hikers don’t drink enough water is we just get bored with the lack of flavor.
Water enhancers are a great way to add some flavor and keep you reaching for that bottle. The problem is that while some taste great, others can be pretty horrible.
Some actually enhance more than just the flavor and can be pretty good for you.
Others are little more than colored sugar-water filled with chemicals. We’ve reviewed the best water enhancers for hiking and backpacking that are actually worth putting in your bottle.
You’ll find a handy buyer’s guide giving you the low-down on all you need to know – as well as some DIY options if that’s more your style!
What You'll Learn
- Best Water Enhancers: Reviews
- Best Water Flavor Enhancer – Stur
- Best Electrolyte – Nuun Hydration: Electrolytes
- Best water enhancers for high energy activities: Nuun Hydration: Electrolyte + Caffeine
- Best Water Enhancer Without Flavoring: Elete Electrolyte Drops
- Best Unsweetened Water Enhancer: True Lemon
- Best Water Enhancer For An Energy Boost: Celsius On-The-Go
- What Is A Water Enhancer?
- Why is hydration important?
- Electrolytes – what are they and why are they important?
- Pros and cons of water enhancers
- How to make your own water enhancers
Best Water Enhancers: Reviews
- Variety of fruity flavors extracted from real fruit
- Zero calories or sugar – Sweetened by Stevia
- Contains healthy antioxidants, Vitamin C
- No preservatives
- No added electrolytes
- Bottle shape and size is a little awkward
We love how it has five ingredients and we can pronounce each one.
It’s sweetened with Stevia and the flavors are extracted from real fruit. We also like how easy it is to control how many drops you add to your water for repeatable taste intensity.
The bottle is a bit of a funny shape and isn’t the greatest for easy stashing in your pack. We’d probably decant some in a smaller dropper bottle if we were tight on space.
For guilt-free, healthy drinking this is one of the best water enhancers on the market. Grab yourself one of the multi-flavor packs and do some testing to find the flavor you prefer.
Best Electrolyte – Nuun Hydration: Electrolytes
- Convenient tablet form – repeatable flavor concentration
- No artificial flavoring or sweeteners
- Effervescence adds additional dimension to water
- Tube is convenient to carry, no single serve packaging – less waste
- Low carbs – 4g per tablet
- Takes about 5 minutes for the tablet to dissolve completely
If you’re working up a sweat then you’re going to need to replace those electrolytes. Nuun hydration tablets are one of the best ways to do this. The tablets are super-convenient to carry and use, coming in a variety of fruity-flavors that actually taste good.
The effervescence of the fizzy tablet adds another pleasant dimension to your water if you drink it right after dropping the tablet in. They contain monk fruit and Stevia but no artificial flavoring or sweeteners and only 4g of carbs per tablet.
Each tablet will top up your body’s Sodium, Potassium, Magnesium, and Calcium so your muscles work efficiently and don’t cramp up.
The tablets take about 5 minutes to dissolve so you’ll need a little patience. Breaking the tablet in half before dropping it in helps.
Best water enhancers for high energy activities: Nuun Hydration: Electrolyte + Caffeine
- Caffeine and Vitamin-B’s give a great energy boost
- PrTube packaging – Convenient to carry, less wasteo
- Replenishes electrolytes
- Tastes good
- Less flavor options than regular Nuun Electrolyte tablets
For high energy activities you want to replenish your electrolytes but sometimes you also want an energy boost for that final push.
These water enhancer tablets deliver the same electrolytes you get from the regular Nuun tablets but also have caffeine and B-vitamins added.
This really helps when you need an energy boost or extra focus to push through a long day or when you want to pick up the pace.
The flavors taste good but there aren’t as many to choose from as with the regular tablets. I should point out that these ought not to be used at altitude as some studies show that caffeine can contribute to altitude sickness.
The tube packaging is convenient and we like that because you’re not using single-serve packaging you’re generating less waste.
