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Dehydration

September 15th, 2009

Often times people underestimate the amount of water they will need on a hike, or do not drink until the signs of dehydration are setting in.  Lets look closer at dehydration and what we can do to better understand and avoid it.

The Causes of Dehydration

There are many things that can cause dehydration, the most common are vomiting, diarrhea, blood loss, malnutrition, and plain old failure to replenish liquids lost from sweating and urination (Not drinking enough water). Many illnesses and diseases can trigger acute dehydration due to the increased body temperature and sweating that usually occur. This is why your doctor tells you to drink plenty of fluids when you are ill. Your body uses fluids to expel toxins as well as to keep your system flexible, lubricated and running smoothly.

Signs and symptoms

Symptoms of dehydration usually begin with thirst and progress to more alarming manifestations as the need for water becomes more dire. The initial signs and symptoms of mild dehydration in adults appear when the body has lost about 2% of it’s total fluid. These mild dehydration symptoms are often (but not limited to):  Thirst, loss of appetite, dry skin, skin flushing, dark colored urine, dry mouth, fatigue or weakness, chills, head rushes.

If the dehydration is allowed to continue unabated, when the total fluid loss reaches 5% the following effects of dehydration are normally experienced:  Increased heart rate, increased respiration, decreased sweating, decreased urination, increased body temperature, extreme fatigue, muscle cramps, headaches, nausea, tingling of limbs.

When the body reaches 10% fluid loss emergency help is needed IMMEDIATELY! 10% fluid loss and above is often fatal! Symptoms of severe dehydration include: Muscle spasms, racing pulse, vomiting, shriveled skin, dim vision, painful urination, confusion, difficulty breathing, seizures, chest / abdominal pain, unconsciousness.

Be aware that these are not the only symptoms of severe dehydration that may manifest in response to dehydration, these are simply the most common. Symptoms of dehydration will differ from person to person because the body is a complex network of systems and everyone’s body is different. When these systems are disturbed due to loss of fluids there will be several common symptoms shared by most bodies, but there may also be unusual or unexpected responses depending on the particular person in question. Age also plays a part in the manifestation of symptoms. Signs of dehydration in a child will not be the same as those experienced by a teenager, adult or in the elderly. Dehydration prevention is the best treatment for every age group.

Treatment for Dehydration

When a person becomes dehydrated they have also lost electrolytes so it is very important to replenish them along the water. The type of electrolytes needed for rehydration are sodium and potassium salts usually found in sports drinks like Gatorade and pediatric formulas like Pedialite. Electrolytes are needed for electro-chemical reactions within cells. A lack of electrolytes in the body can interfere with the chemical reactions needed for healthy cell operation and is known as water intoxication. This can become a serious condition and has lead to death in extreme cases.

If a person is showing minor symptoms give them plenty of water and let them drink it very slowly, in small sips. Electrolytes are also important to replace. Electrolytes can be readily had from Gatorade or Pedialite. They are also found in salty foods but eating any food while dehydrated will only dehydrate the body more since fluids are required for digestion. If Gatorade or Pedialite are not available, slowly replenish the bodies liquids with water and follow that up after symptoms have subsided with a small salty snack or a very light meal.

If a person is showing some of the more severe symptoms of dehydration as listed above, call an ambulance immediately. He or she may be past the point where ingestion of the proper fluids will help; get them medical attention immediately.

Prevention of Dehydration

The average person looses between two and three litres of water a day through the breath, sweat, and urine. This number can increase or decrease based on the types of activities that a person engages in. Heavy exercise can cause a body to loose more than 2 liters an hour. To prevent dehydration you simply need to replenish the liquids that are lost throughout the day. Many resources and sites will tell you to drink 8 glases of water a day, or give you a set number of litres to drink but the honest truth is that every BODY is different and only you will know how much your BODY needs.

Only YOU can know how much water YOU need to be at your best. Thats right, WATER. Not soda, not juice, not sugar-drinks. Pay attention to your fluid loss and take special care to replenish it as it is being lost. By the time you feel thirsty you are already dehydrated – you want to avoid becoming thirsty in the first place. Pay attention to the color of your urine, dark urine is usually an indicator that you are dehydrated. Drink more water.

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The Ten Essentials w/explainers

September 10th, 2009

Below we will discuss the ten essential items (or groups of items) you should address before venturing out in the woods.  Many novice hikers do not take into account all of these and then end up getting into trouble.  Packing these items whenever you step into the backcountry, even on day hikes, is a good habit to acquire.

  1. Navigation
  2. Sun protection
  3. Insulation (extra clothing)
  4. Illumination
  5. First-aid supplies
  6. Fire
  7. Repair kit and tools
  8. Nutrition (extra food)
  9. Hydration (extra water)
  10. Emergency shelter

1. Navigation

Map and compass are now viewed as two components of a navigation system. Add a wrist altimeter and GPS.

