Staying Hydrated – Tips From The Team

paul kirtley with water bottle
Cheers to good health! Photo; Paul Kirtley

“It is wise to bring some water, when going out to look for water.” Arab Proverb

Hydration is essential to good health. Your body uses water to maintain temperature, remove waste, and lubricate joints. Even mild de-hydration can cause debilitating symptoms such as headache, nausea, loss of concentration and irritability. Left untreated, it can be far more serious.

So, when you are outdoors, engaging in activities that require full mental capacity, i.e. ; using cutting tools, or navigating a tricky route, and most especially if you are responsible for other people, you must maintain your levels of hydration to avoid reduction in cognitive functions and physical ability.

There is no one rule that applies to all as there are always variables, although generally, common sense should tell you that if you are thirsty, have a drink.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) recommends an intake of 2.5 litres of water for men and 2.0 litres of water for women per day, via food and drink consumption.

Basically, de-hydration occurs when you lose more water than you take in. For moderate exertion, plain water is adequate but adding salt and sugar can be more useful after intense activity, i.e.; a hike, where you have lost fluid through sweat.

We asked our team for their thoughts on hydration and how they manage to combat any symptoms when they feel de-hydrated.

Paul Kirtley: For me, hydration starts first thing in the morning. My aim is to drink at least a pint of water before I eat anything. Particularly on trips where it may not be possible to drink at any time you choose or you must make a concerted effort before stopping to rest, drink, or eat before carrying on, then it’s important to start the day well-hydrated. Getting fluids into your system early in the day is vital. If you start on the back foot, you will suffer for it later. Equally, when the day’s journey is over and you are setting up camp, get water production under way early on. Set up a gravity filter or start boiling water as soon as possible. This will allow you to drink at the earliest possibility. You may have been canoeing and portaging all day, but you will probably only have drunk one to two litres during this time. You need to top up in the evening. Plus, if you are having a calorie rich meal in the evening, it’s good to get fluids into your system before you eat.

gravity filter
First things first, drinking water from a gravity filter. Photo; Paul Kirtley
gravity filter
Clean water from a gravity filter; Paul Kirtley
gravity filter
Set up a gravity filter as early as possible. Photo; Paul Kirtley

You also want to make sure you have enough water for cooking, washing up, personal hygiene and the like, rather than rationing what you drink so you have enough to go around. Get on top of water production at each camp. In the evenings, you’ll also want to produce enough clean drinking water so you can have fresh water to drink first thing in the morning. More generally, I monitor the colour of my urine and frequency of urination as indicators of my hydration level. Sweating is a clear reminder to drink regularly and I drink when thirsty. I make a conscious effort to drink in sunny conditions with a cool breeze or cold, dry conditions as you can be losing more moisture than you realise.

If I end the day badly de-hydrated, I tend to develop a headache as the main symptom. In this case I drink lots, even if it’s just before bed, plus take an analgesic before sleeping. I usually wake up in the morning feeling much better, even if I’ve had to get up during the night to pee. The next day, I continue to hydrate more than normal to make sure I’m back to where I should be. Adding a little sugar and a pinch of salt at this stage helps my body to retain the fluid rather than it pass straight through.

boiling water
Boil some water for safe hydration Photo; Paul Kirtley

Henry Landon: Getting de-hydrated really affects me, I lose my edge, become less motivated and start to feel headaches and ill. The signs I look for are – drying lips, loss of energy, loss of appetite and the colour of my urine.

When teaching in the woods with Frontier, staying hydrated can be difficult, we have very busy and long days. I try to drink a crusader cup of warm Robinson’s juice in the morning to get on top of my fluid intake. That is normally followed by coffee and tea before lessons begin. During the day, I try to make a concerted effort to drink water, and if I get to the end of the day and still feel thirsty I will play catch up by drinking a litre before bed. This can lead to waking up and needing a pee in the night, but is better than getting behind on your hydration the next day.

We don’t drink alcohol when we are work on courses as a rule for many reason, but I find that if I do have a drink if I’m camping out and working on courses then the next day I feel the effects much more, so I try to avoid alcohol when in the woods.

