Dehydration: Not Just a Hot-Weather Threat
“Dehydration is more likely to happen in the summer.”
Not true! This is a misconception that many hikers share in the winter months because they are less likely to feel thirsty on a hike when it’s not as warm out. But dehydration can be more serious when engaging in winter activities because it acts as a gateway to more severe illnesses, such as hypothermia, frostbite, or fatigue.
“Dehydration is accelerated in cold weather or at higher altitudes because the air we breathe is drier,” says Section Hiker. “Normally, people lose between 1 to 2 quarts of water a day via evaporation from the lungs. When you breathe, your body humidifies dry air and heats it up to your body’s temperature, which is why your exhalations look like fog in cold weather. In cold weather, your body has to work harder to humidify the air you breathe and to warm it up, meaning that you need to drink more water and eat more if you are outdoors.”
First, hydrate in the days leading up to your trip. It sounds simple enough, but getting enough water in you before you begin your trip is the difference between a comfortable hike and an uncomfortable one.
Second, drink water continuously while hiking, even if you don’t feel thirsty. If you can’t remember to drink, carry a watch and drink water at set intervals during the day. A good rule of thumb is to drink at least 4 quarts a day, and, if you plan on hiking at an altitude of 10,000 feet or higher, drink 8 quarts a day.
Third, warm or room-temperature water is better for you than cold water because it is closer to your body temperature. It is a good idea to keep tightly sealed water bottles inside your coat to help keep the water from freezing.
Symptoms of dehydration
Common symptoms include:
• Headaches. They are one of the earliest and easiest symptoms to spot, yet they’re the most overlooked.
• Lack of appetite/nausea
• Dizziness. Dehydration can disorient even the most capable hikers.
• Golden urine. Clear urine means you are well hydrated.
Okay, so you didn’t listen to the advice above. What now? Although it sounds obvious, drink more water. If you run out, you can always melt snow. Avoid caffeinated or alcoholic beverages because they can actually speed up the process of dehydration. Also, take a break and elevate your feet. Just sitting down to recuperate can be immensely beneficial.
If you still don’t feel well, you should turn around and reschedule your hike until you are rehydrated.