Hydration and Thirst

8:04 p.m. on September 15, 2012 (EDT)
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Hi All,

I was hoping that you could give me some feedback on a hydration problem that I experience when I go backpacking or hiking.  My problem is this:  I don't actually get thirsty while backpacking or hiking, but at the same time, I become noticeably dehydrated.

So here's my usual scenario.  I typically go on weekend length backpacking trips due to the constraints on my schedule.  While driving to the trailhead, I am pre-hydrating by consuming about 32 ounces of water (1 Nalgene bottle).  On the trail is where I experience decreased thirst and I have to completely force myself to drink water.  I try to take water breaks every 1/2 hour, but as is usually the case, my body still requires more water than I am drinking.  By the end of the day, I am experiencing a severe headache and what I like call trail-fever.  Once I am settled in camp, I can really just sit there and focus on replenishing the water that was lost while hiking.  After consuming adequate water, my symptoms alleviate.  I also usually add Gatorade or an electrolyte tablet to my water.  It should also be said that it is not unusual for me to drink more fluids in an average day than I do while backpacking.  In fact, I am more thirsty now, at home and in front of my computer, than I ever get on the trail.  

Now, it is clear to me that I simply need to drink more water while on the trail, but a decreased sense of thirst is, in my opinion, causing what would normally be mild symptoms of mild dehydration to become a lot more severe. 

So here are my questions:

Is it possible that my lack of thirst is just a reaction to the stress of backpacking and my thirst mechanism is simply acting up but would otherwise return to normal function on an extended trip?

Has anyone else experienced a decreased sense of thirst while on the trail.  Did your thirst return to normal after the first few days on the trail?  How did you otherwise deal with your lack of thirst?  And what, if anything, would you suggest I do differently?

Thanks in advance for your feedback. 

Chris

    

12:28 p.m. on September 16, 2012 (EDT)
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Chris,

This is a strange one.  I like your pre-hydration idea.  I like to drink lots on the way to the trailhead, more like 2 1/2 liters.  Drinking at 1/2 hour intervals is a good idea.  You may be suffering from the effects of increased altitude especially on short trips.  People also forget to eat some salt.  Backpacking can be a sweaty endeavor, so put some salt back in your system.  Deydrated food has lots of salt though.  What is your typical meal planning like?l 

1:51 p.m. on September 16, 2012 (EDT)
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Absent a dysfunction, your body lets you know when you need to drink by the sensation of thirst.  Too little water leads to dehydration, but too much water without electrolytes can lead to hyponatremia.  Way too much water, even with electrolytes, can lead to fatal water intoxication.

Thirst is the sensation by which our central nervous systems tells us we need water.  If you are truly getting dehydrated without the sensation of thirst, then there may be a physical issue that needs to be addressed.  

2:43 p.m. on September 16, 2012 (EDT)
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I have a similar problem in that I don't get remotely thirsty until I am thoroughly dehydrated.  My response to this has been to put myself on the clock and when I am hiking hard to force down  1/2 liter every half hour.

I abandoned "camelback" type bladders for this reason as with a 1 liter bottle I can easily keep track.

2:53 p.m. on September 16, 2012 (EDT)
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ppine,


I typically pack store bought dehydrated meals.  Most of my endeavors have been at or near sea level in the Pine Plains of New Jersey, so it can't be altitude.

nogods,

I am eventually going to have to ask my doctor about this one.  But its only when I backpack.  I am a cyclist too and I have zero problems regarding dehydration while riding my bike, even on rides upwards of 50 miles in the heat of summer.     

3:02 p.m. on September 16, 2012 (EDT)
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steve t,

That is a great point.  I was actually considering adding a camelbak to my pack thinking it would encourage me to drink more often since it is hanging right over my shoulder, I still may, but I never liked the idea of having a water bladder mixed in with my gear.  I usually carry 2 - 1L and 2 - 1.5 L Nalgene bottles on every hike.  Its probably excess, but there are not a lot of water sources on along the trails I hike, so I like to have it with me just in case I or anyone I come across may be in need of some extra water.        

5:03 p.m. on September 16, 2012 (EDT)
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It sounds to me like your thirst mechanism is breaking down. something to discuss with your doctor. I hike with a camelback precisely for that reason. I just drink a sip or two every five minutes or so, as opposed to guzzling down a half liter every hour. it's all about hydrating at a rate your body can absorb, otherwise you just pee it out. I find thats the case with me, anyway.

