Hiking in the Heat: 10 Tips for the Summer
Seasonal Safety Series #1
by Craig “Goatman” Buckley
The heat is coming! Or it’s already here for some (I don’t pretend to know the weather across time and space). Either way, as summer sets in with its long, hot and sometimes brutally humid days, getting out for a hike can become an obstacle for some…but not for the Goatman! All seasons come with their challenges and all challenges can be met with knowledge, preparation, and some good old-fashioned human willpower. We’ll go ahead and take care of the knowledge part here with ten tips for keeping safe in the heat. The rest is up to you. So read up and get out there!
Nothing fancy about this one. Drink water. Drink extra water the day before you are going out. Drink water on the way to the trail. Drink water as you hike, when you eat, and before settling in for the night. On a hot day, you will sweat between 1/2 and 1 quart of water while moving. You also lose water breathing out when you sleep at night. With proper hydration, there’s no reason to feel thirsty. Keep in mind that water sources can be unreliable in the summer. Make sure to check with the rangers to see how the water is flowing and where.
So you’re drinking a lot of water, enough to replace what you’ve sweated out. Sweat, however, isn’t just water. Lick your arm. Does that taste like water? Nope. Tastes like sweat. Sweat is water, yes, but it is also salt, salt that needs to be replaced. Don’t believe me? Look up the term “hyponatremia”. Never thought you could drink too much water? Take time for proper nutrition and you won’t. Companies advertise electrolytes in their sports drinks. This is what they are talking about. The best way to replace these is to eat salty foods: trail mix, peanuts, pretzels, etc. You can also drink sports drinks, but if you do so, make sure that you aren’t only drinking sports drinks. Replace your salt and while you’re doing that, replace some of those calories that you’re burning out in the sun.
- Dress for the Heat
You may have heard about the 3 L’s of summertime clothing: lightweight, loose fitting, and light-colored. This is great advice, for obvious reasons. Depending on your destination, you should also remember to wear clothes that are wicking and quick dry. There’s nothing worse than sweating out your cotton undies and having your shirt stick and rub on you as you hike. Quick dry and wicking can prevent chaffing. That being said, if you are going to a dry and hot environment such as the Grand Canyon, the moisture that cotton retains won’t be sticking around for very long and can help cool you off as it evaporates in the dry climate. Keep in mind that light-colored clothing reflects the sun’s heat and loose fitting clothing will help with breathability and is less restrictive. I will go ahead and add sunscreen as a clothing item. Treat it as such and you’ll save yourself a nasty burn.
- Wet Your Clothing
But my clothes are all sweaty! Why would I wet them further? I don’t know about you, but my sweat on a hot summer day isn’t coming out as cool as a mountain stream. The easiest way to benefit from this advice is to simply dip your Buff or bandana in a cool stream and wear it around your neck (the site of some major blood flow between your heart and brain. All of it, to be exact). This will cool you off for a bit. If you want a bigger dose, get on the quick dry clothing and jump right in (leave your socks and shoes off, naturally). Your cool, wet clothes will dissipate the heat you’re building up while hiking and the sun working with your own body heat will have you nice and dry by the time you reach camp.
- Go Swimming
You don’t have to tell me twice on this one. If it’s hot and there’s a pool big enough to dip my hooves in, I’m all over it. A nice, cool dip in the heat of the day can definitely put some bounce back in your gallop. I like to combine a few of these tips at the swimming hole: hydrating, eating a snack, swimming, and wetting my clothes all at the same time. That leads me to my next tip.
- Slow down
For some of you, this doesn’t seem like a tip at all. This one goes out to my laser-blazing GoBos, my long-distance hiking buddies who are out there to make miles, smiles or not. I’m not just suggesting this one because the Goatman likes to take it nice and easy (which is no secret). This is important. When the heat is blasting, slowing down your pace can be the difference between spending time on the trail and time in the hospital. Taking rest stops in the shade by water isn’t a decadent luxury in this case. If you are hiking through the heat of the day, you need these stops so that you don’t overheat. Hot days aren’t the time to push those big miles.
- Get Up Early, Finish Up Late
If you do plan on covering some ground, adjust accordingly. As much as we all adore the sun, in this case we are looking to avoid its beautiful face and the sun gets up pretty early in the summer and stays out a bit late. To beat the heat, avoid exerting yourself in the middle of the day. The danger zone is going to be between 12 pm and 2 pm. On really hot days or in desert climates, this extends to 10 am and 4 pm. So get up early and get hiking, but when you stop for lunch, do it somewhere with some shade and water and take a few hours off to catch up on some lounging time. Finish those last miles in the evening when the sun starts to dip back down. Remember your headlamp in case your hike takes you into the dark hours.
- Camp in the Shade
This one is pretty self-explanatory. Staying out of the direct sunlight is a good idea anytime of the day, even while on the move. I only mention this in relation to camping to remind you to plan out your site in relation not only to where the shade is when you stop, but where it will be in the morning. Try camping low, by water (but not too close in case of flash flooding), and in a good patch of shade that doesn’t move about all willy-nilly. This means not camping above tree line, or on ridges, or by overlooks. Boohoo. You shouldn’t be camping there anyway, but that’s a different article. Stay in the shade!
- Beat Bugs and Watch Your Step
Summer is the most active time for creepy crawlers and buzzing menaces. Make sure to pack out some bug spray, a bug net, and possibly light-weight long sleeves and long pants, if not to hike in, at least to sit around camp in. While you’re hiking, watch your step. This is a good idea in general, but this time of the year you need to watch for snakes out sun-bathing the morning away. They are sluggish when they’re in this state and might not get out of your way, so get out of theirs’ instead.
- Keep an Eye Out for Your Buddy
It’s never a good idea to hike alone. This goes double in times of extreme heat. Heat exhaustion is hard to diagnose on your own, seeing that the symptoms include becoming disoriented. Other signs include a pale face, clammy skin, nausea, headaches and cramps. If you see these signs in your buddy (or yourself) take a rest in the shade, put a cool cloth to the head, drink some water, and eat a little bit. If symptoms get worse, time to get off the trail and to some medical care. It takes a team to stay safe and have fun, so don’t forget that friend of yours!