Hose Level

A hose level is a simple device that can provide an accurate elevation comparison between multiple points that rival each other to be a county high point, or to be the highest summit of a major peak (and therefore the summit that takes its prominence). It is based on the principle that if you fill a hose with water and let it come to rest, the water level at both ends will be the same.


There are basically two methods of using the hose level, which I call the two-summit method and the sight-level method.

The procedure for the two-summit method is as follows. Place a half full water container (e.g. a drinking bottle or gallon jug) near one summit. Be sure you know the level of the water in the container relative to the highest terrain. Secure one end of the hose (call this the fixed end) to the container so that it is submerged in the water in the container. Once the hose has been filled, the water level in the container will change only minutely. Be sure there is no air in the hose. Carry the other end of the hose (call this the free end) to the other summit, and observe the water level relative to the highest terrain on that summit.

The procedure for the sight-level method begins by setting up the fixed end in the same way as in the two-summit method. Carry the free end to a place where you have a clear view past the container toward the other summit. Position your eye at the same level as the water in the free end. While sighting past the container, compare the level of the water in it to the summit behind it.

In both methods, it is advisable to secure the hose near the container to a stationary object, e.g. by weighting it down with a rock or wrapping it around a boulder or tree trunk. This mitigates the risk of accidentally tipping over the water container by pulling the hose, which is occasionally necessary to lay it out and straighten it.

The two-summit method requires that the two summits be close enough that the hose can reach between them but requires no visibility between them. The sight-level method is the opposite; it requires visibility but does not require that the hose be able to reach.

Both methods can be used successfully by one person, though it is sometimes easier with two. In the sight-level method, it may be useful to have one person hold the water container at a desired level while another person does the sighting.

The hose I use is translucent. It is possible to observe the water level inside it from close proximity (<~10'), but not from a distance. In addition, it is sometimes difficult to tell the difference between a hose that's full of water and a hose that's full of air, unless there are air bubbles or drops of water inside the hose. Colored water, which I have not used, could solve both problems.


My hose level kit contains the following equipment:

Actual Field Uses

The hose level has been used on the following peaks: