Whether the situation is enduring the heat of summer, hot-weather physical labor, sports, or the stress of evacuation during an emergency situation, the ability to hydrate and maintain a healthy body temperature is of vital importance. Drinking a sufficient quantity of pure water is necessary for the body to function properly, but so are electrolytes. This is an often-misunderstood aspect of proper hydration.
Electrolytes are minerals present in some foods and they are essential for maintaining proper body chemistry. Without this balance, nerve function, muscle response, blood pressure, the repair of damaged tissue, and even the ability to properly process the water we consume, are all adversely affected.
In addition to proper hydration (water intake) and electrolyte balance, it’s no surprise that the body is also affected by ambient temperature. We are all acquainted with the process of taking our temperature when we suspect that we might be ill, but unfortunately, this same awareness often doesn’t extend to other situations. We appreciate air conditioning on a hot day, but we may forget that the issue is more complex than simple comfort.
The body is an extraordinarily well designed self-regulating machine, but in adverse conditions, we nevertheless need to keep body temperature within peek operating range. Heat exhaustion is dangerous. It can be caused by the temperature of our environment, humidity, wind, and heat generated by strenuous physical activities. Poor hydration, electrolyte imbalance, and heat exhaustion can all create serious health problems.
In these conditions, we need to give deliberate attention to the adequate intake of pure water, the consumption of electrolytes, restorative rest, and the use of shade and cooling options. By giving attention to these four simple factors, we can do a better job of maintaining health and operational efficiency.
When we are first exposed to elevated temperatures (inside or outside), or energy-depleting physical labor, at the onset, we need to initiate proactive measures to maintain physical and mental health. To be negligent in these efforts will reduce the effectiveness of our labors, increase danger due to reduced mental acuity, and harm our health. It can even result in sudden death.
These problems affect all of us, but children, the elderly, and those with certain health problems are particularly susceptible to dehydration and heat stroke. Since they may not be aware of the onset of these problems, it is incumbent on all of us to be aware of those who are around us. It is not unusual for a person who is suffering from severe dehydration or electrolyte imbalance to insist that they only need a little water.
And it’s not only people, either. Pets experience the same dehydration problems and are also susceptible to heat stroke. Even if your pet is willing to drink copious amounts of water, you may still need to cover them with cold wet towels. If practical, apply ice packs to the dog’s head and paws. Using an electric fan can also help cool the animal.
According to PetMD, dehydrated dogs can also be given some electrolyte-replacement drink if they are willing to consume it. However, it may be worth trying this in advance since it can result in vomiting, a condition which will make your pet’s dehydration worse.
When people are exposed to high temperatures or engaged in strenuous activities, sipping a cold beverage can be more than a luxury. It can improve our ability to safely engage in mental and physical activities. (The same is true of a warm beverage in a cold environment.)
It can be lifesaving.
These issues are addressed in greater detail in books such as “Prepared, Ready to Roll” (Book 2-3) by SIG Swanstrom, page 235-238, but the basics may be enough for many of us. First, the water we consume needs to be pure. We need to also keep in mind that other beverages, such as soft drinks, are not nearly as useful for hydration. In fact, some beverages, such as beer and other alcoholic beverages, can severely hamper the hydration process. The exception to this is specialty drinks which contain electrolyte minerals and vitamins, specifically those known to restore electrolyte balance.
Unfortunately, readily available and popular sports drinks, such as Gatorade, have minimal restorative value. For example, a 20-oz bottle of ‘Gatorade G’ only contains 75 mg of potassium and 270 mg of sodium. It does not contain any of the other necessary electrolyte minerals, nor does it include any vitamins.
A far better beverage choice is a true electrolyte-replenishment drink. Easy-to-use and flavorful beverage powder mixes which are high in potassium, magnesium, calcium, chloride, phosphate, and sodium, which contain at least trace amounts of some of the other electrolyte minerals (chromium, copper, fluoride, iron, manganese, molybdenum, selenium, and zinc), plus an assortment of vitamins, are the best choice.
