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Cold Weather Hydration 101 with Winter Athlete Sofia Forsman

January 25, 2023
Cold Weather Hydration 101 with Winter Athlete Sofia Forsman

No matter the temperature, it is always important to stay hydrated. We sat down with HydraPak Ambassador Sofia Forsman, an accomplished backcountry skier and guide, to get the rundown on best practices for hydrating in the cold. 

Tell us about being a ski and hiking guide.

Winter is always spent in the mountains recreating, guiding or teaching, I am responsible for leading everything from expeditions to touring at backcountry lodges and heli skiing adventures.

Skiing big peaks and spending nights in tents during snow storms for fresh tracks is only a small part of what I do. As a guide, I am a professional, responsible for the safety of not only myself but for the group that I am leading. I am always working to nurture my body and manage my energy levels so I can be my best self and take care of my clientele with the best care. Hydration and sleep have proved to be key solutions for maintaining my stamina and health.

Do you find hydrating in the cold to be different from hydrating in non-freezing temperatures?

skier drinking out seeker 2L

If you are going to be spending a prolonged time in a winter mountain environment, there are a few key concepts that make it or break it. Number one is to practice the Pre-hydrate, hydrate and rehydrate approach.

Prioritizing hydration and nutrition is easily and often forgotten by athletes. In the backcountry, we are making terrain decisions, dealing with weather and gear, which, all together can become overwhelming enough we forget to take care of what keeps us going - our brain and body. As temperatures sink, I find I drink less - the colder it is, the less I drink. To compensate for this I have a few methods I think most people would benefit from adopting. The first being that I always drink a glass of water before coffee in the morning.

Rehydration is yet another important part. I find filling a bottle of electrolytes and leaving it ready to go when I get home makes it more enticing. It doesn't just taste good but I know I will 100 percent thank myself a few hours later, avoiding the slowly creeping headache that will haunt me otherwise. Most of us can relate to bonking and have experienced it at some point. I find many are way less used to identify the signs of thirst than hunger, for me it's always been a lack of focus and a feeling of being slow or feeling drunk, feelings often undesired as you return to real life after a long day in the mountains.

How do you decide on how much water to take for each adventure?

There's no hard and fast rule when it comes to deciding how much water to carry. We all require different amounts to thrive and learning how much water one consumes sets the bar for this. In my early years of guiding I would often recommend my guests to carry the same amount as I do, until I learnt that my tiny body volume requires less then a normal person, so my weight saving minimal amount of water carry system did not translate and I often ended up giving out my water leaving me with a nasty headache and a lesson well learnt. Now my answer is (as most answers I give)- it depends, but rather over than under carry. Having enough water and energy is a better way of managing energy than saving half a pound or a few hundred grams.

The given - the warmer, harder, longer or remote the objective - the more water I carry. The better you are at rehydrating the night before and pre-hydrating the morning off, the less water you can get by carrying. Worst case scenario, save 1/4 of your water and add snow to it - this requires a wide mouth water storage system like the Seeker - keep it somewhere warm or leave it in the sun and it should melt. It's slow, but works in a pinch.

How do you carry water? How does it vary by activity?

I typically fill up a 1L Stow and make a point of finishing it before I head out for the day. While being out, having a 500 ml Stow in a pocket on me or in the top pocket of my backpack, easily accessible, is key. Anything to allow for easy access, if I have to stop and open my bag I'll most likely not do it. In my bag I always carry a 2L Seeker filled with electrolytes, any longer break and that's what I reach for. Ideally I always have 500 ml left in my bag when I finish the day in case of an emergency.

Recently, I started using hydration reservoirs, pairing them with the Arctic Fusion tube. During day trips when weight isn't of the utmost importance, this method of readily available water has been a game changer I'm going to stick to.

How do you keep your water from freezing?

Insulated tubes for reservoirs and placing bottles or flasks closer to my body is key to keeping water from freezing. Regardless of what I choose to carry water in, I always make sure to fill my containers with warm to hot water and typically placing the water vessel in the middle of my back to prevent freezing.

If someone runs out of water, should they eat snow?

Eating snow can be fun and I'd lie if I said I hadn't before, but it most definitely will not hydrate you. You will use more energy to process the snow into water than it will give you, it's a negative feedback loop. Carrying a superlite stove and pot, or another way of melting water should be something we all carry on multi day trips or long day trips in inaccessible terrain, or when it's really cold and an emergency would be exacerbated by conditions.

What other tips do you have for staying hydrated?

If you really want to get into saving weight - start keeping track of how much water you drink on average, and don't forget to keep it up during rest days. Most importantly, if you have questions I'm all ears so don't be a stranger.