Nothing is more frustrating than reaching the summit of a long, steep climb under the sun only to realize your water bottle is empty. Staying well hydrated while on the trail is essential for maintaining optimal athletic performance, as well as safety! Dehydration can lead to serious complications, including urinary and kidney problems, heat stroke, and seizures.
An empty water bottle is a situation all hikers and climbers should avoid. Here’s our guide on how to stay hydrated while hiking.
Trillions of cells in your body work together with each stride you take to provide you with the strength you need to stay the course. All of those cells rely on you to keep them running properly, and hydration is critical to their continued function. If you don't drink enough water, your cells will have less fuel, which means you'll be less efficient, and your activity will feel more strenuous in your body.
Hiking causes the body to produce more heat. Sweating is the body's natural defense against overheating, serving to cool it down. While sweating is necessary, it depletes the body's water and electrolyte stores, including potassium and sodium. Though many factors contribute to dehydration, a fluid loss of more than 2 to 3 percent of body weight (3 to 5 pounds for a 150-pound person) can result in dehydration.
- Mouth dryness
- Decrease in energy
- The "blemishes" (stumbling or mumbling)
- Urine that is dark or vividly colored and has a low volume. (It should be noted that certain foods and beverages, such as those containing B12 vitamins, can cause urine to appear bright yellow, thus pee color isn't always an accurate measure.)
- Heat Stroke
Prevention is the best cure, but if you or someone in your group becomes critically dehydrated, make sure you have the necessary first-aid tools and knowledge to treat them. Oral rehydration salts are a low-cost addition to your first-aid box that has been shown to improve your body's ability to absorb and retain water. If you're going on a long trip, including these in your pack could make a big impact if you notice early signs of dehydration.
Overhydration, or hyponatremia, is the opposite of dehydration. Hyponatremia occurs when sodium levels in the blood get so low that cell activity is hindered. Hyponatremia can result in coma and even death in severe situations.
The symptoms of hyponatremia are similar to those of dehydration: weariness, headache, and nausea, prompting some athletes to drink more water, exacerbating the problem.
Avoid hyponatremia by maintaining a healthy sodium level with sodium-rich snacks and sports drinks, and not drinking excessively. Roughly 10 fl. oz. every 20 minutes is the right balance, but factors such as weight, temperature, and exertion will make these measures vary situationally.
How much water you need depends on a variety of factors, including the activity you're doing, intensity level, duration, weather, age, perspiration rate, and your body type. In general, one half-liter of water per hour of moderate hiking in temperate conditions is a standard suggestion. As the temperature and intensity of the activity rise, you may need to drink more. You'll be able to fine-tune how much you drink as you gain experience.
Drinking before hiking is called pre-hydrating. Pre-hydrating allows your body to get ahead of its fluid needs before you start using up your packed water. Keep in mind that chugging water before you leave doesn’t help, it just causes the fluid to leave your system faster, so stick to drinking small amounts frequently.
The specific activity you're doing will most likely dictate where you store your water, but the important thing is to keep it close at hand. Here are a few ways to bring water on your adventure:
1. Handheld bottle
Pros: Small and lightweight.
Cons: Muscle imbalances might occur as a result of consistently carrying weight in one hand; it can also feel heavy!
2. Water flask
Pros: Small, relatively lightweight.
Cons: Hard to clean and difficult to refill mid-run or race.
3. Nalgene bottles
Pros: Nalgene bottles withstand very high temperatures (boiling water) and freezing without distorting their shape or deteriorating.
Cons: Plastic lid could be damaged if dropped from heights
4. Backpack and hydration bladder
Pros: Hands-free; can carry a lot of fluid and gear.
Cons: Can be overkill for some hikes and is heavier than other options.
5. Backpack that fits like a vest
Pros: Hands-free and can carry a lot of fluid, and distributes weight between your front and back.
Cons: May feel restrictive.
If your trek lasts more than a day, especially if you are wild camping, you will need to replenish your water supply from natural, outside sources.
There are a few things to bear in mind when collecting water. The best places to collect water are from running springs where the water is the least contaminated. When you don't have a running spring, select a moving water source over a stagnant one such as a lake.
Avoid stagnant water and any water that appears unclean, oily, buggy, foggy, or green. Stagnant water is a haven for parasites and germs. You should utilize your maps to avoid water streams that run through industrial or agricultural areas.
If you're going on a more isolated hike, invest in a purifier that will also remove tiny viruses in the water, such as Hepatitis A. Purifiers frequently incorporate an additional level of purification, such as iodine or ultraviolet radiation, to remove viruses that can pass through a filter.
Purifiers and filters will both remove physical particles from the water, such as silt and vegetation. Both methods of filtration can also include activated carbon, which absorbs undesirable flavors like chlorine and leaves you with a more refreshing drink on the trail.
- Drink frequently: Instead of gulping water occasionally, take smaller sips frequently.
- Don't forget to eat: Sweating causes electrolyte loss, which can deplete your energy. If your activity lasts an hour or less, this is usually not an issue, but if you're out for a longer period of time, it's necessary to compensate for the loss. Snacking on foods high in salt, potassium, calcium, and magnesium helps to replenish electrolytes. Consider carrying an electrolyte replacement sports drink with you if you're doing a long, high-intensity activity.
- Drink more water at altitude: Any activity at higher altitudes has a higher risk of dehydration. At higher elevations there is less oxygen, so your respiration rate will increase and your body will lose water faster than it would at sea level. This is why it is critical to drink more water at high altitudes.
- Drink even if you’re not sweating: Even if you don't feel like drinking cold water on a frigid winter day, staying adequately hydrated is just as vital in cold weather as it is in hot weather. Bringing a hot drink with you can help you stay hydrated.
- Wear sun protection: A sunburn can hasten dehydration, so apply sunscreen or wear sun-protection clothes before going out.
- Set a timer: If you have a habit of losing track of when you last drank, set a timer on your watch to sound an alarm every 20 minutes as a reminder to take a sip.
- Dress for the weather: Dressing appropriately with lightweight, moisture-wicking clothing will help to prevent excessive water loss. When packing for a hike, keep in mind that you lose the most heat through your feet, hands, and head.
- Avoid alcohol and caffeine: Alcohol dehydrates the body, thus if you begin a hike already hungover, you will be starting off behind when it comes to rehydration. Having tea or coffee as a favored drink on the trail will also lead to a greater risk of dehydration, so be cautious if you rely on a caffeinated beverage for a large amount of your fluid intake.
- Listen to your body: This is really crucial and comes down to trail experience. Some people sweat more than others, so don't always rely on general recommendations; instead, keep mental (or physical, if you prefer) track of how much you drank and whether it was sufficient for the distance/terrain/weather. Carry extra just in case, but over the course of a hiking season, you'll get a good sense of how much water your body requires or can handle in an emergency.
Hiking offers various health benefits, including lowering the risk of diabetes, colon or breast cancer, osteoporosis, and heart attacks when done carefully and safely. More than that, hiking provides us with a sense of adventure and a rush of adrenaline from being in nature and exploring new places, all of which is beneficial to our mental health. To hike successfully and get optimal benefits, though, make sure you stay adequately hydrated to prevent dehydration!
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