Prevent Dehydration & Keep Cool When Hiking

Dry mouth, dizziness, and a pounding headache – these are the symptoms that fill every hiker with dread.

Staying cool and hydrated not only prevents discomfort, it also helps prevent more serious medical conditions such as heatstroke.

Read on for our tips on what to bring, how to stay cool and hydrated, and how to recognise the symptoms of dehydration and heat stroke when hiking.

Filling up Garyl filter along a river

Drinking enough water is important, but there are other factors to keep in mind too. Image: Grayl

What to Bring

1. Electrolyte Tablets/Powders

Replacing lost fluids is essential, but that’s not all you need to replenish. Electrolytes are very important for your body to maintain proper functioning.

Carry an electrolyte supplement in your rucksack at all times, whether it be in concentrate, powder, or tablet form. Also, add salty snacks like nuts or pretzels to your hiking menu to help your body retain water.

If weight is a problem, compact and lightweight electrolyte powders are the way to go. The Thorzt Solo Shots come in small 3-gram sachets, each making 600ml of hydration drink. These are perfect, as they take up minimal space. Skratch Labs also offer a good range. You can also find electrolytes supplements in tablet form.

Hikers putting a Nuun tablet into their drink bottle

Electrolytes are important, so incorporate them into your hydration routine. Image: Nuun

2. Easy-To-Use Hydration System

It’s important always remain motivated to hydrate, but this can be a little tricky when you’re exhausted and hot. If your current hydration system isn’t working for you, it’s worth changing it up.

Whether your bladder or reservoir is uncomfortable to use, or your soft bottle is too cumbersome – ensure that hydrating is as easy as possible, so it doesn’t fall by the wayside.

Man drinking from hydration pack

If the mouthpiece isn’t right, or the bottle isn’t comfy to hold then change it before your trip. Image: Kelly Thompson

3. Use a Cooling Necktie or Towel

If no-one agrees to following you around with an oversized banana leaf to fan you, or your air conditioner doesn’t quite fit in your rucksack – the next best thing is a Kool Tie.

Kool Ties are neckties filled with polymer crystals. Just soak them for 30-45 minutes, and the crystals will absorb the water. Simply hang it around your neck and the water will evaporate, cooling you down. For a similar effect, you could also wet a bandana, or use a Chill Towel.

Man wearing Kool Tie while hiking

A Kool Tie is basically a personal evaporative cooling system. Image: Erin Wescombe

3. Instant Ice Packs

If you suspect that you or your hiking buddy has heat stroke, call for medical attention immediately. In the meantime, you’ll need to attempt to cool yourselves down.

Seek shade immediately, lie down, and apply an instant ice pack to both the back of your neck and under the arms.

Instant ice packs are readily available at pharmacies, or in larger first aid kits. If your kit is missing one, definitely add it.

Hiker putting Instant Ice Pack on his neck

An instant ice pack can cool you down in an emergency.

How to Avoid Dehydration & Stay Cool

1. Drink Before You Hike

Anyone who has completed a multi-day hike will tell you that drinking a litre of water every morning helps you to stay on top of hydration. This way, you’re not just replacing fluids when your body needs them. For more on hydrating on a multi-day hike in hot and dry conditions, check out this article.

Guardian Purifier by MSR

Drink water before you leave your campsite in the morning. Image: MSR

2. Wear Appropriate Clothing

Wear lightweight and loose long sleeves to shield from the sun’s heat and keep you cool. It’s generally best to avoid fabrics such as cotton, as this fabric doesn’t wick away sweat. Instead, choose nylon or polyester fabric in clothes designed especially for hiking.

Two men hiking the desert.

Longer sleeves may seem counterintuitive, but they’ll act as a sun shield. Image: Biolite

3. Seek Shade

This may not always be possible depending on the terrain – but when stopping for a snack or rest break, do so in the shade. If you can coordinate your rest periods under a tree, you’ll give your body the break it needs from the sun.

Research the area in advance, and check out other blogs and forums to find where offers shelter. Also, when the weather is warm, take a longer rest than you normally would.

Resting in shade up on hill top

If shade is scarce, make the most of it when you see it. Image: Ben Collaton

4. Sun Protection

You should wear sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat to protect your skin. This will not only prevent UV damage and sunburn, it’ll also help shield you from the heat.

For shorter-day hikes where mobile reception is available, one of the best apps to use is SunSmart. It indicates when the UV levels are high, will notify you when to reapply sunscreen, and provides you with the UV levels of your location.

5. Get a Head Start!

If you start your hike early, you’ll finish in the early afternoon and avoid the hottest part of the day. Spending less time in the heat means you won’t put your body through as much stress.

Hiking with Grayl water bottle early in morning.

If you set off early, you can beat the hottest part of the day. Image: Grayl

How to Recognise Dehydration

Symptoms to be aware of are:

  • Infrequent urination
  • Dark and small volumes of urine
  • A headache
  • Dry mouth
  • Dizziness
  • Rapid breathing

Symptoms of Heat Exhaustion

Take note of how your body is faring every step of the way, especially if you experience:

  • Confusion
  • Dark urine
  • Fatigue
  • A headache
  • Muscle or abdominal cramps
  • Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhoea
  • Profuse sweating
  • Rapid heartbeat

Symptoms of Heat Stroke

Heat stroke is a very serious condition. Take note if you see anyone on your hike showing these signs:

  • Dizziness
  • Light-headedness
  • A throbbing headache
  • Lack of sweating, despite the heat
  • Red, hot skin
  • Muscle weakness or cramps
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Rapid, shallow breathing
  • Rapid heartbeat

Group hiking in hot weather

Some multi-day hikes like Larapinta or Kokoda are always warm, so prepare accordingly. Image: Eve Woods

Keep in mind that here at Snowys, we are not medical experts. We can only give you guidelines about what to do and look out for in these situations.

If you have any medical conditions or requirements, get in touch with your GP for more information. Before a multi-day hike, ensure you have the go-ahead from a medical professional.

If you like to explore off the beaten path frequently, it’s also worth updating your First Aid skills. A PLB or satellite phone should also be on you at all times.

Stay Cool, Hydrated and Safe on the Trails

Whether you’re out in the heat at work, spending a day at the beach, or going for a run – it’s essential that hydration is factored in.

No-one wants their well-planned adventure to go awry. So, pack the right gear, stay cool, and keep hydrated.

Happy hiking!

Have you ever experienced dehydration or heat stroke on the trail? How did you deal with it?