The Summer heat is upon you. Everyone is hanging inside with their AC blasting, sipping water and doing whatever they can to preserve their energy. The pavement's temperature is so punishing you swear you could fry an egg on it. And at the same time, you're filled with energy, the skies are clear, and it's a perfect day to go for a hike. So if you're like me and the thousands of others who want to go hiking when it's hot, there are some things you should consider first.
How to Plan for Summer Hiking
This might sound like a no-brainer statement. It has to be said, though, because it often gets botched.
When you're hiking in hot weather, it's important to know what you're going to be dealing with before you get to the trail.
Ill-prepared hikers can be in for an array of different problems when hiking on a hot day. These issues range from scary to downright dangerous.
What to Wear When Hiking in Summer?
Just because you want to go hiking on a hot day doesn't give you the green light to throw on some shorts, grab a bottle of H2O and go nuts.
Quite the opposite.
It's a classic beginner hiking mistake to assume hiking in hot weather requires less clothing.
Extreme heat summons additional challenges for hikers. For example, you're exposed to more of the sun's wonderful UV rays, which means you will sweat more. With increased sweat comes complications with clothing.
Shirts For Hiking in Heat
Our first thought when dealing with hot weather is to put on our favorite novelty t-shirt and call it a day.
One issue with t-shirts is they leave you more exposed to the sun. Increased exposure to the sun leads to health risks like sunburn and skin cancer.
Here are some tips on what shirts to wear when hiking in hot weather:
Wear loose-fitting shirts: Tight-fitting clothes, especially shirts, are no fun to wear when you're pores are flowing like a faucet. You're more at risk for chafing around your elbows and, if you're wearing a backpack, around your underarms. I'm not sure about you but I've never found friction rashes to be fun. Opt for loose-fitting clothes instead. Looser clothing helps with airflow and cooling. When sweat pops up on your skin, your loose clothes create a bit of "fanning", too, which helps keep you cool.
Pick long sleeves: "Wait," you say, hoping to derail my logic. "If you're hiking in hot weather, don't you want short sleeves?" That's a fair point, my clever hiker. However, because short-sleeved clothing leaves your arms exposed, you're also exposing yourself to more UV rays. Yeah, sure, you can coat yourself in sunscreen. But sunscreen doesn't completely negate the danger of sun damage. Long sleeves keep you shielded from the sun and also create a nice cooling system when you move. Just be sure to pick the right fabric.
Avoid cotton: Cotton absorbs a ton of moisture. Because of this, cotton takes a very long time to dry. It's not 100% vital you avoid cotton—if it's all you got, it's all you got—but you're in for an unpleasant day when the heat blankets you. If you're hiking when it's hot, try your best to pick breathable fabrics that don't absorb a lot of moisture.
Cotton also makes it difficult for heat to escape. Because of its lower thermal conductivity, it traps heat in the garment, which can make you feel even hotter at times. Don't let this spook you, though—as mentioned, cotton is okay if it's all you have.
Choose Breathable Fabrics: If you decided to make the smart move and opt out of wearing cotton, choose shirts that are made of nylon or polyester. These fabrics are very powerful when it comes to staying cool and creating better airflow during hot-weather hiking. They allow heat to vent out and don't trap it inside the garment, unlike cotton.
UPF-rated clothing: Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) clothing restricts how much UV radiation reaches your skin through the garment. indicates how much UV radiation a fabric allows to reach your skin. A UPF rating of 50 will block 98% of UV radiation from touching your skin. Even better, there is an abundance of clothing with a high UPF rating.
A good pick for a UPF-rated shirt that meets all of the criteria above is this UPF-rated shirt. Not only does it have a high UPF rating, but it also has long sleeves and is extremely breathable.
Pants For Hiking In Hot Weather
Knowing what pants are the best for hiking in the heat is important, too.
You'd think you could get by with some cargo shorts. And, maybe you'd be right.
But, truth be told, the criteria for picking the right shirt also applies to pants.
Don't wear denim: Aside from the obvious reasons, like poor flexibility and breathability, denim is just downright nasty during hot days. It causes chafing, irritation, and is very rigid. This isn't the ideal fabric for hot days.
