Keeping yourself hydrated and eating appropriately is just as important (or more important) and takes more advanced preparation when you are hitting the trails. I have utilized prepackaged camping/backpacking meals as well as some individually packaged convenience food items. My initiation into backpacking was a backpacking trip through the Gila wilderness. The meals for my first trip were standard convenience meals such as those from Mountain House. Vacuum packed tuna made an easy addition to individually portioned just add water macaroni and cheese. While even basic meals taste delicious when on the trail, I am too much of a food fan to not step outside of the comforts of marketing hype that targets those enjoying the outdoors.
With more experience backpacking, I have transitioned towards more home-style and healthful meals. I may keep a few shelf stable, practically indestructible meal replacement items in my pack as backups for emergencies but I want the least processed, wholesome ingredients making up my planned meals. Where you are backpacking (or camping) will also play a role in how you plan your nutrition while en route. Thus far, with the exception of the Grand Canyon hike into Havasupai falls and Valles Caldera National Preserve hikes, there has been plenty of water on my chosen routes. Water is the first consideration I make when planning my nutrition.
- Research the route for water availability. You should consider recent reviews, contact local forestry agents, listen to the experiences of those who navigated the path before you. The answers to these questions will help you select appropriate amount of water to carry, types of filtration/purification systems that you should have for the route, and can impact the route you will choose. Hydration needs are impacted by heat, hike intensity and duration, fitness level, acclimation to the area, humidity, shade, individualized medical issues, and don’t forget to plan water for your 4 legged buddies.
- Hydrate before you start your hike. (Days before your hike.) This means that even in the days prior to your hike, you should be drinking enough water to maintain a very pale yellow or transparent yellow urine. Some may refer to adequately hydrated urine as the color as a straw colored or lemonade colored. Be aware that vitamin supplements can alter the color or your urine. The Third National Health and Examination Survey estimates an average daily intake needed for most adults is approximately 2.5-3.5 liters per day. This is an estimate and experienced hikers/backpackers start to learn their own specific water needs for maintaining hydrated. I go through cycles where I measure my pre-post workout weight (be that hiking, running, or cycling) and my fluid intake in order to come up with more exact fluid recommendations for myself, client athletes and dedicated outdoor enthusiasts. While there are so many factors that can modify fluid needs, I tend to rely on preventing thirst as a strategy or with consuming at least 1/2-1 cup of fluid every 10-30 minutes depending on my pace and environmental factors.
- Hydrate before you set out with your gear. (Day of or start of hike.) This means that you really want to drink as much water as comfortable before you put your pack on and start the trail.
- Sip water throughout your hike. At the time that you start to feel thirst, you are approximately 1% dehydrated. For some, thirst may be the only notable sign of dehydration until dehydration is severe. If you are a person who does not have a reliable thirst mechanism, you will need to train yourself to drink water throughout your hike in order to prevent severe dehydration.
- Don’t be afraid to add flavorings to your water if this helps you stay hydrated (more on this later). My favorite back up is using my stainless steel tea infuser (super light) which you can add once your water has come to a boil or as a cold brew addition.
Recent Backpacking Adventures-
Jicarita Peak/Serpent Lake, Pecos Wilderness, New Mexico
Rabbit Ridge and Coyote Call, Valles Caldera National Preserve, New Mexico
South and West Rims of the Grand Canyon, Arizona
Products that have helped keep me safety hydrated include a LifeStraw, Platypus Gravity Works Water Filter System, and a SteriPEN. Each one serves a purpose. I consider my LifeStraw an emergency backup as it will work for areas with small water supplies that won’t work with my other filtration systems. I love my big gravity filtration system for setting up at camp sites as it limits the repeat treks to water sources. I can fill it and forget it until gravity has done its job. I am just starting to use the SteriPEN but I still pre-filter the water (habit). I am increasingly working on cutting weight from my pack so I plan to test out some water purification tablets.
I will be writing posting recipe ideas for backpacking meals and other nutrition tips for the outdoors.