Water is sustenance for every living being on earth. Albert Szent-Gyorgi, MD summed it up best, saying, “Water is life’s matter and matrix, mother and medium. There is no life without water” (Szent-Györgyi, 1971).

The Significance of Water for Bodily Functions and Hydration

The National Institutes of Health and the US Geological Survey agree that percentage of water content in the human body is up to 70 percent for infants and young children, 52 to 55 percent in women (Lewis, 2022), and approximately 60 percent in men (Water Science School, 2019). 

Bodily fluids are constituted mostly of water, which contains substances such as electrolytes, proteins, and metabolites. These retain intracellular function in cells throughout the body, and extracellular function, where fluids move outside the cells throughout the body, in our brain (cerebrospinal fluid), lymphatic system, plasma, gastric juices, and synovial fluid surrounding our joints. It also cushions our tissues and spinal cord, facilitates nutrient absorption, and assists in waste excretion (Tobias, Ballard, & Mohiuddin, 2022).

Thirst is prompted when neurohormones that are generated to facilitate blood pressure, diuresis (increased urine production), and natriuresis (excess loss of sodium in the urine) send messages via neural pathways to our executive organs — kidneys, sweat glands, and salivary glands — and to our brain. The brain then signals our thought process to act and consume needed liquids to replenish those lost through sweat and urination (Popkin, D’Anci, & Rosenberg, 2011). 

How Water Sustains Our Body Temperature

The body’s temperature control relies heavily on how hydrated we are. Sweat acts as a cooling agent when we are in hot climates, attire that is too warm, or involved in intense physical activity. Cooling happens when sweat evaporates, but if sweat loss is not compensated by drinking liquids, particularly in hot climates or during intense physical activity, dehydration can result along with escalation in core body temperature. Dehydration from sweating results in a loss/imbalance in electrolytes and a reduction in plasma volume — which means sweating will automatically elevate core body temperature. Cortisol, the body’s main stress hormone, also increases with dehydration. 

Camper Hydration

Children in warmer climates display less sweating and higher core temperature than adults, which increases risk of dehydration, heat exhaustion, heat cramps, and heat stroke. As children get involved in activity, they may not think about stopping for a drink, so be sure to stop for water breaks. Monitor your campers for signs of dehydration, including: 

  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Faintness
  • Tiredness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Fever
  • Skin numbness/tingling
  • Hyperventilation (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2021)

If mild dehydration occurs, immediate remedies are vital.

  • Offer young children one to two teaspoons of oral rehydration solution, such as Pedialyte, every few minutes.
  • For older children, offer one to two teaspoons of oral rehydration solution or water plus a rehydration drink with electrolytes, such as a low-sugar sports drink (Gatorade, Powerade).
  • Offer older children electrolyte ice pops.
  • Avoid soda, high-sugar drinks, undiluted juice, and caffeine, which may increase dehydration (Nemours, 2023). 

Heat Illness Prevention Measures for Campers

Take these measures to keep campers appropriately hydrated:

  • Be proactive about encouraging water consumption.
    • Offer water at every meal.
    • Offer electrolyte rehydration drinks at lunch and dinner instead of high-sugar drinks.
    • Place multiple five-gallon coolers with ice water and cups around campus.
    • Install filtered bottle-filling stations inside frequently used gathering spaces.
    • Include a water bottle or insulated tumbler on your camp packing list.
  • Schedule outdoor sports and play during cooler times of day, such as earlier in the morning or early evening.
  • Provide a shaded/covered area for play, or indoor, air-conditioned play if outside temps are 90 degrees or higher.
  • Encourage campers to dress in lightweight and light-colored clothing on hotter days.
  • Provide adequate periods of rest during outdoor activities.
  • Provide extra liquids before beginning outdoor activities.
  • Kids involved in heavy outdoor activities should drink this amount of water every 20 minutes:
    • 5 ounces (approximately 5 gulps) if they weigh up to 90 pounds
    • 9 ounces (about 9 gulps) for kids 130 pounds and over (Taste for Life, n.d.)

How Much Water Do We Need Daily?

The amount of water our bodies need daily depends upon many factors. Age, activity level, temperature, medication intake, and health conditions all play a role in how much we should drink (LeWine, 2023). 

According to Harvard Medical School, men need 15.5 cups of water, and women need about 11.5 cups, including water consumed through fluids such as juices, fruit, vegetables, coffee, and tea (LeWine, 2023). However, four to six cups of plain water should be consumed daily. The National Academy of Medicine gives the following guidelines for daily water intake (Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, 2023):

Individuals Recommended Amount
1–3 years old 4 cups (32 oz.)
4–8 years old 5 cups (40 oz.)
9–13 years old 7-8 cups (56-64 oz.)
14–18 years old 8-11 cups (64-88 oz.)
Men, 19 and up 13 cups (104 oz.)
Women, 19 and up 9 cups (72 oz.)
Pregnant women 10 cups (80 oz.)
Breastfeeding women 13 cups (104 oz.)