Of course, electrolyte minerals can also be obtained from some foods and certain sports bars as well, but for most of us, adding electrolyte powder to the water we drink is a simpler and more portable solution.
Also, if you find that you need to be mobile, it is far easier to purify water you find along the way then it is to transport a bottled sports drink. And, since even pure water can have an unsavory taste, a powdered electrolyte sports drink mix can help alleviate that problem, too.
Most of us will fail to consume an adequate amount of water when we are busy, under stress, or if the water tastes bad. If you aren’t urinating every couple of hours, and if your urine isn’t nearly clear (light-yellow in color), you probably aren’t drinking enough water. If it has been many hours since you have urinated, you are already dehydrated.
The Best Electrolyte Replacement Drinks
Two of the powdered drink supplements which passed our scrutiny are:
This drink powder contains a whopping 950 mg of potassium (more potassium than two bananas), 100 mg of magnesium, 60 mg of calcium, and 75 mg of sodium, along with the other electrolyte minerals and an assortment of vitamins. This drink is essentially an electrolyte replacement beverage, plus a multiple vitamin, and a natural energy drink (contains caffeine from green tea and guarana). All three contained in one little plastic tube.
Each tube of good-tasting Zipfizz has only 2 grams of carbohydrates, contains no sugar or artificial sweeteners, and is only 20-calories. Top-selling flavors in order of popularity are Fruit Punch, Orange Soda, Grape, Blue Raspberry, and Black Cherry. Designed to be added to 20 oz of water, many people prefer to drink it half strength, so they only use half of the powder contained in the resealable plastic tube. (By the way, empty Zipfizz plastic tubes are ideal for storing 2 AAA batteries.)
Contains 250 mg of potassium, 100 mg of magnesium, 65 mg of Calcium, and 55 mg of sodium, along with other electrolyte minerals and 100 mg of vitamin-C. It contains no carbohydrates, no sugar, no artificial sweeteners, and has no calories. It is vegan safe and gluten-free.
* Before choosing which product to purchase, check the ‘Supplement Facts’ on the product’s label to verify this information and to glean other details which might be pertinent to your situation.
The Best Insulated Beverage Containers
Though not of equal importance, the ability to keep water or an electrolyte-replacement beverage cold is desirable as it can help prevent overheating. Since the quality of these containers varies greatly in durability and cold-retaining ability, below you will find our test results for four popular products. In this instance, spending more money does not equate to better cold-retention.
* Specific product examples and recommendations are included at the end of this article.
General-Use Considerations: Water storage containers used at home or in a GO-Bag for evacuation, are generally BPA-free plastic, but there is an advantage to having at least one insulated water bottle. These can be used to keep a refreshing cold beverage, cold–or a hot beverage, hot. This benefit can provide a distinct health advantage. For this cold/hot-retention purpose, we recommend utilizing a container which uses double-wall construction, is vacuum-sealed, and made of food-grade stainless steel. These provide the best insulation.
Advertising Hype: Those products advertised as having the ability to keep the contents cold for 24-hours or hot for 12, may be superior to a product which makes no such claim, but don’t be fooled by promotional hype. These 24/12 bottles may keep the contents colder than the ambient temperature, but none of the bottles we tested were able to keep a beverage icy cold for more than 8-hours on a warm day.
Food-Grade Stainless Steel: Food-grade construction materials are less likely to retain odors or the taste of flavored beverages. This is significant if you might use your bottle for anything other than water. They also tend to be easier to clean and sterilize. Most insulated containers should be hand washed. Do not add them to your dishwasher unless it is labeled as being “dishwasher safe.” Even then, place your bottle on the top rack of your dishwasher.