Best Water Enhancer Without Flavoring: Elete Electrolyte Drops
- Zero sweeteners, carbs, flavoring or artificial additives
- Lightweight, compact bottle – easy to pack
- Pocket bottle makes ten 32-ounce servings of electrolyte water
- Good balance of electrolytes
- Bottle is refillable
- Tastes salty if you put a little too much in
This small bottle is lightweight and compact and will deliver 10 32-ounce servings of water with all the electrolytes you need.
No carbs, no sugar, no flavor, no fuss. This is the one I use on a daily basis when training in hot weather. Most people say they can’t taste any difference in the water after adding it.
The mineral salts can make it taste a little brackish if you put too much in your water.
Maybe you already love the taste of another product that doesn’t contain electrolytes? These electrolyte drops are a great way to turn any drink into a sports drink.
We like that the bottle is refillable but the refill bottles can be a little pricey.
Best Unsweetened Water Enhancer: True Lemon
- Tastes like you’ve used a slice of lemon
- Flavor extracted from real citrus fruit
- Zero sweetener, calories, sodium or carbs
- Sachets don’t keep moisture out very well – crystals clump
Each sachet gives you the flavor and tartness you’d get from adding a slice of lemon to your water.
The crystals in the sachet are made by crystallizing the lemon juice and essential oils to give you the fresh-squeezed taste. The foil sachets are single serving portions so you’ll end up carrying the bits with you to dispose of at home.
Also, the sachets may be sealed, but some tend to let moisture in, causing the crystals to clump. If you store them somewhere dry they’re good for about 2 years.
Best Water Enhancer For An Energy Boost: Celsius On-The-Go
- Zero sugars, preservatives or artificial flavors
- Low in sodium
- B-Vitamins, and Caffeine from Guarana extract give great energy boost
- Green tea extract – boosts metabolism
- Ginger root complements the variety of flavors it comes in
- Missing some key electrolytes
- Single serve sachets – more waste to carry home
The green tea extract, B-vitamins and the caffeine from the guarana extract combine to give you a real energy boost.
The amount of caffeine you get from a single serving is about what you’d get from two cups of coffee.
Probably best not to use it late in the day if you’re looking to get a good night’s sleep. We like that it has no sugar, aspartame, artificial colors, artificial flavors or preservatives in it.
It has a little sodium, calcium and chromium but misses out on other electrolytes like potassium and magnesium.
What Is A Water Enhancer?
A water enhancer is a powder, drops, tablet, or concentrated liquid that you add to the water in your bottle or hydration pack.
But how does it actually enhance, or make your water better? Some do little more than make it taste nice. If you like the taste of what you’re drinking then you’re more likely to keep up your hydration levels.
Others go a step further and have added vitamins and electrolytes to replenish the ones you lose when perspiring.
Should I Use A Water Enhancer?
If you find it difficult to drink enough water then it’s definitely worth using a water enhancer.
The minimal sugar or extra calories you might take in will normally be offset by a day out on the trail. The real benefit is that you’re more likely to remain properly hydrated.
Wait, Isn’t It Just A Flavoring?
For the most part, yes. Most water enhancers do little more than improve taste. There are some that do a bit more. If you suffer from cramps it may be a sign of low electrolytes.
A water enhancer with added electrolytes can help with this. Some also have added vitamins. While it’s debatable how much benefit these vitamins actually offer you, B-vitamins can give you a bit of an energy boost.
If you find your energy levels are getting a little low, a water enhancer with caffeine or Guarana extract will put a spring in your step.
What Is The Best Tasting Water Enhancer?
Taste is so subjective that there’s no way to suggest the water enhancer with the best flavor. You’d be safest with flavors that come from real fruit extracts. If you prefer a tart flavor, then citrus is a good option.
Probably the biggest thing to look out for is how the water enhancer is sweetened. Natural sweeteners like fructose and sugar can be the most palatable but some people prefer sugar-free options.
Stevia is a very popular natural zero-calorie sweetener but not everyone likes the distinct taste.
What does a Water Enhancer contain?
In general water enhancers contain flavoring (usually artificial), sweetener (sugar, corn syrup or artificial) and some coloring.
- Citric acid – Naturally occurring acid found in citrus fruits.
