It’s the middle of summer and it’s scorching hot outside. Plants are struggling to stay green while overheated roads shimmer in the distance. Everything and everyone craves a sip of water and looks for a patch of shade. Yet, you, as an avid outdoorsperson, still want to go out for a hike. Luckily for you, that’s definitely possible. You do, however, need to be careful and prepare for your outing. The following tips for hiking in hot weather are things that you should know before heading out.
1. CHECK THE WEATHER
Don’t be naïve and just assume that you’ll be fine on the trail. There are inherent risks involved with hot weather. Before even considering going for a hike, it’s important to check the weather forecast. Even if the sky is blue and cloudless where you are now, the mountains often create their very own weather.
Particularly if it’s extremely humid, surprise downpours are known to happen in mountainous areas. These blitz storms have the potential to cause serious problems to unaware hikers. Thunderstorms are also much more likely to occur when it’s hot. So, check the weather before heading out and, after arriving at the park, ask a park ranger for an update.
2. CHOOSE YOUR TRAIL WISELY
One of the most important tips for hiking in hot weather is choosing your trail wisely. It’s obvious that a hike on an exposed mountain ridge or a hike in a shady forest will be entirely different. The following tips will be pretty much useless if you pick the wrong trail.
Pick a trail that includes at least a few shaded sections. Also, try to find one that runs along or crosses running water. This is good for two reasons: providing drinking water (after purifying it) and offering the chance to refresh yourself and cool down.
Last, a trail at a lower elevation is the better option if it’s hot outside. The higher the elevation, the lower the amount of oxygen in the air and the stronger the effect of UV rays.
3. START EARLY AND/OR FINISH LATE
Hot weather hiking should always be done in the morning or in the late afternoon or evening. Skipping the midday heat is strongly recommended. Section Hiker says that, on relentlessly hot days, you want to take a break from hiking between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.
4. WEAR LAYERS AND COVER UP
While you might be inclined to strip down, it’s actual advised to wear more clothes when hiking in hot weather. Long sleeve shirts and hiking pants, for example, are your best friend when it’s hot. It’s essential, though, that your clothes are loose-fitting. That will allow for better airflow, which will keep you cool.
Wearing a few (light) layers results in multiple air layers as well, which is the core principle of insulation. You might have seen pictures before of people living in deserts, riding camels and wearing scarfs and lots of clothes. Follow their example, they know what they’re doing.
Backpacker.com offers useful advice on how to layer up for hot weather hiking. It’s also a good idea to wear synthetic clothes that wick moisture. You’ll undoubtedly sweat a lot and moisture-wicking clothes can prevent chafing.
Also, absolutely make sure to wear a large hiking hat, plenty of sunscreen and UV-blocking sunglasses.
5. DRINK PLENTY OF FLUIDS
Staying hydrated is the key to every successful outdoor adventure. This particularly applies to hiking in hot weather. Your body loses about one liter of water per hour on a regular hike. A challenging outing in hot weather can double that amount. Make sure you replenish it.
Pack more water than you expect you’ll need and drink on a regular basis. It’s useful to know that your body can only take in half a liter per hour effectively. So, no matter what you do, you’ll get dehydrated during a hike in hot weather.
Sipping regularly can limit the damage, though, as it allows your body to actually absorb everything you drink. It’s much better than chugging a bunch of water at once, says Modern Hiker.
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6. EAT SALTY SNACKS
Sweating profusely is a given on a hot weather hike. Drinking plenty of water is essential to restore your body fluid levels. It’s equally as important to replenish the electrolytes lost through sweat. The most important ones are potassium and sodium. They play a major role in managing your energy levels.
Make sure to bring plenty of snacks that have complex carbs. Stay away from simple carbs such as sugary drinks and candy. Trail mix, energy bars and fruit are great sources of complex carbs. You can also bring electrolyte drink mixes or tablets.
7. REMEMBER TO BRING THE NECESSARY EXTRAS
Sweat is a major cause of chafing but also of blisters. For your own comfort, you’re advised to bring an extra pair of hiking socks. There’s nothing as relieving as being able to change sweat-soaked socks with a clean, dry pair during your midday break. If you’re on a longer hike, you may want to rinse your dirty socks in a river. Tie them to the outside of your backpack afterward to dry.
Another great thing to bring is bug spray. The combination of hot weather, a shady forest and a sweaty hiker often results in a swarm of irritating bugs. Do not forget it!
8. TAKE REGULAR BREAKS
Drinking water regularly and eating salty snacks are two critical tips for hiking in hot weather. So, why not make it a break? Put your backpack down, take a seat or lay down, and give your challenged body some much-needed rest. You might also want to take off your hiking boots, airing your feet and sweaty socks. Regular breaks also allow your body to cool down and sweat to evaporate.
9. BE AWARE OF HEAT STROKE SYMPTOMS
Although the tips for hiking in hot weather listed above should make your summer outing a success, there’s always the chance that they won’t. Definitely make sure to implement all of the above, but also be aware of the symptoms of heat stroke. Listen to your body. Eat when you’re hungry, rest when you’re feeling tired.
Common symptoms of heat stroke are nausea, muscle cramps, bad headache, dizziness, confusion, disorientation and lack of sweating, even when temperatures are high. If you or your hiking partner (never hike alone in hot weather) feels ill, immediately find shade and try to cool down as soon as possible.
Get off the trail and seek medical assistance. Calling 911 is not overreacting when it comes to heat stroke. “Better safe than sorry” is always a good motto to live by.