How to Stay Hydrated on Trail
by Erika Haugen-Goodman
When the summer hiking season turns hot or dry, staying hydrated on trail is a challenge. And in the late summer (or a particularly dry year) tried and true sources of water might not be as reliable as creeks and rivers dry up. With a bit of planning, you can still enjoy many of your favorite trails (and perhaps discover some new ones).
Planning for water
When planning a backpacking or day trip this summer, here are a few things to consider:
- Hike when it's cool. Plan hikes for earlier in the morning before the sun is overhead. As the day gets hotter, you’ll need to drink more water to stay hydrated.
- Plan your water stops. Access to water sources is especially important for backpackers and those of you planning extended trips. Be certain that you’ll have enough water to get you from one source of water to the next. Plan routes around bodies of water that you know will be accessible.
- Bring a map! Besides using a map to plan, having a map with you while you hike, and the knowledge to navigate to nearby water sources, may come in handy.
- Topography matters. When choosing a hike, consider if you’ll end up on a ridge or summit as those areas tend to have less access to water.
Pack it in
Water is heavy, but it is well worth its weight. It's a safe bet to bring an extra bottle with you when you’re hiking in areas that have limited access to water sources. Even if you’ve hiked a trail before with access to water, that source may not be available in a dry year.
Water filters are an excellent way to ensure you can get liquids when your packed water runs out, given you have access to a source. Filters come in all shapes and sizes but essentially function in the same manner by removing potentially harmful bacteria and viruses from the water. Even if a water source looks clean, it can still contain bacteria, so be sure to always filter water you find in the wild.
Top it off
If you come across a water source while hiking, we recommend topping off your bottles with filtered water before moving on. This guarantees that you won’t run out of liquids in the middle of nowhere.
Chug, chug, chug!
As with any year, dry or not, it’s always good practice to drink water while hiking to replenish fluids and energy. By sipping water throughout your hike you can eliminate adverse effects like headaches, muscle cramps and more. Severe dehydration can be especially dangerous, so stay safe and keep that water bottle handy. Here are some quick tips from the American Council on Exercise for staying hydrated:
- Start hydrated. Try to down 20 ounces of water two hours before exercising, and drink about 8 ounces of water 30 minutes before hitting the trail.
- 1 Nalgene every 2 miles (that's 32 ounces, folks). While you’re hiking, try to drink 7-10 ounces of water for every 10-20 minutes of strenuous hiking. That’s roughly a 32-oz Nalgene bottle every two miles for the average hiker!
- Refresh post-hike. Drink at least 8 ounces of water immediately after exercising.
- Replace salts. For most people, water is the best liquid to hydrate with, but you also need to replace salts. It's best to do this by eating them, so bring Wheat Thins, salted peanuts or a salt lick, whatever will do the trick.
- Clear and strong, all day long. To check if you’re hydrated, make sure urine is light yellow in color and plentiful. If it’s darker in color, you may be dehydrated.
Dogs need water too!
When hiking with a four-legged friend this summer, be sure to bring them their own supply of water and a container to drink from. (An old Tupperware or rinsed-out plastic container makes a light and cheap dog bowl.)
Dogs' biology makes them more prone to dehydration and heat exhaustion than humans, so make sure they’re drinking water as often as you are—especially on hot days.
If the forecast calls for high temperatures, head for somewhere with plenty of shade and water, or consider leaving your buddy at home, even if they beg you to bring them along.
Write a trip report
We always encourage hikers to write a trip report, but if you notice that water sources are dried up, make a note of it—it just might help someone who’s planning a trip!