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Electrolyte Replacements

Salts and other electrolytes help regulate cell function and nerve impulses, so when you sweat them out, you need to replace them. From Grand Gulch to the Grand Canyon, we tested 27 different gels, powders, and chews - and found the best ways to stay charged this summer.
BP0613_Electrolytes_BF_445x260.jpgElectrolyte replacement (Photo by Ben Fullerton)
>>Best for Sweet snacking
>>Beta These were a tester favorite: the first they reached for and the first they polished off. No mixing, mess, or odd aftertaste—just pop ‘em for a burst of sweet flavor. Despite the snack’s density, one tester said she would eat these mid-race. And if they get stuck in your teeth? Well, consider that dessert—saved for later.
>>Packing Nothing’s easier.
>>Top picks Testers raved about ProBar Bolt organic chews ($3; and Jelly Belly Sport Beans ($1; Need a pick-me-up? Try the caffeinated chocolate cherry, tropical punch, or orange Clif Shot Bloks ($2;


>>Best for Tasty hydration
>>Beta Testers loved how these mixers masked poor-tasting water, and found tablets especially easy to use. Bonus: When you drink your electrolytes, you don’t have to worry as much about the balance of salts and water in your body. Only problem? You’ll have to share.
>>Packing Tablets are easiest; bulk powders save a few bucks. 
>>Top picks Testers liked GU Brew tablets ($7; and CamelBak Elixir ($10; for density of electrolytes, and Nuun Active Hydration Cherry Limeade ($7; for taste.

Refuel Right
How crucial are electrolytes? Your body needs them—sodium, chloride, potassium, and magnesium—to keep fluids balanced, muscle contractions smooth, nerve impulses firing properly, and energy levels high. Balanced meals usually deliver all the salts your body needs, but after four to five hours of hard, hot-weather hiking, sweat clears away more than meals put back—especially with not-always-balanced backpacking grub.

RDI Recommended daily intake WD What it does
BF Backcountry foods
OF Our favorites

RDI 1,500-2,300 mg 
WD Maintains water balance in the cells, and regulates nerve and muscle function
BF Salami, bacon jerky, sundried tomatoes, pretzels, salted nuts, backpacking meals
OF Oh Boy, Oberto! All Natural Bacon Jerky ($5; 2.5 oz.; 1,675 mg sodium/2.5 oz.;
RDI 1,800-2,300 mg
WD Aids in metabolism
BF Salt, Spam, summer sausage, seaweed, peanut butter (salted), sundried tomatoes
OF Happy coincidence: Many of your favorite salty trail snacks contain sodium chloride (salt); 1/4 tbsp of salt provides 750 mg of chloride.
RDI 4,700 mg
WD Helps regulate heart function
BF White beans, dried apricots, packaged salmon, bananas, dark chocolate, nuts
OF Apricot Clif Bar ($2; 2.4 oz.; 240 mg potassium/bar;
RDI 310-420 mg
WD Aids in heart and immune function, and keeps bones strong
BF   Brown rice, black beans, pumpkin, sesame seeds, brazil nuts, almonds, cashews
OF Rise Crunchy Perfect Pumpkin Bar ($2; 1.4 oz.; 100 mg magnesium/bar;

DIY electrolyte mix recipe
1 gallon water in jug with lid + 1 tsp. salt replacement with potassium + 1 tsp. sea salt + 1 tsp. baking soda + sugar, Kool-Aid, and/or honey to taste

Chug wisely Hikers who drink a lot of water but neglect to replace electrolytes can suffer from low blood sodium concentration (hyponatremia), which can cause cells to swell (including in the brain). If you suspect hyponatremia, move to the shade and eat salty snacks.

1 Comment

  1. hans-stuggartmail-com

    Great article, Becky! Like you said, electrolytes are a huge part of staying hydrated; water is sometimes not enough. When I go hiking, I depend on electrolyte tablets to stay hydrated. The one I use is called ReplaceSR.

    It’s a 4-6 hour sustained release electrolyte tablet, so if I’m going on a full day hike I just take 2 or 3 spaced 4 hours apart and drink water and I stay hydrated. Have you heard of this one yet?

    Profile photo of hans-stuggartmail-com

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