Itís almost a given: at some point in time, youíve probably been dehydrated. You may not have known it, but by the time your body tells you youíre thirsty, youíre already lacking vital fluids.
As hot, sweaty hikers, we have to be acutely aware of dehydration. The body simply is not made to operate under water depleted conditions. We all learned in biology class that the body can survive for almost 11 days without food. But without water? A mere two days.
But if this occurs so frequently, why is it such a big deal? Dehydration leads to several life-threatening conditions, among them hyperthermia (the raising of the bodyís core temperature above normal levels). Left unchecked, hyperthermia can lead to lethargy, nausea, severe heat exhaustion, heat stroke, hyponatremia (low blood sodium levels), and hypoglycemia and glycogen depletion.
In order to prevent dehydration related problems, be on the lookout for the symptoms that indicate low water levels:
- Sticky saliva
- Dark yellow urine
- Lost elasticity in skin
Of course, the best thing to do is to prevent dehydration.
Constantly drinking water or other hydrating fluids such as sports drinks is your best bet. By doing so, the body can continually replace the water you lose through sweat. Itís so simple itís frightening. Just keep drinking water or sports drinks throughout your entire hike. Choose a water carrying method that will encourage you to take frequent sips. Gulping water every two hours wonít help, because the body just processes that water out of your system. Take small, frequent sips of water to allow your body to properly use what youíve ingested.
Remember, you should be drinking at least a quart of water for every Ĺ hour you hike.
Considering the advice given above, the ideal source for continuous hydration should make water available to you while youíre hiking. This can be accomplished in several ways:
- Water Bladder with hose (like the Platypusâ
- Hip belt sleeve with water bottle
- Water bottle pocket within reach on pack
The most convenient of these methods is the Water Bladder. A bladder such as the Platypusâ
(our favorite) fits securely within your pack, keeping the water cooler as you hike. A hose is typically run from the pack around to your front for easy access. Most bladders have a clip near the nozzle so you can keep it close to your face.
The hip belt sleeve and pack pocket are good second choices, but they donít encourage frequent sipping. Typically people will wait until theyíre thirsty to look for that water bottle. But if you are financially under-equipped and donít want to spring the cash for a bladder, consider this option as your choice.
Most of the hikes we at Hike-NH take are usually too long to make carrying a full supply of water reasonable. So we make sure to plan appropriately, passing by reliable water sources throughout the trip. The only problem with this is that water from nature contains, well, nature. Organisms, viruses, and other creepy crawly things (whereas Iím not going to get into the many different types of contaminants, you can view the most typical by clicking here to go to the Pur Company web site). Therefore, we must treat the water.
There are several ways to treat water:
- Boil for at least two minutes
- Treat with Iodine
Boiling is a reliable method to kill organisms, since nothing can survive in boiling water. This method is relatively easy, but is not convenient. You must carry enough stove fuel to make this possible, and then you need to allow the water to cool. Also, this method does nothing to get rid of floating particles within the water (bark, moss, dirt, etc).
A slightly more convenient purification option, iodine treatment kills some organisms within your water but adds a very distinctive, very bad taste. Treatment with iodine is actually the most convenient and easiest purification technique out there. You literally add a tablet or scoop of iodine to a water bottle full of water, wait for a few minutes, then drink. Unfortunately, iodine treatment, like boiling, does nothing to eliminate bark, dirt, and other contaminants. Rob does a good job getting around the taste issue by carrying packets of Gatoradeâ and adding them to a quart of treated water.
This is probably the most popular technique for making water drinkable in the field. Filtering entails pumping water through a water filter designed to remove debris and organisms typically through a charcoal or similar filter. Unfortunately, water run through a filter is just that: filtered. Filtering removes only certain sized organisms from the water, namely protozoa and bacteria. In order to get truly purified water, you need to use a purifier.
The most effective (and typically the most expensive) way to treat water is to use a water purifier. This tool works like a filter in that you pump water through it to kill the nasties. By using a combination of filtering and iodine or other chemical agents, purifiers eliminate virtually all organisms and viruses from your water. The downside is typically expense, and convenience (purifying water takes about two minutes of constant pumping per quart).
Thanks to the Pur Filter Company, we have the official difference between a filter, microfilter, and purifier:
Copyright © 1998-1999 PUR, Recovery Engineering, Inc.
It should be fairly obvious by now that keeping yourself hydrated is an important job when hiking. Youíll increase your performance, feel better, reduce risk of fatigue and thus injury, and generally feel much better throughout your hike. If you have any questions about hydration, I encourage you to use the resources on the web, including those listed below.
Adam.com - http://www.adam.com
Pur Company Web site - http://www.purwater.com
Sweetwater Company site - http://www.spelean.com.au/SWE/
EPA Web site - http://www.epa.gov
Pennsylvania State University Web site - http://www.psu.edu
Chris & Robís Brains