Staying hydrated is one of the most important parts of any physical activity, but when the weather heats up and your hikes leave you sweating buckets, you’ll need to take extra caution to ensure that you’re drinking enough fluids.
This may sound simple, but once you start planning an outdoor excursion, you’ll find that the weight of your packed water (about eight pounds per gallon), the weather conditions you’ll be in, the temperature of the trip, and several other factors could make it a little more complicated than you expect. Even if you’re hiking only to the base of a face you’re going to climb, be sure you pack water into your climbing gear for the trip. To start, it’s best to understand how much water the average human needs during physical activity.
The best way to ward off dehydration is to be constantly sipping fluids—water or sports drinks work—throughout your trip. Taking smaller, frequent sips will help your body distribute the water throughout your body much better than if you were to guzzle a quarter of the bottle a few times during the hike. As a general rule, try drinking at least one quart of water every 30 minutes you’re on the trail.
This, of course, will change depending on how much exertion your body goes through, as well as the temperature, dryness, or humidity of the region. If you’re in the desert, or anywhere hot and dry, you’ll want to take more water than usual. At the Grand Canyon, for example, the National Park Service recommends that every individual hiker should drink two gallons of water per day.
In addition to the roaring thirst many hikers feel from time to time, there are several other ways to tell if you’re already dehydrated. Sticky or white, foamy saliva is a telltale sign, as is dark urine. But don’t let it get that bad—prevention is the best way to stay hydrated.
Making sure you have enough water for the entire trip also means doing your research. Water is heavy, plain and simple, and if you can avoid carrying gallons at one time, do it. This means knowing if the trail you’ll be on has a freshwater source, as well as owning the right equipment. This includes water purification systems such as pumps and filters, as well as iodine tablets.
If you’re heading out with only a few water-carrying methods, be sure to stop for water at every source. You’ll be kicking yourself when you have to ration those bottles until the next stop.
Ways to Carry
Two of the most common water-carrying vessels are a durable plastic or aluminum water bottle, or a voluminous water bladder and hydration system, such as one from CamelBak. If you’re taking a water bottle without any purification system, be sure to take enough completely filled bottles to sustain you. Nalgene is by far one of the most popular brands, as their bottles are made of virtually indestructible plastic and can be easily looped or secured to a hiking backpack.
If your pack has a hydration system attached or you’re using a CamelBak product, it will be much easier to take smaller sips—the healthier option—than big gulps from a bottle. This option also makes carrying larger quantities easier, as the water is displaced vertically and carried on your shoulders.
A Note on Treatment
If you plan to use any of the available treatment methods, know beforehand how the system works, the amount of water you can purify with it, how long it takes, and other information. Boiling water, for example, is certainly an effective way to kill bacteria, but it also means building a fire, waiting for water to boil at least two minutes, waiting for it to cool, and transferring it to a bottle or bladder.
Similarly, if you’re using a water filter, know the essentials. One of the biggest mistakes hikers make is to let the intake filter or water dripping from it touch the hose or cap, which effectively contaminates your entire system. Also, if you’re using iodine tablets, it can be up to 30 minutes before you can drink the water if you’re using tablets that also offset the iodine taste.
The Dangers of Dehydration
Staying hydrated is one of the most important factors to consider on any hike, but it’s especially noteworthy on any dry, hot hike. In these conditions, the body can lose more than two quarts of water and electrolytes per hour if the hike is strenuous and in the sun. What’s scary is that the sweat will disappear almost immediately, allowing dehydration to sneak up on you.
After losing two quarts of water, your body can operate up to 20 percent less efficiently, making every step your hiking boots take a chore and resulting in a dangerous thirst cycle. Dehydration can quickly give way to heat exhaustion and heat stroke, which can have deadly consequences.
Hike smart by knowing the importance of consuming enough water and taking all the necessary gear to keep you hydrated.
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