“Water, water, everywhere,” wrote Coleridge, in application to the ancient mariner of his prose. The big difference, though, is his water was not potable, as it was the ocean. The water I’m referring to in this piece is the water that is all around you in the winter, and the importance of consuming the proper amount of water to prevent dehydration. Be advised: your needs for water do not decrease; rather, they increase due to stressors that are different on the human body.
The tendency is to not drink as much when the weather is cold. This is a natural thing, as people usually (even when thirsty during the winter) do not wish to drink cold beverages. Conversely, they prefer warm beverages that are (usually) caffeinated, such as coffee or tea. As a die-hard coffee drinker, I know from experience that you must offset the caffeine consumption (to a degree) with an increased intake of water. At the end of this article, I’ll mention more on this.
How the Body Loses Water During Winter Months
With increased activity, there are many ways that a person loses water. Diaphoresis (sweating/perspiration) is one way, and insensible water loss is also increased, examples being water lost from the eyeballs and from respiration. People breathe out 1-2 glasses of water per day. Urination is another way that water is lost, the composition of urine being about 95% water and 5% miscellaneous solids. The needs (on average) of water consumption in humans is about a gallon per day, with kids needing a little less except when they’re extremely active.
Water is Fuel
During the winter, you’ll need about a quarter to a half extra water than your body normally requires, and this increases further if you are working hard physically or exerting yourself. Remember what is happening in the cold weather. Your body is burning up calories and extra sugar and carbohydrates to heat your muscle tissue. This requires a tremendous amount of metabolic energy, down to the cellular level. Water is fuel: never forget that. With the increased cold temperatures, your metabolism works harder to stay warm. Food intake is critical, and so is water.
As mentioned earlier, you may (due to the cold and a desire to not drink that accompanies it) take in more food than water. This, too, is not good for you. I don’t want to get into proponents of eating your food and drinking sparingly to allow hydrochloric acid in your stomach to digest more efficiently. That may be, but more importantly, you need liquid to consume your food. Remember, if you do not drink, your body will rob what water is in and between the cells (that is, inter, and intracellular fluid, respectively) to digest the food. We learned it thoroughly in SERE school: Thou shalt not eat until thou canst drink. You must be able to drink in for your body not to take from itself to digest the food. If you do not drink, then you’re dehydrating yourself when you eat.
The appearance of your urine is a good indicator of your level of hydration. Dark yellow urine means you need water. Your body excretes the waste it must excrete on a regular basis; nevertheless, the body will reabsorb as much water as possible to conserve it. The urine will be thicker with more solutes (dissolved substances, such as sodium) in it. This brings us to the secondary problem: your body needs to excrete wastes but you’ll be losing electrolytes. Your food replaces the electrolytes, but if you have no food readily available, you want to supplement and not just drink excessive quantities of water. Too much water can flush out your electrolytes.
Remember: thirst is a late sign of dehydration. In a survival situation, do not eat snow. The eating of snow robs your body of calories (as explained earlier) to enable itself to melt the snow into water, and in addition, lowers your body temperature. You can melt it over a fire, in which case it is worth it. I highly recommend a small folding stove with hexamine tablets. Each tablet burns for about 9 minutes…plenty of time to melt some snow, ice, or icicles for your water. As mentioned in times past, the U.S. Army issue canteen cup is a great thing to have, made of steel. It can take a beating and be set on a campfire or on a little portable stove with good results.
It is very difficult to keep water on hand when you’re dealing with subzero temperatures. Most urban and suburban residents are always able to duck into a store and purchase whatever they want…for now. People in more remote or less dense areas may have a bit of a problem. Living where I do, I have a real problem. What I do is pack two thermoses (Aladdin’s) with hot water, and then wrap the outside with towels to further insulate them. This ensures that I have a supply of drinkable water when I leave the house for up to 24 hours without freezing.
I also tote electrolyte packets and bouillon cubes with me, as well as my ever-present jar of instant coffee. Returning to my earlier note, whatever you drink as far as coffee and tea are concerned? Don’t deviate from that, and your body will compensate for the caffeine consumption so that it will not affect you in the same manner as if you were drinking that amount for the first time. I usually have five cups a day, and my coffee is very strong. Most people would shake akin to a leaf and be hitting the restroom all day long.
But perhaps you get the gist of the article: you need to maintain your consumption of water, even during the wintertime. You should also have access to fire-starting materials and things such as hand warmers/chemical heat producers. You don’t know when the need will arise for you to melt some water. If you can keep a Camelback handy and keep the water pouch near your body heat to keep it from freezing, all the better. Just have a source of water, and a means to replenish that source when it runs out. During the winter, you don’t want to be dehydrated. And if the SHTF, or if there’s a winter emergency? These measures can mean the difference between life and death. Stay hydrated, stay safe, and bundle up…the winter’s just starting! JJ out!