With the fall weather bringing temperatures down, the hiking season has started again here in Southern California. After a fairly long summer break – about 5 months for me – I have to re-learn the tricks of hiking safely. I noticed after my last hike that shortly after the hike I felt fatigued and a little dizzy. I was fine on the trail, but once I returned home, I was ready for a long nap.
So what happened?
I was most likely not fueling myself properly on the trail. I am a runner and I easily underestimate the impact a hike has on my body. With running I have a proper and disciplined fueling strategy that involves drinking water regularly and taking electrolytes every 45 minutes. I have been a half marathon and marathon runner for nearly 10 years now. And yes, I have my running fueling strategy down to a T.
I guess not so much my hiking fueling strategy. So I’d better fuel up!
Why is proper hydration and fueling important during a hike?
Our bodies consist mostly of water, about 55-60%. Any exercise, even light exercise, can deplete the water in your body when not hydrating properly. This can make you feel dizzy, nauseated, give you a headache or cramps. There can be serious consequences, so please be prepared for your hike.
You don’t only need water, but also electrolytes. How much water and electrolytes you need depends on your age, size, fitness level, the strenuousness of the hike, the weather. Do your research beforehand, especially if you are planning on a longer hike. But even for short hikes: always carry water!
12 Tips for hydrating and fueling during a hike
- Hydrate before you head out.
- Carry parts of your water easily accessible in an outside mesh pocket of your backpack, or a handheld bottle, or in a waist belt.
- Drink small sips often. Don’t wait until you are thirsty.
- Add electrolytes either to your water or separately. As a runner I learned to take them every 45 minutes. My guess is this could be a good starting rule for hiking, too. Adjust as necessary.
- Add salt to your refueling.
- Drink more in hot weather.
- Drink more in altitude.
- Don’t forget to drink when it’s cold.
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol as they are dehydrating.
- Re-hydrate after the hike.
- Wear sun protection: sunscreen, a hat, sun-protective clothing.
- If you are planning a long hike, do your research! Be safe!
There is a fairly small risk of over-hydrating or hyponatremia. This is rare and mainly affects endurance athletes. The symptoms are very similar to dehydration. What happens to your body is that the sodium levels become so diluted that cell functions can become impaired.
To avoid hyponatremia, ensure to not just drink water, but add salt by adding electrolytes, or salt tablets, or salty snacks to your fueling strategy.