Is water okay to drink while hiking, or is there something better?
Water and Gatorade are the best choices for staying hydrated while hiking. For extra energy on a hike, you can use coffee, caffeine pills, or energy drinks in moderation. Avoid alcohol, soda, and fruit juice while you’re on a hike to keep yourself from becoming dehydrated.
Water can easily seem like a given choice for any intense activity, but are there options that can help you hydrate more quickly or easily? How do you know if you’ve had enough to drink? What should you do if you start feeling dehydrated? These are all extremely important questions to be aware of when you’re planning for a hike.
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Our levels of hydration can play a more important role on a hike than our hunger levels. Although becoming hungry on a day hike can leave you with less energy, a lack of hydration can lead to more severe consequences. Carry on, and learn why hydration is so important, what you can drink to keep yourself going strong, and more.
What Type Of Drink Is Best For Hydration and Hiking?
Let’s talk about what’s best for hydration and then we’ll get into what people actually use and what makes sense to do for yourself.
What Drink Is Actually The Best For Hydration?
According to research, sports drinks like Gatorade are better at rehydrating you during intense exercise than water alone–Gatorade isn’t the only brand, many rehydration tablets (like NUUN) that also replenish electrolytes exist that we’ll talk more of.
Before I get into this topic, I want to be very clear that you can’t go wrong with drinking water during your hikes. During high-intensity hikes, you might find that you need extra sources of potassium and sodium. Both of these things can be obtained through oral rehydration solutions or the food you bring along.
That said, there is truth to the sports-related imagery we see surrounding drinks like Gatorade. Sports drinks can actually be better for you when you’re engaged in intense or lengthy exercise sessions. According to two studies I’ve found, Gatorade is great for keeping body temperature and the perceived rate of exertion low (Source 1). Additionally, sports drinks can aid in keeping you more hydrated than water (Source 2). This is mainly due to the inclusion of important electrolytes that these drinks have.
According to the studies done on the hydration effects of Gatorade versus water, you need a little over a liter of Gatorade for every hour that you spend exercising. Those who want to keep their calorie or sugar intake down can bring water along as well or even consider diluting the Gatorade with regular water.
With so many different drinks to choose from, how do you know which ones will be beneficial on a hike and which might work against you? Hydration is always important, but it’s even more important when you’re getting exercise. In this next section, I’ll go over several popular choices that hikers like to bring on the trail.
The Most Common Choices For Hiking Hydration
When in doubt – drink water. It’s hard to go wrong with a free source of hydration that contains no sugar, calories, or other complicating ingredients. There’s really no better drink option when it comes to general health. While there might be choices that are a little better suited to intense exercise, water is tried-and-true no matter what you’re doing.
If you’re worried about what drinks to use, remember that you will be just fine with water.
If water is what you prefer, then just keep in mind that you’ll need more of it when your body is working harder. An intense hike not only burns calories but also causes you to sweat and lose more hydration than you would otherwise. Because of that, you’ll want to make sure you have plenty of water to keep yourself going strong.
Gatorade, Vitamin Water, or Powerade
It’s not uncommon to see the presence of these colorful beverages when you’re catching the latest football game. Gatorade – and drinks like it – are considered to be the top choice for athletes. While part of this may be due to marketing, there actually is some science to what these beverages can offer you during an intense workout.
One trap that people can sometimes fall into is assuming that these kinds of sports drinks will be better for hydration in general. It’s one thing if you’re on an intense hike or backpacking trip, but another if you’re just going for a short walk through the woods on a cool day. Gatorade and other sports drinks contain added ingredients like sugar and sodium that can offset how helpful they are if your body doesn’t really need them.
As one of the more recent health drink trends, coconut water is often thought of as similar to a sports drink. Unlike regular water, coconut water does contain some of the electrolytes we need to replace when we exercise. There aren’t as many of these electrolytes in coconut water as there are in sports drinks, but there are certainly more than what you’d get from water.
