Water

Last week I published an article on hiking in which I wrote about why you should do it and what you’ll need to do it safely. The next day, it was brought to my attention that I didn’t mention water and the fact that you need to drink it.

To be fair, I wanted to keep the article short and I figured that anyone who doesn’t already know that you need to drink water to live is probably either dead, or in no fit state to read.

Then I started thinking about previous hiking trips I’ve lead and how terrible some people are at drinking. That sounds ridiculous, but it’s true. So maybe I was wrong to take it as a given.

Throughout my time leading groups through the mountains, I’ve been banging my head against the same brick wall: Everyone thinks that they know best.

Working predominantly with adults, you’d think it would be easier. But, for the most part, kids do as they’re told. I know they tend not to listen to their parents, but if you bring in an authoritative third party, they usually fall in line.

Adults don’t fall in line. I mean that in a very literal sense. I’ve asked groups of adults to get in a line so I can inspect their harnesses and it almost never happens on the first attempt. The problem is that they think they already know it all. Let me be absolutely clear that you almost definitely do not know it all.

I’m not trying to be rude or disrespectful…well, maybe a little bit. But thinking that they know best has lead some people to make some pretty stupid claims. I’ve had people who didn’t want to take warm layers and waterproofs with them on a hike in the mountains because they “don’t mind the cold”. I’ve been told that I’m “going the wrong way” on a route that I’ve done dozens of times by someone who’s never been there before, and of course, “I know my body and I don’t need that much water” after instructing someone to drink on a hike in 30-degree heat.

Maybe children and adults aren’t so different. A child being someone who isn’t capable of looking after themselves. Which is exactly what you are if you refuse to drink water whilst hiking on a hot day. In fact, any human who doesn’t think it’s important to stay hydrated can be compared to a suicidal lemming. Seriously, getting some of you to drink enough water is like getting a 2-year-old to eat broccoli. Why?!

Maybe I’m less sympathetic because drinking water has always been very easy for me (Something you wouldn’t normally think to brag about, but here we are). But, then, I do sweat far more than most people. If I don’t keep a near constant stream of water on hand, I’d probably die from dehydration after just 2-3 hours of activity. As you can imagine, this is both a blessing (I drink plenty of water) and a curse (I need to carry spare t-shirts in the summer).

The exact amount you should be drinking depends on your body weight, but it’s generally between 2 and 2.5 litres per day. Mind you, that’s on a normal day with no exercise. That can triple once you start moving.

“But I’m not thirsty!”

I always hear this after telling someone to drink. Depending on how many people have already said that to me in the last hour, my response ranges from a pleasant “Oh go on, just a quick sip!” to simply, “I don’t care, drink”.

If you wait till you feel thirsty, you’re already experiencing the early stages of dehydration. It’s likely that you’ve lost 2% of your body mass in fluid. Enough to start affecting your physical performance. 2% might not sound high, but when you consider that a loss of 10% can be fatal, you may want to reach for that water bottle after all.

I’d love to say that I have your best interests at heart, but my motivation is less altruistic. For a start, dehydration turns people into complete arse-holes. An otherwise friendly person can start snapping at anyone who gets too close and bitching non-stop about everything. If your friend starts acting like a jerk, that’s your first warning sign (Clearly, this won’t work if that person is already an arse-hole). So keep hydrated, if not for your own health, do it for the poor people who are going to be stuck with you.

Here are some tips for keeping hydrating during your next hike:

  1. Get a Hydration Pack– Hydration packs aren’t just a silly gimmick to convince you to part with your hard-earned cash. They’re a must have for hiking. If you’re not drinking as much as you should because digging your water bottle out of your pack is too much of a hassle, this will solve that problem. Get one with a 2-litre capacity and you can sip away on the move without even thinking about it. If you’re hiking in the winter, make sure you get one with an insulated tube. It’s not a good feeling to reach for your water only to find the tube has frozen.
  2. Carry a gas cooker and chlorine tablets– There’s nothing wrong with filling up your water reserves from a stream or river, provided you do it right. Even if the source looks clean it’s a good idea to boil your water before drinking it. You never know what could be lying in it a few hundred metres up-stream: dead animals, morons relieving themselves, that sort of thing. If you can’t boil it then chlorine tablets are the next best thing, although it will taste like you’re drinking out of a public swimming pool.
  3. Buddy-System– If you’re hiking with other people, keep an eye on each other to make sure you’re both drinking enough, and be sure to watch out for any uncharacteristically bitchy behaviour.

Symptoms of Dehydration

Finally, I should mention that being an arse-hole isn’t the only symptom to watch out for, it’s simply the most annoying. Here are some others:

  • Sudden drop in energy-Perhaps they start moving much slower and falling behind.
  • Flushed or clammy skin- I’ve seen people’s faces turn into tomatoes. Don’t let the fact that it’s hilarious stop you from treating them.
  • Never needing the toilet-Or, going to the toilet and excreting a fluid that looks similar to Iron-Bru.
  • Nausea and Headaches-

Serious alarm bells start sounding if you see:

  • Disorientation and confusion
  • Shortness of breath
  • Loss of consciousness-by this point your probably looking at a critical situation. Don’t let it get to this point!
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