Updated: Nov 4, 2021
During a recent Trailheads hike at Morgan Falls, I became dangerously dehydrated. I was light-headed and had to sit down twice about two-thirds of the way through the hike. I was surprised since I had easily completed the same trek a few weeks earlier. What was the difference?
On the earlier hike, I was well-hydrated, and the temperature was comfortable. There was scorching heat and high humidity on my recent hike, and I did not adequately prepare myself for those conditions. It was a humbling experience for this seasoned hiker.
To help you avoid my mistake, I offer these helpful tips.
You May Be Running On Empty
Did you know that around three-quarters of adult Americans suffer from chronic dehydration? Since the signs and symptoms vary widely between individuals, you may be dehydrated and not even know it. Dehydration is simply a water deficit in your body––meaning you have lost more fluid than you’ve taken in that day. So, it’s essential to hydrate appropriately before you hike.
A good rule of thumb for hydration is if you are thirsty, it’s probably already too late.
Hydration is essential because our bodies are approximately 60% water so losing only 1% or 2% of your water content can lead to a severe fluid deficit. Dehydration can leave you feeling very thirsty, light-headed, or headachy. You might also experience muscle cramps, dry mouth or feel sleepy and confused. In more severe cases, you could even lose consciousness. One quick test to confirm dehydration is the color of your urine: dark urine means you’re already in trouble. Drink some water NOW!
Depending on your body weight and activity level, you need to drink at least 60 to 80 ounces of water a day. If you’re more active than usual or temperatures
are high, you may require up to 120 ounces. That means you should increase
your “normal” hydration by 20-30% the day before you’ll be active, especially
scorching, humid weather. Remember to drink an additional 16-20 ounces of water the day before a hike. Dehydration can also occur on cold days when exertion and heavy clothing increase sweating. I failed to drink any additional water the day before my recent Morgan Falls hike – and I paid the price.
Alcohol interferes with our body’s ability to absorb or retain water, so avoid drinking liquor the night before a rigorous day of hiking, skiing, swimming, running, etc. Unfortunately, I drank three glasses of dry, full-bodied red wine with a heavy Italian meal the night before (my son was visiting from out of town, so we celebrated). I had a fun evening...followed by a miserable day on the trail.
Drink plenty of water during your hike. I try to carry 30% more water than I think I’ll need. Carry a lightweight water bottle so you’ll have plenty of
liquid for even the most demanding hikes. You might also invest in a hydration
pack or a Camelbak water pack––it’s both lightweight and convenient.
Although, I thought that I drank plenty of water during our hike, I sweated through a long-sleeve T-shirt, long sleeve shirt, and khaki hiking pants. So I was quickly operating at a water deficit. I got very light-headed and had to sit down twice to regain my equilibrium. After we finished hiking, I suffered excruciating adductor cramps, and my dehydration embarrassment stung.
Try eating water-based foods the day before and ideally the morning of your hike. Strawberries, blueberries, melons, tomatoes, and leafy green vegetables are good water-based foods. Potassium is also essential, so eat at least one banana with breakfast. Don’t be a numbskull and skip breakfast as I did.
If you don’t like drinking plain tap water, simply add sliced fruit or a sliced lemon to your water container. Also, consider drinking high-performance sports drinks the day before, the morning of your hike, or post-hike when your body is recovering. High-performance sports drinks will quickly restore your electrolyte balance. Obviously, I could have really used those restorative drinks before and after that fateful hike.
Avoid coffee and tea. Both beverages are diuretics that increase your urine flow and drain fluid from your kidneys. When you pee more, you’re draining your body of precious fluids and increasing your risk for dehydration. Give your kidneys a break. They deserve it. BTW, along with skipping breakfast that morning, I enjoyed a large cup of coffee before I left for the Morgan Falls hike.
Remember these six tips and adequately hydrate the day before and the day of your hike. Adjust accordingly for weather conditions and enjoy a healthy stroll through nature.