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Why is hiking water so darn important?
Here's the obvious reason: to avoid cramps, lethargy and a huge thirst sensation.
But there is a lot of nuance around how often to drink water on a hike, the best way to carry it, how to enhance it, and more.
Let's take a look!
It won't surprise you to learn that there are no hard and fast rules about when to take a water break on a hike.
It's a matter of "it depends".
The amount of hiking water you require depends upon:
That's why you need to create your own set of Hiking Water Best Practices.
Having enough water in your body isn't just about stopping for water breaks.
You can do yourself a huge favor by pre-hydrating: Drink up to a liter of water before you begin your hike.
You can also help your body post-hike by drinking a quart or two of water right after you take off your boots.
What about on the trail?
Staying well hydrated should be a simple matter of drinking when you feel thirsty, right?
Often, by the time you "feel" thirsty, you've already lost a lot of water via perspiration and respiration (open mouth breathing on an up-slope, for instance).
Allowing yourself to become dehydrated is setting yourself up for hiking inflammation.
Here's my routine:
On cool hikes, I bring a liter of water and might have some left at the end of the day.
For warmer weather hikes, I carry at least two liters for a day hike if I'm hiking in an area without access to surface water.
Bottom line: If there is plentiful water around, why carry it?
You can purify your water when you need it, thus lightening your backpack.
You will need some sort of purification method when you're relying on surface water for hydration.
To avoid this problem, read these water purification tips.
Or carry a LifeStraw.
I carry water bottles on the outside pockets of my pack, stopping for water breaks throughout the day.
I like the fact that I have to be mindful about taking water breaks.
I have several favorites for water bottles, both plastic and metal.
Plastic is lightweight and allows me to see how much water I've got left at a glance. I carry:
Metal bottles hold up well under lots of trail abuse, accidental or otherwise:
What should you swallow to keep your body hydrated throughout a hike?
Your choices include:
Hmmm....let me admit that I'm a minimalist by nature (pardon the pun).
I figure that Mother Nature has limped along with plain old water for a while now, and my body's biochemistry is well adapted to the humble H-2-O molecules.
I don't hike hard enough on any given day (unless you count the 12 hours days I log in the Arctic, thanks to eternal summer daylight) to lose electrolytes at a rate which can't be replaced with trail snacks and water breaks.
I don't hike in extreme heat or altitudes over 8,000 feet, which may create conditions where electrolyte loss is a serious concern.
So take my words with plenty of grains of salts (and sugars) if you do.
Also, I RUN AWAY from artificial colors, flavorings, preservatives and flavor enhancers out of respect for my hard-working organs of elimination: liver, kidneys, skin.
So that leaves me with just the plain old wet stuff: no carbonation, no flavors, no sugars (do a back-of-the-envelope calculation on what you're paying for that tiny dose of sugar & salt in your sports drinks).
I know that a lot of hikers will disagree with me. Taste buds rule, no doubt.
I agree that a plain fluid in your hiking water bottle is pretty dull compared to razzle-dazzle brand name sports drinks.
But again, it circles back to respect for basic biochemistry.
Each one of my trillions of cells is asking for that basic solvent molecule called H - two - oh, and I'm happy to supply it.
Recently, I had the opportunity to add some electrolytes to my hiking water bottle.
Amazingly, the day after my long, strenuous, hot hike, I was completely without aches, pains, or fatigue in my muscles.
I'm not exaggerating: completely free of post-hike issues.
Being a skeptical scientist, I repeated the "experiment" on the next hike, an equally long, strenuous, but slightly less hot hike.
I also used a different electrolyte product.
To my astonishment, the same results: no issues in terms of soreness the next day!
So now I'm backing off my "plain H-2-O only" advice.
Let's take a quick look at the brands of electrolytes I now use in my hiking water bottles.
Ultima Replenisher packets are easy to transport, and essentially weightless in your pack.
I have to admit that I look forward to rest stops so I can enjoy the fruity flavor (lemon, raspberry, orange yummy goodness)!
A few tips:
The other brand I rely upon is Natural Hydration (Nuun) tablets.
Try all of the flavors.
If you're lucky, you'll like them all and be able to get a bariety of welcome taste "hits" on a long hiking trip every time you take a sip of your hiking water.
In both Ultima and Nuun, there are water soluble B vitamins and vitamin C in these tablets along with the electrolytes, which is a nice add-on.
Note: If you're looking for a full complement of minerals that your cells need, including calcium, copper, and molybdenum, adding just these to your hiking water won't do it for you.
If you're interested in just a quick shot of Vitamin C in your hiking water, you might want to try these Emergen-C packets.
One more note on vitamin C and hiking water for backpackers:
It gets tough to find great vitamin C sources during a long hiking trip, and these not only satisfy me.
Don't overlook the fact that you can sweat hard and lose electrolytes during a winter hike, especially while snowshoeing.
I bring along a thermos like this so I can keep my muscles contracting mile after mile after.
You can read about my field trials with the new kid on the block, a Hydroflask double walled insulated metal bottle for cold weather hiking, here.
There are three ways a hiker can appreciate water.
You can look at this amazing clear, refreshing fluid through a chemist's lens:
Water is a molecule composed of two hydrogen atoms bonded to an oxygen atom, conferring remarkable properties for
You can regard it through the biology lens:
Or if all that is too science-y for you, just regard hiking water as an obstacle:
But whatever you do, don't ignore how important it is to drink enough water on a hike.
Don't forget how much fun it is to PLAY in this amazing clear liquid, provided by Mother Nature for our pleasure!
Devote a little of your trail time this season to appreciating the beautiful lakes and streams of our planet by ingesting, and frolicking, to your heart's content (and I mean that quite literally).
If you enjoyed these detailed tips about keeping yourself healthy on the trail, you'll love each monthly issue of Trail Mix!
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