Understanding the Basics of Hydration in the Field

Understanding the Basics of Hydration in the Field

We all know that drinking plenty of liquids during outdoor exertion is of paramount importance.  However, being properly hydrated involves more than just periodically guzzling a couple of bottles of water.  Let's take a closer look at things that you can do in order to remain hydrated at all stages of your trip.


Sip Instead of Guzzle

One of the biggest misconceptions out there is that we can get all the fluids we need in one or two sittings.  The reality is that our body can only process a certain amount of water at a time, and anything above that amount gets sent to the kidneys and out the body.  Consequently, if you drink a liter of water at once, your body will only absorb a few ounces while the rest of the water goes to waste.  Not only do you risk becoming dehydrated, but you also risk unnecessarily depleting your water supply.


As a general rule of thumb, the adult body processes between 12-16 ounces of water per hour.  When drinking in the wilderness, try to take smaller sips on a frequent basis in order to regulate intake to this amount.  You can also drink a glass of water at a single sitting, but you may start to develop thirst or a dry mouth as the hour progresses. 


However, it's also important to adjust intake based on the amount of physical exertion you are under as well as the air temperature.  We need more water when we sweat as well as when fluids evaporate under hot conditions.  These are to examples of how our intake needs will need to increase as the body adapts to the rate of fluid depletion.  Consequently, the 12-16 ounce guideline applies to “normal” conditions, but you'll need more when fluid loss occurs at a greater rate.


Water Plus Electrolytes

It's also important to be mindful that water is not enough to promote hydration.  We also need electrolytes in order for cells to absorb fluids and release waste products.  It is not uncommon for someone to drink plenty of fluids and still become dehydrated simply because their electrolyte balance is off. 


This is where sports drinks, electrolyte packets and eating foods like bananas come in to play.  You can also add ¼ teaspoon of salt and sugar to a glass or bottle of water to create a basic electrolyte compound as well.  The important thing is to make sure that you have electrolyte replacements on hand while in the field, particularly when you will be undergoing physical exertion. 


It's also important to avoid consuming beverages that can promote dehydration, such as beer, coffee, caffeinated tea and sodas.  Finally, remember that becoming parched or extremely-thirsty often happens after the process of dehydration is under way.  This is why most recommend that you start hydrating before you head out into the field, and that you continually sip fluids throughout the day. 


You can also cut down the risk by limiting exertion during the heat of the day and spending as much time in shady areas as possible.  Remember that dehydration is almost completely preventable as long as you plan accordingly and bring along enough fluids.