Bottle Lid: Another feature worth considering is a straw lid. When on the move, a water bottle which uses a straw-lid makes it easier to drink while keeping your eyes on the road. (Or whatever else it is that you need to be watching.) Those bottles which require the user to tip their head upwards to pour the contents into the mouth, like a water glass, are not as safe to use in some situations. Being able to open the lid with one hand is yet another useful safety feature.
Size of Bottle Opening: A wide-mouth opening to the bottle makes it easier to add ice cubes, and also much easier to clean. And, in a pinch, a wide-mouth water bottle can be used for hot food, too. Of course, you’ll need a long-handled spoon to fetch most foods out of your bottle, but this may become an appreciated secondary use during a hike or bug-out situation. [These bottles cannot be heated on a stove or over a fire, but they can be cooled in a refrigerator.]
Size: Bigger is often better, but if you want your water bottle to fit into the cup holder of your vehicle, check the diameter of the bottle’s base before you make your purchase. Large insulated water bottles will not fit into cup holders.
Color: Most manufacturers offer an assortment of colors or decorative finishes, but it’s worth noting that when exposed to even a small amount of sunlight, light-color bottles keep the contents noticeably colder for a longer period.
Specific Product Recommendations:
Double-wall vacuum sealed sports water bottle. Wide mouth, straw lid. Construction is significantly more durable than most water bottles. And, whichever color you pick, the powder-coat finish on the Hydro Flask is perhaps the most durable. Notwithstanding, most colored bottles that are made by name-brand companies are sufficiently durable to withstand years of ordinary use, but most of these will quickly show cosmetic damage and wear. A major drawback of the Hydro Flask is that the 32-oz Hydro Flask water bottle will not fit in the cup holder of most vehicles. Yet, the added capacity may compensate for the reduction in convenience. This same bottle is available in a 40-oz size.
To carry your bottle using a shoulder strap, the Hydro Flask Bottle Sling pouch is a useful accessory. If you are unable to find a Hydro Flask with a straw lid, the Hydro Flask Wide-Mouth Straw Lid is available as an accessory.
Double-wall stainless steel vacuum-sealed water bottle. At about half the price of the Hydro Flask, this Thermos-brand water bottle has an impressive cold-retaining ability.
Unfortunately, the Thermos Stainless King is made from less substantial stainless steel, and the lid has a design flaw. On the test bottle we bought, the automatic lid-opening feature broke – twice. We contacted customer service at Thermos and they promptly sent us a replacement lid, but a few weeks later it broke again. At that point, we concluded that we still liked the product. And, we decided that the auto-opening feature wasn’t sufficiently important to us to prompt us to return the water bottle. We didn’t bother to request yet another lid since the problem is inherent to the design and the materials used.
Our Cold-Retention Testing Procedure: To each water bottle, we added 6-1/2 ounces of ice (approximately 12 cubes from an automatic ice maker), and then filled each bottle with water drawn from the same refrigerated ice water source. After adding the bottle’s lid, each container was left in a full-shade 80-degree area for 8 hours.
After this test period, the Thermos Stainless King retained 3.5 ounces of its ice, while the Hydro Flask only had 2-ounces of ice remaining. Of course, the larger volume of ice water adversely affected the Hydro Flask’s test results, but the point is that both performed extremely well, and the substantially less-expensive Thermos Stainless King is clearly a great value.
We conducted the same test using 30-ounce Yeti Rambler and RTIC insulated tumblers. Though these insulated ’tumblers’ use double-wall stainless steel, the construction and design are significantly different than that of the water bottles we tested. Both the Yeti and RTIC tumblers performed poorly in comparison to the Hydro Flask and Thermos water bottles, but their performance was identical, so the deficiency seems to rest with the tumbler design; particularly the lid.
When subjected to the identical test as the water bottles, the Yeti and RTIC tumblers did not perform nearly as well. After only 6-hours, the ice was almost completely melted in both tumblers. Both brands performed the same. The lower-cost RTIC produced exactly the same results as the pricy Yeti. Both have the same drink-like-a-cup comfort, and both seemed to have the same durability, but neither did a good job of keeping the water cold. The tumbler design makes them substantially less functional than the water bottles we tested.
