This study examined the effects of hypohydration on plasma volume and red cell volume during rest in a comfortable (20 degrees C, 40% relative humidity) and exercise in a hot-dry (49 degrees C, 20% relative humidity) environment. A group of six male and six female volunteers [matched for maximal O2 uptake (VO2 max)] completed two test sessions following a 10-day heat acclimation program. One test session was completed when subjects were euhydrated and the other when subjects were hypohydrated (-5% from base-line body wt). The test sessions consisted of rest for 30 min in a 20 degrees C antechamber, followed by two 25-min bouts of treadmill walking (approximately 30% of VO2 max) in the heat, interspersed by 10 min of rest. No significant differences were found between the genders for the examined variables. At rest, hypohydration elicited a 5% decrease in plasma volume with less than 1% change in red cell volume. During exercise, plasma volume increased by 4% when subjects were euhydrated and decreased by 4% when subjects were hypohydrated. These percent changes in plasma volume values were significantly (P less than 0.01) different between the euhydration and hypohydration tests. Although red cell volume remained fairly constant during the euhydration test, these values were significantly (P less than 0.01) lower when hypohydrated during exercise. We conclude that hydration level alters vascular fluid shifts during exercise in a hot environment; hemodilution occurs when euhydrated and hemoconcentration when hypohydrated during light intensity exercise for this group of fit men and women.