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.