7:50 p.m. on September 16, 2012 (EDT)
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Trailjester,


I think that's what I am going to have to do on my next trip.  Try it out and see if it makes a difference. 

9:02 a.m. on September 17, 2012 (EDT)
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day to day i drink less then anyone i've ever met. I drink maybe 2 cups of anything all day. I'm just not a drinker and have kidney stones because of it. The only way i make myself drink while hiking is to eat high sodium foods. The salt makes me thirsty. Beef jerky, nuts etc is easy to carry and works well.

9:57 a.m. on September 17, 2012 (EDT)
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Thirst has worked for humans for a long time.  Maybe your case is medical.  To encourage consumption you might try flavoring the water you carry with some kind of sports drink, tea, etc. 

10:14 a.m. on September 17, 2012 (EDT)
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NJCMQ8026 - welcome to Trailspace!

I experience a similar phenomena when I'm hiking - the first few days out I don't get thirsty or hungry at all. After 3 or so days, my sleeping, eating and drinking all return to normal levels.  I feel like all the activity is a "shock" to my system.  That said, this is certainly something to contact your doctor about. Another phenomena that's common is acute caffeine withdrawal. I've seen folks with coffee habits get quite ill after abstaining. It usually starts the first day, with a headache, irritability and stomach issues, and can get quite severe.  If you're a regular coffee or soda drinker, you may want to consider this also.

11:08 a.m. on September 17, 2012 (EDT)
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I would recommend you do a little self diagnosing & obtain Litmus type papers made for testing your urnine/blood Ph. These - http://www.iherb.com/Trimedica-AlkaMax-pH-Test-Papers-5-0-9-0-16-ft-5-m-Roll-Approx-192-Test-Papers/2803  - are what I use. While trying to work out some substantial health issues years ago, I found traditional doctors clueless unless my problem had a pharmacutical companies sales rep telling the doctor their latest and greatest wonderdrug of the week was just the thing. They don't seem to know squat about anatomy, nutrition & human physiology anymore.

I discovered a few things with this. Your body has a difficult time taking up nutrients, especially minerals like Potassium, Magnesium & Calcium if your blood ph is too far from neutral. Many people these days on typical american processed food diets have severely over acidified systems. Alternately, you may be too far on the alkalized side & when you hike, may exacerbate this condition even further from neutral. Just adjusting what you eat before & while hiking to counter this may help a lot. Similarly, your body produces Lactic acid from exertion & then uses minerals like Potassium, Magnesium & Calcium to buffer/neutralize that acid. If your having difficulty with uptake of these nutrients it will alter many other things in your system.

It is odd though that your biking doesn't produce the same effect. Could be some of the ingredients/additives of the dehydrated meals are not playing nice with your system. Think MSG, which by the way goes by about a dozen other code names now since so many people learned to stay away from it.

11:11 a.m. on September 17, 2012 (EDT)
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Are you winded when you are not wanting to drink? If im in a really steep section I dont drink enough. Sometimes I fell like the few seconds of swallowing make me much shorter of breath. I dont eat much the first 48 hrs in the woods. I dont have an appetite, I make myself munch all day to make up for lost meals. I think a camel back would help you to drink more often. A couple of sips every few mins is better than half a bottle every half hr. They make a flowmeter for camelbacks now so you can monitor your intake.

4:11 p.m. on September 17, 2012 (EDT)
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I am on a 1000 miles bicycle tour from Jackson WY to Show Low AZ. I drink one to two liters of Gatorade everyday. I drink about 1/3 of a liter Nalgene bottle about once every hour when I stop to take a break for 10-20 minutes. I find so far over nearly a week of riding it helps keep me hydrated better than plain water. I left last Tuesday the 11th of September from Jackson WY and am now in Dushesne Utah.

4:41 p.m. on September 17, 2012 (EDT)
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i find that hiking with a bladder (camelbak, platypus) helps me stay hydrated - no need to grab for the bottle.  

4:54 p.m. on September 17, 2012 (EDT)
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Hiker lost in Tasmania died because he drank too much water, finds coroner

 

"I find that the most likely cause of death was exercise related hyponatremia, which itself resulted from excessive consumption of water during the course of the prolonged exertion of the bushwalk," he said.

