Hiking Safety: Hiking in the Heat

Recently temperatures around the globe have been rising steadily and sharply and many places have been feeling the increased heat. As a hiker on the trail, checking weather ahead of time, adapting to different conditions, and knowing what to do if you're feeling overheated is very important. 

Read through this article and use it as a guide to stay safe when hiking in high heat.

cooling off in water hiking in hot heat
@iainttriippin

Hiking In Hot Climates

What is considered "HOT"?

Locations that are 90 degrees Fahrenheit or above, combined with lack of humidity, wind speed, and cloud cover is generally considered hot. It can leave hikers feeling exhausted and worn-out very quickly which can lead to dangerous and life-threatening situations. 


Hiking when it's hot outside

If you choose to hike when it's hot, always check the hourly weather before you go!

We recommend you do not hike in the heat of the day when temperatures are predicted to raise above 80 degrees. In hot conditions, it's best to hike early morning or evening. Plus, summer is a perfect time to get up early and watch the sunrise or go for a sunset hike.

Hiking at sunset in heat

Another option is hiking in the evening, so as long as your local parks allow for that. The temperature at night often drops dramatically compared to the day, even up to a 20 degrees decrease. This means that hiking in the evening will be much more comfortable than hiking in the heat. Here's an idea, pack your headlamp, 10 essentials and hike during a full moon. The brightness of the moon can help illuminate the path better than during any other phase of the moon. It's bound to be an experience that is hard to forget. 

Some locations like in the desert, have a combination of lack of shade, low wind, high heat and low humidity, which can make it an impossible situation to hike safely. We recommend you do not attempt to hike in desert landscapes in the height of the summer when it's sweltering heat or winter when there can be flash flooding. Try for spring and fall instead.

desert hikes

 

What To Wear For Hot Weather Hiking

The most important thing for hiking in hot weather is being able to stay cool. One easy way to stay cool is to wear shorts or short-sleeved clothing. The lighter and more breathable the clothing is, the better you will be able to stay cool. Clothing should also be on the light side of the color spectrum such as white, tan, gray, etc. Lighter colored clothing will absorb heat at a much slower rate than dark colored clothing making it easier to stay cool. 

hiking clothes for hot weather

UPF Clothing

As an added bonus, some specific types of clothes have UPF ratings that provide extra protection again the sun's UV rays. The scale for UPF rated clothing can go from UPF 15 - 50+. Clothing with a higher UPF rating will allow less UV rays to pass through to your skin. The better the tight construction of the clothing, the more UV rays it can block. 

Specific types of fibers also help reflect and block UV rays keeping hikers cooler than other fibers. Polyester and Nylon are the more effective fibers in disrupting UV light and circulating airflow. While fibers such as cotton and wool can be helpful and sometimes better to hikers in terms of cooling, these fibers are only moderately effective without added treatment. 

In order to make sure your clothing gives you as much UV protection as possible, follow the following tips:

  • Make sure that the fabric does not get wet
  • The more worn or stretched the fabric is, the less effective it can be. 
  • If the clothing has finishers that give it UPF rating, try not to disturb the finishing through washing the cloth thoroughly
  • The tighter a fabric is woven, the higher the UPF rating can be. 

Check out some recommended UPF clothing on REI.com 

Other Hot Weather Hiking Clothing Tips

Along with UPF clothing, there are some other things that hikers should wear when hiking in the heat outside. One very important simple item is a hat. A broad-brimmed hat can provide shade for your face and neck especially sun hats.

In addition, make sure that any clothing or underclothing you wear is not overly moisture-absorbing, like cotton! Cotton is heavy, retains water and is not quick to dry. As moisture absorbs into the cloth, the cloth will turn sticky and wet making you feel more and more uncomfortable as the hike continues. This is also true with socks. Since your feet will move the most along the trail, wearing shoes and socks with good ventilation will help keep your feet from overheating and you from tiring out faster. 

If you are going to keep the sun off of your skin by wearing a long sleeve shirt, make sure to follow the tips above to find the right materials to keep cool.

What hiking clothing and accessories you wear while hiking outside in warm weather makes a huge difference! 

 

Staying Hydrated When It's Hot Outside

Waterbottle for hydration in the heat

Hydrating days prior to a big hike can help to minimize the dehydration. Staying hydrated and drinking water is the most important thing while hiking in hot weather, we've written a whole article on hydration tips while hiking. The heat draws out more water from your skin than normal, making it imperative that you replenish your body's water as soon as possible.

If possible, hikers should bring a hydration reservoir and a water bottle along with them on the trail. It may not seem like much, but having extra fluids on hand always proves to be helpful. Squirt bottles or water fans can help reduce the intensity of the heat for a short period and make the going easier for a brief period. Rather than having to reach into your backpack for a water bottle, a hydration pack will help hydrate more frequently with the lessened difficulty in reaching for fluids. You should always carry 2-3 liters of water, and extra in the heat. 

Over Hydration

Many hikers assume the most dangerous part of hiking in hot weather is dehydration. However, some hikers will experience over hydration (hyponatremia) because of the hot temperatures. Hikers may feel that drinking more water will help their bodies however drinking more water than your body needs is just as bad as not drinking enough water. Most times, over hydration will just lead to cramping. 

Electrolytes

Since hikers will sweat a lot from the heat, besides water, hikers will need to bring items that can replenish their body's supply of electrolytes such as sodium and potassium. The easiest way to replenish electrolytes is with trail mixes, fruit such as apples, or also electrolyte drink mixes. You can hydrate after your hike with electrolytes too. A few things that can help are SaltStick capsules, Nuun tablets, and good old coconut water. 