- Sucralose – Also known as Splenda, is up to 600 times sweeter than sugar. This can be used as a sweetener while still being able to call the product “sugar-free”. It’s classified as safe but, as with artificial sweeteners like aspartame, there are people who say you should avoid it. Some studies reported that it contributed to migraines.
- Stevia – A natural alternative to sugar. It’s about 200 times sweeter than sugar but it isn’t digestible. That means you get the sweetness without any calories. If you’re allergic to ragweed you might have an allergic reaction to Stevia. The taste takes a bit of getting used to.
- Propylene Glycol – This chemical is used to prevent food from discoloring but is also found in things like brake fluid and shaving cream.The FDA classifies this stuff as “generally safe” but you probably don’t want to be ingesting high amounts of it if.The accepted dietary intake is 25mg for every kilogram of body weight so you’d have to drink a lot of it before it did you any harm. Some studies recommend avoiding it if you’re pregnant though.
- Sodium – An important electrolyte, your body needs sodium, but too much can be bad for you.
- Caffeine – As with a lot of energy drinks, many water enhancers also have caffeine in them. A single serving will give you about the same amount of caffeine that you get from a cup of coffee. Sometimes the caffeine comes in the form of Guarana extract.
- Vitamins – Some enhancers have added Vitamin A, B and C. The quantities you’re getting are pretty negligible. If anything you might get a bit of an energy boost from the Vitamin B.
- Electrolytes – Essential salts and minerals, like sodium, magnesium, calcium, and potassium. This, for me, is the main reason to add anything to your drinking water.
Why is hydration important?
Your body consists mainly of water and every part of your body depends on it to function properly.
It lubricates your joints, transports nutrients, removes waste, maintains your body temperature and much more.
When you sweat you’re getting rid of water and those bodily functions will eventually suffer as a result.
When you are trekking at altitude, staying properly hydrated can reduce your likelihood of contracting altitude sickness, studies have shown.
How much water should you drink?
There’s no exact rule and it really depends on the conditions you’re hiking in and your level of exertion.
A good general guide is to take in around 1 liter every two hours. Dehydration can set in pretty fast so look out for any of the following tell-tale signs of dehydration:
- Lightheadedness or dizziness
- Vomiting or nausea
- You stop sweating even though you’re exerting yourself
- Dry mouth
Also, your body is a good judge of what it needs. If you feel thirsty, hydrate!
Electrolytes – what are they and why are they important?
Electrolytes are minerals and salts that your body needs in order to function. Calcium, magnesium, potassium and sodium chloride (table salt) are all essential for your cells to work properly and for your nerve impulses to keep firing.
When you sweat you lose more than just water. You lose these electrolytes too.
You need to replenish your electrolytes. We normally get enough electrolytes from the food we eat but if you’re pushing it and sweating a lot then you should consider a water enhancer with electrolytes.
Pros and cons of water enhancers
Should you use a water enhancer? Let’s consider the pros and cons before deciding:
- They make fluids taste better so you’re more likely to drink more. Staying hydrated on a hike is important but if you’re used to sugary drinks then you might not be so keen to drink plain water.
- The concentration and intensity of taste makes them a lot more packable than DIY flavorings
- Shelf stable – You can throw them in your pack and not worry about refrigerating them.
- Replace electrolytes. Drinking water alone won’t replace important minerals and salts you lose through perspiration.
- Those that contain caffeine or Vitamin B can give you an energy boost.
- Some ingredients, like artificial colorants, may cause allergic reactions
- Artificial flavorings, colorants and sweeteners may not be dangerous in small quantities but they’re not healthy.
- Cost – There are cheaper ways to improve taste
- Some contain added sugar or sodium. You may already get too much of these from your diet.
What about sugar?
Most water enhancers will sweeten the taste. They do this either by using natural sweeteners, or artificial ones. While sugar is one of the biggest contributors to obesity, it’s often the quantity that people consume, rather than the sugar itself that is the problem.
If you’re already careful about your sugar intake then the tiny bit in a water enhancer shouldn’t worry you. You normally won’t see sugar on the list of ingredients. It’s usually listed as “sucrose”, “fructose” or “dextrose” if it’s obtained from corn syrup.
If you want to avoid sugar, then natural sweeteners like Stevia – or artificial ones like sucralose or aspartame are your other options.
