Hydrating for Trekking

It’s widely accepted in the medical and science community that between 50 and 80 percent of Australians suffer chronic dehydration and don’t know it. Feeling thirsty? You’re already mildly dehydrated. The best indicator that you are well hydrated is by looking at the colour of your urine – pale yellow or straw colour and you’re in the green zone. Bright yellow or dark, start drinking now!

Being even mildly dehydrated is linked to fatigue, lethargy, inability to concentrate and lack of focus because adequate hydration is essential for the optimal performance of many bodily functions. So, is 8 glasses of water per day the correct amount? Yes and No. Differences in age, weight, sex, climate, activity levels and just general individual differences mean that everyone has a different requirement. Probably somewhere between 8 and 10 glasses (2-2.5L) but more if you are exercising. In hiking terms, we generally suggest carrying 3 litres per day as a minimum.

Do you remember drinking Staminade as a kid? Green powder mixed in a bottle from home or cups dunked in a big container...eeek...at the side of the sporting field. That salty taste. Yep I do. Then we moved to the sexier Gatorade or Powerade in all its fancy colours and trendy labelled bottles telling you how much more super power you will have if you drink it. Now it's protein powders and protein boosts. We're thinking that's got to be for the young ones, yes, or elite athletes? Probably.


So, what does a serious middle-aged trekker need? Is water enough? The answer is NO. But, you don't need a protein power boost (that comes from being fit and well trained), or too much extra sugar from a sports drink (unless you are running the trails). You do need to maintain a healthy electrolyte balance in your bloodstream to perform at your best over a long day and to prevent DEHYDRATION. If left untreated it can quickly lead to a life-threatening condition called Heat Stroke. If you are trekking at high altitudes it's even more important to ensure you are perfectly hydrated so that symptoms of altitude sickness are not confused with dehydration symptoms, which are very similar.

Electrolytes (salts) lost during sweating or extended periods of exercise, need to be replenished as well as the water. Signs of moderate dehydration include dry mouth, feeling thirsty, fatigue, cramps, headache, bright yellow urine and decreased urine output. But it's best to prevent this in the first place by doing the following.

1.      USE Electrolyte replacement products like Hydralyte or Gastrolite that are scientifically prepared for effective re-hydration after fluid loss caused by vomiting, diarrhoea, heavy sweating or vigorous exercise. They don't have the sexy packaging that tells you you will be a hiking Goddess if you drink this, but they WORK! Make your electrolyte drinks by following the instructions on the label and make them up in the concentration advised. 400mL in a separate bottle (not your hiking bladder) is a good amount to start with taken over a 30 minute period. During exercise you can alternate drinking electrolytes and water. Did you know that your body can absorb only 1Litre of fluid per hour, so don't throw down a full litre in one go.

2.      Pre-Hydrate - Drink a 400mL bottle before training or setting off on a long day adventure, especially if it is going to be hot and humid or you know you haven't been eating or hydrating well the days before your trek. This ensures that you are starting off in a fully hydrated state and won't be playing catch-up.

3.      Post exercise - Use electrolyte drinks immediately after exercise especially if you know you haven’t been drinking or eating enough. This will help your body recover, repair and rehydrate.

4.      Snack on SALTY foods such as crackers or salted nuts can also assist with replacing electrolytes. Don’t just go for the sugary snacks or drinks when planning your day. 

If one of your trekking buddies is showing signs of dehydration, take control and have them stop and rest in the shade. Ask them how much water they have been drinking or look at their water bottles (listen to their answer because there is another very similar condition resulting from drinking too much water and the treatment is quite different...for another blog). Assist them to cool down by loosening tight clothing, cooling the skin with water, fanning them and most importantly drinking fluids, preferably containing electrolytes. A hydrated hiker is a happy hiker.

Jo Vartanian