Most of our hiking is in southern California with a desert climate that is arid and dry. From the Colorado Desert in the Anza-Borrego region south to the San Bernardino Mountains, we can go for months without significant precipitation. Water is one thing you can’t scrimp on. The mind plays tricks on you if deprived of this vital liquid, especially since the brain is made up of approximately 75% water.
It’s really important to understand the area that you hike in. On longer day and section hikes, you should know where there are water sources or carry a boatload with you. At over two pounds per liter, it adds up quickly and can make up the bulk of your pack weight. Hydration really is a common sense thing-especially if you’ve ever run out of water. On multi-day and section hikes, it’s a good idea to research trail conditions and water availability. During low snowfall years, many streams are dry by early-mid summer.
How your body loses water
On the trail, the most obvious ways are 1. perspiration (evaporation), 2. breathing-especially if you’re a mouth breather, and 3. urination.
Let’s talk about the symptoms and effects of dehydration on the body first. Dehydration simply put is “deficiency of fluid within an organism” Ha, I like that one. Deficiency is lack of and the organism is your body. When your body lacks the fluid, it’s like running your car with no water in the radiator. You can only go so far before the engine shuts down from overheating. Your body can only go so far because your blood plasma needs water and your organs need the blood.
Symptoms of Dehydration
Dehydration doesn’t occur instantly, there are stages and warning signs along the way. The most obvious symptoms may be thirst, dry mouth, dizziness, headaches and nausea. Urine is a great indicator of your hydration state. Dark or yellow pee is an obvious sign that you need more water. However, in some cases people in a dehydrated state don’t even urinate because there isn’t enough fluid in the body. As your body loses water through dehydration, it can reach a point where it starts taking fluid from the organs, which is a very bad thing.
I am the master of the obvious. Prevent dehydration by taking in more fluids than you lose. If you start out with a deficit, and you exert yourself on a tough hike, you never catch up and put your health at risk. We always try to “tank up” and drink 16-32 oz. of water before a hike. Doctors say it’s always good to start your day that way. The two cups of coffee don’t count either. On the trail, we ward off the thirst by frequently sipping from our water bladders. Drinking a few sips every 5 minutes or so while going uphill barely keeps us ahead of the curve on a hot day. Some people use water bottles like a 32 oz. Nalgene or Camelbak, but use whatever works best. We prefer the 100 oz. Camelbak bladders and I carry a spare liter of water in a bottle.
If you recognize symptoms of dehydration in yourself or a fellow hiker, take a break and drink as much water as is comfortable. Other health issues like heat stress or acute mountain sickness are made worse if you are in a dehydrated state. Remember the car radiator analogy…. Your body regulates itself better when it has plenty of fluids to work with. On a challenging hike, a liter of water lasts me 2-3 miles. Figure out your usage and plan accordingly.
I have used some of the following products for water filtration and highly recommend them:
Sawyer mini-filtration: http://amzn.to/1FDDL48
Katadyn Vario Water Filter: http://amzn.to/1cDgkRd (the absolute best)
Platypus Gravityworks 2L: http://amzn.to/1JtIWee (for several people, good for group camping)
1. You don’t need as much water in the winter time. Actually, you may need more as cool temps provide a false sense of hydration. It’s typically drier in winter and you may lose more through perspiration and respiration.
2. You can get fluids from other drinks like soda, tea. Some beverages actually act as diuretics and can cause increased fluid loss through urination. Water is always best. You can add flavor or add electrolytes if needed. Alcohol and hiking? Niet.
3. I can drink water from that stream. Sure you can. Be prepared to get a classic case of diarrhea due to giardia and cryptosporidium, two bacteria that can probably only be eliminated with antibiotics. You should always filter or treat water from a stream or lake. The animal that pooped upstream just didn’t know any better.
Hiking and good hydration practice go hand-in-hand. Never hit the trail without enough water. Bless you friends, enjoy your walkabout – where ever you are!
P.S. – I often use my Nikon 3300 series camera on the trail. Durable and takes amazing pics. http://amzn.to/1F0F38L