A topographic map (in a protective sheath or case) should accompany you on any trip that involves anything more than a short, impossible-to-miss footpath or frequently visited nature trail. Handout maps, the type offered at visitor centers or entrance stations, usually provide only simplistic line drawings of trails and do not show the topographic details necessary for route finding. If, for example, you stray off the trail or need to locate a water source, you need a topo map.

A compass equipped with a sighting mirror can also be used to flash sunlight to a helicopter or rescuer during an emergency.

An altimeter is a worthwhile navigational extra to consider. It uses a barometric sensor to measure air pressure and provide a close estimate of your elevation—information that helps you track your progress and determine your location on a map.

2. Sun Protection

This involves sunglasses, sunscreen (for skin and lips) and, for optimized protection, lightweight, skin-shielding clothing.

When choosing sunscreen, health experts advise choosing 1) a formula that offers a sun protection factor (SPF) of least 15, though SPF 30 is recommended for extended outdoor activity and 2) one that blocks both UVA and UVB rays.

You should reapply as often as every two hours. And don’t overlook SPF-rated lip balm.

3. Insulation

Conditions can abruptly turn wet, windy or chilly in the backcountry, so it’s smart to carry an additional layer of clothing in case something unexpected (you get hurt or lost, for example) prolongs your exposure to the elements.

Common options include a layer of underwear (tops and bottoms), an insulating hat, extra socks and a synthetic jacket or vest.

4. Illumination

Headlamps are the light source of choice in the backcountry. Reasons:

  • Hands-free operation (their No. 1 advantage over flashlights)
  • Low weight
  • Compact size (so they occupy minimal space in your pack)
  • Long battery life (in models using light-emitting diodes, or LEDs)

Because LEDs can handle rugged use (no filaments to break), offer vastly superior battery life and are perpetually evolving to higher levels of performance, it is quite likely most, and maybe all headlamps will be LED models.

Many headlamps also offer a strobe mode. It’s a great option to have for emergency situations. Headlamps offer their longest battery life while in strobe mode.

Always carry spare batteries— Every member of a backcountry party should carry his or her own light.

5. First-aid Supplies

Any kit should include treatments for blisters, adhesive bandages of various sizes, several gauze pads, adhesive tape, disinfecting ointment, over-the-counter pain medication, pen and paper.

6. Fire

Matches headed into the backcountry should be the waterproof variety, or they should be stored in a waterproof container.  Storm matches from REI are good – take the striker panel with you. Mechanical lighters are handy, but always carry some matches as a backup.

Firestarter, as the name implies, is an element that helps you jump-start (and possibly sustain) a fire.  The ideal firestarter ignites quickly and sustains heat for more than a few seconds.    My favorite is WetFire, it comes in small white cubes from which you create a tiny pile of shavings.  These shavings are easily ignited with a Steel Scout striker and will create a flame that burns for a minute or two, plenty of time to get a fire started.  Other  candidates include dry tinder tucked away in a plastic bag, lint trappings from a household clothes dryer, cotton balls with Vaseline, Esbit fuel tablets.

7. Repair Kit and Tools

Knives or multi-tools are handy for gear repair, food preparation, first aid, making kindling or other emergency needs. A basic knife should have at least one foldout blade (more likely two), one or two flathead screwdrivers, a can-opener and (though some people will call this a luxury) a pair of foldout scissors.

If you carry a self-inflating mattress, you probably do not carry a repair kit for it. Typically, wrap strips of duct tape (the universal fix-it product) around your water bottle or trekking poles so you can repair who-knows-what in the backcountry.

8. Nutrition (extra food)

Always pack at least one extra day’s worth of food. It can be as simple as a freeze-dried meal, but it’s even smarter to include no-cook items with nearly infinite storage times: extra energy bars, nuts, dried fruits or jerky.

The process of digesting food helps keep your body warm, so on a cold night it’s smart to munch some food before bunking down—just don’t leave animal-attracting leftovers inside your shelter.

9. Hydration (extra water)

Mountaineering suggests always carrying at least one water bottle and a collapsible water reservoir. You should also carry some means for treating water, whether it is a filter/purifier or chemical treatment.

When beginning extended travel along a ridgeline or in alpine conditions, it’s wise to consult your map and try to envision possible water sources. Try to resupply at the last obvious water source before beginning a stretch of unpredictable water availability.

10. Emergency Shelter

Shelter is a new component in the updated Ten Essentials, one that seems targeted at day trippers. (Most overnight wilderness travelers already carry a tent or tarp.)  Options include an ultralight tarp, a bivy sack, an emergency space blanket (which packs small and weighs just ounces), even a large plastic trash bag.

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