If I’m out on a journey, be that hiking, skiing, or canoeing, I find variety is the best way to get me to drink water. So, I take a combination with me of different flavoured teas, or powdered drink sachets, or berroca or hot chocolate. If I am in woodland areas I try to take advantage of natural flavourings like – water mint, ground ivy, nettles, pine needles and sorrel. If there are berries around I make a juice by crushing some up and adding hot water. At the end of the day, plain water is boring to drink, but the effects of getting de-hydrated can knock you flat.

storing clean water
Storing clean water. Photo; Paul Kirtley

James Bath: One thing I find effective, whether in the woods or hills, or even just normal life, is to try and get as much fluid down me as possible in the morning before I start whatever I am doing. In the woods, usually 2 Crusader mugs of fluid. It’s then easier to keep topped up throughout the day I find. There is already plenty written about this elsewhere but it’s a good tactic for me. Also, before doing something more physical than usual, like walking with a big pack, I’ll try to cram as much fluid down me as possible, just to top up levels before exerting myself.

Also after tea and when things are winding down in the evening, I tend to try not to drink too much so I can have an undisturbed night’s sleep. My fluid levels are fine with this if I’ve kept up sipping through the day. I find not drinking too much in the evening particularly important if I am sleeping in a hammock. If I drink loads in the evening, I’m up a few times in the night.

Regarding de-hydration, one thing I haven’t really read anywhere but have identified in myself is if I am a bit de-hydrated, I will know I need to drink but I can’t be bothered to get up, even if there is a jerry can or kettle right there in front of me. I must make a concerted effort to actual drink and it always works. Another win for the saying – ‘Can’t be bothered? Better had do then.’

clean water from a stream
Clean water should be a priority. Photo; Paul Kirtley

Iain Gair: When I run, I Just drink when I feel thirsty and if my belly is a bit sloshy I stop drinking. More importantly for me is to keep my salts up. I lose a lot of sodium through sweat loss, so I need to keep on top of that. If I get it wrong, then my morale drops, bad navigation happens, and poor decisions are made. For me it happens more so when my blood glucose is low.

I don’t really like bladders as they taste funny to me and are difficult to keep clean etc with the amount of use/abuse I’ve given them over the years. When running I just take a cheap bottle, normally a used ‘Oasis’ bottle as it has a wide neck for speedy refills and doesn’t matter a great deal if I lose it.

When wooding or camping I still prefer the heavy duty black army water bottles. Absolutely bomb proof.

In dry, cold conditions, staying hydrated is a constant effort and I lose a lot of moisture through just breathing, let alone exertion (which it is important to avoid over exertion and building up a sweat in dry cold). In dry cold, I have a couple of thermos flasks I use. I pour the hot water into a folding cup halfway and top up with snow to make the hot water go further and be ready to drink quicker – it’s not too good to stand around too long in these conditions waiting for a brew to cool down.

The flasks I have are taped up with sniper tape to help insulate the outside of the flask. It’s not so much to help stop the drink inside cooling down, but more to stop the flask leeching heat from my hands when I hold it.

snow scene
Add snow to boiling drinks so you can re-hydrate quickly. Photo; Paul Kirtley

Also, yellow pee means I’m extremely de-hydrated, but is also contra indicated with too much vitamin B. So, I will need to consider what I’ve eaten in the last 12 hours.

So, I think I address hydration differently, depending of the mechanism of loss in two ways. One through respiration and the other though evaporation. One way requires replacement of sodium whilst the other doesn’t to the same degree.

team drinking water in camp
Drink plenty at the start of the day. Photo; Paul Kirtley

Ben Gray: Don’t ration water unless it cannot be avoided. My symptoms – dry mouth, swollen tongue, head ache, feeling groggy, yellow pee. I try to carry enough with me and keep spare when travelling, in the car, in my rucksack. Hydration bladders can be good for specific tasks when you don’t want to have to stop to take a water bottle out of your bag every time you need a sip. I try to drink little and often rather than leaving it too late and then having gulps. Getting back to normal – isotonic/hydration salts are good. Failing that, a little salt dissolved in water works well.

Some interesting insights from the team, albeit all are along the same thought processes. It is clear, that maintaining hydration should be incorporated into any planning. Also, you must learn to recognise the symptoms of de-hydration, as these will differ for everyone.

Try to keep a mental record of your fluid intake.

Think about how much exertion will go into any task you have planned.

Regularly check the colour of your urine.

Basically, know yourself, to better look after yourself!

Do you have any tips for keeping hydrated? Let us know in the comments.

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Frontier Team blogs are literally a team collaboration, bringing together the collective experiences of members of the Frontier team, from the most junior to the most senior.

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