Electrolytes for Backpacking: What You Need to Know

Dehydration is a total buzz kill and can often take people off the trail for a few days. The answer? Electrolytes. After strenuous activity, most people reach for their Gatorade or other sugary drink with promises of electrolytes on the label. As a nutritional therapist, I tend to cringe at the amounts of added sugars and chemicals into the majority of sports drinks available. I agree that maintaining good electrolyte balance is crucial for keeping our bodies hydrated and alive, however, I do believe there are better ways for balancing our electrolytes!

Oh, what delicious wonders are in my drink today?

Oh, what delicious wonders are in my drink today?


What are electrolytes?

Electrolytes are minerals in our blood and body that carry an electric charge. They are involved in many functions of the body, but most importantly, they help control the amount of water in the body, the acidity of your blood, and the electrical signaling involved in your brain, heart, muscles and nervous systems. Common electrolytes are calcium, sodium, potassium, chloride, magnesium, and phosphorus. When we sweat and work out, we lose electrolytes through our sweat, especially sodium and potassium.


What can I do to replenish my electrolytes?

  • For a rest day: If I’m not working out too hard on a particular day, I only drink water and herbal teas. Herbal teas, like stinging nettle or raspberry leaf, are LOADED with minerals. My teas combined with the salt in my food, is usually enough for me.
  • For a moderate workout or stressful day: If I am working out moderately, I like to add a pinch of himalayan pink salt into my water. This is the cheapest way to replenish those electrolytes, and I swear by it. Adding the pinch of salt keeps me from having to run to the bathroom every 45 minutes. I also like to make sure I get some sort of mineral rich herbal tea in there too!
  • For my long hiking days: This is when I pull out all of my tricks. To prepare my water before a full day hike, I like to add a pinch of himalayan pink salt, as well as some dehydrated coconut water powder. Sometimes I add a hint of magnesium powder, or I’ll add a cup or two of my herbal tea into the water bottle. If it’s a BIG hike, I also add a touch of D-Ribose powder or a pinch of this natural pre-workout drink.
Crack for hikers.

Crack for hikers.

What I’ll be taking with me on the Appalachian Trail to keep my electrolytes balanced:

    1. Himalayan pink salt a little baggy of this is going to go a long way. This particular kind of salt has 84 trace minerals in it, meaning it is providing you with a lot more than just sodium and chloride. Table salt can be quite depleting for your body, as it requires your body to give up some precious stores of minerals to balance out the sodium chloride. Other great salt alternatives are Redmond’s Real Salt and Celtic Sea Salt.
    2. Dehydrated Coconut WaterCoconut water is loaded with potassium and magnesium, but low in sodium, and so I like to add the pinch of pink salt to it. It has a little bit of natural sugar, but is not loaded, as gatorade is, and causes less bloating, nausea and blood sugar problems than gatorade or other sports drinks. Besides for being full of electrolytes, it’s also a natural anti-inflammatory and immune system support!
    3. D-Ribose Powder– D-Ribose is a sugar found and made naturally in the body to help make ATP (the molecule that fuels energy) in the body. Normally our heart and muscle tissue can make all the D-Ribose it needs, but when the body is worked hard by illness or strenuous exercise, it can take the muscles several days to replenish their D-Ribose levels, making the body feel tired and sore. When I need to recover quickly, or when I just don’t want to feel exhausted the day after a tough cross-fit workout, I drink D-Ribose during and after my work out. This powder is going to help me to hike 20 miles day after day after day… for 140 days. Thanks in advance little buddy.

What sort of cocktail will you be creating to keep your electrolytes balanced while hiking? I would love to hear your ideas!

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Comments 9

  • Paul R Brouillette : Jan 27th

    I am thinking about emergen-C as it has electrolytes, low sugar, minerals, and easy to find in stores. Himalayan pink salt sounds great but I doubt Dollar General will have it, but if you’re mailing your own supplies that won’t be a problem

  • Justin : Mar 3rd

    Good read, you learn something new everyday.

  • Laura : Mar 4th

    Do you have any recommendations for different types of coconut water mixes? I don’t know why this would need to have dextrose in it…? Is that in all evaporated coco waters? Thanks!!

  • Josh : Aug 12th

    When you’re on the long hike, do you just do this in the morning or every time you fill your bottle? I have a hard time choking this down 🙂 Maybe my pinches are bigger than yours? Can you comment on your “recipe” quantities? Are you doing about a tablespoon of coconut water powder, 1-2 tablespoons of D-Ribose and about a teaspoon of Himalayan pink salt? Thanks.

    • Julieann Hartley : Aug 12th

      Hey Josh!

      While I was thru hiking last year, I never measured, and I usually added to my water about once a day, usually in the hot afternoons. I would suggest a pinch of salt, a teaspoon would definitely be a lot to choke down. Then, probably about a tablespoon of D-Ribose and coconut water powder. If you don’t like the flavor, I started to add a drop of lime essential oil into my water this summer, and it goes great with the coconut!

      • Josh J : May 2nd

        Thanks for the info on the proportions! Would you add that pinch and tablespoon(s) to one liter? Or what is the water quantity you are adding these measurements to? Thanks!

  • Joseph Spehar : Mar 17th

    How would you repackage your powderror so as to not carry an unnecessary amount between resupplys?

  • Kim : Jun 30th

    I am hiking to Everest base camp this year and I am interested in adding electrolytes to my water but will they interfere with the purification tablets I will be adding each time I fill up my water bottles?

  • Matt : Jun 3rd

    This is a great list! I know this was written in 2015, but it is still helping people in 2020. I am taking your suggestions (was wondering how best to use salt and your suggestion is great) and adding UCANN powder instead of Ribose, because I already have it and have bought enough things for my backpacking trip already, lol. I will also use a pre-workout powder and Essential Amino Acids powder by Kion. It has the branched chain amino acids AND the other 3 (I forget which ones off the top of my head) that we have to get exogenously.


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