Whenever you go hiking, it’s important to stay properly hydrated. This is especially important for winter hiking, when even mild dehydration can cloud your judgment and reduce your energy level.
In winter, water loss occurs through perspiration and respiration. While you can regulate your perspiration rate by slowing down your pace, most people are not even aware that they lose water through respiration.
When you exhale, your breath transports the moist warm air in your lungs to the drier air surrounding you. If you have a mustache like me, this process is very apparent from the icicles that form on it.
Prehydration for Winter Hiking
I always make a point to prehydrate before I go hiking. If my winter hiking partner and I are driving to the mountains for a hike, we each drink a liter of water before we hit the trail.
This is especially important in winter when the rate in which you lose water can exceed the rate in which your body can absorb water.
Normally, people lose anywhere from 0.5 to 1.5 liters of water per hour when hiking strenuously. Since your body can only absorb a liter an hour, not prehydrating puts you at risk of becoming dehydrated and staying that way during a strenuous hike.
Drinking Throughout the Day
It’s important that you keep drinking water regularly during a winter hike to stay properly hydrated. If you normally use a hydration system during the rest of the year, it can be difficult to adapt to its absence in winter. I counter this by always taking a sip from one of my insulated water bottles when my hiking partner stops to catch her breath, checks her maps, adds or removes a layer, or stops to look at a bird. Once you get into this habit, staying hydrated in winter becomes second nature.
Winter Hiking Water Bottles and Water Bottle Insulation
Hydration bladders and hoses freeze in winter, even insulated ones. You’ll want to carry wide-mouth 1 liter bottles instead, because the lids are less likely to freeze and they’re easier to open while wearing gloves. The best winter water bottles are or because they don’t crack like the clear ones when they get cold or you pour boiling hot water into them. Don’t even think about bringing a metal bottle on a winter hike. You’ll be laughed at before you’re kicked off the hike.
When you fill these bottles with water you want it to be as hot as possible, so boil it on the stove or in the microwave beforehand. Once filled, you need to insulate the bottles, so the water stays hot as long as possible during the day. Turning them upside down will also prevent the caps from freezing shut. When purchasing winter water bottle insulators, it’s imperative that you buy ones that insulate the lid of the bottle and not just the sides.
Try to find water bottle insulators, also called “parkas” or “jackets” that you can clip to the outside of your backpack with a carabiner, since this makes it much easier to keep drinking during the day. You won’t drink as much if you have to stop and pull a bottle out of your pack.
Post Hike Hydration
One of the first things I do after a winter day hike is to drink another quart of water and eat some food. This keeps me alert when we’re driving home.
If I’m backpacking in winter, I do the same thing, except we have to melt snow first with a stove. I also take a quart of hot water to bed with me and sip it when I wake up during the night to pee. Staying hydrated is important at night because it helps the digestive processes that keep you warm after a big dinner and ensures that you don’t wake up mildly dehydrated the next morning.
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