Whether you’re planning a winter hike or you’re looking forward to getting out those snowshoes again, the one thing you don’t want to forget about is adequate hydration.
It’s much easier to remember to drink during the summer months when the heat reminds you to take a refreshing swig of water every so often, but during the colder seasons when you’ve got bulky gloves getting in the way, staying hydrated requires that extra bit of effort.
We take a look at why it’s so important to hydrate, no matter what the weather conditions, and offer a few helpful tips on how you can ensure you are getting the right amount of fluids.
Your body works harder
If you’re out for a winter hike, your body is going to react differently to how it would when temperatures are higher. In cold weather, the air is dryer, which means that your body will have to work harder to humidify the air you breathe and warm it up. With every breath you take you end up losing a lot of fluid, draining your reserves far quicker.
Not only are your lungs doing more work, but the rest of your body is also working harder due to all the added layers you are wearing and the weight that adds, which in turn means you are still perspiring. Even though that sweat is there, since it evaporates faster in the dry, cold air, it’s far less evident. On top of all that, you just won’t feel as thirsty, which makes it far easier to forget to keep drinking.
When your body loses more fluids than it takes in, that’s when dehydration occurs. Losing the fluids and salts essential for maintaining normal body function means you can end up with decreased energy, loss of coordination, muscle fatigue, and more.
The fact that you are losing water at a faster rate means you have to pay extra attention to your fluid intake to avoid becoming dehydrated. A good winter hydration plan will make all the difference, so be sure you’ve got one before heading out.
How to stay hydrated
There are several ways you can ensure that you are staying on top of your hydration goals, even with a repressed thirst mechanism. Standard guidelines suggest you should consume roughly 16-20 ounces of fluid per hour, even during the colder months.
To ensure you keep this up, set a timer on your watch, so you remind yourself to drink every 15-20 minutes. Alternatively, get into the habit of taking a drink every time you do things such as stop to catch your breath, look at a bird, check your map, or add or remove a layer.
Here are a few other things you should do to ensure you stay well hydrated:
Calculate your sweat rate
If you want to come up with a proper winter hydration plan, then the first step is to learn your sweat rate. This measures the amount of fluid you lose during a workout session through sweat.
The number will vary from person to person and depends on several factors including things like gender, genetics, size, your fitness, the conditions, and exercise intensity. That’s why it’s better to find out what your personal sweat rate is so that you can personalize your plan for maximum efficiency.
Colder temperatures will affect your sweat rate, so if you have previously done the calculations in different conditions, it’s worth doing them again to get a better reading. You can use this guide by the Korey Stringer Institute to get an accurate measurement.
Before you even head out into the cold, make sure you have plenty to drink, so you stay ahead of the hydration curve. You can quickly test how well hydrated you are by checking the color of your urine; you should be aiming for a large amount of light-colored urine. This will give you a better idea of how much liquid you should consume.
Remember, your body won’t immediately absorb the fluids, so ideally you should have 16-20 ounces of water at least 4 hours before exercising, and then another 8-12 ounces 10-15 minutes beforehand. While pre-hydrating may mean a few extra bathroom breaks, it will be well worth it to avoid risking dehydration.
When you enjoy the great outdoors in the winter months, it’s essential that you stay warm by layering up with the appropriate clothing. It’s not just about staying comfortable, but it’s also about avoiding the loss of extra fluid through cold diuresis, which causes the kidneys to produce more urine, leading to more bathroom breaks.
Insulate your water sources
To keep your water from freezing while you’re on the move, make sure you insulate your water sources. This is particularly important if you plan on carrying your water container on the inside or outside of your pack, rather than against your body.
You can easily insulate it using a specially designed carrier or pouch, but you can also place the container closer to your body so it can absorb some of your body heat. If you are carrying a water reservoir, you don’t want to forget about keeping the tubing insulated. Again, you can do so with specifically designed sleeves or by merely maintaining the tube close to your body.
Consider going hands-free
One of the most frustrating things about trying to stay hydrated during the winter is having to take your gloves off every time you want to take a sip, exposing your hands to the cold. To avoid this, consider using a winter hydration system that allows you to go hands-free.
These systems make it easy to drink, which makes it more likely that you will take frequent sips throughout the day. With all the other barriers you face, it may be worth investing in a good hydration system that can be used year-round.
If you struggle to drink water while out in the cold, then you can always make it a little more enticing by adding a bit of flavor. Consider a recovery drink powder, but try to avoid sugary add-ins that cause a spiky sugar rush.
Alternatively, you can bring along something warm to drink in a thermos, such as tea or hot chocolate, which will be far more appealing when it’s cold out. Don’t forget to keep it insulated in your pack to help avoid your thermos chilling along the way.
Hydrate after exercising
Whether you’ve been out hiking or skiing, once you have finished exercising, you should aim to correct your fluid losses. Try to do so within two hours after stopping, drinking 20-24 ounces of water for every pound lost. The sooner you begin replacing those fluids, the faster you will recover.
Post-exercise hydration is particularly important if you are heading out the following day to avoid waking up dehydrated and lacking energy. A warm drink will not only help to hydrate you, but it will also help warm you up and soothe your sore body.
No matter what type of outdoor activity you take part in, proper hydration as the temperatures drop is just as important as during the summer months. Ensuring you stay warm, and drinking plenty of fluids before, during, and after will help you to avoid dehydration and keep those energy levels up.