Summer might be the best time to go hiking, but high temperatures and sun exposure can be brutal… and, on occasion, downright dangerous. Muscle cramps and other heat-related illnesses have a way of putting a stop to your trekking fun, real fast.
To help you stay safe and enjoy even the warmest of temps, we’ve put together these 9 tips for hiking in warmer temperatures. From planning your route to advice on regulating your body temperature, use this guide to make the most out of your next hot-weather hike.
Table of Contents
- Top 9 Tips for Hiking in the Heat
- Have Fun Hiking in Hot Weather!
Top 9 Tips for Hiking in the Heat
1. Safety Starts at Home
Staying safe during brutal summer weather is all about proper planning. Start by choosing a trail with minimal sun exposure and plenty of shade. If shade isn’t readily available, try to hike near a body of water to take advantage of the cooler air.
You’ll want to make sure you choose a route that’s within your pay grade, too. Even experienced hikers should adjust their usual difficulty level to avoid overly strenuous hikes.
Check the weather forecast and be flexible with your plans. Download a weather app and keep an eye out for changing weather conditions, especially if hiking in the mountains. High temperatures can trigger all kinds of sudden weather phenomena like monsoon downpours and, of course, thunderstorms. If temperatures are really high, you might want to consider a change of plans.
If you’re planning a long hike in the heat, be sure to bring along a hiking partner, too. You don’t want to find yourself alone if muscle cramps or heat exhaustion hit!
2. Bring Sunscreen (and a hat!)
We (hopefully) don’t have to remind you to cover any exposed skin with sunscreen that has a UPF rating of 30+, but covering your head and neck is equally important too. A hiking hat provides essential sun protection for your head and neck and can help prevent painful sunburns. A baseball cap is good but a wide-brimmed hat that provides more coverage is better.
Want a pro tip for cooling down? Soak a piece of cloth like a bandana in cool water and lay it on the back of your neck. You’ll enjoy an amazing cooling sensation as the water evaporates.
3. Dress for Success
The clothing you wear hiking is important for both comfort and function when out in the heat. Start by choosing breathable, loose-fitting clothing, as well as light-colored clothes as they’ll reflect, rather than absorb, the sun’s rays. Also, look for clothing and hiking boots with air vents and mesh panels to improve airflow.
Avoid leaving too much skin exposed to direct sunlight. We get it – when the mercury is high you probably want to shed as many layers as you can, but long sleeves and pant legs can protect your skin from damaging UV rays. Another option is to seek out UPF-rated clothing, especially if you have sensitive skin.
You’ve heard it before and we’re saying it again: cotton kills. Cotton lacks sweat-wicking properties, meaning it absorbs a lot of moisture and takes a long time to dry. In intense heat, the feeling of cool, wet fabric might feel good against your skin, but hiking in wet cotton can lead to painful problems like chafing and, if temps drop suddenly, even hypothermia.
4. Start Early
Your best bet for staying comfortable and cool while hiking on a hot day is to avoid hiking during the most scorching part of the day. The hottest time of day is usually between 12 PM and 4 PM, but these hours may vary depending on your location. Either way, get an early start so that you’ll have completed your hike before the early afternoon.
If temps are simply too hot to dare to venture out, why not try nighttime hiking? You’ll enjoy a new perspective of your favorite trails and, as long as you use the right gear and take the proper precautions, it’s perfectly safe!
We probably don’t have to remind you to drink water on a hot day. Drinking plenty of water will help you stay cooler and stave off muscle cramps and heat exhaustion, but how you consume your water is important too.
The exact amount of water you’ll need to drink will vary depending on many factors such as the temperature, your age, physical fitness, and exertion level, but a good rule of thumb is to drink about a half liter of water every hour in moderate temperatures. As the temperature rises, you’ll have to fine-tune this amount based on the intensity of your hike.
Remember the golden rule: if you’re already thirsty, it’s too late! The best way to keep your body hydrated is by consistently taking sips of water rather than chugging it all at once. Consider investing in a hydration bladder with a sip tube – it might be just the reminder you need to consistently drink water.
6. Know How to Identify Heatstroke & Heat Exhaustion
Heat exhaustion and heatstroke are no joke. Not only do they cause a slew of unpleasant symptoms like headaches and dizziness, but they can actually kill you. Knowing the signs of heatstroke and heat exhaustion can save your or someone else’s life.
Heat exhaustion is caused by your body’s inability to deal with the stress of heat. In its mildest form, you’ll suffer from heat cramps. In its most severe form, you’ll be dealing with a life-threatening heatstroke. Symptoms might develop over time or they might be sudden, but keep an eye out for fatigue, heavy sweating, rapid pulse, dizziness, and headaches.
If you notice any of these symptoms, stop your hike immediately and seek out shade. Drink plenty of cool water and try other methods of lowering your body temperature such as pouring water over your head. If you see signs that heat exhaustion has progressed to heat stroke such as vomiting or confusion, seek immediate medical attention.
7. Eat Salty Snacks (and/or Pack Electrolytes)
Drinking water alone may not be enough to keep you hydrated while hiking in hot weather. Your sweat contains sodium and a number of minerals collectively known as electrolytes. As you sweat in warmer weather, your blood starts to lose these important electrolytes and minerals.
If you don’t replace these minerals by either consuming a salty snack or drinking a sports drink, you may experience all sorts of nasty stuff like dehydration, muscle cramps, and potentially even a rare, but life-threatening, condition known as hyponatremia (overhydration).
8. Take a Break (or Two)
A hot-weather hike is probably not the best time to try and break your personal altitude or mileage records. Heat fatigue and muscle cramps are a real concern when on a hot-weather hike, and they’re a sign that you’re probably pushing your body too hard and need to slow down.
While the exact cause of muscle heat cramps isn’t known, we do know that taking regular breaks and staying properly hydrated helps prevent them. While hiking in high heat, make sure to hike slower than you normally would, stop for plenty of breaks in the shade, and stop hiking and stretch gently if you do get heat cramps.
9. Wear Sunglasses
Believe it or not, your eyes can get sunburned. Over time, too much sun damage to your eyes can lead to all sorts of unpleasant conditions like cataracts and vision loss. When hiking in the heat, make sure you always wear UV-blocking sunglasses to protect your eyes from harmful UV rays.
You’ll especially want to be careful around reflective surfaces like water and snow. On sunny days, the sunlight reflects off of ice, water, or snow and leads to increased UV exposure.
Have Fun Hiking in Hot Weather!
Summertime is ideal for outdoor adventures, but if the weather starts heading above 80 degrees Fahrenheit, you need to take certain precautions to stay safe.
We hope our 9 tips for hot-weather hikes have shown you that you can have fun and stay safe even as the temperature rises.
Got any of your own tips you want to share? Tell us all about them in the comments below and feel free to share this guide with all your friends!