It felt like someone poured my body full of cement. The pain from cramps and sore muscles was so bad I couldn't walk uphill or downhill. I spent the morning side-hilling around the mountain, looking for an elk stupid enough to walk in front of a half-crippled bowhunter.
That 1984 Montana elk hunt taught me a valuable lesson -- drink lots of water!
I had allowed myself to become severely dehydrated. First, I always kept a diaphragm call tucked between my cheek and gum when not calling elk, which tended to keep my mouth salivating, masking thirst to some degree.
I also drank coffee every morning before leaving camp. Caffeine is a diuretic and contributes to the loss of body fluids. In those days, to keep weight down, I carried no water. In exceptionally hot weather, I'd throw a water bottle in my pack, but it was always sloshing around. So, instead, I generally carried a filtration straw and stopped to get a drink whenever I came to a creek.
That was a mistake because I often went for long stretches without coming to water, and stopping to drink was always a hassle. Plus, I never got the volume of water I needed. More often, I just stepped over the creek and didn't bother.
Then, at the end of the day, my hunting buddies and I made an even more serious mistake. After the sun went down, we always enjoyed a cold brew while discussing the day's action. Yes, we were young and dumb! After all, alcohol is also a diuretic and dehydrated me even further. Combine all the ingredients mentioned with the ever-present perspiration of an elk hunt, and it was a recipe for disaster.
Staying hydrated on warm, physically demanding hunts is not only critical to your comfort, but also to your health and safety. Heat-related illness, including dehydration, can cost you your life. Here are some facts to consider.
-Your body is 70 percent water, your brain 95 percent. Become severely dehydrated and your brain doesn't function properly, which can lead to poor decisions.
-Dehydration is insidious and can sneak up on you because thirst is a delayed response. Once you feel thirsty, it's too late -- your body has already become dehydrated.
-Urine color serves as a monitor for dehydration. If your urine becomes darker than a lemon, you're getting dehydrated. If it's clear and you urinate five times per day, you're getting enough fluids.
-The optimum water intake for an average human is 64 oz. -- a half gallon -- per "normal" day. Strenuous activity greatly increases that amount.
-Water is the best fluid to drink. Some like to mix Gatorade or other flavored powders into their water, but they contain sugar, so you must clean your water container to prevent growth of bacteria. Hydro2Max from Wilderness Athlete is a better option for replacing electrolytes, as well as the potassium and sodium lost through perspiration. Salty snacks and bananas, otherwise known as potassium sticks, will help with cramps, too.
-Water you drink in the morning before heading out into the high country or a sauna-like antelope blind may be the most important of all. Drink as much as possible early, and then take lots of water along and drink smaller amounts at a steady rate through the day. Don't wait until you're thirsty or you need to take a break.
That brings us to how you deliver that water to your body while hunting. If you're in an antelope blind, you can take a jug with you and carry as much as you wish. If you're hunting on the go, I recommend a hydration bladder with a drink tube over your shoulder -- it makes staying hydrated hassle-free.
That's important because if you have to stop and dig a water bottle out of your pack for every drink, you'll simply put it off. If you're in the middle of a stalk and dry mouth instigates a coughing fit, you need water now and won't dig out a water bottle. Bottles are also noisy when partially full because the water sloshes as you walk.
A hydration bladder in your pack solves all those problems. You can take a quick sip to quiet a cough, or you can suck down large quantities as necessary. Because no air is left in the bladder as you drink, the remaining water does not slosh noisily.
On the downside, some bite valves leak, although some brands have auxiliary caps to prevent leakage. The water in the tube can get warm, or freeze in cold weather, but a tube cover serves as an insulator. The simplest way to solve "tube" problems is to blow the small amount of water in the tube back into the bladder after each drink.
Refilling a bladder can be a hassle. I suggest you buy a hydration pack with a separate pouch for the bladder that allows you to get the bladder under a faucet or to pour in water with a separate container. Some bladders have quick-detach tubes so you can leave the tube in place on your pack as you remove the bladder for filling. Keeping a bladder clean and bacteria-free can be tougher than with a bottle, although some manufacturers use antimicrobial treatments in their reservoirs.
Whatever routine you prefer, keep your reservoir full. It takes some experience to learn how much you need to drink during a day of hunting, but the best strategy is to end the day with only a small amount of water left in your reservoir. Force yourself to drink as much as possible.
From a hunting perspective, a major advantage of a hydration bladder is the ability it gives you to take a drink with almost no perceptible movement, even while belly crawling! Compare that to digging out a bottle, tipping it up for a swig, and re-stashing the bottle.
Here are some appealing hydration options.
Badlands Packs' Hydration System,
Badlands Packs' Hydration System includes a 100-oz. bladder designed to fit in any Badlands pack, as well as other packs. The tube is long enough to reach over your shoulder, and it's tipped with a bite valve for easy drinking.
The Cabela's Hydration Reservoir, available in either 70 or 100-oz. sizes, features a dust cover and a High Flow Z-Valve to prevent leaks. A "Grunge Guard" antimicrobial treatment prevents bacterial growth in the tube and reservoir.
CamelBak 72 oz. Omega resevior.
Specializing in hydration systems, CamelBak offers many options. A good choice is the 72-oz. Omega reservoir. This bladder is guaranteed for life, has an extra-large filler cap, and is treated with HydroGuard Anti-Microbial technology. CamelBak offers an entire line of accessories as well as multiple sizes and shapes of reservoirs.
Eberlestock 3-Liter Hydration Bladder.
The 3-Liter Hydration Bladder from Eberlestock is well-designed, with two openings -- a screw-cap filler opening and a wide-mouth end opening for cleaning. Treated against bacteria and featuring a Glass-like liner for better taste, this is an excellent bladder that includes a weave-covered drink tube and Storm valve.
MSR's Hydromedary hydration system bladders are extremely tough because they're built with "MSR Red" 200-denier Cordura. A High Flow/No Leak bite valve allows you to drink lots of water but prevents annoying leaks. These bladders come in three sizes: 2, 2.5, and 3 liters.
Nalgene's TPE bladder is made with a taste-free polymer that does not make crinkling noises. The quick-connect hose is treated with an Aquaguard antimicrobial formula, and the articulated Bite Me valve includes a magnetic clip to keep the hose in place.
Nalgene's TPE bladder.
Platypus has a new bladder for 2008 called the Big Zip SL. A SlideLock wide-mouth closure allows easy filling and cleaning, and SlimeGuard antimicrobial treatment helps keep your water fresh. The tube has a quick-disconnect fitting so you can leave it in place and pull the bladder out for refilling. A HyperFlow bite valve includes a no-leak shutoff valve.