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Hydration: How Much Water Do You Need?

The Ten Essentials for Climbing Safety


Dave Schultz hiking below Gilpin Peak in Yankee Boy Basin, San Juan Mountains, Colorado.

Water, water everywhere but not a drop to drink. Bring water purification tablets and lots of water to stay hydrated when you're out climbing.

Photograph © Stewart M. Green
Hydration: How Much Water Do You Need?

If you're climbing at Sunshine Wall in the desert, wear sunscreen and drink lots of water to avoid dehydration.

Photograph copyright Stewart M. Green
Hydration: How Much Water Do You Need?

When you're cranking at Pinnacle Peak in the southern Arizona desert, it's important to drink lots of water to avoid sunstroke and dehydration.

Photograph copyright Stewart M. Green

The ninth survival system on the Mountaineers Ten Essentials list is Hydration or extra water.

Always Pack Enough Water

When you’re out climbing in the mountains and desert, sooner or later you’re going to get thirsty. Always pack enough water for the day as well as a way to disinfect water that you find. If you’re just climbing for the day, try to anticipate how much water you’ll need. If you have to hike a few miles to the cliff, you’re going to need more than if you have a quick stroll from the car. If you’re climbing and bivouacking then you’ll need more water and you simply can’t carry it all along with the rest of your gear.

Drink 3 to 4 Quarts Daily

As a general rule, plan on drinking three to four quarts of water a day. How much water you need to drink, of course, depends on where you are and what the weather is doing. If you’re in southern Arizona you’re going to need to double your input, whereas if you’re high in the Montana Rockies you may get by with just a quart a day. Just remember that a quart of water weighs two pounds.

Drink Before You’re Thirsty

Drink before you feel thirsty. If you’re feeling thirsty, you’re already a quart down and feeling a loss of endurance and energy. Take lots of small sips rather than draining a quart. This gives your body more time to absorb fluid and why it’s important to sip water all day.

Carry a Water Bottle

A lot of times you’ll be climbing and the sun bakes the rock wall, radiating heat and dehydrating you. Carry a water bottle clipped to your harness or in a day pack and take swigs at every belay ledge. Some climbers carry a bladder on their back. Just remember to take it off if you’re squeezing up a chimney or you might have a wet back.

Replace Lost Electrolytes

It’s important, especially if you’re climbing in hot places and losing essential salts and minerals, to also bring electrolyte replacement powder, tablets, or drinks like Gatorade or Powerade. Drinking water without added electrolytes is not good. You can drink a lot of water when you’re hot and thirsty but if you’re not replenishing lost salts so you can have fuzzy thinking, nausea, and cramps. EmergencC is good, light, and easily carried for a quick boost.

Don’t Drink Untreated Water

The days of taking long refreshing gulps from rushing mountain streams are unfortunately long past. Drinking directly from a water source is a good way to pick up a water-borne disease like giardiasis, the most common, as well as campylobacterosis and cryptosporidiosis. If you do drink untreated water, be prepared for a week or two of intense intestinal unpleasantness, including diarrhea and painful cramps. Symptoms don’t usually appear for a few days. If you do contract an illness, see a doctor immediately.

Iodine Tablets are Best Treatment

The easiest way to disinfect water is to boil it. If you have matches, small stove, and a pot, bring water to a quick boil to kill any nasties. A better way, however, is to use chemical treatment so you don’t have to pack the stove. Use iodine or chlorine tablets or liquid. I prefer Potable Aqua since its convenient and lightweight.

How to Purify Water

Drop a tablet of Potable Aqua, 16.7% Tetraglycine Hydroperiodide, into a quart of water and wait from 10 to 30 minutes before drinking. For warm water, wait 10 minutes. For cool water, wait 20 minutes. For ice cold water, 30 minutes is not too long. Shake occasionally while waiting. Also loosen the threads of the bottle and rinse them. Don’t add any drink mix to the water until the waiting period is over. Remember that exposure to moisture, light, or air reduces the effectiveness of iodine. It’s best to buy new tablets every year.

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