by Diane Spicer
It's important to anticipate trail conditions when the season changes.
An easy hike in the cool months of the year can become a beast of a trail when temperatures soar.
These hot weather hiking tips were learned the hard way: going from cool, moist hiking trails like this one in Washington State:
... to hot, dry terrain like this in southern New Mexico.
So trust me when I say that it's quite easy to get caught off guard when you hike in hot weather.
Who knew it could get so blazing hot??
If you live where heat is a reality, you're shaking your head at my naivete, aren't you?
But I would venture a guess that you sometimes might be unprepared for what Mother Nature throws at you when the predicted temperature is far exceeded by reality.
Don't let it happen to you!
Use my best hot weather hiking tips to keep yourself comfortable and safe on a sun scorched, dusty trail.
Because how to hike in hot weather isn't just a simple matter of wearing fewer layers or donning a hiking hat.
If you haven't already figured it out, you will once a hot, dry breeze washes over you:
You're just a big bag of water (no offense), and you need to replenish your cellular water supplies constantly with water that you carry or can locate while hiking.
If you skimp on water intake, you risk the perils of dehydration.
If you're not sure what your normal hydration status looks like, keep track of your water drinking habits for a few days well in advance of your hot weather hiking plans.
Try my strategy to work more water into your daily habits:
If they're not all safely stowed in your pocket, your hydration status is low.
That's a bad way to begin a hiking trip into a hot weather area.
You're going to have to make a conscious effort to drink more water before you leave for the trail head.
For more information on dehydration symptoms, read this.
If you do nothing with the rest of these hot weather hiking tips, my hope is that you'll heed the need to hydrate early and often.
The biggest lesson I had to learn when I started hiking in the desert Southwest was this:
You've got to choose your destinations based on the clock,
not the terrain.
Getting the earliest start possible, and getting off the trail during the heat of the day, are smart moves for hot weather hiking.
Sunny, blue skies were somewhat of a novelty for me, coming from cloudy northern areas, but I soon learned that I couldn't hike through the heat of the day, with the sun beating down on me, for long.
So I learned to choose my hiking routes with care. If shade was available from rock formations or vegetation, I could risk an all-day hike in the heat. Nap time is not necessarily a bad thing for a hot hiker!
If I was hiking in exposed terrain, starting at the crack of dawn and hitting it hard, then getting off the trail by noon, was the way to go.
Alternatively, starting a hike in the cool of the evening and finishing by headlamp also worked.
It was a huge mindset shift at first, but hey, the animals and plants have it all figured out!
Now I do, too.
And early morning or late evening hikes give you the best chance of seeing wildlife.
For backpacking, things get even more complicated.
The gear I carry for cool, wet conditions is too heavy for hot dry hiking.
Go through all of your gear and eliminate "over kill" items. It's all about water, just as it always is.
But in this situation, it's about getting enough water.
And water is heavy! So make room on your back for lots of it by leaving unneeded items at home.
As the temperatures soar inside your food bag, the chance of food borne illness does, too.
When you do come across surface water, use it to fullest advantage.
Replenish your water supply, using backpacking water purification methods to avoid microscopic trouble makers.
Soak your bandanna or an extra piece of clothing in it, throw the wet item into a zip lock bag, and either use it when you feel overheated or have it as back up in case of heat exhaustion/stroke symptoms (see below).
Want to be a hiking rebel? Jump into, or sit down in, the water and get completely soaked.
Keep hiking and enjoy evaporative cooling as the heat robs you of the deliciously cool water all over your body.
One area of concern to be aware of as a hiking rebel:
As your clothing dries, it might chafe
your delicate groin and armpit areas, especially if you are wearing
a tight, cotton sports bra or panties.
Two of my most important hot weather hiking tips for you:
And here's one more trail behavior to change: Salty trail snacks combined with frequent water breaks are your friend.
If you've been taught to avoid salt, relax your salt restrictions during hot weather hiking.
You need the sodium.
Here are some hot weather hiking tips based on technology, rather than behavior.
Any clothing can protect you from ultraviolet radiation, and prevent burning of your skin.
But specially designed UPF sun protective hiking clothing stands up to the challenge of keeping you cool and dry as well.
Your body will respond to the heat with appropriate measures to keep your internal temperature at a constant level.
That's why you perspire.
But if you overheat your exterior, you put your vital organs at risk as well.
A hiker experiencing heat stroke looks like this:
What needs to happen next is a huge challenge if you're miles from the trailhead and have no one to send for help: this hiker's body needs to be cooled down immediately.
Do whatever it takes to wick heat away from this person's body, including:
Getting exhausted from hiking in the heat is not quite as dire, but needs to be treated immediately.
An exhausted, hot hiker looks like this:
Any headache while hiking should be treated as a serious matter, but especially in hot weather hiking.
Dig into your food bag for your electrolytes, and add them to a water bottle. The hiker should focus on draining the bottle within a short period of time.
If no shade is available, create some. Rig up a small tent with hiking poles and your extra clothing (ten essentials to the rescue).
Call off all hiking plans and rest, hydrate, and hydrate some more. Hopefully your water supply holds out long enough to see that headache disappear.
If you have enough water to spare, wet your bandanna and apply it to the hiker's face and neck.
If nausea and vomiting are preventing you from getting water into this hiker, you need help to transport her to a medical facility where intravenous administration of electrolyte filled fluids can occur.
Are you carrying a personal locator beacon? Use it.
There are just a handful of things you need to know to keep yourself safe and comfortable while hiking in hot weather.
If you're used to pushing hard, you'll need to learn a new hiking style.
Your pace, your pack, and your perspiration will change in hot weather.
Please apply these hot weather hiking tips liberally, and you'll enjoy the challenge of adapting to hiking in the heat.
Best Hot Weather Hiking Tips
About the author
Diane is the founder of Hiking For Her.
She's been on a hiking trail somewhere in the world for 5+ decades & loves to share her best hiking tips right here.
All rights reserved.
Photo credits: All photos on this website were taken by David Midkiff or Diane Spicer except where noted.
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