"It is impossible to determine whether the condition resulted from the circumstances after Mr Dent had become lost and disoriented, or alternatively was in fact the reason why he became lost and disoriented."

 

5:43 p.m. on September 17, 2012 (EDT)
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bummer...I'm keeping my camelback, tho...

10:01 p.m. on September 17, 2012 (EDT)
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nogods said:

Hiker lost in Tasmania died because he drank too much water, finds coroner

 

"I find that the most likely cause of death was exercise related hyponatremia, which itself resulted from excessive consumption of water during the course of the prolonged exertion of the bushwalk," he said.

"It is impossible to determine whether the condition resulted from the circumstances after Mr Dent had become lost and disoriented, or alternatively was in fact the reason why he became lost and disoriented."

 

 Sounds like propaganda from the "sports drink" consortium to me.

11:58 p.m. on September 17, 2012 (EDT)
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Seth said:

 I've seen folks with coffee habits get quite ill after abstaining. It usually starts the first day, with a headache, irritability and stomach issues, and can get quite severe.  If you're a regular coffee or soda drinker, you may want to consider this also.

 That's me, I have cut my coffee down to 2 cups a day, and hope to get it down to 1 in a month.  I did go cold turkey but the headache  ect..... did me in.  I will stop at the end of the year as my new years goal.  I do carry coffee with me during my hikes, but haven't had any on the trail for a month and dump it when I get home, not on the trail.

8:55 a.m. on September 18, 2012 (EDT)
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Chris, some thoughts and personal practices from someone who has to watch getting dehydrated. 

1)  You are probably starting the trip slightly dehydrated.  Most people don't drink enough in their day to-day life, and this puts you at a disadvantage when you start your hike.  

2)  I can drink 3 or 4 liters of fluid in less then half a day and still be thirsty, but I sweet a lot while hiking.  Your bike riding may not produce the same moisture loss as the wind helps cool the body.  Can't really say one way or another without knowing more about your hiking / biking habits.  But this is something to think about.

3) I don't add sports mixes to my water, we normally get too much salt in our meals, and the preprocessed stuff is full of it. But I do add a flavor pack to the water, nothing to strong, but something I like the taste of, it makes drinking the water easier.  Something like Cristal lite or the other brands.

4) Water containers, I like drinking out of a bottle better then the nozzle on my camel pack, but it sure holds a lot more water and is easier to use.  Besides that is one container vs, 3 or 4 containers.  Just make sure your setup is good before you hit the trail.  I now carry my water bag on the outside back mesh pocket on my pack, that way if there is a leak it is not inside the pack.  From my experience these can sometimes leak from the fill opening if the O-ring gets messed up or goes missing.

5) Finally, I just keep drinking as I hike, always taking sips, some times this may require an additional pit stops to water the trees and flowers, but hey then I can really check to see how hydrated I am!  :)

Wolf

11:45 a.m. on September 18, 2012 (EDT)
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nogods said:

Hiker lost in Tasmania died because he drank too much water, finds coroner

Interesting read. Thanks for the contribution.

The military used to issue salt tablets to be taken during hot weather; don't know if they still do.

10:19 a.m. on September 20, 2012 (EDT)
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One of the best ways to hydrate is to actually "eat" water because the body absorbs it much better. With that I mean to eat high water content foods such as fruit. You can also set your cell phone on vibrate to remind you every 30 minutes or so to have a drink. We at the HydrationCentre also provide a drink reminder that could help. 

10:51 a.m. on September 20, 2012 (EDT)
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Peter, I've been told that sports drinks and rehydration salts have largely replaced the use of salt tablets in most armed services.

9:51 a.m. on September 23, 2012 (EDT)
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Scanning through the responses I see a couple of folks encouraging you to see your doctor. I agree. It is probably nothing but better safe than sorry. I like to use a bladder and sip throughout the day. I've heard it said that by the time you are thirsty you are already starting to get dehydrated to it is good to stay ahead of the game. Do you hike with someone? If you forget have them remind you. My wife tends to get dehydrated and not drink enough. We find that when I remind her she does better. BTW- when you are out there is your urine clear or yellow? If it is clear you are well hydrated and if it is yellow you are probably dehydrated. Share that info with your doctor. If it is yellow and you are not thirsty that is really odd.

