A moderate amount of alcohol added to something like soft drink, orange juice or consumed before an activity like dancing (for some) or awkward social engagements often results in a positive experience. Have some before driving, an important client meeting or your final exams and things may not end the way you or society would like. So where does the mix of alcohol and hiking fit into this mix?
For most of us there is nothing better than a glass or three of red wine or a tipple of whiskey after a long day’s hike, to relax the soul. There have been a lot of studies performed on one of the most popular types of drinks in human history, so we now know a fair bit about what alcohol does to the body. After a couple of drinks one can expect slowed reaction times, impaired judgement and difficulties with coordination and balance. Have a lot more and things get worse with unconsciousness, vomiting and decreased heart rate that could be potentially fatal.
That of course means that you can’t enjoy a drink or two after a hike or around camp but knowing when and how much is the key. Understanding how the body reacts to alcohol and the knock on effects that this has coupled with walking through the wilderness for most of the day will go a long way to making sure your time out in nature doesn’t end with a mishap or a less than ideal hike home. As we all know, the payback for spending our spare time hiking is that the activity itself leads to dehydration, muscle fatigue and soreness, so consuming a moderate amount of alcohol is not going to improve that situation. So with a little bit of knowledge we can maximise the enjoyment and minimise the risks of consuming alcohol before or after a hike.
Acting as a diuretic, alcohol will decrease your body’s ability to absorb water so you will end up losing more than you can absorb, not exactly what you want when you have hiked all day and need to replenish your fluids. If you do decide to have a few after a hike then the best thing you can do is focus on rehydrating as much as possible before cracking the top off a beverage. Getting the body back up to speed with the right fluids will go a long way to reducing the negative effects of even a couple of drinks. Just be prepared with your head torch though as frequent trips to a quiet bit of bush will be needed.
Coordination and Balance
We’ve all been there, you arrive at camp or back home and you just want to take off your boots and stretch out the muscles. You hobble around, bumping into things as you feel about 20 years older than you actually are. Trying not to put pressure on certain areas also leads you to use muscles and walking techniques not usually seen in someone that is entirely sober but it’s the price we pay sometimes. Most of us also know what happens when we’ve had a few and get up all of sudden, you think someone has changed your shoes or the room is playing tricks on you. This becomes a bit of a problem when you combine the two and find yourself around camp, a place that is usually not well lit. Suddenly that campfire becomes a lot more dangerous and even simple things like answering the call of nature (which as discussed above will happen a lot more if you are drinking) could result in a rolled ankle or a nasty fall.
Dealing With Temperature
You know the old saying “have a stiff drink, it will warm you up”, well that’s not actually the case and is the exact opposite of what you should be doing to fight off the cold conditions. At home this usually isn’t a problem as you will have access to a warm bed or heating but out in the middle of the bush it will be something you need to pay attention to. Alcohol has the effect of lowering the heart rate, causing a lower body temperature and in some cases numb limbs along with causing the blood to move closer to the surface of the skin, meaning it is more likely to be affected by the outside temperature. If you’re a cold sleeper then this can be the difference between a nice night’s sleep and one where you are waking up every hour and trying to find a warmer sleeping arrangement. If you do plan on having a drink at camp after a long winter’s hike then bring some extra layers to compensate.
There’s a reason most of us love to have a drink and having one after a hike is certainly one of life’s great pleasures. A couple of drinks usually leads to increased self confidence and sociability, which means you are more likely to start talking to that pretty kangaroo you saw in the bushes earlier (kidding), and it gives you a sense of euphoria that will only increase the enjoyment of sitting round a campfire with your feet up. Anyone will agree that carrying the extra weight so you can enjoy one at the end of the day is well worth the effort.
One of the great debates we have as hikers is how much we can carry in our backpacks and what naughty things can we afford to bring. Usually the first option is a small bottle of port or a flask of whiskey, closely followed by some chocolate. Like all things in life, alcohol is best enjoyed in moderation so put on your adult hat next time you are drinking after a hike and remember how alcohol affects your body. The worst thing you could do out in the bush would be to down a bottle of spirits and fall in the fire, break an ankle or spend the hike back severely dehydrated with a bad hangover, not enjoying the beauty around you. Be smart, be safe and most of all, have fun out there.