Hiking Hydration Tips

by Coachella Valley | April 15, 2021 3:12 am

Hiking Hydration Tips

Whether your hiking in the Coachella Valley or elsewhere, here are a few tips we have compiled to help you stay hydrated!

Fernando, doing a fine job hiking the Ladder Trails in Mecca, Ca. by Tony Fernandez[1]

Fernando, doing a fine job hiking the Ladder Trails in Mecca, Ca. by Tony Fernandez

Climate:  When hiking in hot and/or humid conditions, one litre per hour is generally recommended. Same goes for altitude, where although the temperature may be cooler, the air is drier and thinner. In milder conditions at lower altitudes, half of the above mentioned quantity should normally suffice.

Level of Exertion: The harder you are working, the more bodily fluids you are losing through respiration and perspiration. If you are not adequately replacing those fluids, you will eventually become dehydrated.

Individual Needs: Although general benchmarks are useful, at the end of the day we are all individuals. No two hikers needs are the same. 

Hiker (A) may be fine drinking 4 litres over an 8 hour period in hot weather, whereas Hiker (B) may need double that in order to feel properly hydrated.

That being the case, how do we know as individuals how much we should drink? The answer lies in personal experience. Listen to your body.

Note that at first it is always preferable to err on the side of caution when it comes to water intake. Better too much than too little.

Can you drink too much? Hyponatremia (abnormally low sodium levels in the blood) may occur if a hiker drinks too much water without adequately replenishing electrolytes.

When hiking in hot conditions you may consider adding sports drink powder to water and up your intake of salty snacks such as peanuts & pretzels.

Hydration Strategies – 

Hydration Packs by Orangemud.com[2]

Hydration Packs by Orangemud.com

Don’t Wait Until you are Thirsty:  By then it is too late. When you wake up in the morning, make a habit of drinking at least half a litre of water before breaking camp. Think of it as a “hydration” investment for the rest of the day.

Sun Protection: Hats provide shade. Shade keeps you cooler. 

Drink up Big at Water Sources: If you are hiking in terrain where opportunities to fill your bottles are few and far between, drink at least one litre of water before leaving each source.

By doing so you will not need to carry as much to the next refill point, which in turn translates to less weight on your back and more spring in your step.

The Siesta Theory: In hot, largely shadeless conditions where water sources are scarce, do the bulk of your hiking whilst temperatures are cooler (i.e. early morning, late afternoon and early evening).

It works like this: Begin your hiking day at sunrise. Walk until around 11am. Find yourself a shady spot and rest until 2 or 3pm.

Make the most of your extended break by eating your main meal, thus enabling you to hike into the early evening without having to worry about cooking a big dinner.

By following such a strategy, it is possible to make do with less water because you are resting rather than exerting during the hottest part of the day.

Experience: Once experience has taught you how much water you need in different types of terrain and conditions, it doesn’t make sense to carry a great deal extra for security purposes.

Aim at carrying enough water to enable you to arrive at the next source well hydrated, but not so much that you get there with a couple of litres still to drink. This equates to wasted energy.

Obviously, an exception to this point is if you find yourself walking in an environment in which you are not certain of the quality or regularity of the water sources.

In such cases, it is definitely wise to carry as much extra water as you deem necessary.

Dehydration: The importance of remaining hydrated cannot be overestimated. In warm to hot temperatures, people can survive for weeks without food, but for only 3 or 4 days without water. When water intake has been insufficient, irrespective of the climate or altitude, dehydration can occur.

Symptoms: Dizziness, headache, fatigue, nausea and cramps.

Hiking First Aid Kit[3]

Hiking First Aid Kit

Treatment: Shade, rest, water (electrolytes, a pinch of salt or rehydrating powder are all helpful) and cooling yourself by soaking your hat/bandana/shirt.

Heat stroke: In contrast to dehydration, which people worry about too much, heat stroke is a condition that people don’t worry about enough. Here’s an account of a typical situation where hikers died of heat stroke.

