Hiking In The Heat
With temperatures across the country teasing record highs this summer, now is a great time to review some tips for hiking in the heat. From dehydration to heat cramps, a lot can go wrong when you don’t plan ahead but with a little forethought, there is no reason to be stuck inside on hot days.
Hydration is key when doing outdoor activities in the heat and it’s important to know how much is enough for you. While there is a calculation that uses your weight lost during exercise to understand how much water is best for you, it is unlikely that you’ll be carrying a scale with you on your hike much less measuring your sweat rate. A general rule is to drink half a liter of water per hour. This can add up quickly if you’re just bringing water bottles. A hydration pack that is like a backpack with a large bladder in it for carrying your water can be a much more comfortable way to go. Although it is rare, it is also important to be aware of over-hydration. Over-hydration, or hyponatremia, can occur when sodium levels in the blood become too diluted. Drinking a sports drink along the way can help to balance your sodium levels and keep you in a safe zone.
Time of Day:
Many hikers are used to getting to the trailhead early to get a parking spot and avoid crowds but in the heat an early start has an added bonus: avoiding the hottest part of the day. The heat of the day typically peaks around 2:30 pm, so hiking in the early morning or in the evening can help you stay within cooler temperatures. If you can’t avoid the middle of the day, hiking near water may help you take advantage of a sea breeze.
Loose, light colored clothing will help reflect the sunlight rather than absorbing it to keep your body at a more comfortable temperature. Clothing that lets the air flow in and get near your skin can make a difference too. Some specialty hiking shirts even have air holes or vents built into them. As an added bonus, you can seek out UPF rated clothing that will not only protect you from the heat of the sun but the effects of UV rays as well. Even so, it is important to wear sunscreen and stay in the shade as much as possible during your hike. Other wearable gear that can help on a hot day are hats, bandanas, and neck coolers filled with silicone beads. All of these can be dunked in water and worn around the head and neck to help keep your body cool.
The type of fabric your clothing is made out of can have a big impact on their performance as well. Cotton fabric is known to soak up sweat and cling to the skin. This can be uncomfortable and also reduce airflow to the skin. Socks made of cotton will also keep sweat next to the feet, which is undesirable. Socks made of wool or synthetic fabrics are much more comfortable in hot conditions.
Trust Your Gut:
If you are out on the trail, no matter how prepared you are, and you begin to feel dizzy, nauseous, overly hot, or out of breath, it’s time to think about taking a long rest in the shade or cutting your trip short and heading home. Illnesses that are associated with heat can be very dangerous and not worth the risk of “pushing through the pain”. The trail will be there to conquer another day.