When I went to Stok Kangri trek, while climbing down from the peak, on the snow-filled slopes, I felt terribly dehydrated. I was having ample amount of water throughout the climb and yet, I felt dehydrated on the snow-filled slopes. However, once I was out of the snowy slopes on to the solid land, this feeling of dehydration went off.
Hence, my question is: is there a possible scientific explanation to the feeling of dehydration? i.e, if one is surrounded by snow, can the body end up losing water through the pores of the skin leading to a feeling of dehydration?

P.S.: I am NOT referring to eating of snow in place of drinking water. I am asking about a possible threat of dehydration when in a snowfall area.

EDIT: Solid land refers to slopes with no snow. It doesn't mean the end of efforts or an easier track. There was absolutely no difference in the gradient of the slope or the difficulties involved. The effort was made on the same day and it was as good as flipping a switch once I left the snowy slopes (the feeling of dehydration went off in a matter of minutes).

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    As already coming up in the comments to the answer of Amine: What time scales are we talking about? Was this switch from dehydration to none within the same day or over some days? Was it like flipping a switch when you left the snow or was it more like it went away over some hours? Oct 30, 2013 at 16:58
  • @BenediktBauer I have added additional information as required. Oct 31, 2013 at 5:08
  • Thank you for those clarifications, did you notice any difference in term of dryness or humidity between the two places ?
    – Amine
    Oct 31, 2013 at 12:15
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    This should not be flagged as duplicate. It is a specific question about feeling dehydrated while being surrounded by snow. It was probably no real dehydration here and there is no snow ingestion in question.
    – Jan
    Oct 7, 2016 at 9:05
  • 1
    Was the sun shining? Possibly the intense glare of the sun reflecting off the snowy surface affeced you.
    – ab2
    Dec 17, 2016 at 17:39

5 Answers 5


You have not provided any evidence you were actually dehydrated; it seems you only tought you were dehydrated - I assume you had dry mouth and felt thirsty.

Symptoms and signs of dehydration are described here in great detail: Dehydration Symptoms and Signs. In short: thirst, dry mouth, fatigue, headache, nausea, decreased skin elasticity, dark urine, sudden loss of weight...

Also, it is not possible to be dehydrated and then become well hydrated without consuming any water. So, we are talking about feeling of thirst, which could be triggered psychologically by anxiety (from whatever reason) when being surrounded by snow.

Dry mouth associated with the feeling of thirst, pounding heart and even dizziness are common symptoms of anxiety. The same symptoms can appear in dehydration, so the two conditions can be easily confused.

How can you differ between the two conditions?

  1. When you are dehydrated, your thirst will be real: the water will go down your throat with ease. When the thirst is only a feeling caused by dry mouth, as in anxiety, you will feel like you need to force the water down.
  2. When you are dehydrated, and you pinch and release the skin at the back of your hand, the skin fold will need more than a second to flatten (a positive skin turgor test - a 44 sec video). When you are anxious but not dehydrated, the skin fold should flatten immediately.
  • I think that was it. Dehydration and anxiety coupled together. Nov 14, 2013 at 4:53

I am assuming that, as you moved out of the snow field you were also descending, therefore, I think it is more likely you were experiencing altitude sickness and your symptoms reversed as you descended. The presence/absence of snow was purely coincidental.

Dehydration contributes to altitude sickness through,

  1. lower air density which increases respiration and, therefore, water loss, and
  2. lower air pressure which increases evaporation of moisture from the skin.
  • We were actually going along a ridge. The decline was pretty negligible. But you might be right. It might have been mild altitude sickness. But, that fails to answer why while climbing, or on the top (6100m), there was absolutely no trouble. And we were on the top for at least an hour and I felt fit and fine. (Maybe pure adrenaline rush prevented the signs?) Nov 1, 2013 at 16:27

Cold weather is usually associated with an increase of urine production. This urine production is a consequence of a body strategy to prevent heat loss. The urine production increase might be responsible for your dehydration.

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    But that cannot really explain why this feeling is gone as soon as you leave the snowy area, right? Oct 30, 2013 at 16:48
  • Well "solid land" is not really defined so I can only hypothesize that conditions in "solid land" were warmer than on the slopes. Also, does the “solid land” step means the end of the effort?
    – Amine
    Oct 30, 2013 at 16:53
  • Good point. It's not clear if we are talking about time scales of hours or days. Oct 30, 2013 at 16:55
  • @Amine Dehydration due to excessive urine might have had a hand in the feeling. I can't completely agree upon it though. I've added edits to the question in order to clarify some of the points raised. Oct 31, 2013 at 5:09

If being in air below 0C is not normal for you, the difference is probably caused by breathing through your mouth vs your nose.

Where there is visible snow, it's colder than 0C. You can feel uncomfortable in your nose breathing in this cold. You won't actually get ice crystals forming in your nose, but you can feel that you are. Your reflex will be to breathe through your mouth more, even though it's safer in say -20C to breathe through your nose to warm the air and spare your lungs. (It doesn't matter at 0 how you breathe, 0 is not that cold.) Breathing through your mouth dries your mouth out.

You descend a little, it's 1 or 2 (or even 5) degrees warmer, you relax, and you breathe through your nose again so you stop drying out the inside of your mouth.

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    'the difference is probably caused by breathing through your mouth vs your nose' -- I'm not completely convinced. Because, I run long distance and I use my mouth for breathing all the time. The feeling of your whole body feeling dehydrated vs mouth being dry are different. You mention lungs being spared from cold air while breathing from nose. What effect does cold air have on lungs? Can it cause this behavior? Nov 16, 2013 at 16:59
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    Why is it colder than 0C when you are in an area where there is snow?
    – imsodin
    Dec 19, 2016 at 13:21

The altitude sickness sounds like the most likely explanation to me.

However, one other factor is that snow reflects light. On a sunny day in the right circumstances, a snow slope can act as a giant reflector that can have some physiological side effects.

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