The importance of hydration at altitude & every where else!

Hydration is connected to Everything.

You are mostly water. All your cells contain water. Every cell works better when hydrated, whether it’s a brain cell, calf cell or a digestive cell.

Being hydrated means efficiency – in every aspect of existence. Movement of yourself, your fuel, your toxins that you build from activity, your thermoregulation ( ability to control body temperature), your joint function ( well moving joints with supple muscles), your cognitive function ( your decision making process), your digestion, and your sleep.

close up photo of tablets

If you’re on any medication, supplements or vitamins – they all work more effectively in a hydrated body.

Being hydrated improves your performance whether it’s for a race, a marathon, an expedition or day to day living. Your body will cope better with the demands you put on it when it’s hydrated.

If you work in an office and are dehydrated, your concentration wavers, your mood is not great and it can affect everyone around you. Being hydrated all the time will reap rewards and this is where you can also practice getting large amounts of water into your body over the day in preparation for expedition. At altitude drinking 4 (minimum) – 6 litres of water a day is common. If on a normal working day you’re not hydrated, how will you make this large leap? You need to practice – try 2 litres in your working day. You’ll need roughly that anyway and if you’re not used to drinking at all you’re giving yourself another hard job to do on the mountains.

Muscles build up lactic acid during activity (achy, heavy joints and muscles) and that needs to be managed by the body. Being hydrated helps that process, which in turn leaves you less stiff, more mobile and leads to better performance and faster recovery times.


This is all at sea level. Now add in altitude where your body has a massive “to do” list in order to cope with the reduction of oxygen – and that’s just while sitting, eating and sleeping, never mind being on the move & actually walking.

Being dehydrated is one of the factors that can lead to altitude sickness. There are many factors at play when it comes to altitude sickness and most of them are out of control. Hydration is one of the things we can control so that we can limit the effects of altitude as much as we can.


Being proactive rather than reactive is the way to success here.

Not waiting until something is a problem before fixing it. Anticipation and action – so that the problem doesn’t even come into existence.

The best mode of working is with the body rather than against it.

Giving it less hills to climb – as well as the one you’re actually walking up.

How we drink water is important.

Gulping it down adds air, which ends up in the stomach and well – that needs way out…. so it goes down…. you may also end up with a belly ache in the process and if you’re wearing a rucksack you’re already adding pressure in the belly area with a strap across your hip line.

Give your body some slack and be kind.

woman drinking at blue sports bottle outdoors

Dumping a large amount of water into your system just overloads it and the body gets rid of it. This just leads to more time in the bushes on trek without any of the benefits of hydration.

Drinking small amounts of water and more often allows your body to absorb the water you drink.

Dumping a large amount of water into your system just overloads it and the body gets rid of it. This just leads to more time in the bushes on trek without any of the benefits of hydration.

The saying “Slowly, Slowly in the High Mountains” goes for everything – how you walk and how you drink. Give your body time – it’s already working hard as it is.

Flavouring your water can help alleviate the monotony of drinking water all day. Electrolytes also play an important role here in terms of water retention and replacement of salts and sugars used up in activity. Please read the labels of the electrolytes you buy – there are maximum daily amounts and all brands differ.

Traveller’s diarrhoea and constipation are both common issues for people getting to and being in the mountains. Do ask your GP for advice. If you’re hydrated, it shouldn’t be such a big issue.

If you have diarrhoea it is a sign that you are already dehydrated, electrolytes and water play a vital part in getting you back on track. Consult you GP before travel on advice for what to do in these cases. Fore warned is forearmed.

Your hydration system is also very important. Number one having enough water carrying capacity. This will vary depending on where you’re going but 4 litres is a good start.  A litre is a kilogram so weight is an issue here – it depends on water availability on the mountain. It is really important to research what you need. This is a case by case basis.

insulated water bottles

The types of bottles you use are also worth paying attention to. Bring reusable bottles with you. Single use bottles are banned in a lot of mountain areas and there really is no place for them on the high maintains – you’ll be refilling these bottles again and again and again. The bottle should be easy to drink from – you’ll be using it a lot and if it’s hard work, it makes you less likely to deal with the hassle of it all.

The type of bottles pictured here are good but in cold temperatures you don’t want to put your lips onto a metal surface in minus temperatures – your lip will stick to the rim in the cold. You probably won’t feel the pain til afterwards !

Hydration packs are great as you don’t have to take your pack off to get a drink and they are easy to sip from. A 2 litre hydration pack is a good size depending on your pack size. Do not buy one without getting a bite valve cover – hygiene is important and if you put your pack down – the bite valve always ends up in the dirt or someone stands on it… Niiiiiice…

Cheap brands are difficult to refill on the side of a mountain – you’ll also need access while you add water treatment tablets if you need them and then flavouring or electrolytes when the water treatment time is complete. Temperature plays a role here too – you’ll get to use your tube a few minutes longer if it is insulated for cold mountain conditions.

There comes a point in time when these tubes freeze even with the insulation, so you will need a plan to access your water while you wait for the sun to rise or head to lower altitudes where it’s warmer.

Nalgene bottles are great here, you can get them in a litre size which I prefer and get 2 of them ( in addition to your hydration pack). The wide opening is big enough to get an ice axe into if you need to crack ice. You can buy insulation for them and easy sippers or change the lid to a compatible lid with a smaller opening making them even easier to drink from. You can also put hot water in them to go to bed with. Make sure the lid is closed or you’ll end up wet and scalded! Also wrap them in clothing so they’re not next to your skin – they get quite hot! Your good outdoor retailer will help you decode these names and help you choose what’s best!

Bottles should also be easy to use with big gloves on – another consideration when buying.

For colder temperatures, just turn the bottle upside down in your pack and even if they do freeze, you’ll then have access to your water when you flip them the right way round. (again make sure the lid is closed!)

Most of the success of hydration comes in the planning. Come up with a system that’s easy for you to use in terms of drinking from bottles, refilling them and accessing your water while you walk. If you have to stop each time and take your pack off, you’re wasting time and you simply won’t do it on the mountain.

Think it through, do practice runs on the mountains when you’re out training for your expedition and you’ll really reap the benefits.

Somebody with a good hydration system on the mountains never really talks about it, they just get on with it. The people without a good system or those that haven’t thought it through tend to be the ones with issues and maybe some drama. There’s no need – do you research and be ready.

Be hydrated and your mountain experience will be a far more enjoyable place to be. Your body will thank you for it too. Have fun and stay hydrated!

You may also be interested in other mountain articles such as

 Altitude Sickness Everest Base Camp

For more articles click Blog or check out Events

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