As an outdoor enthusiast, sunny summer days make you want to head out to the trail, enjoy a good hike, and soak it all up. In the northern hemisphere, summer’s been here for a couple of glorious months, and there are still some gorgeous days ahead. In the southern hemisphere, summer will be here before you know it - and you’re probably starting to dream about warm-weather adventures.
While summer is a time to appreciate and spend time in the sunshine, pushing your limits in the hot weather can be risky. Recent heat waves in different areas of the world have made these dangers clear.
But don’t sweat it - you can still enjoy summer and spend time on the trails, you just need to be careful. Read on to learn about how heat can be dangerous and what you can do to stay cool while hiking in hot weather.
Dangers of Hiking in Heat
Hiking comes with a certain level of risk, depending on different factors. In the summer, one of those risks is the heat. Knowing how to identify and prevent different heat illnesses and their symptoms is important for staying safe on the trail.
- Dehydration happens when your body doesn’t get enough water, making it hard to to carry out its regular functions. Symptoms include extreme thirst, dark-colored urine, fatigue, and dizziness.
- Overhydration, or hyponatremia, is the result of too much water - and a resulting low concentration of sodium - in the body. It’s caused by drinking too much water without replacing sodium. Mild symptoms include nausea, headache, fatigue, and muscle weakness.
- Heat Cramps are exactly what they sound like - painful cramps resulting from overworking your muscles in the heat.
- Heat Exhaustion happens when your body struggles to deal with heat stress. Dehydration often shows up with heat exhaustion. Symptoms include intense sweating, rapid pulse, cool and moist skin, dizziness, fatigue, and nausea.
- Heat Stroke is the most dangerous heat-related illness. It happens when your body literally starts to overheat - at around 104 degrees. It can cause serious damage and requires emergency attention and treatment. Symptoms include a rapid pulse, rapid breathing, high body temperature, altered mental state, headache, nausea, and vomiting.
There is a lot you can do to prevent these heat illnesses, and we’ll cover those tips below. But it’s still important to get familiar with these conditions and their symptoms so you can identify and address them if needed.
What to Wear When Hiking in the Heat
Wearing the right clothes is an important step in protecting yourself from the heat. When you’re outdoors and exposed to the elements, you need to dress appropriately or risk serious discomfort or danger. Here are some tips for dressing for a hike in hot weather:
- Protect your head and the back of your neck with a hat, bandana, or a neck gaiter.
- Wear loose and light-colored clothing. Loose clothes let your sweat evaporate more easily, and light-colored clothing reflects (rather than absorbs) the sunlight.
- Cotton might be a good choice.You may have heard about the dangers of hiking in cotton, but this rule applies to cold and wet weather. Cotton dries slowly, which can help cool you down if it absorbs your sweat. Only wear cotton if you know you won’t be hiking in cool, wet conditions.
- But don’t wear cotton socks! Wet feet are never fun, even when it’s hot out. Moisture can lead to blisters, which are a whole other problem. Instead, choose merino wool or synthetic socks that wick moisture and dry quickly.
- Protect yourself with UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor)-rated clothing, especially if you have sensitive skin. While sunscreen protects against UVB (ultraviolet B) rays, UPF-rated clothes protect against UVB and UVA (ultraviolet A) rays.
Protecting yourself from the sun is a crucial part of staying cool on the trail, so make sure you’re adequately dressed and packed before heading out on a sunny day.
Hydration TipsHydration is a crucial part of staying cool while hiking. And while it sounds straightforward, sometimes it’s hard to make sure you’re drinking a healthy amount of water.
So, how much water should you be drinking on a hike? It depends on a lot of factors, but a good baseline is this: Drink half a liter of water per hour in mild conditions.
When it’s hot, and the hike is strenuous, you may drink twice that amount. It depends on your body and the conditions where and when you’re hiking. If you notice you’re experiencing any signs of dehydration (dry mouth, thirst, dizziness), increase your water intake.
What about overhydration? If you’re sweating a lot and drinking a lot while hiking in hot weather, make sure you’re taking in enough salt to balance that water intake. Add a drink mix containing electrolytes to your water or bring along a salty snack.
If you keep a bottle of water in your pack, you’ll have to stop and fish it out every time you want a drink. Not only will this slow you down, but you’ll end up drinking a lot of water at once. Drinking a few sips of water every few minutes is better for your body, and a hydration pack lets you take small drinks of water as you hike.
Other Tips for Hot-Weather Hiking
Wearing the right clothes and staying hydrated are two of the most important things you can do to stay cool when hiking in the heat. But if you’re still concerned about the heat and want more tips on hot-weather hiking, here are a few more things you can do:
- Use a mister. Misting works wonders to cool you down. As tiny, cool drops of water land on your skin, they evaporate and cool you down, just like your sweat does. Mist droplets also cool your surroundings as they pull heat from the air. ExtremeMist’s Cooling and Misting Hydration Backpack allows you to mist and drink from the same backpack - so you can stay cool on the hottest days.
- Hike before the sun gets high in the sky. Intense sunlight can make all the difference between a comfortable day and a sizzling one. Avoid the hottest rays by hiking early in the morning so you can be off the trail by the time it’s really hot out.
- Wear (and pack) sunscreen. It can protect your skin from damaging rays and prevent uncomfortable sunburn. When you’re hiking in the heat, sunburn is one of the last things you want to be dealing with.
- Dip a hat, bandana, or towel in water, then drape it over your neck. A cold compress (and the evaporation from a wet bandana on your skin) helps cool you down quickly.
- Take your breaks in the shade. When you stop for lunch or to catch your breath, sit under a tree or in the shadow of a boulder. A break from the sun - especially when the sun is high in the sky - can help cool you down.
Stay Cool and Hit the Trail
Hiking is one of the simplest, most accessible, and most rewarding outdoor activities, and summer is often the best time to get out there. But it’s important to remember the risks of hiking in high heat and to take the proper precautions so you can enjoy yourself and stay safe.