Staying hydrated is important to have a great hike and feeling good even after it’s over. It’s even more vital if you’re hiking at elevation or during the summer when temperatures are at their hottest. Long hikes and those with a significant change in elevation will also be demanding on the body and may require more water than usual.
While it can be difficult to balance drinking enough with having a light backpack, it’s always a good idea to have some water with you. There are also methods to increase hydration before hitting the trails and ways to utilize water sources along the way.
So, how do you stay hydrated while hiking?
Staying hydrated while hiking is a process that starts before your hike. If you start your hike without enough hydration, you are sure to struggle keeping hydrated during you hike. Once you are properly hydrated before the start of your hike, you can remain that way by carrying water bottles during short hikes and if you are on long back-country hikes or camping trips, you can use a camelbak or water purification tablets.
To find out how much water you need to stay hydrated during your hike, check out this article we wrote for you. How Much Water Should You Drink Per Day When Backpacking?
Hydration Before Hiking
It’s possible to get a jump start on hydration before you even start your hike. Make sure you are well hydrated in the days leading up to your outing.
You can do this by reducing the intake of dehydrating foods and drinks and increasing hydrating ones. Caffeine should be avoided so stop drinking coffee and soda in advance. Alcohol should also be limited in all forms.
Don’t eat foods that contain a lot of sodium either. Fried foods and sugary drinks are also culprits that may not seem obvious but are best left until your adventure is over.
Hydrating foods such as cucumbers, tomatoes, melons, grapes, and leafy greens can give your body a boost of water. Most fruits and vegetables have a high water content, so adding in some more of your favorites is an easy and delicious way to boost hydration.
Keep a bottle of water nearby at all times and drink throughout the day. Then try to drink a glass of water before each meal to both increase your water intake and get used to drinking more in preparation for the hike.
Hydration During the Hike
Bringing a water bottle along is the bare minimum you should do to stay hydrated while hiking. But there are ways you can go above and beyond to drink more and make it more convenient to do so.
Basic Nalgene bottles are an option because they are durable and easy to fill. But they can also be heavy, take up a lot of space, and the wide mouth may be uncomfortable for some to drink out of.
Collapsible bottles are ideal because they take up less space in your backpack the more you drink from them. They are pretty affordable but they aren’t that durable and can break when you try to fill them.
Get a backpack with a bladder or reservoir built in so you can drink hands-free. Instead, the water will be stored inside the backpack and a tube will come out nearby so you can turn your head and drink from it like a straw.
Using a bladder also means your water is usually colder because it is hidden from the sun inside your pack. You can also put it in the refrigerator the night before a hike to chill the water.
One downside to using a bladder is that it’s difficult to see how much you are drinking to ensure you stay well hydrated. There’s also the risk of it bursting or leaking if your bag gets damaged or you accidentally sit on it.
Because it’s nearly impossible to carry all the water you’ll need unless you’re going on a very short hike, you should have a water purification method with you at all times. Water filtration systems are a good option, as are lightweight pens or chlorine tablets which will quickly treat water. Always have a backup method in case a filter clogs or one method fails.
Make sure you know how to use your water purification system and have tried it out before so you can easily utilize it while hiking.
Tips to Reduce Dehydration
Getting enough water intake isn’t the only part of staying hydrated. Preventing dehydration is important not only for your health but also as a way to make your water supply last longer. As much as possible, try to hike during the coolest times of the day. Wake up early and set out before the sun reaches its highest point in the sky.
While on the trail, stay in the shade and wear appropriate clothing such as a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen. Don’t wear dark clothes or heavy materials which aren’t suited for the climate. Instead, opt for lightweight clothes that breathe and wick moisture away from your body. If it’s cool in the morning, wear layers that can be removed as the temperature rises.
Take a rest from any hiking or other strenuous activities during the sun’s peak hours. If you haven’t completed your hike yet, find a place in the shade where you can relax and have lunch or snack. Then resume hiking after a few hours when the sun is no longer directly overhead. You could also bring a hammock and take a short nap in the shade to pass the time and get energized for the return hike.
Do a little research before you hit the trails to see if there are shade or water sources along the way. You’ll also be able to plot your stops and ration your water between areas to refill your bottle. Pace yourself as you hike to make sure you don’t get overexerted. Excess sweating also leads to dehydration and you will need to replenish your electrolytes too.
If you find yourself overheating, try to find a shady place to sit down and rest. You could also find a creek or lake to use to cool down. Take off your hiking boots and stick your feet in the water, or dip your hands in to let the water run over your wrists. Take a handful of water and splash your head and face but only if the water is clean. Wet a handkerchief or bandana to tie around your neck to help lower your temperature.
Never drink water that hasn’t been treated because it could result in diseases and other illnesses. You could end up with diarrhea which also leads to more dehydration, not to mention it’s uncomfortable and inconvenient when hiking.
How to Drink More Water
If you don’t particularly like drinking water, it may be difficult to consume enough while hiking. It is especially challenging in colder weather when you may not sweat as much or feel thirsty. When it’s cold out, bring warm drinks instead like tea, coffee, hot chocolate, or cider. Warm water with a little lemon and ginger will also be delicious and warming.
Drink at regular intervals throughout the hike and don’t wait until you feel thirsty to start drinking. Refill your water bottle at every chance even if you don’t feel thirsty so you always have water with you.
On a long hike, the taste of water may get boring so you can add in flavoring drops or electrolytes to mix things up. Although water is optimal, there are other drinks that you can incorporate to avoid taste boredom.
Coconut water is sweet and delicious while also providing a lot of electrolytes. Fruit juices and sports drinks are also useful. Some sports drink mixes in small packages can be added to water and are lightweight enough to pack a few different flavors.
If drinking becomes tiresome, try eating water-rich fruits instead. Freeze some grapes to snack on, slice up a cucumber, or cube watermelon to eat as a snack. Bring popsicles or ice pops but don’t forget to eat them before they melt.
Sparkling water is also refreshing and comes in many different flavors so consider grabbing a bottle or can to stick in your pack when you want something else. Be careful when opening it, especially if it’s been jostled during the hike.
For those still struggling to get enough water in, set a fun challenge to drink a certain amount. Track your intake with a fun app on your phone. Set an alarm to remind you to drink and always have something, even if it’s just a sip.
How to Find Water in the Wild
Should you end up finishing all your water and not being able to find an easy source to refill your bottle, there are some tricks to locate more water. Climb up to a higher area and look around for sources of water using binoculars.
Creek beds can dry up but there may be water just below the surface. If you see a damp area or a place where something is growing, chances are there is water underneath if you dig a little bit. In an emergency, you can use a condensation trap to collect water. However, it takes a long time and very little water will be collected. Still, it could save someone’s life in an emergency.
During the winter, water can be sourced by melting ice and snow. Just make sure to melt it completely and boil it to kill any organisms or bacteria that could be harmful.