Hydration Best Practices

Whether you are navigating one of our backpacking trips in Yellowstone this summer, or taking on an adventurous day hike in Utah’s mighty desert, it is very important to follow smart hydration practices.

When hitting the trail, make sure to follow these simple tips and tricks for drinking plenty of water while enjoy the beauty of our public lands.

Remember, we all need water.

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Water is critical  for all sorts of daily bodily functions.  Water helps us regulate body temperature, aids in smoothe digestion, delivers oxygen all over the body, protects and cushions joints, and flushes out unwanted toxins from the body.  Additionally, the human body is roughly 60% water, which means it is necessary to keep a solid baseline of hydration for all systems to function well.  While the amount of water intake varies widely by individual, if you are out for a day of hiking, we like to suggest 3-4 liters of water for the entirety of the day to keep you at “happy camper” status.

Develop a strong pre-hydration game.

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No matter where you live, we all wake up dehydrated simply because the body was deprived of water for likely 6-8 hours.  Rather than waiting until you are working up a sweat on mile one up Observation Point in Zion, consider pre-hydrating while eating your breakfast.  Pre-hydrating can go a long way when you arrive at your gateway town for a trip too, as often times the places we love to hike may be located at higher elevations than most people live.  At higher elevation, the body needs more water to perform well.  So, if you are heading to a place like Bryce Canyon National Park (elevation ~7,700ft) from sea level, drink plenty of water upon your arrival to Utah!  

Consider using a hydration bladder.

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You may think these seem silly on the trail, but on a backpacking trip they are the most ergonomic way to ensure you have enough water between streams and rivers fill ups.  Nalgene water bottles are great too, but can be cumbersome and make you have to stop more often to strip off a heavy pack to access the bottle.  A hydration bladder offers a convenient straw that is always right near your mouth.  The added bonus I find with my bladder is, because it is so close, I tend to drink more throughout the day just because it is always available to me.  REI or any sports store is a great place to shop for one.  We recommend a 3-liter bladder as a good starting point for any Wildland Trekking trip. 

Go to bed with a full water bottle near your tent.

Havasu Falls 4-day Slide 5

After a huge day hiking in the mountains, you will likely arrive back to camp happily tired and with a totally empty hydration bladder.  Great job!  But, your work doesn’t stop there.  As it was mentioned earlier, once we head off to sleep, our body will work without water all night.  Most of our guides fill up one water bottle and set it just outside their tent every night.  This ensures that if you wake up thirsty, water is easily accessible and when you wake up you can begin that pre-game of fueling up.  

Practice “LNT” with your water vessel choice.

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We all know disposable plastic water bottles plague our oceans and landfills.  You can extend your Leave No Trace (LNT) ethics to what you choose to bring on a trip with regard to water bottle choice.  Go green and commit to purchasing a Nalgene or two as well as a hydration bladder if you are opting for longer hikes.  All of these items can be cleaned with hot soapy water, and can be used for much longer than a 16oz Nestle bottle.

Replace your lost electrolytes.

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This is especially true when you are sweating hard in the spring/summer heat of the desert.  When you sweat you loose things like sodium (salt), potassium, and chloride. These are essential components your body needs to continue running effectively throughout the rest of your day.  You can opt for electroylyte rich drinks like Gatorade or coconut water.  You can also make sure to add some extra table salt to your dinner or lunch to replace the sodium that you sweat out on the trail.

Winter Water Options.

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When the mercury drops, making for a cold day hiking, it is easy to let hydration fall by the wayside.  But, drinking plenty of water when it is cold and you are exercising, is just as important if not more!  Tea is a great hot beverage to use, or even warm water with a small amount of a sport’s drink mixture to make the water more palatable in the cold.  Pre-hydrating before a winter hike with things like juice or water are great ways to get ahead of the curve.  In winter your body generally has a higher output–it is working harder trudging through snow and sweating under all those extra layers. Also, while people tend to hate on coffee, if it is used in moderation, coffee does offer at least some hydration benefit.  

Be knowledgeable about your backcountry water sources.

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If you are doing a day hike at any one of our national parks, potable, purified drinking water is available.  You can fill up your hydration bladder anywhere and most likely purchase a tea at a concessions space.  The true test of becoming a hydration Jedi Master is when you move into hydrating in the backcountry.  On a backpacking trip you will need to fill up your water bottles from streams, rivers, and sometimes from murky puddle-like sources in the desert.  The key to hydrating yourself safely in the backcountry is filtering and purifying.  On a Wildland trip all filtering and purifying is done and taught by trained professional guides.  However, if you want to continue hiking on your own in the backcountry, your next steps would be to look into products like the MSR gravity filter, and chemical purification systems such as Aqua Mira.

Stay on point with your hydration and get the most out of your next hiking adventure!

Traci Salisbury

Traci Ann is an author and outdoor guide based in Salt Lake City, Utah. She leads WTC hiking trips in Utah, Death Valley and Yellowstone, and released her first book, "Authentic. Sexy. Truth: One woman. One Truth. Lots of brave." in April of 2016. She has also been featured in "That Magazine for Women" and co-authored "Go! Girl Guides: Argentina" released in 2012.

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