In winter on a cruisy hike, it’s easy to stay hydrated with a few sips from a water bottle while you’re checking out the views. But on a summer stinker, it’s a different story – especially if it’s a tough and/or long hike. There’s nothing that sucks the joy from a hike like slogging up a hill feeling hot, weak and head-achey when you’re dehydrated. It might not be so obvious either – you might just feel a bit ‘off’ and not have your usual energy. Low blood sugar can be another reason for it but that’s one for another day…
Step 1: Start early
Hydration starts the day before. Athletes keep a water bottle with them the day before a race or hard training session for good reason. Playing catch up on the day if you start dehydrated is fighting a losing battle as it’s already hard to replenish at the rate you sweat on hot days. If you’re already hydrated, you only need to replace what you lose so you’ve got a much better chance.
If you enjoy a few bevvies on Saturday night, you need extra water to fight the dehydrate from that. It might be worth it, but don’t forget to factor it in and preferably don’t go overboard. Also, start early because if you wait till bedtime for a few glasses of water you’ll only half hydrate plus be tired from getting up to pee half the night.
The morning of the hike, you should already be hydrated so just top up with some water at breaky or on your way there.
Step 2: During the hike
There’s levels of hot and levels of hike…
Easy hike on a semi warm day – just pay extra attention to actually drinking from your water bottle instead of carrying around a full bottle the whole hike – as is easily done!
Moderate hike on a hotter day – consider a water bladder in your pack for easy access for frequent sipping. You drink a lot more if you don’t have to continually reach for and open/close the water bottle.
Extreme heat or extreme hike – consider electrolytes in a water bladder, possibly with glucose as well e.g. sports drink. If you’re sweating a lot it’s impossible to replace all the fluid lost because there’s a maximum rate at which your gut can absorb water – after that it just sits in your stomach and makes you feel bloated! However, salt and glucose speed absorption from the gut (by opening extra absorption channels with the sodium glucose pump) so it’s more effective at hydration than just water alone. Salt also encourages the cells to hold more water which helps too. They’re not very healthy on a normal day but you need to replenish if you’re sweating that much. The World Health Organisation suggests a simple ORS (oral rehydration solution) of 1 tsp of salt and 1 tbsp of sugar per litre of water for rehydration. It’s a good rule of thumb but we’re lucky enough to have commercial products which taste a lot better!
NB don’t be tempted to think the more the better – if you put in too much sports drink powder it has a negative effect on hydration because it’s too concentrated and actually pulls water into your gut to balance out the differential, so follow the manufacturer’s instructions. I made this mistake once and it’s the only time I’ve cramped in a bike race. It wasn’t fun! I also suggest having some plain water even if you are using sports drink because it can taste super sweet if it’s that’s all you drink.
Step 3: Post hike
You’re done with the hike so it’s time to put your feet up and rest with a cold beer – after all, you’ve earned it! …Well you have earned it, but you probably won’t feel great if you don’t rehydrate first. You know that feeling heading home from a hike and you’re so exhausted you miss your train stop, or wonder if you should be behind the wheel driving? Of course, it’s partly because you worked hard and possibly because of low blood sugar but very often, dehydration contributes.
So before you put a wrap on the day, continue drinking extra water (or hydration solution if you’re really struggling) for a couple more hours and feeling better. Then you’ll be right as rain to head off on another awesome hike tomorrow, sweet!!
Take home points:
– Start the hike well hydrated from the previous day
– Consider a water bladder in your backpack
– For most hikes on normal days water is enough – as long as you actually drink it!
– For tough hikes on hot summer days, consider a hydration solution e.g. sports drink
– Keep re-hydrating afterwards until you’re topped up again.
As you’d know, dehydration can get serious very quickly so don’t neglect it – but better to pay attention in any case since even mild dehydration makes you feel rubbish and that’s no fun on a hike!