Isn’t it crazy that 75% of Americans are chronically dehydrated?
We know how to drink, how much to drink to prevent dehydration, and we can make it flow out of our tap with just one twist. And yet our society is chronically dehydrated, especially the elderly.
And because hiking can easily lead to dehydration, it’s the senior hikers who should be especially careful.
In this article, we’ll discuss why that is and how to stay effectively hydrated.
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Why Staying Hydrated Is Important While Hiking
I’m sure some of you think that being dehydrated while hiking is not that bad, since most people are chronically dehydrated and still go to work every day.
Well, there are a few reasons.
It can lead to fatigue, vision problems, muscle cramps, lightheadedness and loss of your sense of balance. This wouldn’t be so bad if you were at home or at work, but when you’re hiking in the middle of nowhere along steep slopes, it becomes a significant hazard.
In the Southwest of America, where it can be extremely hot, hydration is even more important to prevent heat-related illness. Between 5 and 10 people die each year from heat-related causes in Grand Canyon National Park. About 25% of those are a result of dehydration, rather than heat exposure alone.
When You Should Drink Water
Ever thought about how our brain tells us we’re thirsty?
Neither have I, to be honest.
Turns out it’s a complex system, so complex in fact that one researcher has devoted much of his career to understanding it.
Simply put, there are checkpoints all over your body that signal when something isn’t right. They tell us when to drink and when to stop to make sure we’re drinking the right amount of water.
That’s also why I don’t fully agree with the popular hiker’s belief that we should drink before we’re thirsty.
Think about it.
If you drink when you’re not thirsty, you’re only making overhydration possible (which is hard to achieve, but possible). This is sometimes the case with hikers who are not used to the warmth of the environment and drink water not because they’re thirsty, but in an attempt to cool down.
When we need to drink, our body will tell us. That is, if our system is doing its job properly, which is not always the case.
What Happens When You Get Older
Although “drink before you’re thirsty” is usually bad advice in my opinion, it could be a good guidance for older hikers. Because what happens as we get older? Our sensors that make sure we drink the right amount of water become less accurate.
That’s why every heatwave kills hundreds, if not thousands of elderly people. They don’t feel thirsty, even though they need water.
So how can you make sure you stay hydrated if you can’t rely on your own senses?
How To Remind Yourself To Stay Hydrated When Hiking
First of all, you need to know how much you need to drink given the environment you’re hiking in. There’s really no need to calculate this. Just drink 0.5 to 1 liter of water every hour, depending on the intensity of the hike and the temperatures. Take a sip every 10-20 minutes. Set a timer if you need to. Your pee will be translucent or pale yellow if you drink enough. If it’s bright yellow, drink more.
Another important tip I want to give you is to make water accessible. If you have to stop every time you want to drink because you carry your water bottle inside your backpack, you’ll be less likely to drink.
Although you can put water bottles in the side pockets of your backpack, it can be difficult to reach them while hiking, depending on the design of your backpack.
What might help is a hydration bladder. This goes in your backpack, but the tube and mouthpiece attach to one of your backpack’s shoulder straps, making it very noticeable while hiking. I’ve found that I’m less likely to dehydrate if a water source is constantly dangling against my chest, reminding me to drink.
But, there’s a catch.
Hydration bladders go inside your backpack, so it’s hard to tell how much water is left. It can also leak, and it’s annoying when you have to unload half your backpack to refill your water bladder.
A hybrid water bottle, which is simply a plastic bottle equipped with the tube of a hydration bladder. I always put it in one of my backpack’s side pockets. The tube and nozzle attach to one of your shoulder straps just like a hydration bladder does.
It’s a very simple concept, so you can make one yourself. You can also buy one online.
How I made my hybrid water bottle
- Cut the entire tube from your hydration bladder.
- Make a hole in the cap of your water bottle about the same diameter as the bladder’s tube. I used a woodburner pen, but I guess you could also do it with a hot nail.
- Pull the hose through the hole until it touches the bottom of your water bottle.
- Then use superglue to attach the hose to the bottle cap so it doesn’t leak.
Tip: Don’t forget to bring a bottle cap without a hole in as well. While hybrid water bottles are great for hiking, they become an annoyance when you’re at camp.
Senior walkers are especially susceptible to dehydration because our bodies can no longer accurately tell us if we’re thirsty or not as we age.
If this is the case with you, you can no longer trust your own body, so you need to find other ways to remind yourself to stay hydrated:
- Make sure your water is easily accessible.
- Set a timer every 10-20 minutes.
- If you’re hiking with other people, remind each other to drink.