Why Do I Retain Water After Hiking? 

A man hiking near large bodies of water.

The question in the title might confuse some folks. Wouldn’t it be a lot more expected if someone was to ask: why do I feel so thirsty, or hungry after a hike? Now, of course, it would. However, that doesn’t mean that this scenario isn’t plausible or something. Let’s see what’s up!

Yes, it’s possible to retain water after hiking. Otherwise, this wouldn’t be a topic anyone would want to write about. Anyway, there are many cases in which outdoor lovers worldwide notice their hands or fingers have swollen right after a hike. That’s why today we’ll discuss the reasons why folks retain water after hiking. Stay tuned!

While you’re hiking, the muscles you’ll use a lot will experience enhanced blood flow. However, the ones you’ll be using a lot less (like your arms and hands) won’t experience the same; the blood flow will be directed away from them. Subsequently, the blood vessels in these sections of your body will start to dilate, which will result in swelling. 

There’s really nothing suggesting you should stop right here. A preview’s a preview, but it can’t beat the whole thing, right?

What is water retention? (and other FAQ)

As always, it’s better if define the terms that we’ll discuss in the rest of the article. So, what is water retention? First, we’ll mention that it’s also called edema (its medical name), or fluid retention. It happens in the human circulatory system or within tissues and cavities, and it will most likely result in the swelling of the hands, feet, legs, or ankles. To put it in the simplest terms, it occurs when excess fluids generate in our body tissues.

What are the signs of water retention?

So, we’ve mentioned swelling of certain parts of your body as the most “popular” symptom of water retention. However, you’ll want to know that there are other signs to watch out for. That being said, here are the other, less-obvious signs of water retention:

  • you’re feeling some ache in the affected parts of your body.
  • your joints feel a bit stiff.
  • you’ve gained some weight all of a sudden.
  • other downright unexpected weight oscillations.

Additionally, there are two things called pitting and non-pitting edema. The first term is associated with your skin being able to hold the indent for a couple of seconds after being pressed. The second one’s synonymous with your skin not being able to hold the indent once pressed. Needless to say, both are symptoms of water retention.

One of the reasons why your body retains water

Now, we won’t mention all of the possible reasons why your body might be retaining water. We’ll focus on a potential cause that’s a bit linked to the beautiful outdoor activity better known as hiking. The thing is: water retention can be triggered once a person has been standing up for longer periods of time. That’s because this kind of activity enables the fluids to “settle” the tissues of the lower leg. Oh, and another thing: it seems as though our bodies are less efficient at removing fluid from the tissue during the hottest part of the year (summer).

Okay, let’s wrap things up when it comes to defining water retention and its obvious or less-obvious symptoms. Instead, we’ll discuss just why folks retain water after their hiking adventure (and here are some suggestions on where should be your next one) comes to an end. Stick around! 

A man hiking near a large body of water (the ocean).

Why do I retain water after hiking?

First things first, you’ll want to know that water retention after a hike is a pretty normal thing. It might just be a sign that you’re not used to regular physical exercise. Here’s what your local gym teacher would say: a good physical workout (such as hiking) affects our body in a positive manner. The combination of that influence and the micro-tearing damage the workout does to our muscle fibers make our bodies retain water. Additionally, during a workout, your body will release cortisol. That can, of course, also result in your body retaining water. Lastly, better blood flow is sometimes synonymous with the swelling of the muscles, so…

All in all: there’s no need to panic. Your body will just have to get used to working out; the bloating will disappear after some time has passed (once a  few weeks have passed). Now, the info above was mostly of the en général kind. We’ll need to be more precise than that to answer why folks retain water after hiking!

Let’s get a bit more specific

There’s a good chance you’ve stumbled upon this article because your hands or fingers might’ve swollen during a hike. If that’s so, know that’s nothing to worry about and that the excess water retention is most probably the reason behind your discomfort. The thing is: our precious hearts, of course, are well-known for pumping the blood into the other parts of the body, and while we hike – a couple of things might interfere with the way blood returns to where it came from. All of these factors combined together will result in certain parts of your body retaining fluid and swelling.

The so-called endurance exercises (hiking is clearly one of them) enhance the blood flow in order to meet the body’s enlarged oxygen requirements. While on a hiking adventure (ever thought about Arizona?), your working muscles will experience increased blood flow as hiking will put into action plenty of muscle groups. However, the ones that aren’t engaged during a hike (like the muscles in your arms and hands) won’t experience the same; the blood flow will be directed away from them.

Geesh, that’s sad (poor muscles)

Let’s save the saddest-violin-in-the-world sound for another occasion. So, shall we continue? How does the body react to the blood flow being directed away from your arms and hands during a hike? Needless to say, the blood vessels in these parts of our body start to dilate which results in swelling. The thing is: in order for these blood vessels to enlarge, the tissues that surround them will have to swell, too. And that’s, folks, how you end up with swollen fingers.

Not only that, but the way your hands are positioned during a hike will only make things more complicated (a lightweight synonym for worse). If our power of assumption’s good, there’s a fair chance your hands will swing at your sides during a hike. In other words: they’ll be placed below your heart. This is where gravity comes into the picture since the blood will have to be pumped against its influence.

Hey, and what about your backpack?

Good question! Another thing that will put some good old pressure on the blood vessels tracing back to your heart are the straps of your trusty hiker’s backpack. They’ll also cause the return flow to be less potent, which will, eventually, cause some added swelling in the hands.

Lastly, we’ll mention the obvious: during a hike, your leg muscles are constantly in use and contracting. That’s the reason why you don’t usually experience water retention in your legs, feet, or ankles, once you’re on a hike.

How to prevent water retention when hiking?

Here we’ll show you a few ways you can prevent the above scenario from happening once you’re on the hiking trail. Anyway, by utilizing most of these tips, there’s a good chance you won’t have to experience any water retention, swelling, etc.

Obtain a pair of compression gloves

Have you noticed that your hands and fingers are swelling each time you hit the hiking trail? If that’s so, it might be time to consider obtaining a pair of high-quality compression gloves. That might be your ticket out of the swollen-hands-and-fingers land. During the summer, your best bet is to opt for a light pair that are made out of the so-called moisture-wicking fabric. On the other hand, if your favorite season for going on a hiking adventure is winter, obtain a heavier pair of compression gloves. Also, make sure that the gloves don’t fit too tightly, regardless of the season.

Do some hand exercises

Here’s a little exercise you can try out once you’re dealing with some water retention in your hands while hiking. First of all, simply raise your arms above your head. If you find that’s undoable, find a spot to sit down and try propping your elbows above your heart’s level. You’ll also want to wiggle and clench your mighty fingers. Give each one of your fingers a good massage (use a soft & gentle wriggling motion) by pressing and pushing down your finger in the direction of your heart. Do this for a couple of minutes and longer if necessary.

Check your backpack straps

Needless to say, a backpack is one of the most important pieces of regular hiking equipment. Make sure you’re not wearing your backpack straps too tightly (because, for some reason, most people do). Your backpack being strapped too tightly will only cause the swelling to get much worse. Readjust the straps so you feel comfy, yet balanced.

The bottom line

That’s about it on the subject of why folks retain water after hiking. Now you’re equipped with the necessary info, regardless of whether you’re appearing in a TV quiz or getting ready to hit the road towards your next hiking adventure. For more useful info and tips associated with this amazing outdoor activity, visit this page on our blog.

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