Trail Tested: Hiking Hydration Options

Monday, September 1, 2008

One of the most important things while hiking is staying properly hydrated. Hiking in any type of weather depletes your body of liquids. To replace those lost fluids you need to drink frequently. If you wait until you feel thirsty you’re more than likely already dehydrated. The more dehydrated you become, the less efficient your body is at cooling itself down. Your endurance decreases and your body becomes less efficient at walking as well. Dehydration can cause muscle cramps, headaches, fatigue, heat exhaustion, heat stroke and even acute mountain sickness. Obviously, dehydration is something you want to avoid.

If you’re hiking for less than an hour under normal conditions, more than likely you’ll only need a standard water bottle for your hydration needs. If you’re hiking for more than an hour, or it’s very hot, or if there’s a lot of climbing involved, you have a couple of choices. You can carry multiple water bottles in your backpack, or you could use Nalgene Bottles, a Platypus, or a Camelbak hydration pack. Each option has its pros and cons.

When I first started hiking, I used Nalgene Bottles to carry extra liquids. Nalgene Bottles are an extremely efficient way to store extra water for hiking. The wide mouth makes it easy to fill, as well as re-filling your drinking bottle. The wide mouth also makes it easy to add ice cubes to your drink.

Nalgenes are also extremely durable. With the possible exception of the loop, which keeps the lid attached to the bottle, it would be very hard to break this product. One additional benefit of Nalgene Bottles is that they dry quickly after use. This is important because you don’t want to trap any liquids in your container while you’re storing it or it will get moldy and smell.

My only complaint with Nalgenes is that they continue to occupy a lot of space in your pack after you’ve used the contents. This really isn’t a big deal, just a personal preference. Because of this, however, I made a switch several years ago to the Platypus. I especially liked this option because the container collapses as you consume your liquids. Once finished, the Platypus takes up virtually no room in your pack.

Although the Platypus is made with a flexible plastic, it’s still very tough. I have two Platypuses that I have stored folded and they still are working fine after several years of uasge. The Platypus can also be frozen or boiled. Furthermore, I have never had a problem with water tasting like plastic.

There are two downsides to using the Platypus. Again, neither of these are big issues. One, it takes two or three days for the container to completely air dry before storing. The second thing to think about is that it takes two hands to pour your water from the Platypus into a water bottle.

Interestingly, Platypus has recently introduced a “Hoser” system, which is very similar to the Camelbak hydration pack, a very popular choice among mountain bikers. The Hoser Hydration System allows hikers to stuff a Platypus in their pack, attach a hose, and create a hands free system. A bite valve allows you to drink without ever having to touch a water bottle. This is an excellent choice if you’ve had problems staying hydrated on hot days because you just don’t drink frequently enough.

The final hydration option is the Camelbak. My wife uses her Camelbak from time to time. The Camelbak company provides you with the option of purchasing a reservoir and tube system that you can stuff in your pack, or a backpack with the Camelbak system already installed within the pack. My wife likes her Camelbak because it holds all the water she needs, and she finds it easier to drink, thus keeping her properly hydrated.

Her biggest complaint is that sometimes the system has the taste of plastic. Also, on hot days, the water that sits in the hose tends to get hot if exposed to the sun. It can also be a challenge keeping the drinking valve clean while out on the trail. Finally, it can also be a challenge getting the reservoir dry after usage.

If you would like to see more in-depth product information, or if you would like to see a full selection of hydration systems, please visit:

Jeff Detailed information on trails in the Smoky Mountains; includes trail descriptions, key features, pictures, video, maps, elevation profiles, news, hiking gear store, and more.

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