Trail Hydration 101

Know Before you go:

Always do sober what you said you'd do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut.  

 -Ernest Hemingway

I personally love that quote but when it comes to hydration you are already behind the power curve if you follow it. Hydration when on the trail is a constant process that begins far before you even step off on to the trail. What we are covering here is how to avoid many of the pit falls even experienced hikes make.

For me especially when hiking a significant trail or when weather dictates my hydration can begin the day or days before I even leave. Avoiding diuretics such as caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol combined with drinking copious amounts of water are a crucial part of my hike planning.

Like you would plan for your jeep when doing a off road trip there are preparations, fluids, and gear that you make sure you have in good working condition before you go. In this case you are the jeep and require fuel (energy) and cooling (hydration) to successfully enjoy your trip.

Considerations you should make are your health, ability, distance, and terrain. Once you have determined that ho much water are you taking, how are you packing it and what are you refuel options and how are you going to purify it?

Common containers are:

  1. Store bought water
  2. Hydration Bladders
  3. Reusable water bottle

Common hydration supplements

  1. Sports Drink
  2. Salty, Carbohydrate rich and Potassium rich foods
  3. Actual supplements

Common purification techniques  

  1. Filter
  2. Chemical
  3. Boil

Store bought water is cheap cold and available, often I buy a couple of gallons on my way to hike to fill my containers and have additional water in the truck when I get back from the hike. Some of the down falls are the containers are not made to deal with the environment and can burst or leak, plus they often become trash you have to pack out.

Hydration supplements are a great addition to your packing list especially when dealing with heat and humidity. They can prevent cramping and other heat related injuries as well improve the quality of your trip. Some considerations are that sports drinks are additional weight and space and can become trash you have to pack out. One suggestion is carrying concentrate packets to cut weight and space. Food is awesome it also provides energy but space weight preparation and disciplining yourself top eat it is a factor as well. Lastly supplements can be an easy space saving option that can be taken easily and while drinking water.

For the prepared hiker purification on the trail is an easy task that only requires you to take advantage of pre-planned stops and fill and filter as necessary. This though does not let you off the hook for packing the water you actually need, expecting water to be there especially in Southern California an get you into trouble quick. Filters are great they allow you to drink directly from the source, inline from your container or perform gravity filtration in camp or on long stops. Although down sides such as being improperly maintained, full or weather can impact their effectiveness or running out of batteries in the case of UV pens. They can also be cumbersome to drink from and require a little extra effort to use since you have to bring the water through the filter.

Chemical purification is a highly effective way of purifying water. They are lite and small, although they can take a while (up to four hours) to fully purify the container it is quite handy in purifying containers as you hike for later. You have to make sure the lid and bottle threads are contacted with the mixture to prevent you from drinking contaminated water. Lastly the taste… it can be unpleasant and dissuade you from drinking, although one trick is to have powder beverage on hand to step on the flavor. 

Lastly Boiling, this method begins to inter the survival realm of purification but is an option for the hiker. It is time consuming, takes fuel be it canister or fire and means that you have to wait for it to cool and can be transferred to another container depending on the size of what you are boiling in. To properly boil water you need to bring it to a rolling boil for one minute for altitudes less than 5,000 feet and three minutes above (1). Now I’m not bad mouthing this either in winter conditions where you might lose functionality of a filter or want to save your tablets this is a good option especially when you are hydrating with warm fluids to help keep up your core temperature and its good for making coffee.

When collecting water look for moving clear water and consider the source. Make sure to use a pre filter such as a bandanna or if you have to go straight in with your container keep the lid closed, and open it below the surface and above the bottom to reduce debris in the container. Avoid murky or still water but also remember this in the end if it comes down to heat stroke or drinking questionable water I would rather be taking care of that at the doctors than flopped out on the trail.

  • EPA, Emergency Disinfection of Drinking Water.

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