These won’t impact your blood sugar levels so people with diabetes normally look out for these options.
Artificial sweeteners have both supporters and detractors in the nutrition world with pretty dogmatic views expressed on both sides. They are considered safe by the FDA but it comes down to who you believe as to how healthy or unhealthy they are.
Are there calories in water enhancers?
If you’re watching your weight then it’s worth checking if there are any calories in your water enhancer. Some will have a few calories, and it’s mostly those that use natural sweeteners or fruit extracts.
Zero-calorie ones will normally use artificial sweeteners that your body doesn’t metabolize. Just don’t see the terms “sugar-free” and “zero-calories” as a sign that it’s a healthy option.
I’d rather get 3 or 4 calories in a serving and no artificial additives. Also, if you’re drinking these while hiking, you’re burning plenty of calories anyway.
How much should I be using?
So how much of this stuff can I drink? The portion guides on the bottles or sachets of water enhancers are a good start.
As with anything, moderation is needed. Too much sodium, sugar or artificial sweeteners aren’t a good idea. Use common sense and do your own research to check which of the ingredients you’re ok with.
Also, don’t go drinking a whole bottle of the stuff in one go like some teenagers have been doing on YouTube.
Water Enhancers You Should Avoid
While those you’ll see on the store shelves will probably all be FDA approved, that doesn’t mean they’re necessarily good for you. While we wouldn’t want to mention any names, we’d steer clear of any that use artificial flavoring, artificial sweeteners or propylene glycol.
Yes, these might be considered safe, but there are enough people on the other side of the fence warning against them to get our attention. Besides, there are some great all-natural options. So why take a chance?
Healthy natural water enhancers
The convenience that water enhancers offer is probably their biggest selling point. If you’re looking for some simple, natural alternatives to shop-bought, then consider dropping a slice or a few pieces of the following in your water bottle:
- Mint or Basil leaves
- Cinnamon sticks
Carrying some undiluted juice with you and pouring a little into your water bottle is also a great way to add some flavor.
Even just filtering water can make a significant difference to the taste. In fact, water you collect on your hike will be safer and probably taste better if it’s filtered rather than adding a flavor to it.
How to make your own water enhancers
If you want to be 100% sure to avoid the chemicals and additives that a lot of manufacturers use then making your own water enhancers is pretty easy. You could try any of the following:
- Use a fruit infuser to infuse water with fruit flavors
- Boil up fruits or berries to make a reduced concentrate
- Boil up a few tea bags to make a strong tea
- Grate some citrus zest and infuse water with it overnight before straining
On multi-day hikes, DIY water enhancers can become a little impractical because of the need for refrigeration and the fact that they’re not very concentrated.
Packing a small bottle of lime juice and some artificial sweetener could also work but you’d need to experiment a bit at home to see what suits your taste.
The problem, of course, is that with this focus-on-flavor, you miss out on the important stuff: the electrolytes.
While the flavor may be one of your main concerns, you need to consider how and where you’re going to carry it. The packaging it comes in may not make a difference at home but it can on a hike.
Any liquid in a bottle presents a risk of leaking in your pack. Make sure the cap can’t accidentally come open.
Refillable bottles offer the most sustainable packaging but check the price of the refill bottles before committing yourself.
Single-serve portion packaging may be convenient but it creates a lot of waste. That means carrying the empty packaging home with you -leave no trace, people.
Check the shape, size and overall weight. Will it pack easily?
A little creative repacking or decanting would probably overcome the majority of these issues.
ConclusionDon’t think of water enhancers as a “health drink”. They’re really just designed to make water taste better so you’re more likely to drink the amount of water you need.
If you need to jazz up your water’s flavor, then stick to the all-natural options.
If you’re hiking at altitude, then you’ll know the need for staying well-hydrated. Electrolytes will boost your hydration as well as helping you recover from exertion. My best advice is to get hold of whatever flavor you like – so long as it contains electrolytes!
The best water enhancer for hiking and backpacking is the one that gets you drinking enough water without any added artificial chemicals. If you get one that replaces your electrolytes and gives you an energy boost, even better.