So we found out that dehydration is a bad thing – especially in the outdoors. Using what you know about your body and some practical experience you can take steps to make sure you avoid dehydration.
When living outdoors I’ve sometimes experienced the hangover-like headaches and slight disorientation that we know are the first symptoms of minor dehydration (although as we found I’ve probably lost 2-3% of my body’s water content at this point already). I’d describe this best as ‘feeling a bit wonky’ – not scientific but if you’ve experienced it you’ll know what I mean.
This was easily remedied by upping my intake of fluids.
It’s such a basic thing but so easy to get into a situation where you’re not taking in enough fluids. It takes some extra diligence on your part to read the signs and know what your body needs. The situations that have led to me finding myself with symptoms of minor dehydration have included:
- Longer periods of living outdoors at times when I’ve generally been conditioned to life indoors.
- When I’ve had to purify drinking water for an extended period. This can easily become a chore and in warm weather or when hitting the trail you can soon find yourself not getting enough fluids.
- When I’ve physically stretched myself or encountered unexpectedly warm conditions.
Practical Ways To Avoid Dehydration Outdoors
Dehydration is one area where prevention is definitely better than cure. Just bearing this is in mind is a step towards ensuring you are adequately hydrated.
Remember thirst isn’t a reliable indicator and often lags behind your actual need for hydration. There are a couple of easy ways to keep an eye on your hydration.
The old favourite is to monitor the frequency and character of your urination. If your bladder is full at least every 3–5 hours and your urine is a light straw colour, it’s unlikely that dehydration is occurring. If your urine is deeply coloured and/or you urinate infrequently or not at all, your fluid intake probably isn’t enough to maintain proper hydration.
Another quick indicator is saliva. If you can draw plenty of saliva into your mouth – as if you’re about to spit – it’s a rough and ready indicator of adequate hydration.
As part of your normal body function you lose water in urine and through the bowels, through the lungs as water vapour and through the skin by perspiration. The factor you have most control over is perspiration. In warm or humid weather or during heavy exertion the water loss can increase through perspiration. In extreme cases, the losses may be great enough to exceed your body’s ability to absorb water.
Sweating should be regulated by paying attention to your fitness, your activity level and the ambient temperature.
When large amounts of water are being lost through perspiration and being replaced by drinking water, maintaining proper electrolyte balance becomes critical. If travelling in an environment where heavy perspiration is likely your kit should include some means of replacing lost electrolytes.
In dry cold climates you can lose a surprising amount of water through the lungs as water vapour. In a cold environment you also tend to urinate more frequently. Fortunately there’s likely to be snow on the ground so it’s easy to keep an eye on your urine colour.
You’ll read much about coffee and tea being diuretic so speeding up dehydration. This is true. Many sources advise you to avoid them but you still take in more water in tea and coffee than is expelled by their diuretic effect. In extremes – in a survival situation where every single drop counts or in a hot environment – you’d probably be best to avoid them but in more normal circumstances they’re just another good way of getting fluids into your system.
Establish a firm routine for collecting and purifying drinking water and making sure you’re adequately hydrated.
My normal routine is to make sure enough water is available to have a good drink in the morning. If I’m boiling my drinking water I’ll do it in the afternoon or evening when I cook. In the morning the coffee or tea is brewed while camp is cleared up. A cup or two chased down with a good chug on some water and I’m ready to go.
Aim to get your urine to the straw-like colour at least once in the day. Of course you can do this whenever you like but doing it in the morning sets you up for a day on the trail and reduces the risk of interrupting a good night’s sleep with bleary eyed stumbling to have a pee.
Above all, pay attention to your body and its needs, bear in mind the science and you shouldn’t go far wrong.