Tips For Hiking With Your Pet In The Heat

Hiking with your dog @allyandthepittybunch

@allyandthepittybunch

If you plan on bringing your best four-legged friend along with you on the trail, keep in mind how much water they will need as well. Pet owners should pack at minimum a pet first aid kit and small bowl for their pet to bring along the trail. While the hiker can rest at longer intervals, hiking with a pet will mean that more frequent breaks are required depending on the size and type of pet.

Signs of dehydration in a dog are harder to spot than in a human. Some dogs are temperamental and don't drink unless they feel thirsty, at which point dehydration can kick in fast. As dogs lose water faster than humans (through panting, evaporation through paws, breathing, etc) water levels in a dog's body is highly important to balancing blood pH and bodily functions.

You can tell if your dog is dehydrated with the following symptoms:

  • Loss of skin elasticity
  • Reduced energy levels, lethargy
  • Vomiting
  • Sunken eyes
  • Dry nose and dry gums
  • Increased panting

Skin elasticity is the easiest way to see if your dog has dehydration. The best way to feel skin elasticity is by the shoulder blades. If the skin springs back into place with a pinch, your dog is well-hydrated. If the skin takes longer to fall into place, your pet may be dehydrated. If your dog has any of these symptoms, find a shady spot to take a break and give your four-legged friend some time to drink the water they need.  

Also, consider giving your dog some shoes of their own to protect their paws from the scorching hot pavement. The terrain may get very hot and also be littered with sharp objects that can hurt your pet's feet. Make sure that any dog booties you buy will fit well to their feet and are breathable or reflective enough to not heat up too much over time. You might want to check out more dog safety gear for hikes as well!

 

Symptoms Of Heat Exhaustion And Heatstroke 

A very dangerous sickness that hikers can have while hiking in hot weather is heat exhaustion. Heat exhaustion is similar to heatstroke, however, symptoms can more or less mild than heatstroke depending on the person.

Symptoms of Heat Exhaustion include:

  • Heavy sweating, cold clammy skin
  • Fast or weak pulse
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Muscle cramps, tiredness, weakness
  • Dizziness and Headaches
  • Fainting

If symptoms persist for more than an hour on end, the hiker should seek medical help right away as heat exhaustion can turn into heatstroke easily. 

Heatstroke is a very real and very scary problem that hikers may encounter. With high temperatures and inadequate hydration, a hiker can easily get heatstroke and collapse on the trail.

Symptoms of Heatstroke include:

  • Higher Body temperature than normal - 103 degrees Fahrenheit or higher
  • Hot, red, dry skin
  • Fast and furious pulse
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea and Confusion
  • Passing out

To prevent heatstroke, stay well hydrated along the trail. If someone has heatstroke or is showing signs of heatstroke, move them to a cooler place such as the shade, start lowering their body temperature and look at symptoms to see if you need to call 911. Don't give any caffeinated, sugary, or alcoholic drinks to them and also avoid very cold drinks, they could cause stomach cramps.

Other illnesses hikers can get while hiking in hot weather include: Heat Cramps, Sunburns, Heat Rashes. 

Heat Cramps

Heat cramps are characterized by extremely heavy sweating that leads to muscle pains and spasms. If you feel a heat cramp, stop moving with intensity and take a break in a cool place and drink lots of water. Make sure cramps go away before attempting more physical activity.

If heat cramps last for longer than an hour or if you know you have heart problems, seek medical help otherwise heat cramps can lead to things such as heart failure. The type of diet you have can also contribute to the intensity and frequency of any heat cramps you may feel. 

Sunburns

Sunburns can vary from not intense to highly intense. Sunburns are usually characterized by painful red skin, or blisters on the skin. If you get a sunburn, keep the sunburn out of the rays of the sun and make sure to keep the area cool. Do not break the blisters that form and do not apply excess chemicals on the area such as sunscreen. Moisturizing lotion can be a good choice to help. 

Remember, sunscreen is necessary in order to protect your skin from the harmful UV rays coming from the sun. UV rays during sunny days are strong and can give you sunburns if you are exposed to UV rays for too long. Hikers should check the UV index and apply sunscreen at regular intervals based on how high the UV rays are measured to be. Be sure to apply Sunscreen 30 minutes before you get on the trails, and every 80 minutes thereafter. Lip balm with SPF is a must as well.

Heat Rash

A heat rash is an area of small blisters that are caused by sweat drying on the skin and blocking skin pores. These rashes will fade rather quickly as long as they are kept cool and dry. Baby powder can help the itch of the rash.

 

Top Tips For Avoiding The Dangers Of Hiking In The Heat

hiking in hot climates

 

  1. Always carry your 10-essentials, including a map & compass! Make sure you know how to use these life saving tools.
  2. Bring more water than you think, at least 1 liter for every 3-4 miles, and more if it's hot. Also, its a good idea to carry electrolytes
  3. Plan ahead: Make a plan for what trail you plan to hike, elevation gain, terrain, time it will take, expected weather conditions etc.
  4. Always let a trusted friend or family know where you're going and when you'll be back. Also, carry a SPOT emergency device, GPS unit or check out the CAIRN app, which allows you to let your loved one's know of your hiking plans and has maps too!
  5. Wear lightweight clothing, layers in case of sudden whether changes and don't forget a hat!
  6. Start early in the day or later in the afternoon.
  7. Bring plenty of food and snacks.
  8. Find ways to stay cool. If there is shade, take frequent breaks.
  9. Know the signs of heat exhaustion vs heatstroke and act accordingly. 

A good general rule when hiking in hot weather is if you start to get a headache, find a cool place, drink some water and rest. After 15-20 minutes has passed and it hasn't gone away, you may need a longer rest or need to seek help. 

Now we think it's time to enjoy your summer hike! Be safe on the trail and stay protected! Enjoy the scenery and activity while staying protected from the sun.


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