Because of this, coconut water can be a decent solution if you enjoy the flavor and don’t plan on a super intense hike. If you really expect to be tiring yourself out, a sports drink might be the better option. Coconut water is better suited to shorter, lighter exercise sessions. The only other thing to be aware of is that – unlike water – coconut water does contain calories. A serving or two might not be a big deal if you’re already exercising, but it’s worth keeping in mind if you just can’t get enough coconut water!
For the most part, water enhancers include powders or highly concentrated liquids that are designed to improve the taste of water. The options you can choose from range from MiO to Crystal Light to Nestea. Some water enhancers aim to keep sugar and artificial ingredients low while others may be more concerned with creating a delicious flavor.
Hikers who are on the go may be interested in water enhancers that include vitamins or small amounts of caffeine to aid in keeping their energy levels up. Whether you want the added boost or not, water enhancers can be great for those who have a hard time drinking enough water. If a little extra flavor is what you need to keep yourself hydrated, then make sure to pack all your favorites. Trying out new flavors can also be a great excuse to drink more water.
Oral Rehydration Solutions
Oral rehydration solutions can be similar to water enhancers in that they can often be added to water, though not always. It’s also likely that these solutions will change the flavor of your water slightly, so it’s important to find a solution you like. In addition to the flavor change, oral rehydration solutions will include important minerals like sodium and potassium to help your body to rehydrate more quickly.
Some of the most popular rehydration solutions include NUUN, Liquid-IV, Trioral, and Pedialyte. Many options come in tablet or powdered form. That said, some people can also opt to make their own oral rehydration solution by adding salt and sugar to their water. In rarer instances, some hikers may even use things like chicken broth or pickle juice to give their hydration a boost.
I know that sounds crazy, but I freakin’ love pickle juice as a recovery drink. Nothing is more refreshing after a big workout. I’ve never tried to spend the effort to bring it along with me on the trail, personally, but it’s not a bad idea at all.
The People’s Favorite Hydration Drink
According to a poll we took of over 200 experienced hikers, over 150 claimed that water was their favorite hydration drink. It certainly makes sense, considering it covers the body’s basic needs with no excess cost. Not to mention it’s incredibly easy to fill up a water bottle or bladder to take with you on your journey. There’s no worry about calories, sugar, or artificial ingredients. It’s entirely natural and (in most cases) entirely free.
Water is simple to bring along on most hikes, but it may still be worth looking into some oral rehydration solutions to bring with you just in case. You never know when a hike might get tougher than expected or when the temperature might jump up. It’s hard to go wrong with just water, but it doesn’t hurt to bring something along that might provide an extra boost if needed.
The Full Poll
|Water additives (NUUN, Liquid IV, LMNT)||61||26%|
|Sports drinks (often powdered)||14||6%|
|Other (Pickle Juice, Coconut Water, Lemon Water)||5||2%|
Energy Drinks and Hiking: Do They Work?
When you know you need an energy boost, what’s the first thing you think of? For many, the answer lies with caffeine. That caffeine might come from another cup of coffee or it may come from an energy drink. Unlike coffee – which often needs to be mixed with other ingredients to taste good – energy drinks come in a variety of soda-like flavors that are easy to drink.
In addition to caffeine, energy drinks also claim to include other helpful ingredients like taurine, potassium, and a variety of vitamins. There are also sugar-free versions and those that come in a highly compact form so that you can get your energy fast and get moving.
There’s no denying that caffeine is popular for a reason. It works. Caffeine does give us the boost we need, but it isn’t a hydrating beverage. In most cases, energy drinks can be considered dehydrating due to the combination of caffeine and sugars within them.
People who are familiar with caffeine are also often aware of the crash that can happen after the boost has worn off. That crash can leave you feeling worse than before you had the caffeine to begin with. Because of that, it isn’t a great solution to keep you going throughout a long hike.
According to this study on the effects of energy drinks on exercise performance, energy drinks can be useful for short workouts, whether it’s a shorter hike or a quick sprint or jog. The only problem with that is that you may need more than one energy drink to get enough caffeine to be helpful – at which point the side effects of caffeine can start to become a problem.
