Staying hydrated is important but it is about more than just drinking water.
You need electrolytes.
If you have found yourself working or exercising hard but still feeling bad despite decent water intake, then a lack of electrolytes might be the problem.
When someone is ill, they can have a hard time due to losing so many electrolytes when they cannot keep fluids or solids down for long enough. A case of the flu or any illness that leads to diarrhea or other gastrointestinal distress can lead to a lot more fluid loss than you might expect. Since you are supposed to drink a lot of water, your system can be flushing itself of electrolytes much faster than you are replacing them if care is not taken.
There are many ways to supplement electrolytes. This is not an expensive prep but it can make a big difference during a survival situation. Here are some options to consider.
Many electrolytes are fairly acidic so if you get heartburn easily you may want to try a few different ones and see which one agrees with you the most or try not to drink too many right before bed. You can also add more water than recommended if that helps.
Signs of Dehydration
- Rapid breathing and/or heart rate
- Sunken eyes
- Dry skin
- Dark urine
- Unclear thinking and poor judgment
- Nausea or vomiting
When performing physical activities with others it is good to watch out for one another when it comes to staying hydrated. Occasionally hand someone something to drink if you have it to spare or say things like “let’s drink some water”. It can just make it a bit easier to avoid the issue of dehydration altogether.
Situations exist where it may seem impossible to drink enough water. Additional electrolytes can help make these situations easier to get through. I have heard some people say that there are times that you cannot stop and drink water. That is why it is important to take advantage of the times when you can. The side effect, of course, is that stopping to urinate can be hard or impossible to do at times without endangering yourself or others.
This is our main source of emergency electrolytes. It also helps add flavor and fizz to water. If you have ever actually drank water that has been filtered you may have noticed that the flavor still tastes a little weird. Emergen-C can mask that taste or odor for a more palatable hydration experience. You can pick and choose from a ton of different flavors and there are some Emergen-C packets that have additional vitamins and minerals added. At our house, we have found it makes sense to just stock the Tangerine variety.
There is something to be said for electrolyte powders that you can mix in quantity as needed. This 12.7 ounce container would come in handy during an emergency. While the picture above shows the lemonade flavor, this brand has many different flavors to choose from.
These small packets are made to be mixed with 8-16 ounces of water and come in a variety pack of flavors. It can be nice to have some options. Also, it means you can try out flavors and see which one you like best before buying a whole box of a single flavor. Each packet is a mere 20-25 calories and contains 5 different electrolytes.
Sports Drink Mixes
Yes, some of these options contain some colors and flavoring agents that you may not choose to consume but I am still including them because they are an affordable option that can make a difference in an emergency. Gatorade is one of the first that comes to mind.
It is actually pretty amazing how many servings you get for your money when buying Gatorade mix. A single canister will make an outstanding 9 gallons of sports drink. Cost varies a little depending on what flavor you prefer. If you are trying to prep on a budget, this is much better and more affordable than some of the frankly awful orange drink mixes I have received in emergency food kits.
Another advantage is that each serving of Gatorade is 90 calories so an entire canister adds 8,460 calories of quick energy.
Note: Gatorade contains a lot of cane sugar.
I am most familiar with Crystal Light as mostly a flavor enhancer but I discovered that they make flavor packets that have electrolytes and even caffeine in them. If you want something to help with overall physical performance, it may not be a bad idea to have something that combines electrolytes with a little bit of caffeine when you are in a physically demanding situation.
I was surprised to see that this particular mix does not have any artificial sweeteners. The convenient packet size means you can stash these in get home bags, bug out bags, or throw them in your own custom MREs like we do with Emergen-C.
I was not aware that Pedialyte had a powder form but was glad to see that they do. This is not inexpensive stuff but for those that trust and like name brand Pedialyte, this is an option that stores in a much smaller space. You can also get the powder in a formula that contains probiotics but the cost is higher. You may want to have some of both. Probiotics can really help out if someone is dehydrated due to gastrointestinal distress.
This stood out because of the quality ingredients and the addition of probiotics for gut health.
