The importance of water and hydration when hiking

Hydrate you bodies vital organs

I’m often stunned at how many times I see people out for a walk or hike with nothing but the clothes they are wearing and no consideration of Water and Hydration. Sure when you are walking around the suburbs you don’t have to be too concerned about carrying water, snacks and basic medical supplies but when you venture into the bush even for as little as for a leisurely stroll you need to be prepared to come back alive.

That may sound a bit dramatic but I have read countless stories about people becoming lost and coming close to or meeting their demise on short walks into the great unknown.

I recommend not starting a hike that takes you more than a kilometre from the trail head without a bottle of water along. It’s recommended you have at least one litre with you and try to consume 250ml every time you need a drink; that will hydrate you bodies vital organs and your brain.

The adult human body is about 60 percent water, and even light exercise can deplete that percentage. You are already 2-3% dehydrated when thirsty – it is a symptom not a sign.  Our bodies do not make water – you need a water supply and electrolytes. If you are hiking, you are losing moisture through perspiration, respiration and urination and you need to replace it or you will become dehydrated.

How much to drink

How much you need to drink depends on a number of factors, such as the activity you’re doing, intensity level, duration, weather, your age, your perspiration rate and your body type. A good general recommendation is about a half a liter of water per hour of moderate activity in moderate temperatures. You may need to increase how much you drink as the temperature and intensity of the activity rise.

For example, on a moderate 4-hour hike, you see you consume two litres of water and ideally, you should be able to go to the toilet. Urine that is light yellow (straw colour) is a good indication that you’re getting enough fluid. If you don’t need to urinate then all the water you drank left your body through perspiration and respiration and you need water to re-hydrate your organs.

Pre-hydrate: It’s a great idea to pre-hydrate before hiking. A general recommendation is to drink about 450ml about two hours before heading out. depending on how far I have to drive, I generally have a good drink (around 250ml) before leaving home and another before commencing the hike.

Rehydrate: Drinking after hiking gets your fluid levels back to normal and can help with recovery. This can be as simple as drinking a few cups of water when you finish the hike. I don’t mean scull it down, just drink half a cup every 15 minutes or so. Its a good idea to also include electrolytes top help your body recover.

Electrolytes and why they are important

Electrolytes are essential minerals – like sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium – that are vital to many key functions in the body. When you perspire, you lose electrolytes, and if you lose too many, your performance can suffer. If your hike lasts for only an hour or less, this usually isn’t an issue, but when you’re out for longer it’s important to compensate for the loss. Focus mostly on replacing sodium and potassium, but calcium and magnesium are also important. The easiest way to do this is with an electrolyte replacement drink. You can buy convenient powders and tablets to pre-mix with water before you head outside or to carry with you while you’re out there. Follow the directions on the packaging for mixing and consuming.

Water is THE most critical survival item – whether in the wild or at home.

Water and hydration ‘Rule of 3’

  1. You can live 3 minutes without air.
  2. You can live 3 days without water. (and they wont be very pleasant ones)
  3. You can live 3 weeks without food.

Drink regularly

Drink up. Drink regularly so you don’t become dehydrated, but not so often that you become overhydrated. Maintaining the balance of fluids and minerals helps combat muscle soreness and the effects of the hot sun and high elevations. I take a good drink roughly every 20 minutes (and remind my kids to do so). I also like carrying powdered hydralite mix and making a liter to drink over the next few hours when I reach camp (for overnight hikes) or following the hike (for day hikes) to help rehydrate and replace electrolytes. It’s amazing how much better that alone can make me feel.

  • Never drink untreated water from hill streams or eat any wild plant.
  • Don’t consume cold drinks immediately after a long hike, when your body temperature is still high.
  • Never drink alcohol during a hike.

You’ll have air to breathe unless you’re under water or in a cave-in. If you run out of food, you can struggle on for 150 miles if needed. But, if you run out of water, you have only a day or so to figure out a solution.

Related Articles

How to Spot and Treat Mild Dehydration

How to spot and treat heat exhaustion

2 thoughts on “The importance of water and hydration when hiking”

Leave a comment