Most backpackers and hikers know the importance of staying hydrated in the outdoors.  Doing it on winter trips and managing your water in the cold can be a challenge.  Here are some tips for keeping your water from freezing and staying hydrated in colder environments.

Temples of Ice © Orion Ahrensfeld

1.  Just because you don’t feel thirsty and sweaty doesn’t mean your not getting dehydrated.  In the cold your body is working harder to stay warm and you lose more moisture through breathing.  You need to remember to continue fluid intake to stay hydrated.  Sip slowly but frequently, ensure your well hydrated before the hike, and when possible augment water with other warm fluids.  Breathing through your nose or a scarf helps somewhat.

2.  Bring a thermos with hot fluids.  Even though coffee and tea are diuretics they still help warm you up, increase energy, and boost morale. Avoid alcohol.

3. At home add hot water to your water bottles.  In most cases by the time you start drinking they’ll be luke warm.  The warmer your fluids the longer they take to freeze and the less your body has to work to heat them up.

4.  For winter trips realize hydration systems with tubes are prone to freezing.  I still like to carry my platypus but add an insulated tube and an extra Nalgene bottle.  I store the bladder in my pack upside down (Water freezes from top to bottom because ice is less dense than liquid, if part of the bottle does freeze you want it to be to bottom, this way you can still get some water out).  If using a tube after taking a sip I blow back air into the bladder to clear the water from the tube, with no water in the tube it’s less likely to freeze.

5. Snow can act as an insulator, in camp you can prevent water from freezing by burying in 2 feet of snow on all sides and storing upside down.  I’ve stored water this way in Alaska at -10 degrees for 1o hours with just the bottom 1/4 of my water bottles freezing.  Make sure you mark the storage location well so you know where to dig later.

6. Snow can be melted in a pot or through body heat.  To melt snow in a pot, add a small amount of water to the bottom then cover with snow.  This helps prevent the snow at the bottom from evaporating if it’s melted too fast. Melting snow through body heat is tedious but works well for emergencies if you have a few zip-locks or bladder type hydration device (1 reason why I carry my platypus).  To see how check out this video on Melting Snow Through Body Heat.

7. Make sure you clear water out of filtration devices immediately after use. This will prevent them from freezing.

Lastly remember to monitor your hydration, you should be urinating every few hours and it should be clear.  If you do have to thaw out a tube or bottle it’s best done with warm water, through body heat, or gradually, avoid an open flame.

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