Your body is between 55% and 60% water—when you’re properly hydrated, that is. Keeping it that way is imperative for performance, comfort, and safety on the trail, and it’s not necessarily as easy as “just drinking.” Learn how to establish good drinking habits and avoid the pitfalls of dehydration with our experts’ advice on one of the outdoors’ most fundamental skills.
- Hydrate before you leave your doorstep, car or camp. Drinking 16 to 24 ounces of water in the hour before you hit the trail is ideal for making sure you start trekking hydrated. Drink a little extra if you’re starting out first thing in the morning, as you’ll be dehydrated from the previous night's sleep.
- Drink small amounts frequently, instead of chugging a liter every 2 to 3 hours to help maintain hydration levels for the duration of your hike. Set a timer every 15 to 20 minutes to remind you to take a few sips if you find yourself frequently forgetting to drink.
- Keep your water accessible. Hydration vessels and packs are perfect for this, as they make it easy to sip water while walking. If you prefer hiking with a water bottle, make sure to pack it on the top or outside of your pack, so you don’t have to do extra digging to retrieve it from the bottom of your bag. Hydration belts and vests are good options for trail runs and short before or after work hikes.
- Replenish electrolytes if you’re hiking for over an hour to make up for those you sweat out. Commercially available sports drinks like Gatorade are usually too sugary. Water them down, use a purpose-made powder or tablet like Nuun or Skratch Labs, or make your own by adding table salt and a splash of fruit juice to your bottle. Alternatively, pack salty snacks to boost your electrolyte levels throughout your hike.
- Refill water when you can. Always purify trailside water sources using a filter or chemical disinfectant or by boiling before drinking to avoid getting sick.
- Drink a liter every time you stop to refill your water supply. You’ll rehydrate and avoid carrying extra water on the trail.
- Drink no matter the weather. Proper hydration is just as important in cold weather (being dehydrated makes you cold faster) as it is on a hot summer day. Hate sipping icy water on winter hikes? Pack a thermos or insulated water bottle filled with hot tea or warm water to keep you toasty and hydrated.
- Protect yourself from the sun with sunscreen, sun-protectant layers and a hat. Sunburns speed dehydration, and shade (from your hat) will keep you cooler, less sweaty and therefore more hydrated.
- Hike when it’s cooler. In extremely hot climates, begin hiking at sunrise and walk till around 11 a.m. Then find a shady spot to rest and refuel with a large meal (don’t forget to rehydrate) until 2 or 3 p.m., when the sun is not longer at peak strength, and hike again until sunset.
- Check your pee. Your urine should be light yellow, and you should have to go every couple hours. Low volumes of dark-colored urine every 4+ hours is a sure sign you're dehydrated.
- Rehydrate with at least 16 ounces of fluids on the way home or at camp on overnights. This is also an excellent time to replace electrolytes by enjoying a post-workout sports supplement or tall glass of chocolate milk to promote muscle recovery and replenish sodium and potassium levels.
By Backpacker Magazine, Elizabeth Haas