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Keeping hydrated should be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about survival. The human body needs a certain amount of water every day in order to maintain bodily functions, let alone operate at its optimum.
It is said that dehydration is the number one cause for midday fatigue. No surprise when we consider that water makes up about 60% of the human body.
We are constantly losing water throughout the day whether it is through breathing, sweating, or digesting. It is very easy to become dehydrated, and thus, important to replenish and rehydrate when possible.
Learn how to identify dehydration symptoms and discover our top 8 survival tips when it comes to surviving dehydration.
How long can you survive without water?
How long is too long? As a general rule of thumb, most people can survive up to 3 days without water before bodily functions start to decline. However, this can depend on different factors such as:
- Activity level
- Environmental factors
- Experiencing illness
If you are exercising, naturally your body is overheating and therefore your body reacts accordingly by sweating more in order to cool it down. Likewise, your body reacts similarly in hotter climates or being out in the sun for long durations.
At higher altitudes, the dryer air and lower moisture levels can also increase the risk of dehydration as we breathe harder and faster.
Water-rich foods such as fruits and vegetables can help supplement water levels in the body. By the same logic, eating dry foods such as biscuits and grains does the opposite. What a person ate last can really affect how fast dehydration kicks in.
Furthermore, water loss can expedite if you are experiencing illness. Vomiting or diarrhea type symptoms, as well as high fever, can also increase the risk of dehydration.
What happens to your body without adequate water intake?
Without water, your body starts to shut down. Organs cease to function, and cells start to shrink. Our kidneys rely heavily on water. Kidney failure as a result of dehydration starts with a signal from the brain to urinate less.
As a result, the kidney starts overworking, and wear and tear builds up. Without a functioning kidney, the body is unable to get rid of waste in the blood supply.
Furthermore, when we sweat or urinate, we lose water which also deprives our body of important minerals and electrolytes that help keep our body healthy.
Other consequences of dehydration include non-functioning joints, brain swelling, and blood pressure fluctuations. All of which can be life-threatening when medical aid is not readily available.
Signs of dehydration
Here’s how you can check for dehydration.
- Feeling thirsty
- Feeling dizzy, lightheaded, or nauseous
- Feeling tired
- Have dry mouth, lips, or eyes
- Have dark yellow or strong smelling urination
- Have little urination fewer than 4 times a day
- Muscle cramps
- Severe fatigue
- Lack of strength
With any of the aforementioned signs, there is always a chance you may be dehydrated, and there is no harm in hydrating yourself and seeing if symptoms start to disappear.
If you think you are dehydrated, and you are outdoors or engaging in strenuous physical activity, stop what you are doing, and find the nearest shade and remain seated. Rehydrate slowly until one or more of the symptoms have decreased or subsided.
If you feel like you are dehydrated, and find it hard to intake fluids, start by taking small sips and then gradually increase the amount. Using a spoon is an easier way to drink fluids when swallowing becomes hard.
A good indicator that the severity of dehydration has subsided is when urination becomes clear, or pale.
How can I help prevent dehydration?
If you are about to engage in physical activity, about to climb to higher altitudes in a short time span or have vomiting or diarrhea symptoms, one of the best ways to stay hydrated is to continuously sip or drink fluids and electrolytes throughout your journey.
The daily recommended amount of fluid for men and women is 131 ounces and 95 ounces respectively. This takes into account overall water intake which includes food and beverages. That will increase or decrease based on what activities are planned for the day.
Children aged between 4 and 8 should drink at least 40 ounces daily, which increases to 60 ounces on average once they are 9 to 13. After the age of 14, the recommended amount is around 80 ounces.
What do I do if I have run out of water?
The first thing to do is to stay calm. Panicking will only increase energy and time expenditure. The next thing to do is to assess your current situation. Identifying the nearest water source is a good start.
A few hours without water is unlikely to be life-endangering but may be uncomfortable. A good trick to identify nearby water sources is to look for livestock, who often will lead you to one.
Interested in how to find water in the desert? Read our Ultimate Desert Survival Guide here
8 survival tips to avoid dehydration
Follow these tips to prevent becoming dehydrated. Always seek proper medical help when appropriate.
Avoid exposure to the sun
When body temperatures rise, your body reacts by producing sweat in order to cool down. Always try to stick to shade when possible. Besides, being out in the sun for long durations can come with other problems as well.
Keep stock of your existing water
Ensuring that you have enough water for a planned trip isn’t enough. In case of emergencies, you will most often be unable to attain more water, and might even consume stock faster. This can happen due to panic and disorder.
According to the American Public Health Association, the recommended amount of stored water for one adult in an emergency is about one gallon per day. And that only includes drinking water.
Regulate your diet
Fruits are excellent water-rich choices to bring with you on a trip. Berries, watermelon, pineapple, and coconut are some options. Oatmeal and rice are also foods that can hold a lot of water. These are perfect for long trips as they expire slower.
Chia seeds are a good snack that can also help hydrate you. Avoid sugary or processed foods as these will make you dehydrated.
Keep yourself covered up
Keeping yourself cool will help your body sweat less, and overheat slower. Keeping yourself covered with light and cool clothes is important especially when you are going to a location or environment that does not typically have shade.
Places like deserts are also known to be unsuspectingly cold during the night, and bringing proper clothes can help regulate your body temperature.
Depend on plants as a water source
Plants need water to survive, so the more vegetation you see, the more likely there is to be a nearby water source. You can also dig into the base of plants to find water, just be sure to filter or boil the water if this is your choice. Plants like cactus are notorious for holding large amounts of water. Use this to your advantage.
Search for any available sources
Look out for natural indicators. Some examples include the colour of vegetation. The darker the colour the more water that plant has been exposed to.
Following animals is also a good way to find a nearby water source. Just be careful to collect water a couple of metres from the animals as they tend to urinate and defecate from the same spot that they drink.
The congregation of insects and birds can also help. Birds that fly straight and low are good signs of either a lake or river.
Learn basic filter preparation for purification
If it comes to a situation where you need to filter water, it is important that you understand what can be used as good filtration. Cloth is an effective filtration material because it traps solid particles from passing through.
Drinking impure or unfiltered water can bring unnecessary bacteria and viruses into your body. This can lead to illnesses that can expedite dehydration.
Use poor water sources to soak your clothes
Water sources such as seawater might not be safe to drink. But they can still be used for other uses like washing clothes. Being efficient with what you have is the key to survival.
Keeping hydrated is important for your health. Dehydration can lead to more severe life-threatening problems. The good news is that dehydration is fairly straightforward to identify and easy to fix if you’re at home. However, if you’re out in the wild, the aforementioned tips might come in handy.
Your body will let you know when it is low on water, and listening to it will help you avoid dehydration. If symptoms persist, always contact a doctor for a professional opinion.