Hydration for Mountain Athletes

©istockphoto/Martin DimitrovWe all know how important it is to stay hydrated when we’re working hard—but it’s especially vital in winter’s cold, dry air. Check out these simple tips for keeping your body happy and healthy during all of your mountain exploits.

Choose The Right Vessel (Or Two)
When you’re packing for your next adventure, don’t assume that one size fits all when it comes to water bottles. There are a variety of factors to consider. How often will you be able to refill your water supplies? Will you be drinking on the go, or stopping to sip alongside the trail? What kinds of temperatures will you be in? Will you want warm beverages or cool liquids, or some combination of both? How concerned are you about weight? To perfect your system, consider some combination of water bottles, insulated mugs/thermoses, hydration bladders, and reservoirs. Just be sure to clean them thoroughly when you’re done, and let dry completely between uses.

Sip Consistently
Experts agree that chugging isn’t effective; to stay well-hydrated, the best approach is to sip small amounts of liquid slowly and consistently throughout the day. And you don’t have to limit yourself to water: soup, oral rehydrating solutions (like Gatorade, which contain electrolytes), juice, herbal teas, and carbonated soda water are all great ways to get more fluids into your system. Just be careful with energy drinks, caffeinated tea, coffee, and alcohol, which are all diuretics—meaning they’ll make you pee out more fluid that you’re gaining. Healthy bodies can usually get salt and other important nutrients from normal food, but if you want to use electrolyte replacements, be sure to test them out before any big adventures.

Watch For Signs of Dehydration
Most people know that checking the color of your urine is a good indicator of dehydration—clear or light yellow is fine, but anything dark yellow or orange is a warning sign. But there are other symptoms to watch for, too. A headache, muscle cramps, dry skin or chapped lips, lightheadedness, or inexplicably low energy can all point toward a lack of moisture in your body. Still wondering? Try this test: lightly pinch the skin on the back of your hand, then release. Hydrated skin will smooth out immediately, while dehydrated skin will take longer to return to normal.

Consider Cold and Altitude
The air tends to be extra dry at altitude, making it surprisingly easy to get dehydrated quickly. Breathing cold air can mask symptoms of thirst, making it harder to remember to sip liquids consistently. And when your body feels cold, it’s hard to talk yourself into chugging ice-cold water. It’s the perfect storm—and it’s doubly dangerous because the symptoms of mild dehydration are very similar to those of Acute Mountain Sickness, or AMS, which can happen anywhere above 8,000 feet. AMS isn’t immediately dangerous, but failure to recognize the symptoms can lead to increased altitude issues, included high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE) and high altitude cerebral edema (HACE), which are both life-threatening illnesses.