How Wildland Firefighters Can Stay Hydrated

Amanda Delatorre |

 How Wildland Firefighters Can Stay Hydrated

To say that staying hydrated as a wildland firefighter is a bit of a challenge is quite the understatement. Wildland firefighters typically work extremely long, physically-taxing shifts in remote locations where water is hard to come by and they must carry most of their supplies—including their drinking water—on their backs. Plus, the environments that they work in are typically hot and dry and at higher elevations, factors which increase the body’s rate of dehydration. We haven’t even mentioned the flames and blazing heat which accompany the wildfires that they battle. While it may be a challenge, staying hydrated is essential to being able to successfully carry out the many important duties of a wildland firefighter. It is crucial for the safety and efficiency of wildland firefighters that they develop strong hydration strategies that allow them to avoid the dangers of dehydration out on the job. Below, we have listed some of the most effective tips on how wildland firefighters can stay hydrated despite the odds.

Drink Extra Fluid Before Work

The first step to staying hydrated while carrying out the arduous duties of a wildland firefighter is drinking plenty of fluids before one’s shift begins. Drinking extra water before work will help prepare the body for the intense heat and physical exertion that you are about to face. By starting one’s shift well-hydrated, the potential to become dehydrated is decreased.

Carry a Personal Drinking System

Due to the rugged terrain that they typically work in, wildland firefighters often have to travel by foot in order to reach their intended destinations. As such, they can’t simply fill up their water bottles whenever they please. Instead, they will have to carry all of the water needed for the day on their person. Generally, a human requires at least one quart of fluid for every hour of hard work that they complete. This means wildland firefighters may need to carry around two gallons of water on them each day. The two main options for storing a wildland firefighter’s water supply throughout the day are either water bottles or a sipping hydration system. Some firefighters may choose to bring a combination of both.

Water Bottles

We probably don’t have to explain what a water bottle is; however, this section will address some of the main benefits and drawbacks of opting for a water bottle over a sipping hydration system. One of the main benefits of carrying a water bottle is that it is often easier to assess how much water has been consumed. As such, it is easier to ration water throughout the day and avoid drinking too much or too little. In addition, water bottles are also much easier to clean. Thus, if you plan on bringing a sports drink or other liquid besides water, storing it inside of a water bottle is typically more advantageous than a sipping hydration system. 

The main drawback of opting for a water bottle is that they are less accessible. In order to reach a water bottle and get it out of your pack, you may have to momentarily stop what they are doing, which can quickly become tedious.

Sipping Hydration System

A sipping hydration system is a type of drinking water container that allows the user to store water in a pack or “bladder” on one’s back and drink it through a connected tube. One of the main benefits of sipping hydration systems is that they are highly convenient. Rather than having to take a water bottle out of one’s back, the person can simply use the readily accessible tube to take a sip whenever they want. Instead, it is easier to drink small amounts of water every 15 to 20 minutes as recommended. As a bonus, water typically stays slightly cooler when stored in a sipping hydration system compared to a water bottle. As newer models become easier to use with line gear, sipping hydration systems are becoming an increasingly popular personal drinking system choice for wildland firefighters.

There are a few downsides to opting for a sipping hydration system over a water bottle. Namely, a significant amount of fluid can be lost if the hose, mouthpiece, or reservoir on the system breaks. In addition, sipping hydration systems are more difficult to clean, which can cause bacteria and microbial films to build up over time, especially in the tube.

Water might be supplied on large incidents with helicopter drops or by truck if working near roadways. This is typically in the form of a large cooler or 5 gallon cardboard cube of water aptly named a “cubey.” The problem is, you still have to be self-reliant as water resupply may not be feasible on a shift.

Drink Fluids with Electrolytes

When engaging in rigorous physical activity, the body typically loses a lot of electrolytes such as sodium and potassium through sweat. In order to properly rehydrate the body, it is important to replace such electrolytes in addition to water. As such, it is recommended that roughly one-third or one-half of the liquids that a wildland firefighter consumes throughout their shift contains electrolytes. To replenish your electrolytes and promote effective rehydration, consider carrying a water bottle or two containing a sports drink in addition to your water supply when on an assignment. 

Closely Monitor One’s Hydration Status

When working under intense pressure in extreme conditions, it may be difficult to remember to pay attention to how much water you have consumed during the day. However, it is important to remember that one cannot do their job to their fullest capabilities when dehydrated. If a wildland firefighter becomes dehydrated on the job, they may start to become dizzy, nauseous, lethargic, or experience migraines. In extreme cases, dehydration can also result in serious health complications such as heat stroke, kidney failure, and muscle breakdown. When working in remote environments under extremely dangerous conditions, such complications can quickly turn deadly.

Not only does dehydration put your life at risk, but it also risks the safety of the other members of your crew and the many people who are relying on you to prevent, control, and extinguish deadly wildfires. Monitoring your own hydration status should be viewed as a top priority. It is easy to get dehydrated, much harder to catch back up.

Observe Urine

There are several methods that can be implemented to effectively monitor your hydration status. One of the most effective methods is to pay close attention to urine. Wildland firefighters should observe the volume, color, and concentration of their urine to assess their hydration. When amply hydrated, urine should have a pale-yellow color. If one’s urine has a very low volume and is darker and more concentrated, it is imperative to rehydrate immediately as you are already past a critical level of dehydration.

Pay Attention to Physical Dehydration Symptoms

In addition to monitoring urine, another method of tracking hydration status is by paying attention to how the body is feeling. If you start to experience excessive fatigue, dizziness, or a rapid heart rate, there is a chance that you may be dehydrated and should drink more liquids immediately.

Check Your Weight After an Assignment

You can also monitor your hydration when you get back from an assignment by stepping on a scale. If you notice that you’ve lost several pounds of body weight after the assignment, then you have likely become significantly dehydrated. After an assignment, wildland firefighters should not lose more than two percent of their body weight. You should make sure to consume a substantial amount of fluids before returning to work if you notice a substantial dip in your body weight.

The Supply Cache is committed to providing industry-leading innovative solutions for the brave wildland firefighters who risk their lives for our safety. Our wide selection of specialized gear includes hydration packs and systems, collapsible water tanks, personal protective equipment, fire line tools, and other essential equipment items. To provide your crew with the best and most unique wildland products in the industry, shop at the Supply Cache today.

Firefighters Can Stay Hydrated