Andy Kerr

Conservationist, Writer, Analyst, Operative, Agitator, Strategist, Tactitian, Schmoozer, Raconteur


Suggested Citation: Kerr, Andy. 2000. Oregon Desert Guide: 70 Hikes. Seattle: The Mountaineers Books. p. 27.

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Kidney stone survivors believe doctors when they say to drink more water. On a hot summer day hike, carry at least three liters of water, and tank up on a liter before starting the hike.

The experts agree: lack of water can either kill you directly or disorient you so you make mistakes and kill yourself.

In the desert, you should drink water even when you are not particularly thirsty, as thirst is a poor indicator of adequate hydration. While the body manifests dehydration in a variety of ways, the single best indicator is the color of your urine. The darker yellow, the more dehydrated you are. You should aim (so to speak) for as light a yellow as possible (past pastels).

If you are in a group and don't yet know each other well, in the name of group safety and preventing dehydration (and possibly worse), ask someone about the color of their urine—a great icebreaker in desert social situations.

Now that you've promised to drink lots of water, where does it come from? More often than not from carrying it. Be concerned about both water quantity and quality.

In the spring (and through the fall in the higher mountains), carry a water filter and drink off the land. While you can obtain water from small streams and seeps, this source can be unreliable—not the filter, but whether the water is there. Spring can come early or late and stay long or short.

The desert offers many springs. If you've found one, so likely have the livestock. Some springs are fenced off or are protected by terrain, so you can get some water sans cow feces. It is a sad state of affairs when you have to not only worry about the fecal coliform in the water, but can see the fecal matter in the water.

Another scourge to your gastrointestinal system is the nasty protozoan Giardia lamblia. If you get it, your bowels won't quit rebelling until medical treatment. Bringing water to a boil (more boiling wastes fuel) kills Giardia, as will iodine (but not chlorine) treatment. Chemical treatment of water is not recommended, as it leaves a bad taste in your mouth. However, additional pills can now be added to iodine-treated water to neutralize taste, odor, and color.

Even where the water appears clear, it is best to filter or treat it. Buy the best filter you can afford.

Plan ahead. Carry enough water to allow for an expected source being dry.