Many survival shows deal with how to acquire water when in the wild. Few deal with how to regulate its consumption by understanding how the body regulates its own internal supply. Concepts such as overhydration and knowing when not to ration are often overlooked. The human body is the best canteen that one can have. Understanding how the body regulates its water supply may prevent you from critical mistakes which can take your life.
When one becomes thirsty we all begin to understand dehydration. The body needs water and being thirsty is how the body demands that we drink. From childhood to becoming adults there are no classes needed to know this simple concept. Water loss breaks down bodily functions and the body will begin to shut down if that water is not replaced. The ability for regulating body temperature is gone if the body cannot sweat, waste cannot be flushed from the system, kidneys begin to shut down, the longer dehydration lasts the closer we come to death.
In the wilderness overhydration can become just as deadly. Drinking too much water dilutes the bloodstreams salt and electrolytes. Hyponatremia is a condition when the water flushes too much salt out of the system and this can lead to muscle weakness, spasms, cramps, seizures, a coma, and death. This condition is most often caused by overhydration. The imbalance begins when more water is consumed faster than the kidneys can process out of the system. People who are typically in the greatest danger of this condition are those who are involved with athletics or outdoors activities.
Typically overhydration is not a condition which leads to death, at least not within civilization. In the wild this can be a different story. Once the water has diluted the electrolytes and salt has been flushed from the body, these essential components to life must be replaced. While close to civilization a simple snack bar, potato chips, or other basic foods can give an immediate injection to the system feeding these basic needs. Within the wild, and certainly within a survival situation, these basic resources that we take for granted each day are not always in great supply.
Likewise it is not too often that dehydration itself leads to death within civilization. Water as a resource within the modern world is abundantly at hand. The abundance of this resource allows us to not only take it for granted but also to misunderstand how our body regulates its water supply. On the most basic level drink when one is thirsty. Be aware that when one is active in the heat outdoors you may feel the need to drink but you could be contributing to overhydration without knowing it.
Many factors determine how much water your body specifically needs. Your body weight, physical condition, medication, the physical activity in which you are involved and the temperature where you are can all play a role. Nevertheless the general rule of thumb is that the body will need between 9 to 13 cups of water in a day. As activity increases and the need to regulate body temperature goes up so does the need for salt and electrolytes.
Within the wild or in a survival situation the danger is that most often our salt comes from the food we consume. If one continues to drink while not eating an interesting confluence of events can begin to take place over time. One may not be actually overhydrated but the effect can be the same. Salt and electrolytes are not being replenished due to a lack of food and nutrients. Indeed the need for water is greater than that of food. The body can go much longer without food than it can water. Here is where higher consumption of water can become critically dangerous as over consumption further speeds the depletion of resources leading to hyponatremia.
The question then becomes, how do you know when to drink? The easiest way to tell if you are not drinking enough is through two indicators. One being your urine, the second being your sweat. If one stops sweating then you are in a dire situation and were not paying attention to your urine. Pale yellow urine that looks similar to lemonade is an indication of being hydrated. When the urine is darker you are dehydrated. If the urine is clear then you are overhydrated.
If you are involved in highly physical activities and your urine indicates that you are hydrated but you feel thirsty, certainly it is fine to sip occasionally on water to relieve thirst. In this state you do not need to attempt to become hydrated, but rather maintain it. Also you need to snack and eat along the path that you are on in this activity. Under normal circumstances a simple awareness of this will allow you to remain healthy and maintain your activity as well as your body.
The issue becomes when within the wild or a survival situation and your resources begin to run in short supply, what does one do? If there is food but no water, should you eat? If there is water but no food, should you drink? If you are out of food and have a limited supply of water should you ration your water? Is there a point to rationing water at all?
The fact is that the body can only last a mere 3 days at maximum without water before death comes knocking on our door. Conditions within our environment and our activity can alter that time line. One may be able to squeak out 4 or 5 days if they are lucky and smart, or you may only last 2 days at max if situations are grim. The body can functionally last a week to two weeks depending upon your physical conditioning and will to live without food. Beyond that you may still be alive but obtaining resources on your own becomes near impossible.
It is imperative that you keep water within your body even when food is absent. Yet if there is no water it is still necessary to consume small amounts of nutrients through food. There can be a fine balance between attempting to maintain the energy necessary to perform in the wild but not dehydrate yourself more than necessary by eating. When one eats water is required for digestion. Nevertheless without energy to move obtaining the water also becomes that much harder.
The greatest debate among survivalist can be the question of whether to ration, or not to ration water. When resupply of water is in question and a limited amount of water is left a difficult choice must be made. The physical desire is to consume ones water. The logical awareness that water will be needed later brings one to feel the need to ration. Based on the information given here and the science of the body through biological functions is where we find the answer.
If ones urine is showing that you are hydrated, certainly you need to ration your water supply. If your urine is darker or if you have reached the point of where you no longer are urinating or sweating then your body is in dire need of hydration. Water that is rationed is of no use to you if you die before you consume it. If your supply is merely a few cups of water and your body is in this critical of a situation, drink the water.
The greatest advantage to rationing water is purely psychological. It is the momentary relief that one gets as the water hits the lips, mouth, and throat. Indeed it is a major relief and a boost to moral. The water in your container is something that one can look forward to. Yet beyond these advantages if your body is in need and your supply is that low, your body will manage that water far more efficiently than your water bottle will.
Without fail the human body is the best water canteen ever created. The only time you waste water going into your body is when it is overhydrated. This is akin to over filling your cup and watching the water spill to the ground. When dehydrated sip your water, do not drink quickly nor gulp the water down. The body is like a sponge, it can take time for the water to soak through to where it is at capacity. These basic principles and understanding of hydration is imperative to observe when in the wild.