Good luck!

8:12 a.m. on September 24, 2012 (EDT)
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Hi All,

Sorry I have been away from the thread for a week.  Since there are a lot of responses to this post, I'm just going to respond in-line and BOLD my responses that could provide some more insight into my habits and condition while hiking. Thanks for all of your feedback.  I appreciate your thoughts even if I did not mention them here.    

Seth said:

Another phenomena that's common is acute caffeine withdrawal. I've seen folks with coffee habits get quite ill after abstaining. It usually starts the first day, with a headache, irritability and stomach issues, and can get quite severe.  If you're a regular coffee or soda drinker, you may want to consider this also.

I don't consume a lot of caffeine on a regular basis.  I might drink one energy drink or a single coffee every two weeks, so I don't think that really factors in for me. 

JerseyWreckDiver said:

I discovered a few things with this. Your body has a difficult time taking up nutrients, especially minerals like Potassium, Magnesium & Calcium if your blood ph is too far from neutral. Many people these days on typical american processed food diets have severely over acidified systems. Alternately, you may be too far on the alkalized side & when you hike, may exacerbate this condition even further from neutral. Just adjusting what you eat before & while hiking to counter this may help a lot. Similarly, your body produces Lactic acid from exertion & then uses minerals like Potassium, Magnesium & Calcium to buffer/neutralize that acid. If your having difficulty with uptake of these nutrients it will alter many other things in your system.

It is odd though that your biking doesn't produce the same effect. Could be some of the ingredients/additives of the dehydrated meals are not playing nice with your system. Think MSG, which by the way goes by about a dozen other code names now since so many people learned to stay away from it.

JerseyWreckDiver - I doubt I am having a problem with absorption of minerals or system pH problem.  Although it is an interesting concept, I have normal thirst and urination function when I am not hikingAlso, this problem occurs on the first day of hiking, even before I have eaten any dehydrated meals.  Also, thanks for posting the link Hiker lost in Tasmania died because he drank too much water, finds coroner  It is definitely an interesting read, but I don't think my symptoms surpass anything more than dehydration.   

hotdogman said: 

Are you winded when you are not wanting to drink? If im in a really steep section I dont drink enough. Sometimes I fell like the few seconds of swallowing make me much shorter of breath.

hotdogman - I'm not sure that I am winded, but I do feel that if I took a 5 minute break to calm down aerobically, I would be better able to consume more water.  I usually try to drink water and then get right back to task.  Slowing down for a few minutes could make it easier to drink. I am going to try using a 3L Camelbak on my next hike and see if there is any difference.  Also, I am going to work some breaks into my hikes.  I have a bad habit of hiking straight thru at full speed to my destination or the end of the trail.

GaryPalmer said:

I drink one to two liters of Gatorade everyday. I drink about 1/3 of a liter Nalgene bottle about once every hour when I stop to take a break for 10-20 minutes. I find so far over nearly a week of riding it helps keep me hydrated better than plain water.

GaryPalmer - I typically drink two liters of water while hiking.  I either mix grape Gatorade powder into my bottles or use an electrolyte tab such as nuun or camelbak.  Your right about that though.  If it tastes good, you will drink more. 

leadbelly2525 said:

i find that hiking with a bladder (camelbak, platypus) helps me stay hydrated - no need to grab for the bottle.

leadbelly2525 - right on!  I am going to pick up a hydration bladder for my next hike.

Wolfman said:

Chris, some thoughts and personal practices from someone who has to watch getting dehydrated. 

1)  You are probably starting the trip slightly dehydrated.  Most people don't drink enough in their day to-day life, and this puts you at a disadvantage when you start your hike.  

2)  I can drink 3 or 4 liters of fluid in less then half a day and still be thirsty, but I sweet a lot while hiking.  Your bike riding may not produce the same moisture loss as the wind helps cool the body.  Can't really say one way or another without knowing more about your hiking / biking habits.  But this is something to think about.

3) I don't add sports mixes to my water, we normally get too much salt in our meals, and the preprocessed stuff is full of it. But I do add a flavor pack to the water, nothing to strong, but something I like the taste of, it makes drinking the water easier.  Something like Cristal lite or the other brands.