Though slightly more expensive than some of the other electrolyte drinks we tested, Zipfizz Healthy Energy Drink Mix powder is our #1 choice. It has the highest concentration of electrolyte minerals of any of the supplements we could find, plus antioxidants, and 10 important vitamins, including 500 mg of Vitamin C and a staggering 2,500 mcg of vitamin B-12. And, it serves as a natural energy drink.
Our recommendation is both the 32-ounce Hydro Flask and the less expensive 24-ounce Thermos Stainless King. The choice between these two rests on cost and two features which might be important to the user. The Hydro Flask provides greater liquid capacity and safer drinking with its straw-lid, but the Thermos Stainless King will fit in the cup holder of many vehicles. As to cold-retention, durability, and spill-protection in the event of a tipped container (neither leaked), both are stellar, and both are far superior to the popular Yeti and RTIC beverage tumblers.
Cooling Towels and Neck Wraps
Hats with a wide brim, and clothing which wicks-away moisture and has a high UPF 50+ rating for sun protection, will not protect you from heat, but they will provide sun protection. In addition to these basics, cooling scarfs and neck wraps impregnated with water absorbent cooling beads, can produce a heat-reduction effect equivalent to nearly 30-degrees.
Cooling towels have been popular with outdoor workers, runners and other athletes for many years, and have now become mainstream summer attire in high-temperature regions. These lightweight microfiber towels are soaked in water before being draped around the neck or shoulders. Rapid evaporation of the water from the towel creates a cooling effect which can last for 30-90 minutes. Once the cooling effect stops, the towel can be dunked in the water yet again, to restart the process.
However, contrary to marketing hype, these specialty towels are really nothing magical. Any lightweight absorbent towel can accomplish the same feat. The advantage of these microfiber towels is that they are inherently lightweight and can absorb a lot of water. That’s their advantage.
A word of caution, those “cooling towels” made from a chamois-like material become like cardboard when they dry. These are very different from the soft microfiber towels made and sized for this purpose. When you shop for these items, select a product which has received high marks from verified buyers.
Another cooling product worth considering is neck wraps, kerchiefs, or gaiters, which are worn loosely around the neck. These are either a band of highly absorbent fabric which is soaked in water before use, such as the Mission Multicool Gaiter, which is essentially a cooling towel designed to be worn around the neck or head.
A more modern product, such as the Koolgator Cooling Neckwrap, came out of research stimulated by the wars in the Middle East. Researchers seeking to make warriors more comfortable in the heat of the ‘Sand Box,” repurposed crystal polymers for use in cooling.
These neckwraps look similar to a simple kerchief, but on closer inspection, they are actually fabric sewn into a tube which is used to contain small beads of superabsorbent crystal polymers. These beads can absorb hundreds of times their weight in water. When this neckwrap is worn loosely around the neck, the water contained in the polymer beads evaporates due to heat, creating a cooling effect. (Unfortunately, the quality of these products vary greatly. Some can only be activated a few times while others can be reused hundreds of times.)
To activate a quality neckwrap, it is soaked in water for 20-minutes before each use. That’s all there is to it. It works with warm or cold water, and it can be chilled in a cooler, but if it is frozen the polymer beads will rupture.
Many users buy two neckwraps, leaving one wet in a Ziplock bag while the other is worn. Then, when the one loses its effectiveness, it is exchanged with the one in the bag.
The use of microfiber fabrics and polymer beads is new, but the technology behind both cooling towels and neckwraps is not new. “Swamp coolers” which were in use before modern air conditioning was invented, utilize the same evaporation process to bring a cooling effect. Anything which is wet and exposed to moving hot air will produce this effect.
If you’re interested in trying these, here are links to a few products which enjoy high consumer ratings.
