Keeping Hydrated at Burning Man: Tips and Tricks

“Adding some flavorless electrolytes to a batch of sangria reduces it’s dehydrating effect.”

This post comes from Todd Shimkus, Web Ninja Master and occasional blogger at TMS. When Todd’s not managing our website and online store, you’ll find him climbing the Sierra’s infinite granite or floating through powdery clouds of cold smoke.

Burning Man is held in a dry lake bed in Nevada’s high desert. Daytime temperatures can soar over 100° F and the relative humidity is almost non-existent. Alkali dust covers everything that enters the Black Rock Desert and it sucks the moisture out of you in a process similar to mummification. Burning Man’s Emergency Services Department reports hundreds of cases of dehydration each year.

The desert is trying to kill you.

Steve Jurvetson - httpwww.flickr.comphotosjurvetson293864829

Wild horses enter a desert battle scene from stage left.

Fortunately, dehydration is an easily preventable malady. Dehydration can be prevented, and even reversed, through…are you ready for this?…HYDRATION. Liquid water, when taken orally, is absorbed in the stomach and small intestine, and directly into the bloodstream. The water is then transported to the sweat glands where it is excreted onto the skin as a cooling mechanism, and finally evaporated by the hot sun – thus completing the vicious cycle of hydration.

How much water?

How much water do I need? The official Burning Man survival guide requires 1.5 gallons per person, per day. Granted, this equation factors in a little extra water for things like cooking and washing, but you should probably drink at least a gallon of water each day. “Piss clear” is a popular mantra in Black Rock City, and even the name of a long-running newspaper on the playa. It is sound advice, as the color of your urine is a good indication of your hydration level. The darker the color, the more dehydrated you may be.

Hydration should be a constant activity. This is especially true if you are consuming diuretics like caffeine, alcohol, or any chemical stimulants. These substances are known to increase dehydration so you will need to compensate for the extra water loss. I recommend double-fisting. If you are enjoying an ice cold beer in one hand you should intermittently drink water with the other. It’s almost [but not entirely] impossible to drink too much water.

burning-man-black-rock-desert

Electrolytes

H2O is not the only part of the hydration equation (yes, the term is slightly misleading). Electrolytes are also critical to staying hydrated. Electrolytes are water-soluble ions in the form of salts, acids and bases, and are necessary for basic cellular function. The human body requires several electrolytes to function normally, including sodium (Na+), potassium (K+), chloride (Cl), calcium (Ca2+), magnesium (Mg2+), bicarbonate (HCO3), phosphate (PO42-) and sulfate (SO42-).

How do we get these electrolytes? Well, lots of ways:

  • Salty snacks – Munching on some salty snacks throughout the day will replenish the salts lost by sweating throughout the day. Roasted and salted nuts and seeds, pretzels, crackers, chips, cheese, and a whole host of other tasty treats. Bacon, which is often the foundation of the burner food pyramid, has plenty of sodium and potassium.
  • Coconut water – High in potassium, young coconut water is renowned for its ability to re-hydrate. Whole young coconuts pack the most electrolyte content but are perishable and may not survive long in the desert heat. Cans or cartons of coconut water, on the other hand, do not require refrigeration and their containers will pack out easily.
  • Electrolyte mix and tablets – I love Nuun electrolyte tabs. One tablet turns a bottle of water into a fizzy and tasty concoction of electrolytes and fruit flavors. I typically keep a tube on me for my playa travels to add a little extra electrolyte goodness to my water bottle.
  • Electrolyte add-ins – Electrolyte add-ins are virtually flavorless electrolyte concentrates that can be added to water or other drinks to impart those magical ionizing salts that make us tick. Elete electrolyte mix is all-natural and made with four essential electrolytes: sodium, magnesium, potassium and chloride. Since it has very little flavor I like to use it as an additive for cocktails. Adding some flavorless electrolytes to a batch of sangria reduces it’s dehydrating effect.
  • Powdered sport drink mixes – You can find powdered Gatorade, Powerade or some other variety of flavored sports-ade at any grocery store. This is more economical than buying a case of bottled sport drinks and you end up with less waste to schlep at the end of the week. These drinks typically contain a lot of refined sugar and artificial colors, so keep an eye out for a low-sugar or “natural” version – unless you like the idea of drinking lots of salty Kool-Aid.
  • Homemade rehydration solution – A quick online search for “electrolyte drink recipe” will yield hundreds of thousands of simple re-hydrating drink recipes. Most contain a little table salt, some form of sugar, a little baking soda, and some citrus (for flavor and vitamin C). Take a look around and find one that works for you.

 

Choosing the right vessel

What is the best way to carry your water or electrolyte-rich hydration solution around fabulous Black Rock City?

burning-man-black-rock-desert

The author awaits a RARE desert downpour.

That comes down to personal preference, but I would strongly discourage bottled water and soft drinks. Not just because it is wasteful, but they are also inconvenient. There are no trash or recycling containers at Burning Man. If you head out for a long adventure on the playa with a few containers of bottled water you will find yourself carrying around the empties all day.

Refillable water containers are definitely the way to go. But what kind?

  • Hydration packs – Colloquially known as “Camelbacks” or “camel packs”, these hydration reservoir equipped backpacks are a really convenient way to travel with plenty of water and other playa essentials. Contrary to popular belief, there are many brands besides Camelbak that manufacture high-quality hydration backpacks. Some people don’t like wearing hydration packs on the playa since they can appear too utilitarian and unfashionable to go with their steampunk / gypsy / hot dog / bedouin / robot / geisha / chicken / Santa / martian ensemble. Many crafty burners decorate their hydration packs to better coordinate with their style.
  • Water bottles – Fill a reusable water bottle from the big jug at camp and you’ll be adequately prepared for a long expedition to the deep playa. Make sure it is at least a liter. Any less and you’ll be selling yourself short. My go-to has always been my 40 oz stainless steel water bottle with a carabiner that I can attach to a shoulder bag or sling. If you want to keep your drink cold consider a double-walled bottle and a handful of ice from the cooler
  • Soft bottles – These hybrid water vessels get their own category because they are both and neither hydration reservoirs or water bottles. Soft water bottles are great because the bottle gets smaller as your drink gets smaller, and when it’s gone you are left with a flat plastic sheet that you can roll up and tuck away. This is a great alternative to hydration systems if you aren’t too fond of sucking water through a hose.

You can never bring too much water to Burning Man but you can definitely bring too little. Err on the side of caution. Worst case scenario, if you over-pack that liquid goodness you get to wash up at the end of the week or gift it to your neighbors. Stay moist, and see you on the playa!

Wild Horses photo credit Steve Jurvetson - http://www.flickr.com/photos/jurvetson/293864829
Black Rock/Emigrant photo credit Patrick Nouhailler http://www.flickr.com/photos/patrick_nouhailler/8691259831/


Todd Shimkus manages the technical web operations for Tahoe Mountain Sports, including tahoemountainsports.com and our web presence on other online marketplaces. When not behind the computer, Todd enjoys rock climbing, hiking and snowboarding.


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