Dehydration isn’t often a concern in our everyday lives—after all, most of us have access to potable water 24/7. But when you’re out exploring the wilderness, that situation can change very rapidly, especially if you find yourself stranded.
When you end up lost or otherwise trapped in the wilderness, there are many health concerns to be aware of, but learning how to treat dehydration – and prevent it – is number one on the list.
What Is Dehydration?
If you’re not familiar with the term, dehydration is the name given to a condition that occurs when the body loses too much water, electrolytes, or both. This can occur for a number of reasons, particular when someone is outdoors for an extended period of time.
Dehydration ranges in severity, but if left untreated, it can quickly become extremely dangerous. While your first thought in a survival situation might be to seek out food, water is actually the more important resource; humans can survive one to two months without food, but only a handful of days without water.
What Causes Dehydration?
There are three different types of dehydration:
· Hypotonic, or a lack of electrolytes
· Hypertonic, a lack of water
· Isotonic, a lack of both
In a survival situation, you’re likely going to be dealing with isotonic dehydration or hypertonic dehydration. Treating dehydration of either type will be a similar process.
Isotonic dehydration can come about due to sweating, which you’ll likely be doing quite a bit of while hiking through the wilderness; hypertonic is caused by not drinking enough water or sweating too much as well.
If you have a good stock of water with you and manage to find your way to safety quickly, you shouldn’t run into an issue, but if you’re out in the wilderness for a considerable period of time, you can only ration your water so much before dehydration kicks in.
Symptoms of Dehydration to Watch Out For
Dehydration causes many unpleasant symptoms, some of which can actually create more danger for you in a survival situation. Some signs to keep an eye out for are:
· Intense, unabating thirst
· Headache or pounding temples
· Considerable fatigue or exhaustion that can’t be explained by physical exertion
· Dizziness or weakness
· Mental confusion or fainting spells
The first signs you’ll begin to notice will be thirst and headache; at this point, if you can, do your best to drink water, even if you’re attempting to ration. It’s important to head off dehydration for as long as possible.
Once you begin experiencing more severe symptoms, such as dizziness or fainting, you’ll have to start considering your options for treating dehydration.
The Dangers of Dehydration
When trying to navigate and survive in the wilderness, you’ll need your wits and physical acumen in top form, and dehydration can quickly cause issues with that.
Losing your sense of balance can end with you getting injured, weakness can cause you to become unable to scale obstacles and leave you worse off than when you began, and confusion could cause you to become even more lost than you already are.
There are obvious dangers to fainting spells—both losing time and potential injuries are on the table—and even something as minor as a headache can mess with your pace as you’re trying to find your way back to civilization.
This is why, while rationing can be helpful—particularly if you know you haven’t wandered too far from civilization—it’s more important to keep yourself from slipping into more severe symptoms of dehydration. Treating dehydration is easier before it gets to the point of true danger.
Don’t let this panic you into drinking water wherever you can find some—this isn’t the best method for treating dehydration. There are ways to find safe water in the wild, but bad water is always worse than no water, even for treating dehydration.
Drinking non-potable water can result in several different diseases, and even in a mild case, can cause diarrhea. Which—you guessed it!—will only dehydrate you further. This could leave you not just treating dehydration, but trying to treat multiple health issues.
Finding Safe Water in the Wilderness
When tracking down a safe source of water, you’ll want to seek out running water over standing bodies of water. This means you want to track down a river or stream, something with a current, if at all possible. Avoid lakes, ponds, and puddles. If it happens to be raining, rainwater is your best bet for truly clean water, but moving sources are your next best bet.
Regardless of what water source you end up finding, be sure to take the time to seek out potential causes of contamination. You don’t want to take a drink, walk upstream, and discover a drowned animal or other kind of poisonous substance waiting for you. It can be difficult to stay mindful of such things when you’re that thirsty, but trust me, it’s better to delay gratification than end up vomiting all that water back up.
It’s advised that you check inside the body of water before drinking regardless—experts suggest seeking out growing things within, such as plant life. If you see nothing but rocks or dirt, that’s a warning sign. That water likely isn’t healthy for consumption.
It’s also suggested to keep an eye out for other animals coming to the water source and taking a drink. Trust the critters that call these woods home—if it’s safe for them to drink, it’s probably good enough for you in an emergency.
Of course, if you want to have the absolute best shot at finding clean water in the wilderness, you’ll want to use what my hiker friend likes to refer to as a technical advantage—a tool meant to make hiking trips a bit easier. In this case, we’re looking at a water filter.
Personally, my favorite option is the LifeStraw. You can take this wonderful little contraption, stick it into any body of water, and drink directly from it! While it does filter out bacteria, it won’t filter out dangerous chemicals, so still be cautious about checking for contaminators around any body of water you choose to drink from.
If you want to create your own water filter, you can do so using some simple items and ingredients. We have a whole how-to waiting for you right here on Survival World!
How to Prevent Dehydration
Obviously the best way to fend of dehydration is by staying hydrated, but failing that, the best thing you can do is to stay out of the sun and minimize how much sweat you’re expelling. Heat will sap water from your body quickly, so try to move during the cooler parts of the day and rest when the sun is at its peak, even in the woods.
Be sure to bring more water than you think you might need on your hike, but don’t overburden yourself—you don’t want to drive yourself to dehydration by carrying too much weight!
How to Treat Dehydration
Ultimately, when it comes to how to treat dehydration, the best option is to drink water. If you can, bring along bottled water or a sports drink that contains electrolytes, or bring along drink mix packets containing electrolytes in case of emergency if you want to avoid carrying too much.
In severe cases, you’ll want to reach a doctor and get medical assistance with treating dehydration as quickly as you can. But if you’re stuck in the wilderness, having a water filter and electrolyte providers on hand is the best way to prepare!
Now You Know How to Treat Dehydration!
The best thing you can do to protect yourself from dehydration is to come prepared for every hike and camping trip you set out on. Keep plenty of supplies for treating dehydration on hand, and stay safe out there!
For more ways to stay hydrated in survival situations check out our post on How to Build an Off-Grid Water System.