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Staying Hydrated while Hiking

How much water should you carry on your next hike?

The summer months are approaching fast and staying hydrated while hiking is absolutely essential, not just to enjoy your day but to ward off the dangers of heat exhaustion, heat cramps or worst heat stroke.

As a general rule of thumb you should be drinking a minimum of 500ml of water every hour; or, if you are sweating profusely double that to 1 litre (1000ml) per hour. If you are hiking above 3000m, you should add another 500ml per hour due to the effects of the altitude. This may sound like a lot of water but remember the effects of not drinking enough will not be realized until hours later. This does not pose too much of a problem if nothing happens but should you or your party be injured or disorientated you will need those hydration stores you have put in your body.

Thirst is a signal to drink, not necessarily that you are dehydrated yet. Don’t ignore the signs though. Drink little drink often, every 15min or so is best. Waiting an hour to drink an entire litre of water is not the answer, it takes the body time to absorb that water, and by then you may already be getting dehydrated. Pre-drink prior to your hike, at least a 1 litre 2 hours or less before you hike. Also avoid caffeinated products, such as coffee and colas.

Do not rely on natural water sources for your only water supply, they may be dried up or worst contaminated. Carry enough water for the duration of the hike. Many people are concerned by the weight of the water; but, remember as you drink the water your pack will get lighter. Don’t’ forget to give your pet water if they are with you. I you are on a long hike alternating with electrolytes between water bottles is important to keep your potassium and sodium levels in check. There are many electrolyte products on the market i.e. Gatorade, ORS (Oral Rehydration salts).

Sign of Dehydration:

  • Decreased need to urinate or dark urine

  • Loss of elasticity of skin often known as the skin turgor test (using your index finger and thumb pinch the skin on the forearm or back of hand, if it flattens slowly you are getting dehydrated)

  • Tired or lethargic

  • Confusion

  • Dizziness

Types of water bottles

They type you use is personal choice but a good types are made of plastics (due to light weight) and have a wide mouth that can be re-filled on the go, 1 litre is a good choice. Nalgene makes a good selection and can be purchased at most retailors. Camel backs are also popular, but cannot be re-filled as easily on the go.

Contaminated natural water sources

Beware of natural water sources such as streams or creeks. Depending on what is upstream, it may be contaminated. Most streams in the alpine that are from run-off and not exposed to animal feces are clean and safe to drink. To be completely safe a water filter should be used and there are now many commercially made filters built into the water bottle so you simply re-fill and replace the in bottle filter and carry on with your hike. Water purification tablets can be used but they take time to work and gives the water a less palatable flavor.


Preventing dehydration is the best way to enjoy your activity and not getting dehydrated. So remember drink a little drink often.

  • Drink 500ml – 1000ml per hour, and additional 500ml at higher altitudes.

  • Drink every 15-20min small sips are better than large quantities

  • Take ORS (oral rehydration salts) or other electrolyte drinks between each 1000ml of water.

  • Watch for signs of dehydration in yourself and in others in your party.

A little prepardness will make your next hike not only enjoyable but prevent possible dehydration, or worst Heat Exhaustion, Heat Cramps and the most serious and life threatening Heat Stroke.

My ebook "Trail Ready" will provide you with a comprehensive overview of how to prepare for your next hike.

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