Electrolyte mixes and backcountry nutrition
Deciding if you need one and what would be a good choice if you do.
While it might seem like water is harmless, it can become an issue if you’re drinking A LOT of it without replacing without also supplementing with high salt foods, salt tabs, or an electrolyte replacement drink as excess water intake without replacement of these nutrients “flushes” them out of the system.
Like fluid, we have specific recommendations folks can follow when guiding their decisions, but it’s hard to cast that net broad to a broad audience. Instead, we use a few general idas when deciding if supplementing your water is needed. If you answer “yes” to more than one of these, it’s worth thinking about:
Do you anticipate the temperatures to be hot enough that you’ll be sweating with even light activity?
Do you anticipate a lot of elevation change on your hike in, out, or to your glassing point (i.e. will you do a lot of heavy breathing)?
Do you plan on hiking for more than 60-minutes straight?
Do you struggle with the taste of plain water?
Choosing the right carbohydrate/electrolyte replacement drink
Electrolyte replacement mixes are basic at their core, but can be broken up by two very distinguishable factors:
Are there carbohydrates included?
What dose of electrolytes are used?
Ideally, you will WANT to be sure the mix has carbohydrates included. This replaces the fuel stores in your muscles that are used while you’re hiking. It also helps support the retention of fluid to prevent the side effects of dehydration.
A good mix will have about 25-30g of carbohydrate per 100-120kcal serving.
You’ll want to have about 60g for every hour of anticipated high-output movement. Note: movement is the keyword. This doesn’t mean 60g for every hour you’re on the glassing knob.
“Normal” formulations contain a lower amount of sodium and electrolytes than “advanced” formulations do. An example of this is Gatorade’s Thirst Quencher vs their Endurance formulation. The Thirst Quencher formulation has about 150mg of sodium per serving vs 300mg in their Endurance formulation.
“Advanced formulas” across brands are about the same among brands as you can see here when comparing Gatorade’s advanced formula to Tailwind:
If you know you sweat alot and/or have NOT been training for the season, it’d be worth looking at the advanced formula.
Let’s say you’re on a budget and don’t want to fork over the cash for the sometimes pricey Tailwind OR you don’t have the luxury of planning prior to a hunt; are there other options you can lean on? Absolutely.
While they do not contain the same amounts of electrolytes as the products mentioned above, powdered Tang, Lemonade, and the lik can be a great easy-to-digest source of carbohydrate while on the mountain. The lack of sodium can easily be made up for by planning to include salty snacks like nuts, pretzels, and the like in your food bag.
There's much more on the topic in this 4-minute video.
To summarize, if you fall under one of the four bullet points above, it's worth throwing some of this stuff in your pack. Not only will it encourage you to drink more (who doesn't like flavor over plain water?), it'll help ensure you retain more of that fluid for hydration on long pursuits where water isn't readily available.