Hiking in strenuous conditions, high temps or for extended periods requires a steady supply of hydrating fluids. Sports drinks and other beverages can serve as a replacement in times of need, yet water is the best choice. But, the question is how to stay hydrated when you run out? First, look to any other drink or food you’ve packed and second, look to your environment.
If you have a daypack, it should include a supply of iodine tablets, or another form of quick water filtration. While iodine is a last resort for water purification, they weigh practically nothing and can be the key when you are wondering how to stay hydrated if all else fails. Iodine tablets purify nearly any water source, and can save you from dehydration, fatigue and illness, if you can find water nearby. Best of all, they are no longer a horrid tasting concoction due to taste-neutralizing add-ons.
Before long days outdoors, practice a simple pre-hike hydration routine: don’t consume too much coffee, cola or tea that morning; drink 2-3 cups of water before the hike (or 2 cups of water and 1 cup of juice or sports drink); and, eat a breakfast with some fruits or vegetables.
The pre-hike hydration can make a big difference in how you handle a half or full day on the trail. This is especially true because our bodies become dehydrated while we sleep, so having 2 or 3 glasses of water in the morning is recommended when going hiking.
When you hike in an area where there is little water, pack a back-up hydration source such as a high-water content food (citrus fruits and carrots are good examples), or energy gel packs used by distance athletes. Although bananas and celery aren’t always the first foods that come to mind when considering how to stay hydrated, both are good bets because they are high in potassium (bananas) and sodium (celery).
Learning how to tell if you're dehydrated can help too. Symptoms of dehydration can mimic general fatigue, but be watchful for dry mouth, feeling sleepy, dizziness, headache, and dry skin. Another symptom is very little urine output. If you feel extremely fatigued, seek shade and immediately rehydrate with whatever is on hand.
If you’ve done everything right, like pre-hydrating and bringing back-up food sources, running out of water on the trail is less dire. Still, being completely out of water can be an issue. If you find spring water seeping from a rock, this can usually be taken without filtration and if you find almost any other source, it can be purified with iodine.
All other water sources, from waterfalls to rushing water to standing water, require treatment. A 2% iodine tincture will require only 5 drops of liquid iodine per quart of water. When mixed, it requires one hour of waiting for water to be purified from viruses and bacteria, including giardia.
The good news with iodine (whether in a tincture, or tablets) is that there is a new product that can be combined with iodine treated water to neutralize taste. This makes carrying iodine even more attractive as a way to stay hydrated.
Missing the iodine? If you have a backpacking stove on hand, boiling (relatively) clean water is another effective way to neutralize bacteria and make it safe to drink. Especially if you're a winter hiker, bringing a portable, heat-efficient stove along with you could be a lifesaver, since you can melt the snow around you down into water if you run out. Primus' Lite+ stove is a compact, all-in-one stove system that boils water in minutes while still being the lightest system stove on the market.
If you pre-hydrate, take back-up sources of hydrating foods or supplements, and carry iodine (and taste neutralizing) tablets, you should be able to tolerate running out of water on the trail. For very hot conditions and rough terrain, always bring more water than you think you could possibly need, and identify water sources in the immediate area.