Sun’s out guns out, and in the mountains, your water bottles too.
With the looming joy of hot summer days, barbeques with friends, and the undeniable happiness that we find in summer and on the trail. It is important to keep in mind the dangers of hot weather hiking.
The best time of year to hike, in my neck of the woods, is summer. No doubt about it. The most challenging part of hiking during the summer is the looming threat of heat exhaustion, heat stroke, and just being bloody hot.
That may seem like the words of a panic merchant, however, heat stroke and heat exhaustion will occur to even the most seasoned hikers, backpackers, and athletes.
11 tips for hot weather hiking
Some of the best hikes happen when the sun is shining and the weather is hot. While this makes for the most enjoyable hikes, there are dangers associated with hiking in hot weather and with a little knowledge you’ll have the tools to avoid heat stroke or heat exhaustion on the trail.
1. Check the weather report
We all know that weather forecasting is not always accurate and that meteorologists are not always correct. In their defense, they have a difficult job and they cannot see into the future, they work with predictive models that occasionally have errors.
In the Pacific Northwest, where I was born and raised, the weather report is laughable at best. When the “weatherman” sounds the alarm for extreme heat or extreme cold we cannot take it seriously, they are wrong way more often than they are right.
That doesn’t mean that I completely ignore and blow off the weather report, I just use it as a guideline for my day trips. That being said, having a vague idea of the weather is going to help, not hurt your next outdoor adventure.
2. Avoid hiking during the afternoon
The hottest part of the day in the summer is around 3 PM, you don’t need to completely avoid hiking during this time of day, that would be silly. You do need to take into consideration the terrain and temperature that you will expose yourself to during this particular times of the day.
Taking on a 1,700 foot elevation gain in the middle of the afternoon when there is no shade insight is not the brightest idea, no pun intended. You want to avoid hiking uphill in 95 degree heat.
No shit, right? Not only are you putting yourself at risk of heat stroke, but you are also setting yourself up for a miserable and sweaty experience.
3. Limit your UV exposure
As much as we all want to get a little color when hiking for long periods outdoors, the best course of action is to cover up. Seasoned hikers will be in long pants, long shirts, and often times a hat.
The first time I saw someone dressed like that, I laughed a little in disbelief and the thought of how terribly uncomfortable they looked. This happened before I became aware of the dangers of prolonged UV exposure and realized they were probably laughing at me.
UV exposure has lead to an increase in the diagnosis of Melanoma in adults, both male and female (source). Hiking at altitude you will be exposed to the increased UV that comes with higher elevations. Wearing long sleeves, as well as, some sort of UV protection is going to make your hike and the days after more enjoyable.
4. Drink lots of water
Stay hydrated, be the water hero, not the water zero.
Staying hydrated is one of those sayings that you hear so often it is easy to ignore. The amount of water you need to drink is going to increase when you are sweating, unfortunately, the amount varies on an individual basis. Drink a few glasses in the morning before beginning your hike, and then, pack a few bottles, or rock a hydration backpack. When taking an overnight or multi-day backpacking trip I’ll grab some purification tablets, or use a lifestraw or something similar.
Moral of the story, stay hydrated, it’s the key to avoiding heat stroke, dehydration, and heat exhaustion.
5. You can overhydrate
I recently heard a story on a podcast of a guide giving a Grand Canyon tour telling his group that they could not consume enough water. The result was a few people in the group becoming sick from drinking too much water.
Yes, you can overhydrate. It is a rare situation and something to be aware of. I had no idea until I heard that story. I was under the impression you could never drink too much water.
6. Salt helps your body retain water
This goes against conventional wisdom. Speaking as someone who has been fortunate enough to have kidney stones on three separate occasions. Adding salt to my diet goes against everything that my doctor told me about sodium intake.
Maintaining the electrolyte balance in your body is important for athletes and hikers alike. Muscle cramps occur when the salt in your body is not replaced due to prolonged sweating and a lack of proper hydration.
The best solution for this is to bring salty foods or some sort of athletic drink, and we all know the famous one. The American diet has more than enough salt as it is, just keep in mind that when you sweat you need to increase your sodium intake.
7. Hike at night
If you live in a place where the temperature is truly too hot to hike. Look into taking a night hike under the Milky Way, far away from the light pollution of the city lights.
Take a night hike and experience hiking your favorite trails in a whole new light, or lack thereof. You’ll get a different perspective of the scenery and a deeper connection with the nature surrounding you.
8. Choose your trail wisely
I have made this mistake more than once, not paying attention to the trail, shade, and elevation gain. Hiking in the blistering summer heat is not that relaxing for a guy from the PNW, it makes for a brutal hike.
Choose a location with some cold running water to cool off, and enough shade to cover up when you begin to feel overexerted. Staying hydrated, wearing layers, and all these other tips are not going to help much if you choose a wide open hike, with zero shade, and no water. Be selective with your trail when hiking in the hot summer months.
9. Start early
The sooner you start, the sooner you finish. Get a head start on the day. Leave early in the morning, this will help you avoid the pitfalls of hot weather hiking. In a perfect world we would wake up and begin walking at the break of dawn. Give it a try, especially in the summer months between July and September.
10. Take a break
Don’t be afraid to find a little shade and rest for a few minutes. Take a sip of cold water and enjoy the breathtaking landscape that surrounds you. Power walking throughout the day is not for everyone and can lead to a host of other issues. Taking a minute to rest and relax will give you a chance to replenish on a snack bar and enjoy the greenery.
Take a moment to take it all in. Hiking for only your mile count is lame, enjoy the beauty that surrounds you. It also gives your body and muscles time to recover, and some time to catch your breath and relax. Never a bad thing in my world, slow down and take it all in.
11. Limit your backpack weight
With the modern trend towards ultralight everything, this piece of advice may seem like a no-brainer. If you have backpacked long enough you have seen people struggling with an oversized pack. Limiting your backpack weight on a long hike is going to save you time, energy, and a few curse words.
The average backpack weight for through hikers is around 25-30 pounds, that will include EVERYTHING you need. Get rid of anything that is not suitable for hot weather hiking, and limit your backpack to only the basics. Pack more than enough water, and food and get rid of anything else that will weigh you down.
Hot weather hiking is not something to be afraid of. Lace your boots up and be ready to go early in the morning, avoid the afternoon sun if possible. Most importantly, smile a lot. Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are the two biggest points of concern for anyone embarking on a summer outdoor adventure.
They are not reasons to avoid hiking in the summer, just a couple of factors to educate yourself about. Drink water, but not too much, and be prepared. Get lost and keep wandering.