Staying hydrated on desert hikes

PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -- Summer is over, temperatures for hiking are almost perfect in the Arizona desert and it’s time to get your hike on.

We spend a lot of time reminding everyone to stay hydrated during the heat of the summer, but hydration is key to a safe and successful outdoor adventure year–round. Now is a great time for Debbie Hendricks of Just Roughin' It to remind you all of this.

[READ MORE: Hiking safety in the desert]

The human body is made up of 60 to 65 percent water. Of that, your organs are mostly water with your blood being made up of 94 percent water and your brain, kidneys and lung being 83 to 85 percent water. This means slight changes in hydration effects so much of your daily bodily functions.

What is hydration?

In simplest terms, it is water plus electrolytes. In order to hydrate, and stay that way, you need to consume water AND consume food and/or liquids with 5 key minerals – Potassium, Magnesium, Sodium, Calcium and Chloride. These minerals (among others), are found in your blood, urine, tissues, sweat and other bodily fluids and they help…

• Balance the amount of water in your body

• Balance your body’s acid/base (pH) level

• Move nutrients into your cells

• Move wastes out of your cells

• Ensure your nerves, muscles, heart and brain work properly

Therefore, when you sweat, urinate, breathe, etc., you lose these electrolytes. Conversely, when you drink water without replacing these minerals via food or drinks enhanced with electrolytes, you will still be inadequately hydrated.

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The amount of hydration should equal the amount of water and electrolytes you lose. An upset in this balance results in dehydration (too little water) or hyponatremia (too much water).

Dehydration occurs when you use or lose more fluid than you take in, and your body doesn't have enough water and other fluids to carry out its normal functions. If you don't replace lost fluids, you will get dehydrated.

Hyponatremia occurs when the concentration of sodium in your blood is abnormally low. Sodium helps regulate the amount of water that's in and around your cells. Too much water and your cells will not function properly. So yes, there is such thing as too much of a good thing!

So How Do I Know?

You will notice that both of these ailments have many of the same symptoms. These are…

· Nausea and vomiting

· Clammy, pale skin

· Less frequent urination or lack of urination

· Loss of energy, drowsiness and fatigue

· Dizziness and confusion

· Restlessness and irritability

· Headache

· Muscle weakness, spasms or cramps

How will I know the difference? It can be difficult to know and treating the wrong ailment can cause more harm than good. Giving someone with hyponatremia more water is a bad idea while depriving someone of liquids when they are dehydrated is also a bad idea. You can die from both of these conditions – sorry for the doom and gloom. The best way to know, whether it is you or you have encountered a fellow hiker that seems to be struggling, is to ask questions. And you may have to get a bit personal.

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When was the last time you/they peed? Was there a lot, a little, dark colored, smelly and was the outcome normal for them? Do they feel bloated? Do they have a dry mouth of feel extreme thirst? What have they been drinking and eating and when was the last time they consumed anything?

If they peed and their urine was dark and putrid, they are dehydrated. If they say they feel bloated, have not urinated and have been drinking a lot of plain water without eating, they are likely hyponatremic.

The point is, it is unlikely to know what is going on simply by looks alone. You have to be comfortable enough to ask questions. More importantly, you have to be able to assess these things in yourself to avoid that which will result in a helicopter ride out of the backcountry – or worse.

How much should I drink?

This depends on a lot of variables:

· Distance, hiking speed and difficulty of the trail

· Time of Year

· Climate and current weather

· Your fitness level

· How much do you drink on a daily basis – you need to be properly hydrated every day.

· Take more than you think you need. So if you are hiking for an hour and you determine you just need 1 liter, take 2. There is no reason to skimp on the amount of liquids you have in your pack – and don’t forget your snacks!

Stay hydrated my friends.

 


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