Overall, energy drinks may be used as a treat or a light boost when you want something other than water, but they shouldn’t be relied on alone. No matter what kind of workout you’re doing, it’s important to back up the energy drink with plenty of hydration and electrolytes. For the long term, those are the things that will really help to keep your energy levels up.
The People’s Favorite Energy Drink
To answer this question, I spent some time researching the kinds of energy-boosting tools hikers use while they are hiking or backpacking. There were a few cases in which hikers opted to bring along energy drinks for a short boost. Typically, they opted for brands like Redbull or Monster. That said, it was actually pretty uncommon for people to use energy drinks as their source of caffeine while hiking.
Instead, hikers chose either coffee or caffeine pills if they wanted a caffeine boost. It’s likely those choices were due to personal preference or the desire to avoid excess calories, sugars, or other ingredients. Ultimately, it won’t hurt to bring some kind of caffeine as long as it’s used in moderation and you have plenty of hydrating fluids on hand.
How Much To Drink While Hiking
In order to determine how much water you might need to bring on a hiking trip, it’s best to know how much water humans need in general. According to Mayo Clinic, women need about 2.7 liters of water per day and men require 3.7 liters per day. Some of this water intake can also come from the water contained in the food we eat.
The amount of water you drink vastly depends on what you’re doing. If you’re hiking in the heat, then you will need much more water.
When you’re getting ready for a hiking trip, make sure to use those numbers as a guideline. If you’re planning to hike for at least an entire day, it’s best to bring at least the amount of water you’d need under normal circumstances.
Next, factor in how intense you think the hike will be and what weather you’ll be hiking in. Is it going to be cool or hot? Will there be a lot of steep hills or is it mostly a flat walk? Heat and exercise intensity are both good reasons to expect to drink more water than usual.
Through browsing this question on various hiker forums, I determined that hikers may bring anywhere from 2 liters to 6 liters for every day they spend hiking. That’s quite a range, so it may take some trial and error for you to determine the amount that works best for you. Just remember, it’s better to have too much rather than too little.
If you’re hiking for multiple days, it’s extremely important to bring a water filtration system so you can drink from rivers. Carrying 6+ liters of water for every person is a lot of weight and you need to be able to refill up at rivers if you want to keep going.
Larger amounts of water can be easier to bring on a camping trip, especially if you’re car camping. Is the amount of water you need for camping different than what you would need for hiking? Learn all about packing the right amount of clean water for camping in our article here.
Can You Drink Alcohol While Hiking?
Generally speaking, most health resources state that drinking alcohol while hiking isn’t a good idea. Some even suggest avoiding alcohol prior to a hike If you drink the night before a hiking trip, you can easily still be affected by the alcohol during that trip. Even if that doesn’t end up causing serious problems for your adventure, it can leave you feeling a lot less thrilled about being out and about instead of home in bed.
Not only can alcohol leave you feeling rough, but it’s also a dehydrating substance. If you’re concerned about staying hydrated during your hike, alcohol is going to work against you. On top of that, too much alcohol will affect your senses, making it harder to navigate the trail. Your chances of becoming lost or injured will go up greatly if you’re inebriated during your hike.
That said, there are plenty of hikers out there who enjoy a drink or two at the end of the day. Backpackers who have set up camp may choose to celebrate their adventure with some alcohol. While this is less dangerous, it’s still worth being careful. Make sure that you’re continuing to drink plenty of water and avoid having too much alcohol. This can also be a good time to have some extra rehydration tools handy.
It should be mentioned, that being at a high altitude (where a lot of hiking happens) can compound the effects of alcohol. You probably know this already, but hiking on dangerous trails with sheer cliffs combined with alcohol and high altitude is definitely asking a lot from lady luck.
What Other Drinks Are Bad For Hydration?
