How to Hike in the Heat

Photo by Justin Sullivan

When was the last time you found yourself hiking lethargically in the heat of the day, sweating profusely, and rationing your water to ensure you didn’t run out? I’m guessing this has happened to you at least once this summer. The easiest way to prevent a hot hike is to not go hiking but that would mean missing out on some gorgeous views and possibly an exhilarating dip in a river or natural shower under a waterfall! The good news is that there are some things you can do to lessen the impact of hot weather. With the right planning, gear, and food and water consumption, you’ll be able to enjoy your hike in the heat of the summer.

Planning Tips

Okay, so you’re planning a hike and it looks like it’s going to be hot. There are just a few additional things you should do as you plan your hike.

  • Check the weather – Contrary to what you might think, thunderstorms do spontaneously happen at elevation when it’s hot. Check the weather report but also keep an eye on the sky when you’re out on the trail. If the temperature suddenly drops, if the wind picks up, or if the clouds start moving and being to look ominous, start heading back. No one wants to be in the middle of the forest during a thunderstorm.
  • Consider your timing – Avoid the hottest time of day by venturing out in the early morning. If it’s a short hike, hit the trail around sunset. The hottest time of day is between 10:00am – 4:00pm. If you’re traveling somewhere for a hiking trip, think about setting aside a few extra days before the hike to acclimate to the weather. Similar to altitude, if given the opportunity to ease into the heat and get used to it, your body will appreciate it and it’ll make hiking in the heat easier on the body.
  • Incorporate a body of water – Look for a trail that leads you to a lake or crosses or runs parallel to a river. A quick dip in a lake or river will make you feel a lot better and will cool your body down. Most likely the water will be cold and you’ll get an exhilarating rush from the freezing water.
Photo by Cameron Gardner

Appropriate Gear

Wearing the right clothing and carrying the right gear will make hiking in the heat much more manageable.

  • Purchase Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) clothing – Covering your skin with any type of clothing helps to block the sun, but UPF clothing is specifically designed to protect against ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Similar to sunscreen, you can find clothing with ratings from 15 – 50+. The most common UPF clothing are shirts, pants, and buffs.
  • Wear loose and breathable clothing – If it’s hot, you’re going to sweat more than you normally do. Wear clothing that drys quickly. Bring extra socks (made of wool or synthetic fabrics) so that you can put on a dry pair when you start to feel hot spots developing; this will help to prevent blisters from forming. Wear loose and light colored clothing.
  • Cover up – Wear a hat, preferably a wide-brimmed hat with a neck cover shield. If you have a buff or a bandana, dip it in water and put it around your neck. Repeat every time you cross a stream. Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes from UVA/UVB rays. Check out our Sunski gear review if you’re looking for a reasonably priced pair of good sunglasses. Don’t forget to cover your exposed skin with sunscreen!

 

Photo by Founder Alyx Schwarz

Food and Water Consumption

Staying hydrated is always important, but even more important when you’re hiking in the heat. Eating the right foods can also boost your energy. Finding the right balance is important.

  • Eat salty snacks with carbohydrates – Carbohydrates are your main source of energy and the hotter the weather, the harder your body is working, and the more carbohydrates you need. They’ll replenish your body with potassium and sodium. Be sure to choose complex carbohydrates; they’ll be easier on your stomach and will provide more sustained energy than simple carbohydrates. Trail mix is a great snack to eat on the trail. Bring some electrolytes to add to your water and bring your favorite energy bars.
  • Drink enough water – According to Backpacker Magazine, a half liter per hour at 80F and a liter per hour at 100F is recommended. Using a hydration pack will make it easier to drink water. Keep an eye on the color of your urine. If it’s really yellow, you need more water.
  • Don’t drink too much water – It’s important to stay hydrated but drinking too much water can lead to hyponatremia (low blood sodium levels due to overhydration). Overhydration is fairly rare and mainly affects endurance athletes. Nevertheless, it’s something to keep an eye on.
Photo by Triptographer Amanda Proudfit

Resources

Now that you know what to do, get prepared and then go out and hit the trails! Soak up every last bit of summer!

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