There is no ‘magic’ to this cooling towel, it is simply a highly absorbent tight-mesh microfiber fabric which allows air to flow through it, thereby speeding evaporation. This, in turn, produces a cooling effect.
Use: After soaking in water for a few minutes, squeeze out the excess water so the towel isn’t drippy. The microfiber fabric used in the Alfamo can retain a lot of water, so submersing it for a few minutes is more effective than just running water over it.
When this water-retention ability is combined with the high-airflow characteristic of the fine-mesh fabric, evaporation is substantially accelerated. According to some testers, this reduces the towel’s temperature by as much as 30-degrees (18 C). Unlike many of the other ‘cooling towel’ brands, the Alfamo is soft and comfortable to wear, and rarely causes chaffing even when it is dry.
How to Use: Cooling towels are usually draped around the neck, so they aren’t ideal for every activity, but they can also be used over the shoulders or on the head, a feature which makes them more versatile. For GO-Bag use, a cooling towel can have additional uses such as serving as a lightweight, compact towel for personal hygene, as well as wound care, padding behind a knapsack or around electronics, and for various other purposes.
The lightweight fabric used in the Alfamo Cooling Towel is reasonably durable, but it should be gently laundered or washed by hand. Salt residue from perspiration will reduce the towel’s effectiveness, so rewetting it, and repeatedly squeezing it like a sponge, can help flush the salt out of the towel between launderings. Though the Alfamo is the highest rated product in this category, other brands such as Mission Enduracool and Chill Pal produce similar results.
Essentially a cooling towel sized and sewn to be worn around the head or neck, these use highly absorbent fabric which is soaked in water for 5-minutes before use. Some people find it uncomfortable, while others simply enjoy the cooling effect. This product can also be worn in a dozen different configurations, including over the head. This product does not contain crystal polymers. Another popular neck-wrap is the Chill Pal.
Essentially a fabric tube made to hold crystal polymer beads, these neck wrap uses the same process of evaporation to create a cooling effect. The use of crystal polymers simply makes the wrap more compact while still being able to hold a large amount of water. The additional volume is how it is able to produce its cooling effect longer than the Enduracool Cooling Towel product which uses highly absorbent fabric to collect water. Also, though string may need to be added to extend the length, this product can also be used around the neck of a dog to help cool your pet.
Helmet Liners, Cooling Caps, Shirts, and Hats
Mission Endurocool Helmet Liners, can help wick away heat and moisture when worn under a helmet. And, when worn without a helmet, as a cap, they can still provide some sun protection and cooling benefits. Techknit Cooling Hoodies, designed to be worn as a drape over the head, is a less popular solution but they do provide important shade for the neck. Arctic Cooling Shirts with long sleeves for men and for women, provide UPF50+ sun protection for arms as well as the torso, and the fabric wicks away sweat and cools when it is wet. Bucket Cooling Hats (aka/ ‘boonie’ hats made for cooling) provide more sun protection than the Endurocool Baseball Caps but are not as popular for fashion reasons. Some multi-function Fishing Hats are versatile and far more useful for sun protection than baseball caps. Halo II headbands don’t cool, but they are effective for keeping sweat out of your eyes.
Reminder: Sun protection and cooling are two different subjects, but both are important. With all of these products, keep in mind that when worn outdoors, light colors tend to reflect sunlight and dark colors absorb the sun’s heat, a reality which can quickly negate the cooling value of any product.
Wearing a sunscreen lotion and any light-color hat which protects the head, ears, and neck from the sun while still allowing airflow, can provide important protection from sunlight and bring various health benefits. Those who allow their sense of style to get in the way of protection are being foolish, but it is nevertheless important to select products which you will actually wear/use.
We need to take this subject seriously. Hydration, electrolyte balance, and doing what we can to avoid sunstroke and overheating, are not minor concerns. These are far more than ‘comfort’ issues. They relate to maintaining and protecting our physical health, emotional stability, and the sharp mental faculties we need for problem-solving and sound decision making.