Story by Dana Benner, Photos by Dana Benner, Joshua Swanagon and Tanner Swanagon
When I was in the army our hydration options were limited to one-quart canteens. We quickly learned the importance of staying hydrated and carrying more than the one you were issued as part of your basic gear.
Today there are plenty of options available to the hiker, hunter and angler. The top option being hydration packs that slip into your backpack. Despite this, I often see people hitting the trail with only one small 16-ounce plastic water bottle. This will not be enough.
Dehydration is a silent enemy that sneaks up on you, without you realizing it, until it is too late. Way too many people only drink when they are thirsty. What they don’t realize is that your body doesn’t indicate it is thirsty until it is in real need of water. It is like waiting for the fuel light on your vehicle to come on before filling your tank.
Dehydration leads to decreased mental and motor skills; two things that are vital in a wilderness situation. The resulting muscle cramps, dizziness and lack of clear thinking can lead to wrong decisions—which can prove fatal.
The human body can go about 21 days without food, but only three days without water. However, you cannot go strong for three days without water, the effects of dehydration will begin to set in quickly. For this reason, it is very important to carry plenty of water and drink often. Coffee, soda and alcohol are not suitable alternatives, as they will dehydrate you even faster.
If you are one of those people who only drink flavored water, there are plenty of powdered additives available. The ones I really like are Rapid Hydration Mix, from Honey Stinger. They not only provide flavoring, but also other additives that the body needs. The packets are small, light and easy to carry in your shirt pocket or the pockets on your pack.
My water load depends on my planned activity, where I will be and how I will get there. If I am running a chainsaw on a friend’s woodlot, there is a good chance I got there by truck. That being the case, a five-gallon water container will be in the vehicle, as well as a canteen or two in my pack.
Whereas, while day hiking with my dog and family, each person carries a few bottles, or canteens, full of water. I carry extra water for the dog, as well.
When it comes to long, serious hikes or hunting, I carry a 5.11 Tactical WTS Wide 3L Hydration System in my pack. Like all hydration bladders, the WTS has a tube that allows you to constantly drink while on the move. The bladder holds 3 Liters (100 ounces); plenty more than a few canteens and much easier to carry.
When it comes to water there just never seems to be enough. Whether I’m out hunting, fishing or just for a hike with my family, I never return with extra water. So, what do you do if you find yourself out of water and there are still miles to go? What happens if you find yourself unexpectedly forced to hunker down for the night? You will need water.
Although there are formulas for determining the proper amount of water intake, there are some general rules you can follow. Men should take in an average of 104 ounces per day and women should take in 72 ounces. If you are involved in strenuous activity (shelter building, firewood processing, etc.) add an extra 12 ounces of water for every thirty minutes.
Before you head to a nearby stream to fill your hydration bag, canteen or bottle, you need to realize that all such water will need to be boiled, chemically treated or filtered before you drink it. You have no idea what is in that water. Pathogens found in water can make you very sick or even kill you. Do not take the risk. Just because the water may be clear doesn’t mean it is safe.
While chemicals and boiling are always solid options, I prefer to use water filtering systems. There are good ones out there, as well as some not so good ones. There are two I really like, the Sawyer Mini and the Lifesaver Liberty. Both eliminate most of the natural bad things, as well as any chemicals, that may be in the water.
I have mentioned dehydration multiple times in the article, so I should mention just what dehydration is. It is important to know how to recognize it and how to treat it. Simply put, dehydration happens when more fluids leave your body than are taken in. We expel water constantly; so the key is to continually take water in.
Detecting the problem is key. Early signs include lethargy and dizziness. Dark urine or decreased urination are also signs. More advanced stages include dry skin, low blood pressure, increased heart rate, lack of sweating and fever. If not detected early, and corrected, dehydration can lead to organ problems, heat related issues (heat exhaustion or heat stroke) and even death.
To treat dehydration is as simple as replenishing lost bodily fluids. Stick to clear fluids like water, clear broths, ice cubes, sports drinks or water additives that have those extra things your body needs. Make sure to take in fluids slowly at first. Gulping water may induce vomiting which will only dehydrate you even more.
Above all else, stay away from coffee, tea, soda and alcohol—all of which will add to your problems.
By far more people succumb to the various stages of dehydration in the field than any other potential injury. While twisted ankles, broken bones and insect stings can be avoided, they can’t always be prevented. Dehydration is a different story. You can easily prevent it with just some careful planning.
Have fun, stay safe and stay alive. K&G
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Dana Benner has been writing about all aspects of the outdoors, survival, history and culture for over 30 years. His work appears in regional and national publications.
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