There are a few things I can still remember vividly from my time aboard Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island. The sand pits. The Brown Recluse spiders crawling all over me near the Weapons Battalion barracks. Recruits and Drill Instructors repeatedly saying the words “drink water!” in a sing-song fashion. Without a doubt, it was drilled into us that without proper hydration, we would not survive. “Hydrate or die” is a pretty grim message, but it’s one of CamelBak‘s taglines for a reason. It’s true. You can live for weeks without food, but you’re only going to make it a few miserable days without clean water.
This consideration is a major part of survival preparation and military training, but it applies to every human being in every aspect of life. You don’t need to be an athlete to take hydration seriously; you just need to have a pulse. Now when you start going on adventures – anything from short urban exploration forays to week-long through-hikes – hydration becomes increasingly important. As your activity and your exposure to the sun and elements increases, so too does your need for water.
I’ve assembled eight important facts about hydration to get you started:
The water you drink today will save your life tomorrow.
This was a favorite phrase of one of my Drill Instructors. In short, if you wait until immediately before activity to hydrate, you may be too late. You’re better off drinking a lot of water the night before your excursion to ensure proper absorption. The best tactic of all is to maintain a constant state of proper hydration so it doesn’t become a matter of timing.
If your pee is yellow, you’re wrong.
The easiest way to tell if you’re maintaining a good hydration level is by observing the color of your urine. You should aim (no pun intended) for a very light or clear color. Extremely yellow or foul-smelling urine is a sure sign of impending dehydration (you might already be showing symptoms) and can also be a sign of deeper medical issues.
Water isn’t the only thing that hydrates you.
Other drinks and even food that are water-heavy count towards your body’s level of overall hydration. Coffee and tea are okay (caffeine is not the fast road to dehydration the way many people claim) and sports drinks are decent, though many of them are loaded with more sugar than necessary to promote absorption. I prefer to water down my sports drinks to about a 1:1 ratio.
Proper hydration allows your body to regulate its temperature more effectively.
Hydration isn’t about “not getting thirsty.” It’s about making sure your body can work the way it’s supposed to. If you’re about to spend a few hours in the sun, proper hydration will lessen the effects of the environment on your performance. You’ll actually feel cooler if you’re hydrated, which means you get to enjoy the outing more instead of suffering from the heat.
Proper hydration is a key factor in preventing constipation.
This might not sound like a big deal until you consider that close to 20% of the U.S. population suffers from constipation. This is a condition that can be easily avoided 99% of the time by drinking water and consuming fiber; the fact that there were half a million constipation-related emergency room visits in the United States last year is very telling of our nation’s diet and hydration practices.
You don’t have to waste a bunch of money on bottled water.
Care to guess where a good amount of bottled water actually comes from? The Center for Science in the Public Interest determined that nearly half of the water in bottled water comes from municipal water supplies. Yeah, it’s pretty much tap water. Save some money, spare some plastic, and drink from the tap.
Allergies, asthma, migraine headaches, tiredness, and even loss of memory can be caused or exacerbated by dehydration.
You’re taking a pretty big gamble with your overall health when you don’t hydrate. Dehydration carries a pretty extensive symptom list, and none of these effects are desirable when you’re out on an excursion (or ever.)
You don’t need to drink 8 glasses a day.
Well, you might, but the point is that hydration differs from person to person. Your weight, level of activity, and rate of metabolism all play a part in how much water you need to drink. Rather than telling you some formula to help guess how much to drink, I’m going to give you a better idea: drink as much as you can. It’s not really that hard to drink a full gallon of water over the span of a day, and that’s about twice the minimum needed to survive. Drink when you’re thirsty, when you’re hungry, and during activity. It’s almost impossible to overdose on water – an effect called hyponatremia, which is an electrolyte imbalance involving low sodium levels in the blood. Unless you’re using recreational drugs or suffering from an endocrine disorder, you’re pretty safe.
The important takeaway here is that you should make an active effort to stay properly hydrated, especially when you’re about to take on a bit of strenuous activity. I never go anywhere without one of my trust hydration bladders (and usually an emergency water filter of some kind.) It’s a consideration of comfort, health, and survival that goes a long way.