How to stay hydrated on the water
by Sam George
This feature originally appeared in our 2016 Skills Guide. This article is the fifth installment of a weekly six-part series focusing on six equipment solutions for six different scenarios.
Hydration: it's the last thing most paddlers think about when gearing up for a day on the water when, in fact, it should be one of the first. Truth is, when it comes to paddling performance at any level, proper hydration is as essential as stroke count and bottom rocker—and a lot easier to master. All you have to do is think to drink. That, and figure out the best way to carry liquid when walking on water.
But first a quick primer on sports hydration. The essential function of water for athletes (and make no mistake, if you can standup paddle you qualify) is to maintain normal body temperature and blood volume. With heat being the byproduct of energy production (third lap of a race, getting caught inside, paddling with your kids on board, etc.) the body responds with sweat, the evaporation of which dissipates excess heat. But unless this fluid is replaced, dehydration ensues, a condition the human body cannot adapt to.
The result for the athlete is a pronounced decrease in performance. Meaning you tire more easily. The solution is remarkably simple: methodically replace the fluid—and electrolytes—you sweat away. That can be slightly difficult in a variety of circumstances. Luckily, a number of manufacturers have addressed the challenge, adapting the now-ubiquitous bicycling hydration pack for effective use on board, leaving no excuse for anyone on the water to dry out.
There are two main choices in standup paddling hydration systems: backpack and lumbar pack.
The backpack models offered by brands like DaKine, Camelbak, VestPac and Dolfin are essentially amphibious versions of classic mountain bike hydration systems: narrow, shoulder strap packs containing 1.5-1.8 liter bladders connected to drinking tubes that run over the shoulder. These generally have fewer bells and whistles than their terrestrial counterparts, featuring sleek, slimmed-down profiles, though most models do have small compartments for sunscreen, energy bars and cell phones. The exception is the minimalist, all-neoprene Dolfin pack, which is pretty much all about the water. They all function in the same manner, however: need a sip, slip the bite valve drinking tube into your mouth and continue paddling.
Lumbar models like those offered by Camelback, DaKine and Quiksilver provide liquid in the same way, just from a different part of the body. Worn around the waist the lumbar pack (don't call it a fanny pack) eliminates the possibility of shoulder strap chafing, bearing the load with hips rather than back. This load-bearing style can also mean room for more than just the water bladder—some can even accommodate a PFD.
When choosing a hydration system it really comes down to personal preference, that preference being to find a model that fits your body type, doesn't bounce or chafe and most importantly, provides smooth, efficient access to the whole reason you're wearing the thing. Because regardless of design, the key to their function lies in their simplicity, allowing the paddler to carry water but keep their hands free, no sweat.