As I’ve discussed so far, both energy drinks and alcohol aren’t great options for hydration. However, they aren’t the only ones out there. In fact, a large number of the drinks we consume on a daily basis have dehydrating effects.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, the following beverages also have negative effects on hydration:
- Fruit Juice
Under normal circumstances, it’s pretty easy to make up for the dehydrating effects these drinks have. Millions of people drink coffee every day and won’t have too much of an issue. That said, it’s important to be more cautious of drinks like these if you’re on a long hiking or backpacking trip.
Tea and coffee can be dehydrating because of the caffeine within them. If you aren’t already aware, caffeine is a diuretic, which essentially means that it pushes the water out of your system. Not only can that mean you end up needing the bathroom more often, it also means you have less hydration in your body.
Depending on your soda of choice, caffeine can also be a source of problems. However, one of the larger issues with both soda and fruit juices is the sugar they contain.
That’s not to say that you can’t go out backpacking and have a nice cup of coffee to start your day in the morning. Just make sure that you have plenty of water or sports drinks to avoid becoming too dehydrated. The idea here is really just to make sure you’re balancing out any dehydrating drinks you consume with hydrating ones.
What Are The Best Drinks For Recovering After A Hike?
It’s not uncommon to feel worn out after a hike. Getting your body moving is great for you, but it sure can leave you feeling tired and hungry!
After a long or intense hike, you may feel that you need something that will help you to recover. Here are just a few drinks that other hikers use to get themselves back to feeling normal:
- Water or Gatorade. These are a given. We’ve already seen how helpful they can be during a hike. That assistance definitely continues after the hike is done.
- Protein shakes. Having something a bit more substantial can replenish vitamins and minerals, helping to get your energy back up.
- Beer. This one is an interesting choice, but some hikers just seem to crave it once they’ve made it back home!
- Instant breakfast shakes. Like protein shakes, these shakes bring energy levels back up by providing more of what your body needs.
- Pickle Juice. You might think I’m weird–but just try it after a long hike or run. You’ll see.
I’m covering drinks here, but eating food is also an extremely important way to get your energy back after a long hike. Your body is likely to let you know just how important food is by grumbling angrily until it gets filled. Have you ever noticed that you’re hungrier after a hike than you would normally be? Why is that? You can find the answer in our article on the topic here.
Why Is It Important To Stay Hydrated While Hiking?
The idea of drinking more water is something we all come into contact with sooner or later. Maybe you or someone you know has set a goal to drink more water, or perhaps you’re feeling under the weather and hear the age-old advice “get plenty of fluids”. Most of us grow up knowing that water is good for us, but we may not know exactly why.
In truth, some might be able to argue that water is the most important thing we can put into our bodies. Water keeps our spine, joints, tissues, and organs protected and comfortable. It reduces strain within our bodies and regulates our temperature so that we can stay warm or cool in unpleasant conditions. Our muscles receive oxygen efficiently thanks to the water in our blood.
While hiking, we need the benefits water provides. Because we’re using our muscles and joints more than usual, we need to make sure our bodies are hydrated well to avoid unnecessary strain. The cooling effects of water are also extremely useful if you’re hiking in hot weather.
Signs Of Dehydration
Although the main goal should be to stay hydrated enough to not experience the signs of dehydration, many of us may actually need them as a reminder to drink more. Understanding what the symptoms of dehydration look and feel like can allow you to solve the problem before it reaches the point where it may ruin your hiking trip. Keep track of the symptoms I’ve listed below to keep yourself hydrated and happy on every hike.
Feeling thirsty is often the first sign that you may be a bit dehydrated, in much the same way that feeling hungry is the first sign of starvation. It isn’t a major symptom, just the first little nudge that your body will give if it needs something. If you start feeling thirsty while you’re out on the trail, it’s a perfect time to stop for a moment to get a drink.
The longer you avoid drinking, the more intense your thirst will get. Eventually, it will lead to other issues that could become quite dangerous. Because of this, it’s often recommended that you drink something regularly while you’re on your hike – even before you feel thirsty. It’s much easier to maintain your hydration levels than to deal with the effects of severe dehydration.
