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Hiking Hydration

Stay well hydrated on your hikes with these hiking hydration tips, including which water bottles to carry in your backpack.

There are several philosophies on hiking hydration.

As an "old school" hiker (in my 6th -ish decade, in other words), I am fine with stopping for quick water breaks.

  • Typically, this involves handing my trail buddy his/her water bottle while waiting for mine to be handed to me.
  • I keep my pack on, I don't sit down, and I take only a few sips and savor them on my tongue before swallowing.

Too much water hitting my empty stomach quickly makes me feel nauseated, and has led to cramping.

Taking off my pack is like taking the leash out of the closet and showing it to the dog: time for play??

Uh, sorry to be a spoil sport, but not quite yet... there's a bit more trail work to be done.

Hiking Hydration Philosophies:
Part Two

Other hikers vehemently support the "hydration system" approach to hiking hydration.

A water bladder or reservoir, carried in the pack, allows constant access to water via a drinking tube.

A hiking hydration backpack provides ample room for the full bladder and the tubing, with a bite valve controlling the flow of water into a hiker's mouth.

These hiking hydration systems can get pretty fancy, along with an implied commitment to regular hygiene.

I freely admit that I've never tried one, so I can't comment, beyond wondering about the necessity of adding a slime inhibitor.

  • As a microbiologist I'm a bit squeamish about what can grow on all that enclosed surface area.
  • Is it possible to clean the interior surfaces of the bladder and tubing?

Why you need hiking hydration

Regardless of the delivery system, you need lots of clean water while you hike, and before and after you hike, too.

  • With every breath, you are losing water molecules from your body.

I don't know about you, but I tend to go into open-mouthed breathing when I'm hiking uphill, so I lose even more water during that phase of each hike.

One more consideration for your water balance:

  • If you consumed dehydrating beverages recently (morning coffee or tea on the drive to the trail head? last night's beer or carbonated drink?), you are starting off with a water deficit.

Not feeling thirsty?

You've either learned to ignore your thirst sensations, or you're going to be hit soon with overwhelming thirst during your hike.

Here's an easy way to monitor your water level, other than your thirst: Keep an eye on how much, and what, you are urinating.

  • Scant amounts of darkly colored urine are an indication that your kidneys are reclaiming most available water molecules and putting them back into your bloodstream.

Tip: Drink more water immediately until your urine becomes abundant and straw colored. This is especially important if you feel light headed or woozy.

Another clue: a dehydration headache. Mine tend to throb around my temples and pull at my eyes. I sometimes have to drink a quart or two of water before it goes away.

I always make time to sit quietly and drink at least a quart of water after a strenuous hike, headache or no headache.

If I don't need the water, no harm done - my kidneys will produce abundant clear urine and my cells will be properly hydrated. Kidneys are very wise organs!

Female dayhiker with pack resting on a rock on a mountainsideThe more you sweat, the more you need to pay attention to hiking hydration.

Perspiration: it's a good thing
No, really!

Does that go against what you've been taught in terms of personal hygiene?

Think again!

You perspire to dump excess heat in your core. If you're burning up the trail, you don't want your internal organs to get overheated and cease to function.

And if you're hiking with a doggie friend, be aware that the only way they can dump excess heat is to pant - which makes them thirsty, which means you've got to carry water (or have them carry water) to replace what's lost in the drool.

Full disclosure: I don't wear antiperspirant or deodorant when I hike, because I want to capitalize on the ability of my sweat to carry away impurities and toxins and to clean out my pores.

  • Working up a good sweat is an age old cleansing technique!

An additional benefit of your muscular contractions during a hike: it gets the lymphatic system moving, another way to purify the blood and allow toxins to flow out of the skin pores where they can be flushed away when you shower or swim.

Are you offended by body odor?

Sweat won't smell bad until bacteria have had a chance to start metabolizing it, so on a day hike, what you are smelling is that person's characteristic "signature" odor.

A garlic eater will have different odor than a curry eater.

As long as you shower or bathe after a hike, the odor won't be much of a problem. On multiday hikes, washing up each evening not only feels good, but removes odors.

How much sweat is "too much"?

Don't ask me.

I always have a soaked shirt by the time I've reached my destination.

Because of this, I carry a clean, dry shirt to change into at turn-around time if the weather is cool (prevents hypothermia). I just dry off in the sun during the summer - a perfect excuse for an after-lunch siesta.

Can you tell that I'm a big fan of perspiration?

  • It's Mother Nature's way of keeping me cool and clean, inside and out.
  • And it's the perfect excuse to fill up my water bottle with cool, clean water as part of my hiking hydration strategy.

An aside about perspiration

If you are hiking with someone you are romantically involved with, or want to be involved with, the pheromones in your sweat can be a huge turn-on.

Or not.

A lot of human reproduction/romance is tied up in smell.

Really!! If you don't believe me, ask the perfume manufacturers. They make a fortune on your sense of smell.

What to put in your water bottle

Water, right? Duh!

But you can add "enhancements" if you're really serious about preventing muscle cramps and post-hike aches and pains.

As far as what to add to your water bottle or hydration system, there are many opinions about hiking hydration.

Read mine here.

And play it safe with your drinking water.

Hiking hydration means keeping the water you put into your body where it belongs: in your body!

Tip: Add powdered electrolytes to your hiking hydration routine in hot or strenuous conditions.

Also, carry some in your first aid kit in case you are losing precious body water via diarrhea or vomiting. It will buy you some time so you can hike out and get help.

Here's what I use:

Ultima Replenisher Lemonade 90 - Servings , 13.65 ounces Jars

Convinced yet?

Hiking hydration truly is a big deal.

Make sure you're paying attention to your level of "juiciness" throughout your next hike!

And don't ignore a headache or cramping. It's your signal to glug down some clear, cold water ASAP.

Your kidneys will love you for it.

Hurrah for your kidneys!!

Read more about hiking water here.

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