Premixed Electrolyte Solutions
Of course, you can get drinks that contain a lot of electrolytes. One of the more common ones is the popular Pedialyte. While having some of these on hand is not a bad idea, it is impractical to stockpile a lot of them. A good compromise might be to have something like 4 large bottles on hand and then use powders to make up the rest of your supply.
This is the classic 1-liter bottle. You get a bigger discount if you buy them in 4 or 8 packs. Generic equivalents are available. I think I was given this stuff as a kid but I have not used it since. If you have found generic equivalents to be lacking, please share in the comments as that is important information since the price difference when buying online often doesn’t seem to be that much.
This is a sports drink technically but it can also be considered a pre-mixed electrolyte solution. It is at least easy to find and a little more affordable than Pedialyte. Definitely some artificial colors and such in Gatorade.
These come in many different varieties and flavors. If you want reduced sugar then you can get that. I see why people have a few cases of sports drinks for easy access but beyond a few cases seems like you are taking up a lot of space when you could have the powder and mix as needed.
Electrolyte tablets do store in a small space and like the Emergen-C packets, they can be easily stashed in a backpack or medical kit. They are like an Alka-Seltzer. You just drop them in water and let them dissolve. It appears that some are scored so you could easily break one in half if you don’t want or need a full tablet.
Other tablet options include those you can just swallow to help you stay more easily hydrated. You could take these anytime and it would help out when you do drink water.
These tablets come in a convenient tube and they have caffeine in them. This mix is GMO-Free certified and doesn’t have any artificial colors or flavors. There is just a single gram of sugar in each serving. I like the tough waterproof packaging you get. The way things are nowadays I would be tempted to keep a few containers after they are empty to repurpose for other medical supplies or really small food storage.
These tablets are packaged in pairs and offer an electrolyte replacement solution that you can just swallow as needed. Sure you need to still remember to drink water but these can help and they can offer some benefit even if you don’t have time to drink quite as much water as you should. The price point is attractive and you can throw these in any emergency bag or medical kit that you have without taking up a lot of space.
Remember that even when it is cold outside, you can get dehydrated.
The wintertime is actually one of the times when it seems like skin dries out very fast. Part of this can have to do with the type of heat you use. A wood stove or an electric furnace that doesn’t have a built-in humidifier can lead to chapped hands and lips in no time at all.
Since people associate dehydration with heat so much, it can be easier for some to forget to drink water and stay hydrated during the colder months. You need to make sure to replace water and electrolytes year-round. I am going to try to get myself in the habit of drinking more water during the day when I am not out in the field. Out there I remember it much better than if I am sitting here writing an article.
An easy to use water filter will encourage better water drinking habits during a long emergency.
The first water filter I got to use a lot was a pump style MSR. It took a lot of work to get a quart full of water. While we used this out on camping trips and hiking trips of a few days, we could afford to sit around and pump water for a while. During a major situation, you are going to drink more water if you have easy access to it. You will not be as tempted to keep going and push yourself to the point of harmful dehydration.
I advise having a water filter that is gravity fed or inline with a hydration bladder. A water bottle such as the Lifestraw Go can work as well but they are not as long-lasting as a Sawyer Mini and squeeze bag or a Hydro Blu with 10 L pouch. You can get a lot of water in very little time with these styles of filters and they are very affordable. Here are a few links to some reviews I completed as well as our water filter guide.
Electrolytes are an overlooked but very important part of a good preparedness plan. Hydration is critical to health and it is especially important during times of illness or major physical exertion.
On top of that, electrolytes often come in the form of powders that add flavor that can mask the taste of medications or of water that has been filtered but still has a somewhat unappealing flavor or odor.
I recommended having a variety of electrolyte options for emergencies. For example, I don’t like to drink sugary drinks under normal circumstances but if I was in a physically stressful situation, sugar may be a welcome addition at times. For regular moments where electrolytes are needed, I am probably going to stick with Emergen-C or maybe try out the Crystal Light with Vitamins and Caffeine.
Some options are much more affordable than others as well so that maybe something you want to consider. For general hydration, a big stockpile of less expensive options with some of the higher-end electrolytes for special times may be a good idea.
If you are just going to put back one type, just make sure it is tolerable for everyone in the family from a dietary standpoint. Those of us with diabetics in the family couldn’t just put back a bunch of Gatorade and be good to go.