Hydration Planning

September 15, 2014

by Amanda Morgan, M.D.

One of the most important aspects of keeping healthy while being BOLD on your adventures is staying hydrated.   The easiest way to accomplish this is to drink water. However, when you consider that one gallon of water weighs approximately 8 pounds and you are likely to need far more than this for an overnight trip, things can get a little complicated. Planning your next trip and every trip afterward will be much easier by simplifying things with a hydration plan.

Step 1: Estimate how much water you will need

There are many variables to consider including:

  • Ambient temperature
  • Altitude
  • Body size
  • Medication use, and
  • How hydrated you are in the days leading up to your adventure

The important thing to know is that your body water losses increase with altitude, and if you are in a dry climate you may not realize how much you are losing through perspiration. If you regularly drink 8, 8-ounce glasses per day, you will likely be well hydrated to start yet you will still need more than this while hiking. We like to start with 8-10 ounces per hour of activity. Therefore, for an 8-hour hike you will need between 2-3 liters (64-100 ounces) of water for just the hike always erring on the side of having too much rather than too little.           

Step 2: Determine if you will carry the water you need or purify it as you go.

For day hikes, water bladders such as the Osprey Mira 26 Hydration Pack and the CamelBak Aurora Hydration Pack come in multiple sizes and are the easiest way to carry water in bulk. They have the added convenience of a drinking hose and bite valve that can be used to take small sips regularly while you are hiking. Stainless steel and BPA free plastic water bottles can also be used and some have convenient loops from the cap for attaching to the outside of your pack.

For longer trips we recommend carrying some water in addition to a filter or purification system like the Katadyn Base Camp Pro. The main ways to treat water in the backcountry include:

  1. Iodine tablets which kill most troublesome protozoa and bacteria but may leave debris
  2. Water filters which remove large organisms such as giardia and most debris
  3. Water purification systems which remove large and small organisms as well as debris
  4. Ultralight stoves such as the Primus ETA Lite Stove System with which you boil water for at least two minutes

If you are planning to filter or purify water as you go, you must first plan your trip around water sources. Information regarding water sources can usually be found on trip reports or park websites for most major trails.

If you are backpacking more remotely, we suggest you purchase updated USGS maps either online or at your local sporting goods store and study them beforehand to be sure you know where to find water on your route.

Lastly, we suggest you avoid caffeine or alcohol and drink plenty of water in the days leading up to your trip, and remember that foods high in carbohydrates and salt help retain body water so be sure to check out our recommendations for healthy pack snacks.

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