Headaches and Dizziness
People can be prone to headaches for several reasons, including dehydration. They’re never a fun thing to experience, but they can really be a problem when you’re out trying to enjoy nature. Not only are they painful, but they can cause you to have to take a long unplanned break from your hike. If the headache is bad enough, you may even need to turn around and go home.
While it may not be possible to stop all headaches from happening out on the trail, you can at least make sure that headache isn’t caused by dehydration. Many hikers recommend drinking small amounts frequently to keep your body working well. Using a water bladder like the Platypus can help to make drinking easy while you’re walking – meaning you won’t have to stop every time you need a drink.
Unlike some of the other symptoms I’ve listed here, dry skin may not show up right away when your body needs water. It’s more likely that you might begin to notice skin changes related to dehydration after a hike or during a backpacking trip.
Another important aspect to keep in mind is that dry skin due to dehydration is different from dry skin which may be lacking in the oil that the skin needs to be healthy. According to Healthline.com, dry skin might display signs like redness, flaking, or scaling while skin that has become dehydrated is more likely to present itself with dullness, itchiness, or darker shadows around the face and under the eyes.
Feeling Fatigued Or Sleepy
Humans are losing liquids all the time and in a number of ways. Aside from using the restroom, we also lose hydration by sweating, crying, and even breathing. The more hydration we lose, the harder it gets for the body to keep things flowing well. As a result, we may be left feeling very fatigued.
Staying aware of how you’re feeling during a hike is incredibly important, but not everyone will connect a sudden bout of fatigue with dehydration. Some hikers may just think they’re tired from working their body, or they may even be confused as to why they’re feeling so exhausted. If you start to notice you’re a bit more tired than usual while you’re on a hike, drinking more may be just the solution you need.
Have you ever had that feeling where – instead of regular saliva – it starts to feel like you just had a mouthful of honey? There’s a strange dryness combined with a sticky, uncomfortable sensation that just makes you crave liquid. That craving makes sense since the cause of the sticky mouth problem is dehydration.
When our bodies aren’t well hydrated, the natural mucous in our mouths becomes thicker. There isn’t enough liquid to dilute it, so instead, it develops into an annoyingly sticky substance. The good news is that a sticky mouth can be cured by taking a break and getting plenty of water, Gatorade, or any other favorite hydrating drink you may have.
Remember how dehydration can make your saliva thicker? Well, it can do the same to your blood. Blood that isn’t properly diluted becomes thicker, slower, and harder to move through the body. Not only does that mean that vitamins and minerals aren’t getting where they need to go quickly – it also means your heart has to do more work to keep your blood moving.
While it is a good idea to get your heart pumping from time to time, it’s not good for the organ to be forced to put extra effort into your exercise. That’s especially true when the issue can be resolved simply by drinking more water. The Heart Foundation states that when the body is well hydrated, it means the heart can get oxygen out into your body more easily. Essentially, staying hydrated benefits your heart, your muscles, and just about everything else.
What To Do If You’re Dehydrated
Most of the time, the dehydration that people experience is mild. At that point, you may feel tired and thirsty. The best way to handle mild dehydration is to drink water and rest. If you’re already feeling dehydrated, sugary drinks will only worsen the problem. However, you can drink have a sports drink diluted with water if you want. This is also a good time to consider whether or not continuing your hike is a good idea. If you feel like your energy has returned after a break, then feel free to carry on.
If you’ve become dehydrated beyond that point, it’s still a good idea to stop and drink some water. If you have any electrolytes that you can add in, definitely do so. When you’re feeling a little stronger, this is a good time to turn around. It’s not worth the risk of making your condition worse.
Beyond moderate dehydration, the situation is severe enough to require medical assistance. Get the help of a friend, ranger, or a fellow hiker. If you need to call someone for help, don’t delay. Severe dehydration can become very dangerous if your body doesn’t get enough fluids in time.
Hydration is just one important variable to keep in mind while you’re hiking. It’s important to stay safe out there, whether you’re hiking for an hour or for multiple days. In our article here, we’ll discuss what dangers exist while hiking and what you can do to prepare and protect yourself.