Tips – Hydration

Over the past couple of years of walking I’ve learned a few things about preparing for and enjoying a good long walk, so I thought would I share some of that knowledge. Hope it helps.

What?: Here are some ideas for staying hydrated and comfortable when you’re out for a walk, whether it’s round the block or an all-day hike. Please note that this applies to areas where clean water is available – for back-country water tips, I suggest consulting a good source like Mountain Equipment Co-op.

Tips: Where, when, how and why

  • Water, just plain old tap water, is best. First and foremost, healthy hydration starts here and for me, that’s usually all I need.
  • Collect water bottles. I have a small collection of reusable bottles, ranging from 500 ml to 1 litre in volume, and in a variety of formats and materials. Some are insulated stainless steel, and others are either soft squeezable plastic or hard polycarbonate. That way, I can choose the one(s) that will match conditions, and I can take multiple bottles if I’m going out on a hot day where I know I’ll need more than a litre of fluids.
  • Be green, reuse and recycle. I avoid buying bottle water whenever possible, preferring to simply carry a refillable water bottle and topping up wherever I am. There’s usually a water fountain someplace, and if you ask nicely coffee shops or fast food places will fill your bottle for you, especially if you pay some rent by buying a bagel or a snack.
  • Be careful with caffeine. I usually avoid it during a walk because it’s a diuretic, which means it will increase fluid loss since you’ll want to pee. Also, because caffeine is an ingredient in some energy drinks, it’s another reason to avoid those. I do like my morning coffee, so if I know I’m going to be doing a big walk that day I’ll limit my caffeine intake before I go out to avoid the need for a quick early pit stop.
  • An insulated thermos bottle can be handy. On a hot day, filling it with cold water helps a lot to avoid heat exhaustion. On a cold day, filling it with hot drinks can be the warming boost you need. Just be careful with caffeine and remember that this kind of bottle is heavier than a plastic one.
  • Water adds weight. There’s no way around it, you need to stay hydrated, but remember that 1 millilitre of water weights 1 gram, so that full 1 litre bottle is going to weigh more than 1kg once you count the bottle itself. On long hikes, I carry two of these if I’m not near a water source, so by the time I add some snacks, sunblock, blister pack, rain gear, and a change of shirt/socks to my pack, I’m usually carrying more than 4 kg, at least half of which is water.
  • Plan your water stops. The further afield you are, the more you need to be aware of where you can refill water bottles. In Toronto, there are water fountains in most parks, but they are turned off between late October and early May. Check the web ahead of your walk so you know where you can fill up.
  • Look for unexpected water refills. For example in Toronto, many of the cemeteries have water taps used for groundskeeping and these are often accessible for refills, plus they are often available for more of the year than water fountains in the public parks. Outside the city, you may meet a friendly person out watering a lawn who would be happy to fill your water bottle in return for a smile and a thank you. Be respectful, and ask if you are not sure if you can use a refill source like this, and make sure you turn off the tap as well.
  • Avoid sugary drinks. Sugar can give you an energy boost, short term, but it wears off quickly and too much sugar can actually make you thirstier. Many energy drinks contain a lot of sugars along with salts. A little of that goes a long way. If you are going for a long hike on a hot day, a small (500 ml or less) water bottle filled with an energy drink is sufficient as long as you also have at least the same amount or more of plain water.
  • Add some flavour with fruit. I often put a slice or 2 of fresh lemon or lime into my water bottle on a hot day. It gives it some flavour while avoiding sugars.
  • Make flavoured ice cubes. On a hot day, a cold drink can be super satisfying. One way to do that is to take a small slice of lemon or lime, or a few raspberries, and put them into each cell of an ice cube tray and then fill it with water. A couple of those frozen flavour bombs in your water bottle will chill it and give you a lift at the same time.
  • Green tea is a great compromise. Hot or cold, green tea is both pleasantly refreshing and a bit less caffeinated than regular black tea or coffee. A thermos of that along with a bottle of plain water is a great way to either warm up or cool down while still packing water for straight hydration.
  • Frozen water bottles can chill your snacks. On a hot day, you may need to keep a sandwich cold so save weight by freezing a partially full water bottle (make sure it’s no more than 3/4s full) and using that as an ice pack. That way you’ll have a nice cold drink ready along with your snack.
  • You need water any time of the year. Even if it’s -30 out, you’ll still need to stay hydrated. An insulated water bottle is great because it will keep your water from freezing in your pack. I find I drink less when it’s cold, but I still need some water.
  • Remember, what goes in has to come out. I tend to hydrate lightly before I go out, so that I don’t need a pee stop just after I get going. The more you drink as you walk, the more you’ll need to plan your bio breaks. However, you also shouldn’t skimp on water either to avoid pit stops – too little fluid intake makes you sluggish at best, and can lead to dehydration or heat stroke at worst. If you aren’t in need of a pee every 2-3 hours, you’re probably not drinking enough water.
  • My hydration rules of thumb for hot weather walks, i.e. above 25 C
    • 1 hour or less – a 500 ml insulated water bottle filled with cold tap water.
    • more than an hour – a 500 ml insulated water bottle with cold tap water plus back-up water, about 500 ml of water for every 2 hours I’ll be out, e.g. 4 hour hike means carrying at least 1 litre of back up water, and more if I know I’m going to be far from refill sources
  • My hydration rules of thumb for cool weather walks, i.e. below 5 C
    • 1 hour or less – I’ll have a drink before I leave home and then skip taking water with me as I won’t perspire much
    • more than an hour – an insulated 500 ml water bottle filled with plain room temp tap water. For 3-4 hour hikes or longer, I’ll add either a 500 ml or a 1-litre back up bottle. When I am taking a snack I’ll sometimes add a 500 ml insulated thermos filled with hot green tea.

Disclaimer: All opinions contained in this post are my own. I’m not a nutritionist, physiotherapist, or doctor. Take my advice as given – caveat emptor.