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M Hydration for Lightweight Backpackers

by Kevin Sawchuk

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Article Summary:

There have been two times I remember being very thirsty. One was when my hydration bladder developed a leak while running a double crossing of the Grand Canyon. My shorts were wet with Cytomax but my mouth was dry as I became progressively dehydrated. A small patch of snow finally provided relief just before the north rim.  Several ice cream headaches later I was properly hydrated. Another was while fastpacking the Tahoe Rim Trail. The Nevada side of Lake Tahoe has limited water access and I pushed from Tahoe Meadows to Spooner Lake (about 30 miles) before wading into Spooner Lake's mucky green water. Although the lake was full of deer and goose poop I drank greedily after two treatments with my steripen. My dwindling performance and general malaise as I became dehydrated has given me ample evidence of the importance of proper hydration.

When it comes to achieving proper hydration there are a LOT of variables to consider. Duration of activity and level of exertion, ambient temperature and humidity, heat acclimatization and genetic predisposition to sweating are all factors that dramatically influence hydration needs. The lighter packs we carry as lightweight backpackers result in less exertion and sweating. However many of us choose to hike faster and longer which increase sweat losses. Salt is important in helping to absorb and maintain fluid in the body. If you replace fluids without salt your hydration will be much less effective. To simplify things I'm going to use the term hydration to refer to both fluid and sodium replacement.

Sweat consists primarily of water and sodium chloride (salt). Excessive loss of either can have adverse consequences ranging from impaired performance to serious medical problems. Replacing both fluid and sodium results in proper hydration. When you're backpacking getting this right can make the difference between enjoyment and misery, survival and death.  

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