(Harvard, 2023)

What Is the Best Water for Consumption?

Knowing what kind of water is safest to drink can be a challenge. Some camps use well water for their public supply. This source is regulated by local and/or state health/environmental departments and tested annually by the owner. Well water is generally considered safe due to this testing. However, there is a risk of pesticides, fertilizers, animal waste, storm water, and other bacteria and contaminants. The only way to make well water safer is to use a filter (Cleveland Clinic, 2023).

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) established legal standards for over 90 contaminants in the Safe Drinking Water Act to ensure water safety for US citizens. Because of this, the EPA claims tap water is basically safe to drink, reporting that 92 percent of our public has healthy tap water (Mulroy, 2023). In occasions where contaminant levels are above acceptable amounts, the local municipalities will issue “boil water” alerts to residents (EPA, 2023). 

Although most water utilities maintain the EPA standards for contaminants, researchers from the Environmental Working Group (EWP) argue that the EPA standards are not stringent enough, claiming more than half of the chemicals in drinking water are unregulated. Additionally, lead plumbing, chemical byproducts, and pesticides in rural communities can be found in tap water.

Because of these findings, the EWP strongly advises the use of an NSF certified filter and maintaining and replacing it per manufacturer instructions (Rabin, 2015).

Lastly, we heavily rely on bottled water for hydration; it is currently the highest-selling beverage in the US. Scrutinized for the use of plastic in an environmentally conscience world, bottled water can also have safety risks, depending on the type and brand. Historically, it has contained PFAS, health hazards known as “forever chemicals.” These manmade chemicals cause cancer, thyroid disease, and other illnesses. Recent measures taken to remove PFAS from these products mean we now have safe choices. Learn more about safe bottled water brands at purewaterblog.com/pfas-in-bottled-water-what-you-need-to-know (Boch, 2023). 

We can find ways to drink water that is safe for our consumption. The imperative is that we consume healthy amounts to sustain us.


  • American Academy of Pediatrics. (2021, November 4). Extreme temperatures: Disaster management resources. aap.org/en/patient-care/disasters-and-children/disaster-management-resources-by-topic/extreme-temperatures/
  • Boch, R. (2023). PFAS in bottled water: What you need to know. Pure Water Blog. purewaterblog.com/pfas-in-bottled-water-what-you-need-to-know
  • Cleveland Clinic. (2023, March 3). What your well water says about your health. health.clevelandclinic.org/is-well-water-safe
  • Environmental Protection Agency. (2023, March 30). Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). epa.gov/sdwa
  • Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health. (2023). The nutrition source: Water. hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/water
  • Lewis, J. L. 2022, September). About body water. Merck Manual Consumer Version. merckmanuals.com/home/hormonal-and-metabolic-disorders/water-balance/about-body-water
  • LeWine, H. E., editor. (2023, May 22). How much water should you drink? Harvard Health Publishing. health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/how-much-water-should-you-drink
  • Mulroy, C. (2023, August 27). Spring, purified, mineral, or alkaline water? Is there a best, healthiest water to drink? USA Today. usatoday.com/story/life/food-dining/2023/08/27/what-is-healthiest-water-to-drink/70546356007
  • Nemours KidsHealth. (2023). Dehydration. kidshealth.org/en/parents/dehydration.html
  • Popkin, B. M., D’Anci, K. E., & Rosenberg, I. H. 2011, August 1). Water, hydration, and health. Nutrition Reviews, 68 (8), pp. 439-458.
  • Rabin, R. C. (2015, December 31). Ask well: Should you filter your water? The New York Times. archive.nytimes.com/well.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/12/31/ask-well-should-you-filter-your-water
  • Szent-Györgyi, A. (1971). Biology and pathology of water: Perspectives in biology and medicine. Johns Hopkins University Press, Volume 14, Number 2, Winter 1971. pp. 239-249.
  • Taste for Life. (n.d.). Kids’ Hydration Guide. tasteforlife.com/living-well/baby-kids/kids-hydration-guide
  • Tobias, A., Ballard, B. D., & Mohiuddin, S. S. (2022, October 3). Physiology, water balance. StatPearls. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK541059
  • Water Science School. (2019, May 22). The water in you: Water and the human body. US Geological Survey. usgs.gov/special-topics/water-science-school/science/water-you-water-and-human-body

Kimberly Whiteside Truitt is a former food service manager at Camp Gilmont and Camp Zephyr and has served on Camping Magazine’s Editorial Advisory Committee. Kimberly was a presenter at the  2018, 2020, and 2023 North American Food Service and Maintenance Conferences.