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Hydration is key for summertime hikers, experts find

Researchers say many hikers aren’t consuming enough fluids on their treks

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With the summer in full swing and temperatures rising, staying safe and healthy -- especially when outside in the heat -- is of the utmost importance for consumers. 

However, a new study conducted by researchers from Arizona State University found that summertime hikers aren’t staying as hydrated as they should be. Their work emphasized the importance of hydration on heat-ridden hikes, as doing so can reduce the risk of heat-related illness and improve performance on hikes. 

“The current guidelines for hikers in general are very broad and geared more toward safety than quantifying the adequate amount of fluid they need,” said researcher Floris Wardenaar. “The guidelines also do not take into account fitness levels or the importance of incremental exposure to the heat, which can be affected by acclimatization to specific environments and weather conditions.” 

The heat affects the hike

To understand the effect hydration has on a summertime hike, the researchers had 12 participants in their 20s take part in an experiment. The group completed two hikes -- one on a day where the temperature was under 70 degrees Fahrenheit and the other on a day where the temperature was over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Both before and after their hikes, the researchers assessed the participants’ vitals, including their heart rate, hydration status, resting metabolism, and temperature; the team also recorded the fluids that the hikers consumed during the hike. However, when it came to packing for these excursions, the participants were left to their own devices and packed as they thought best. 

The researchers learned that the heat had a serious impact on the participants’ hikes. Overall, participants’ performance on the hotter day was 11 percent worse than it was on the milder day. The participants were also much slower when the weather was hotter. The hike took 20 minutes longer on the day when the temperature was over 100 degrees.

Performance and risk of illness

Not only was performance affected, but the researchers also found that many of the participants weren’t well-equipped with hydration sources -- regardless of the climate. Dehydration can affect performance on the trails and make this type of exertion all the more difficult to get through. 

The researchers explained that one of the biggest concerns of being on the trails with limited water is heat-related illness. The longer consumers are exposed to extreme levels of heat -- especially without proper hydration -- the greater the risk of developing such a condition. 

“Heat slows you down,” said Wardenaar. “This means that what you normally can hike in 75 minutes under moderate conditions may take up to 95 minutes in the heat. That is something that people should take into account, especially when their hike will substantially exceed the 90-minute cutoff.” 

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