4) Water containers, I like drinking out of a bottle better then the nozzle on my camel pack, but it sure holds a lot more water and is easier to use.  Besides that is one container vs, 3 or 4 containers.  Just make sure your setup is good before you hit the trail.  I now carry my water bag on the outside back mesh pocket on my pack, that way if there is a leak it is not inside the pack.  From my experience these can sometimes leak from the fill opening if the O-ring gets messed up or goes missing.

5) Finally, I just keep drinking as I hike, always taking sips, some times this may require an additional pit stops to water the trees and flowers, but hey then I can really check to see how hydrated I am!  :)

Wolf

Wolfman - #1 - it is probably true that I am starting off slightly dehydrated.  I work into third shift on Saturday morning so there is a lot of focus on making sure that I have everything with me and packed before I leave the house and not so much focus on hydration until I'm in route.  Plus I am usually hiking the first day of my trip on very little sleep.

#2  I also sweat a lot, so I need to be super concerned with how much I drink.  I also tend to hold a lot of heat during aerobic exercise.  When doing things like hiking, biking, or even trail work, it's not that uncommon for me to turn pink or red in the face.  I guess that could be a blood pressure issue, but it always checks out good when I visit the doctor.

#3 - I feel that additives and flavor packets such as Crystal Light are both useful.  The flavor makes it more tasty, so you are likely to drink more of it, but knowing that I am prone to dehydration, I am always going to bring along the electrolyte tabs.  How many of the electrolyte tabs that I consume in a day could be debatable and I should probably ask my doctor how many I should be using, but typically I have two bottles containing electrolyte tabs and two bottles containing only something flavorful.  

#4 - My new setup will consist of two 1L Nalgene bottles and 1 3L Camelbak.  I'll have to check into how I can hook it on the outside of my pack.  But a hydration sleeve would definitely be a lot easy to drink on the go.  

5 - I think this is my area of concern.  I just need to drink more water and make it a good habit, rather than a chore.  I typically only "water the trees and flowers" once a day while hiking and my urine is dark and concentrated, but once I have rehydrated at camp, I will get up 3 or 4 times that night to "water the trees and flowers".  Also this is when the trail fever and headache subside as well.

hydrationmax said:

One of the best ways to hydrate is to actually "eat" water because the body absorbs it much better. With that I mean to eat high water content foods such as fruit. You can also set your cell phone on vibrate to remind you every 30 minutes or so to have a drink. We at the HydrationCentre also provide a drink reminder that could help.

hydrationmax - I usually shy away from packing fruit along on a hike just because it is heavier, but I don't see why I couldn't pack a juicy apple along for each day.  Actually it would be a pretty good compared to the bland, store-bought dehydrated food I usually pack in.  I'll check out the HydrationCentre.  It may also be that what I perceive to be drinking every half hour is actually more like an hour because I don't actually time my water breaks.  I usually just estimate these things.

trailpotato said:

Scanning through the responses I see a couple of folks encouraging you to see your doctor. I agree. It is probably nothing but better safe than sorry. I like to use a bladder and sip throughout the day. I've heard it said that by the time you are thirsty you are already starting to get dehydrated to it is good to stay ahead of the game. Do you hike with someone? If you forget have them remind you. My wife tends to get dehydrated and not drink enough. We find that when I remind her she does better. BTW- when you are out there is your urine clear or yellow? If it is clear you are well hydrated and if it is yellow you are probably dehydrated. Share that info with your doctor. If it is yellow and you are not thirsty that is really odd. 

trailpotato -  I am going to see my doctor, but I want to add a hydration sleeve to my pack and take more regimented water breaks to see if there is any change in my hydration status beforehand.  But I'm definitely going to ask him about it the next time I see him.  

I usually hike/backpack alone as none of my friends share my adventurous spirit for the outdoors.  I am a student and work full-time, so I usually just go when I can go.  This is probably why I tend to just keep moving as there isn't a social aspect to my hikes so much as a desire to get away from everything and seek out some solitude.

My urine is usually dark yellow and I typically pee only once during the day.  After I reach camp and rehydrate I will get up to pee 3 or 4 times at night and my urine will slowly return to clear.  This kind of suggests that I am just not drinking enough water during the day.  It seems odd that I have no problems drinking once I get to camp.  I may just need to slow down and drink a lot more than I am.  

