First Sgt. Christopher Bushway
Vermont Army National Guard
Dehydration is a leading cause of injury for Soldiers. To keep them in the fight, it’s essential they remain properly hydrated – even during the winter.
The average adult loses 1.5 to 2 liters of water each day. Being in a cold-weather climate can add to this water loss through the increased excretion by the kidneys, perspiration and evaporation from the lungs (the breath you see on a cold day). To make matters worse, Soldiers may be less interested in drinking water during cold weather and, as a result, become dehydrated. This can lead to inadequate blood flow to the extremities, which can contribute to a Soldier developing a cold injury such as frostbite or trench foot.
According to the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine, Soldiers should take the following steps to maintain adequate hydration during cold-weather operations:
Soldiers must drink even when they are not thirsty. Leaders should establish a program of regularly scheduled hydration.
Soldiers should drink at least two to six canteens of water each day.
Cold suppresses thirst, so schedule drinking at regular intervals. Actual fluid requirements are dependent upon the level of physical work performed, the temperature and what Soldiers are wearing and carrying.
Eating snow or ice for moisture is inefficient, can irritate the lining of the mouth and may lower body temperature. It is better to melt snow or ice and purify it before consuming.
A cup of hot coffee or tea can be a welcome pick-me-up in the cold, but excessive caffeine consumption leads to difficulty sleeping, depending upon individual tolerances. Soldiers should be cautious to avoid sudden withdrawal from caffeine, however, as this can cause adverse symptoms, such as severe headaches and nausea.
Hot cocoa is generally a better beverage than coffee in the cold. Cocoa is warming, much lower in caffeine and high in needed carbohydrates.
Alcoholic beverages can give a false feeling of warmth and impair judgment, which may be detrimental in the harsh cold.
Avoid consuming excess salt (more than the amount normally provided in military rations).
First sergeants and support personnel bringing water to line units can usually tell if Soldiers are hydrating properly by their daily consumption. During winter, it’s not unusual for Soldiers to drink a gallon of water or more each day when moving extended distances in mountainous terrain. Buddy teams also must be trained so Soldiers can encourage each other to drink plenty of water. Soldiers must understand the importance of pushing fluids before, during and after exertion.
Staying hydrated in cold weather also takes more effort than in warmer temperatures, because canteens sometimes freeze. To prevent this, Soldiers should carry at least one canteen in the front chest pocket of their Gore-Tex jacket to allow body heat to keep the water from freezing. Because water freezes from the top down, the canteen should be placed upside down in the pocket. The simple act of positioning the canteen properly will ensure there is at least a quart of water always available.
For Soldiers, working and training outdoors is part of the job – no matter how extreme the temperature.
Enforcing proper hydration during cold weather is one of the easiest ways to ensure they stay healthy and arrive ready to fight.