The importance of hydration when hiking
'When you're thirsty it's too late to dig a well.' – Japanese proverb. As regards keeping yourself safe and healthy at all times whilst outdoors, the most frequent mistake hikers are likely to make is not drinking enough water. Regardless of context – hiking at high altitudes or at sea level, or trekking in hot or cold climates – remaining adequately hydrated must always remain an absolute priority.
Experienced hikers are acutely aware of the importance of proper hydration so, when planning a trip, water-needs are always high on the agenda and the first item on the supply list. If you are not sure how much water you are going to need, be sure you overestimate your needs to avoid shortages. As well as being vital for your well-being, water is also heavy with a litre weighing in at 2.2 pounds. Thus, although carrying around 4 litres of water for your trail needs is sure to add significantly to your load, you should never take chances by trying to get by with lesser amounts. In any conditions, always set out with all the water you require and don't rely on finding water sources along the trail.
In wilderness survival terms, water is the key requirement – the 'rule of 3' maxim explains why:
Rule of 3:
Without air, you can survive 3 minutes.
Without water, you can survive 3 days.
Without food, you can survive 3 weeks.
Remaining hydrated is so important it can never be overestimated. Insufficient intake of water for your needs risks dehydration whatever the altitude or prevailing climate conditions. Unless you are underground or underwater, you will always have an air supply. Should you run short of food, you can still cover another 150 miles. However, if your water supply is exhausted, you have little more than a day left to come up with a solution.
Water bottles and hydration systems
As mentioned, water transportation can present a logistical problem for hikers. The need is always for an inexpensive tried-and-tested system which is both comfortable and secure in use. Most types of backpack come equipped with side-pouches intended to conveniently secure one-litre bottles of water for transportation.
Although many standard one-litre bottles can be carried in this way, using water bottles designed specifically for hiking and trekking has significant advantages. For example, designated water bottles will usually have a wider mouth and an ultra-secure (attached) lid; will be free of tastes and odours; will be available in plastic, steel and aluminium; and will be sufficiently robust to survive extended trail use.
Using a bladder system is an alternative means of transporting water. This employs a food-grade bladder reservoir stowed inside a backpack, with a connecting plastic hose and 'bite valve', to form a one-piece, hands-free hydration pack. The system is successfully used in tactical and military contexts as well as in both leisure and professional outdoor activities. The major advantage of this type of hydration system is its ability to deliver water, or other liquids, on demand and on the move, without risking splashing or requiring the user to divert focus just to take on water.
The amount of water required to keep you properly hydrated outdoors depends on climatic conditions, the nature of the challenge, and your personal needs.
One litre per hour is advised when climatic conditions are humid and hot, or if you are trekking at higher altitudes in thinner air. At lower altitudes, where you encounter mild conditions, this can be reduced to a half-litre per hour.
Where you are crossing rough terrain, or facing steep uphill climbs, your level of exertion will be greater. At such times your body is working hard and you will be losing plenty of moisture both during respiration and via perspiration. It is essential you take on water regularly to compensate for this ongoing fluid loss – even if you are not actually feeling thirsty.
As regards personal needs, this is largely a matter of experience and personal preference. If you are inexperienced, it is better to take on a little more water just to be sure.
The harsher the terrain, the more important your hydration strategy becomes, and you may need to consider shade and sun protection, or resting during the hottest parts of the day to conserve energy and reduce your water requirements.
Water purification tips and advice
Whenever you are likely to encounter natural water sources, or other sources of unreliable quality, water purification becomes an essential part of your hydration planning.
It is always safest to purify natural water, even when it seems to be running cool and clear. Unpurified water often harbours 'bits and pieces' which can be seen with the naked eye, but the most harmful contaminants may not be visually detectable. Try to avoid drinking stagnant, foam-filled water, or any water source close to animal faeces. As a last resort, and where there is no better alternative, use a stocking, coffee-filter, or something similar, to remove the worst elements and boil what remains if at all possible.
Iodine tablets – at the rate of one-per-litre – are the standard means of purifying drinking water. Allow the treated water to stand for half-an-hour before drinking.
Though they take time to set up, water pumps will make a better job of purifying water. However, they clog readily and thus require lots of cleaning too.
The time-honoured method is boiling the water you plan to drink, though this takes time and may not be quite as thorough as the methods above.
Signs of dehydration
Keeping hydrated when hiking is vital for your survival. If your water intake is too low, then dehydration can occur – two early warning signs are thirst and dark coloured urine. Other symptoms can also develop as follows:
- Dehydration symptoms: Dizziness, fatigue, major headaches, muscle cramps, nausea, heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
- Effective treatment: Shade, rest, water, and water-soaked cooling cloths, – rehydrating powder, or electrolytes should help too.
Giving a salty snack helps replace lost salts, and a sweet drink will help replace sugar.
Water Purification Advice Video...