Winter Hydration

Have you ever returned from a winter ride and discovered that little or no water was missing from your water bottle? The body mechanism that gets us to reach for the water bottle in the summer heat doesn’t seem to work when the weather is really cold. But even though we don’t feel as thirsty during these winter months, we need to make sure we are properly hydrated. In fact, staying hydrated in the winter is just as important as it is in the summer.

Snow Commute
Don’t forget to hydrate in the Winter!

I was reading a backpacking guide earlier this year, and I came across some excellent cold weather advice that I tucked away in my memory for winter. In Ray Jardine’s book, The PCT Hiker’s Handbook, he had this to say about cold weather hydration:

In alpine conditions, hikers must be particularly careful to avoid dehydration. As they breathe cold air, their lungs exude additional moisture used to warm the air. And breathing heavily in cold air exacerbates the moisture losses. Furthermore, water’s vapor pressure is lower at higher altitudes, resulting in increased evaporation within the lungs. The resulting dehydration hampers circulation and the body’s ability to warm its extremities. Therefore, drinking copiously is essential in preserving body warmth while hiking in wintry, alpine climes.

The last two sentences in Jardine’s quote above really got me thinking. Keeping fingers and toes warm during winter cycling is tough, but staying well hydrated will help. You can think of water working in your body the same way coolant/antifreeze works in engines. A properly hydrated body will help keep you cooler in the summer, and warmer in the winter.

Snow Commute
Snowy bicycle commute

I’ve found that one of the reasons I don’t drink as much as I should in the winter is that water in the bottle gets uncomfortably cold to drink. I can only sip it at best without getting brain freeze.  I’ve started thinking of ways I can hydrate better without forcing myself to drink freezing water.

Drinking a lot of water a couple hours before you go out riding would be beneficial. This would prevent you from starting the ride in an almost dehydrated state. There are also a number of insulated bottles and CamelBak style drink systems designed to keep your water cool in the summer. I imagine they’d work in the winter the opposite way, by keeping your water from getting too cold or frozen.

What are your ideas for keeping properly hydrated during the winter?

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31 thoughts on “Winter Hydration

  1. I routinely ride in sub-freezing temps using a standard Camelbak with only two modifications: The water tube is wrapped in a thin layer of neoprene (foam pipe insulation and duct tape will suffice) and I use a straight bite valve instead an L-shaped one.

    The trick is to always clear the water tube after drinking, so that it can’t freeze up. Blow into the valve until air bubbles enter the bladder, then hold the valve up in the air for a few seconds while pinching open. This allows water trapped in the valve to drop to the lower section of tubing so that it can’t freeze and block the bite valve. (Using the straight valve aids this process.) When it’s really cold, I tuck the bite valve down my collar and keep it against my upper chest so my body can keep it warm. I recommend flipping the “closed” lever to avoid getting a chest full of water if you crash and roll over on your back.

    Occasionally, your valve will freeze up anyway. Then you have to pull it out each time you want a drink, and suck water straight from the tube like you would from a straw. As long as you clear the tube after drinking, this generally works great. (I sometimes “chew” the bite valve a bit to break up the ice enough to get a little flow going, then the warmer water from the bladder will open a bigger channel through the valve.)

    I know a lot of people who like to wear oversize jackets over their Camelbaks to help keep the water warm, but I don’t bother with that method.

    Another common trick in my neck of the woods is to start each ride with warm water in widemouth Nalgene bottles carried in insulated, zippered carriers designed for that purpose. You can buy the pouches at places like REI. This method is popular with people who carry their water in frame bags.

    Whatever you do, if you carry water in a bottle, make it a widemouth bottle to reduce the risk of icing up a smaller opening. I never use conventional bike bottles in winter, because the valves freeze too quickly.

  2. No, I wasn’t speaking from experience, fortunately. Living in Alaska, though, we strive to avoid getting wet in winter. A wet jersey at -10 would be miserable, and potentially dangerous. I know one guy who refuses to use a Camelbak in winter because he once got soaked when a bladder ruptured. I think a rupture like that is pretty rare.

    Besides, that same guy spends countless hours every winter riding on frozen rivers and lakes. I’m far more worried about falling through thin ice, especially on rivers, where currents can change ice conditions somewhat quickly.

  3. Jeff, you should try the Polar Bottle. They work great for keeping things cold and are designed for both cold and HOT hydration.

  4. When its butt cold I usually put the camel back under my jacket. You still have to unzip the front to drink, but it does prevent the freezing. I have not considered the bladder breaking. That could be devistating, especially if you were way out there and it was super super cold ( like now) my only counter to that would be that summer or winter, if I am way out in the boonies, I always have my swiss army knife and at least 2 ways to start a fire. So if i need to build a bonfire to stay alive i can.

  5. Pure ethanol freezes at -114 °C (-173.2 degree Fahrenheit). Alcoholic beverages will freeze somewhere between -114 °C and 0 °C depending on the alcohol content. So basically, you want to bring along the booze of the highest proof. Plus you could probably start a fire with it!

  6. How come it always leads to alcohol with you guys? But considering how freaking cold it is lately, I don’t blame you but I would rather stay in and have hot chocolate.

      1. Why shouldn’t it come to alcohol? And if I want to have a beer, or a shot of Bren’ts rum, who cares? If I drink responsibly, what is the problem?