Thanks again everyone, for all of your feedback.  I apologize for my late response.  This is probably a lot to post all at one time.       

                  

        

 

3:35 p.m. on September 24, 2012 (EDT)
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As a former high level athlete in a hot climate, I have learned the following under the tutelage of some pretty expert coaching: 

  • You cannot rely on your sense of thirst to predicate water breaks.  If you are exerting a significant effort, your sense of thirst will lag way behind your body’s need for re-hydration.  This is normal.  Impose mandatory water stops into your routine; I go with hourly breaks while hiking, and fill my belly at each stop.  Others prefer more frequent breaks, or bladders they can sip from while on the go.
  • Your body is capable of absorbing about a quart of fluids and hour.  You can ingest more, but it will only fill you up.
  • Since your body has a maximum absorption rate, you can still dehydrate if your fluid loss exceeds your uptake rate.  This will happen if you are under heavy exertion, especially if the weather is extremely hot or dry.
  • The virtues of electrolyte beverages are way overtyped.  They are only slightly more efficient for hydration purposes than good old water.  Eating foods containing potassium usually is all that’s needed to re-supply your body’s electrolytes.  Electrolyte supplements become necessary only when facing multiple, consecutive, days of long, sustained, periods of exertion in harsh environments, or when subjecting one’s self to marathon like efforts.
  • Most cramping and other issues assumed to be electrolyte related are actually the result of lactic acid build up.
  • You are well hydrated when your pee is almost clear.  Any purposeful hydration effort thereafter not driven by thirst serves only to flush your system, and lose additional electrolytes.

Ed

4:25 p.m. on September 24, 2012 (EDT)
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Ed,


That sounds about right to me.  Its going to be a while before I go backpacking again since I just started another semester of school, but I will give an update to this thread after I have implemented regimented water breaks into my hike.  Hopefully that will make a big difference.  I'd almost put money on it that that is my problem, but I won't lol.

Thanks,

Chris 

12:01 p.m. on September 25, 2012 (EDT)
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From how you replied to my questions and others, I think you are hiking too fast. In my opinion you are borderline winded and it is much harder to make yourself drink because you are needing the oxygen worse. I had the same prob to a degree, but I know how much water I need. I made myself drink, I worked construction in nc and if you dont learn about hudration you dont last. I think if you concentrate on walking a little slower you will be able to drink more. Also a camelback to drink while your walking then a bottle when you stop to get more oz's faster.

12:12 p.m. on September 25, 2012 (EDT)
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I forgot to mention, my normal water intake while working construction in nc was around three gallons a day. That doesnt include what I drank with lunch or after I got home in the evenings. I would guess another gallon, so a total of four gallons of liguid a day. Conditions dictate how much you have to drink, even what you eat. Maybe some salty nuts on the trail to increase your thirst too.

3:50 p.m. on September 25, 2012 (EDT)
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Thanks hotdogman,

I agree.  On my most thirsty days I consume about 3 gallons in a 24 hour period (Not while hiking though).  I went on a school trip one time to the Catskill Mountains, it was my first time in the mountains and half of our group was the school's cross country team and my legs were not accustomed to the steeper terrain, so I suddenly found myself in the back of the group struggling to keep up.  Since then it seems that I have focused on the speed aspect of hiking and it became more about conquering the mileage than enjoying myself.  The regimented water breaks should slow me down though.  I guess there is no need to hike super fast if you are hiking solo.  I like the idea of not having to take my pack off at every water break though. 

I am also interested in lowering my pack weight.  I haven't weighed it, but I know it's heavier than it needs to be.  I buy light weight non-bulky gear for the most part, but still the cumulative effect still seems overly heavy.  And certainly the 5 Liters of water I carry adds significantly to the pack weight, but water is not something I am going to go without until I can better maintain my hydration while on the trail.        

4:15 p.m. on September 25, 2012 (EDT)
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some good suggestions. I think adding the camelback will improve your water uptake, since you won't have to stop to drink. if your urine is normally dark yellow your not drinking enough to begin with. prehydrate before hiking, and hopefully that will help. have fun!

4:21 p.m. on September 25, 2012 (EDT)
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Thanks Trailjester,


Sorry.  It is only dark yellow while I am hiking or backpacking, normally it is almost clear.  But yes, I need to drink a lot more water while on the trail.    

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