On July 18, 2009, Robert Allen Liebler and a hiking partner started at 3:45 a.m. from the desert of Palm Springs, intending to summit San Jacinto Peak. This classic hike, well known to locals, involves an elevation gain of 10,000′, and is normally undertaken only in fall or spring, not summer.

At 6 am, Liebler started cramping because of the heat and turned around, telling his partner to go ahead. Liebler was found dead the next day. He was off the trail, about 200 yards away from a tennis club, sitting upright, with water still remaining in his bottle.

This story illustrates the insidious nature of heat stroke. Liebler evidently didn’t feel himself to be in distress, or he would have drunk his water and wouldn’t have sat down so close to rescue.

A victim of heat stroke may collapse like turning off a light switch, which is why it’s common to find hikers dead from heat stroke when help was nearby. When heat stroke is coming on, the victim’s brain starts malfunctioning.

The fact that Liebler was found off the trail suggests that he may have become confused and disoriented, or that his judgment may have been impaired. It is common for victims of heat stroke to hallucinate or behave irrationally.

Because Liebler didn’t drink the water he had, it seems that carrying large amounts of water would have done nothing to save his life.

The key to his death was his bad decision to hike in the hot weather of Palm Springs that day: a high of 116 degrees Fahrenheit.

Although he wisely started out long before dawn in order to avoid these temperatures, they were caught in a situation where retreating down the trail entailed descending into the heat in the middle of the day.

The moral of this story is that if you’re considering hiking in a low-elevation area where the temperature can get very high, you need to check the weather forecast, and cancel your hike if the temperatures are likely to be life-threatening.

Wash your hands!: When people do actually contract backpacker’s diarrhea from exposure during a hiking trip, by far the most common reason is hand-to-mouth contamination.

Your gut contains so many bacteria that if your body was a democracy, the germs would outvote the human cells by a large margin. You’ve developed tolerance for your own gut flora, but not for other people’s.

If your hiking partner doesn’t wash his/her hands properly after pooping, then you can ingest their bugs through shared food, food containers, or pots and pans.

Hiking groups are extremely prone to contaminating each other with organisms such as E. coli and shigella. To guard against this, don’t lower your standards of poop hygiene while hiking.

(Don’t rinse your hands in a stream, because the soap is environmentally damaging.

hiking hydration[4]

hiking hydration

Do your hand-washing in the same area where you do your pooping, i.e., as far as possible from lakes and streams.)

If possible, avoid using cooking pots — either by by going no-cook or by using foods that are cooked by pouring hot water into an individual-use bag.

If you must use pots, wash them thoroughly after each use, and consider using a one-pot system, in which each person eats only from his/her own pot.

Dress Properly: In summer, layered clothing slows dehydration and minimizes exposure. Good hiking shoes, loose fitting natural-fiber clothing, a wide brimmed hat, sunglasses and sunscreen are a must. Desert temperatures can reach over 90° F. and drop below 50° F. in one day. Summer temperatures can reach 125° F. in some locations.

Know Your Limits

Hiking in the desert often means traveling over rough, steep terrain with frequent elevation changes. Never hike alone and be sure to tell someone where you’re going and when you plan to return.

Carry plenty of water; at least 1 gallon of water per person per day and remember to drink often!

Essential Hiking & Walking Equipment: Sturdy walking/hiking shoes and proper clothing. Wear long pants to protect yourself from rocks and cactus. Carry a small waist or back pack to carry waterfoodfirst aid kitsunscreenjacket, and a flash light.

Make sure you carry a map of the trail and surrounding areas. It is also a good idea to carry waterproof matches, a pocket knife, and a fine-tooth plastic comb for removing cactus needles.

Always carry plenty of water.

Cover Photo: Salton Sea Walker, Randy Brown, Hiking around the Salton Sea photo Tony Fernandez

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