I came across some interesting articles recently that got me thinking about some tips for staying hydrated as hikers, and why becoming dehydrated on the trail can be quite dangerous. The first article claimed that up to 75% of Americans are chronically dehydrated – yikes! – while the next article, not surprisingly, pointed out there really is no way to prove that and there were no solid studies done.
Fair enough. But honestly, just based on people I know, have come across and heard stories of, I really don’t doubt that at least 50% of people are chronically dehydrated!
Dehydration can cause headaches, fatigue, dizziness, low blood pressure and symptoms only get worse from there. And your situation can only get exponentially worse if you end up severely dehydrated on a remote hiking trail, hours away from medical assistance.
Luckily for us, dehydration is easy to prevent with a little effort and attention to our bodies. I’ve always been told to drink half my body weight in ounces each day, but I find that on hard hikes or other strenuous activities, I usually need even more than that!
Staying hydrated on the trail can be tricky sometimes, you may have to plan your route or day around water sources, turn back if you run out of water, or keep a conscious eye on the time to make sure you’re taking regular water breaks throughout the day.
More tips to stay hydrated on the trail:
Figure out a water system that works for you.
Some people love having a bladder that goes inside their pack with the long straw that comes out. I personally don’t because I can’t actually see how much I’m drinking, if I’m drinking enough, or if I’m drinking too much in situations where I need to ration my water out. And I think the bladders are a pain to clean, but that’s my personal preference. Even I can’t deny the convenience of having constant access to the tube of a water bladder to drink from.
Or you could use water bottles like Nalgenes, or empty Smartwater bottles if you’re trying to go ultralight and shave off a few ounces from your gear. I like using these because I can easily see at a glance how much water I have left and gauge whether or not I need to refill soon.
Always make sure you have the capacity to carry all the water you need on the trail. When I’m backpacking I usually carry two liters of water in two 1-liter bottles, but then also carry two empty 1-liter collapsible water bottles or bags, so I could carry four liters if I need to, like if water sources are dried up or are too far apart. I also like to fill up more water than usual once I get to camp, so I have enough water to get me through cooking dinner, drinking, cooking breakfast in the morning and a top off before I start hiking for the day.
Stop for a water break at least once every hour, more if it’s a more strenuous hike. If you don’t drink a lot between water sources because you’re worried you’ll run out of water – be sure to camel up, or drink 1-2 liters of water at each water source before you hike on.
Sometimes, just drinking a lot of water doesn’t actually hydrate us, we also need electrolytes to help our bodies properly absorb all that water we are drinking. In a nutshell electrolytes also help regulate nerve and muscle function, balance blood acidity and pressure, and help rebuild damaged tissue.
Sure, you could turn to the classic Gatorade or sports drink, but I recommend diluting those 50/50 with plain water before consuming because they are so concentrated and full of sugar straight out of the bottle. If you’re sugar averse like me, or just want cleaner electrolytes, there are a few other great sports drink alternatives for us to stay hydrated.
As far as healthy, potentially life-changing habits go, drinking more water each day is a fairly easy goal to meet each day. You’d be surprised how many people go about their days and are chronically low on magnesium, potassium or other essential electrolytes. I know I was surprised to find out I was actually low on sodium after having a basic blood panel done! I hope this helps you feel better during and after those long, hard hikes, I can tell such a difference now that I’ve been consciously staying on top of my electrolytes every single day.
Let us know your favorite hack or electrolyte supplement for staying hydrated in the comments below.
For more hiking tips, check out:
- 8 Tips for hiking in the rain
- How to prevent and treat blisters
- How much first aid training do hikers need?
- Top tips for campsite safety