        I’ll answer your question to be fair. Most of the people who I know personally that post on this website enjoy a post-ride beer. The ones who don’t participate in drinking alcohol are always welcome to hang around and we all enjoy each others conversation and company just the same. For me, having some beers post ride is a reward – a well deserved reward that I look forward to. Not once, after over a year of associating with the people I ride with (some of which post here), have I ever seen one of them act irresponsibly with alcohol post-ride.

        I think when you look at most cultures in regard to weather extremes, alcohol seems to come to play with the masses. That’s just how it has been for centuries, I suppose. When it’s hot out, drinkers want a cold beer. When it’s cold out, drinkers want something to give them that feeling of warmth and relaxation – not that alcohol really does anything remotely near “warming” your body in cold weather. When it’s snowing and I have nowhere to go, it would be a coffee and some sort of liqueur for me (although I haven’t done that in years).

        Who am I kidding, we’re all a bunch of drunks, that’s why it “always leads to alcohol.”

      2. Jesse I take offense with your “Most of the people who I know personally that post on this website enjoy a post-ride beer.” comment.

        What do you mean ‘a’?

        More like 3 or 4, unless XD is around then it’s a tap and a keg.

        Bottoms up Brothas.

    1. Alcohol, or more specifically ethanol, is just one of the many elements of a fine wine, distilled spirits, or hand crafted beer. I wouldn’t never drink straight ethanol. Well made beer, wine, and spirits are art, and it’s fun to sample the many variations made by the best artists. We certainly never condone alcoholism or abuse here, just the responsible enjoyment of superb artistry! Additionally, It’s been a traditional celebration activity going back hundreds of years. Why knock tradition?

  7. a 30% ethanol in water solution has a freeze point of 5F. so anything 60 proof and your good to go for the temps we’ve had lately.

  8. I’m all for hot cocoa when the time is right, baby.

    Lester, I have always been the party-hiker. Always will be, unless organs give out or my limbs fall off.

    I just noticed tonight that my cat has been drinking a ton of water. I wonder if she has the same idea for winter hydration as we do?

  9. Thanks Jesse and Lester for admitting that it turns into social drinking. I don’t partake of those activities anymore after I saw how a young girl was put in a wheelchair for life because of a anger, drunk driver. So I ask that you party in respect to others and never drive drunk and never let your emotions (anger mainly) affect the way you drive.

    1. Mr. Rider, “Admitting?” You talk as though we’re hiding something and need to confess! We’re perfectly ok with enjoying a beer together.

      Who says you have to drive after enjoying a drink? That’s what walking and bikes are for! Most of us live just a few blocks from each other…there’s no need to drive. You won’t find angry folks OR drunk drivers amongst the Bike Carson crew. That’s not our style. Shoot, there are enough people put into wheelchairs from drivers just doing their thing without alcohol…another reason to drive less.

  10. Maybe “admitting” was the wrong word. I was just going from Jesse’s post and comment:
    “Who am I kidding, we’re all a bunch of drunks, that’s why it “always leads to alcohol.”
    Makes one wonder if you’re occasional drinkers or daily got to have 2 or 3 to get by drinkers by the way alcohol is always brought up and is now your sponsor. Kind of a weird sponsor for a site about biking but if they are willing to pay, whatever. I agree when it comes to drinking if that’s what you want to do than that’s your business as long as it doesn’t endanger other peoples property and lifes. Believe me, I had my wild days and fortunately no longer need alcohol in the mix to have a good time. I never really cared for the taste all that much and I would rather spend my money on my bikes and things.

    1. Jesse was being sarcastic. I think he was a little annoyed (as we all were) that you inferred we were a bunch of drunks.

      You are being way too black and white, and your straw man argument just doesn’t hold up. I’m sure you enjoy a soda pop on occasion. Many people do. But it would be a logical fallacy for me to suggest that because you like soda, you support obesity and juvenile diabetes, and that I know how to have a good time without soda pop in my life. Unfortunately, you have misrepresented our enjoyment of a post-ride beer, and have distorted a message that we condone drunk driving, are angry, handle our finances poorly, and have tenacious chemical dependencies. We enjoy many things. We like, riding, coffee, good food, being outdoors, and a good brew. We’re good people and we enjoy life. Wild men we are not. Feral possibly… You should come hang out with us and see for yourself before you pass judgment.

      I stand 100% behind my decision to advertise for New Belgium, as they are a great company. If you know anything about New Belgium Brewing, you know that they are all about bicycles, bicycle advocacy, and many other environmental causes. They sponsor many bicycle events, and many of their employees ride to work. Through their philanthropy, New Belgium helped us raise hundreds of dollars during Bike to Work Week to further bicycle advocacy in Carson City. They continue to further it through this site by helping to keep it running. I challenge you to do better.

  11. Very well said, Jeff! I would like to invite you over for a tasty New Belgium brew! I have the ever present Fat Tire plus the beautifully crafted winter ale, Two Below just chilling in the beer fridge (that’s right folks, I have one fridge in my house dedicated to beer) waiting to be consumed by me and my good friends. Don’t forget boys, you can get two New Belgium globe glasses for the price of one with enough bottle codes! Best “green” company in The States to spend your hard earned dollars with!

  12. Yeah, Old man Scott ran me through the meatgrinder during the fights on Saturday. I was a walking corpse up until about noon.

    Water and lemon/lime Gatorade are a beautiful combination when your stomach wants to leap from your torso and your eyes are exploding from their sockets.

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