Trail Hydration

Being properly-hydrated is crucial to having a safe and fun time while hiking. Most stress injuries while hiking can be attributed, at least partially, to dehydration. When your body is low of water, you feel sluggish and without energy, often impeding decision-making and even destabilizing one's emotions.

Signs of Dehydration
Here are some of the most common signs of which to be aware:
  • Decreased urinary output- be aware of how often you urinate
  • Darkened color of urine- when your urine is other than clear, you are dehydrated to some degree. Be alert for darkening urine and be proactive to reverse the problem by immediately drinking water.
  • Headache- this is the most common first symptom, which is sometimes incorrectly attributed to the elevation. Instead of focusing on taking pain medication, drink water and lots of it!
  • Queasiness/constipation- a lack of water begins to slow the intestinal track, and is no fun
  • Stress injury- this may come in the form of back or joint pain. This pain may cause you to hike a little differently to avoid the pain, and often leads to an accident (twisted ankle or a fall).
  • Mental blur- as you get more dehydrated, there's a tendency to make poor decisions as your brain isn't firing on all cylinders. This can lead to additional stress injuries, getting lost, etc.
There's Nothing Like Water
Water is, quite simply, the best means of rehydrating. Don't bother with sugary sports drinks which take up space and weight, and are just another smellable. As a side note, avoid alcohol when on the trail, as it can dehydrate and obviously lead to poor decision making. When hiking in desert environments, or in other especially hot climates, be sure to consider a way of replacing electrolytes. Except for the most extreme hot situation, pure water is usually all your body needs to stay healthy (well, food helps too!).

Ease of Hydration
Although there are many methods of water purification available, we recommend the use of an in-line filtration system. Specifically, we've had success with the Sawyer 3-way in-line water filter. It's a relatively inexpensive device that connects into your existing bladder water containers (we usually hike with two Platypus 2-liter containers, which can also double as a pillow at night). We have a hose that comes from the water container (which is placed upside down on a side-pouch of the pack), into the filter, and then to a mouthpiece. It's much easier to stay hydrated when you don't have to stop and drink from a water bottle, which is innately heavier anyway. Additionally, when filtering water requires almost no time or effort, you'll find yourself staying hydrated and happier.

Effective Use of Water Weight
Some argue that you should always plan to arrive at the next known water source with empty water containers. The concept is great, as it's a waste of weight to carry water from one source to the next if you're not drinking it. However, it can be a bit risky since even water sources you're sure about can be unseasonably dry, or you might sustain an injury just before reaching the water source. Still, the general concept is solid. Try to avoid carrying unnecessary water weight if you're not drinking it. Be sure to stay hydrated by drinking as much as you can from any remaining water before you fill your containers again.

Liters Per Day
Be aware of about how many liters per day you should be drinking. For example, we often have a rule of thumb for a minimum of 4 liters of water per day. Understand your body's need, and keep yourself drinking. Obviously there will be times when you need to conserve water, such as places where there are 30 miles between water sources (see example). But in general, keep track of how much you're drinking and try to be both healthy and efficient.

Lightweight Hiking Concepts