Don't wear sweats: The seasoned hiker is laughing at this point right now. However, it's a pretty common mistake for new hikers to throw on some comfy sweats and go trailing away. Most sweatpants are made of cotton and aren't great for breathability and heat reduction. They also take forever to dry, so a really hot day can get unpleasant quite fast.
Don't wear shorts: Just like t-shirts, a pair of shorts leaves your legs exposed. This time, though, it's not just exposed to more UV rays. Your legs can also be exposed to pesky critters like ticks, who would love nothing more than to latch on to your tender skin and burrow away. If you plan to navigate much brush, your legs are also at risk of getting scratched or irritated by certain plant life. Always opt for a pair of pants.
Wear UPF-rated hiking pants: Just like our criteria for shirts, these pants are ideal for hiking in hot weather. They're made of polyester and nylon. They have terrific breathability, flexibility, and will keep you cool and protected from the sun.
Lugging around a pair of heavy boots during a summer hike is no fun.
Not only does it become tiring, but leather boots also have nearly zero breathability. Your feet are going to be stewing, that's for sure.
Rather than lacing on your tough and rugged boots, choose a lightweight hiking shoe instead.
Vented & lightweight: Pick a shoe that is properly vented and has less weight than a hiking boot.
Avoid waterproof footwear: Waterproofing reduces the breathability of your footwear. This can cause excess heat, foot sliding, and gnarly blisters.
If you need some lightweight shoes for hiking in the heat, I've got a pair of these, and they're wonderful. Not only are they breathable and lightweight, but they are also comfortable and helped me reduce the muscle pain I was having in my glutes.
Picking a thin, vented sock is usually the choice for activities like running and basketball.
They're not that great for hiking, though.
Because of the different inclines, gravity is more at play when you're on a hike. Wearing thin socks will increase the probability of friction in your shoes.
Increased friction against your insoles is going to cause aches and blisters.
For hiking in hot weather—or any weather, really—I always put on a pair of these hiking socks. Don't let the wool scare you; they're very comfortable and breathable.
Who knew that hiking in hot weather would require you to be this covered up?
Just like your other clothing, wearing hats when you're under the sun is a smart move.
Wearing a hat helps keep your noggin burn-free and also helps provide shade for your forehead and eyes.
Pick a hat that not only has good breathability but offers a good amount of shade over your face and ears.
While it might seem obvious to wear sunglasses for protecting your eyes from the sun, they're also important for another reason.
I had to learn this the hard way.
There's one sneaky culprit that can do serious damage to your vision: reflections.
If you're hiking near a body of water or light-colored soil, the light is bouncing off of that surface and right into your eyeballs.
Not only is it bad for your vision, but it also becomes disorienting.
Go with a pair of polarized shades to cut down on UV rays and stop reflections from blinding you.
Other Gear For Hiking In The Heat
There are some other must-haves you should bring for a hot-weather hike.
Bug spray: if you're hiking in a climate that is rampant with insects in the summer, be sure to load up on bug spray to get mosquitos and pests away from you. You're already going to be hot, you don't want to be itchy, too.
Ointment: sometimes you just can't avoid burns and blisters. It happens. Be sure to bring an ointment that is rich in Vitamin A and D.
Bandages: Hopefully you won't need these. But if you get blisters and pop them, be sure to slap a bandage on it to prevent further irritation or bleeding.
Check The Weather For Heatwaves
I recommend checking the weather a lot here on Hike Authority. And there's a good reason.
Weather can change within an instant. Even though you know it's going to be a hot day, it's wise to be aware of any abnormal spikes in heat.
Hiking in the heat can get dangerous when a heatwave hits, especially if you're not expecting it.
Always be sure to check the weather the day before your hike and be aware of any sudden changes in heat patterns.
Choose The Right Time To Hike
If you've checked the weather before your journey, be sure to plan your hike either early or late.
Taking a hike at midday is putting you directly under the sun and at the peak of the heat.
A good approach to picking the right time to hike on a hot day is to go in the morning so it's only heating up as you finish. Or, likewise, go when it starts to cool off and finish with a nice cooldown.
Choose The Right Trail For A Hot Day
It's pretty easy to pick a hiking trail under the right weather conditions. However, if you're hiking when it's hot, give it a second consideration.
Remember that increased heat will weed out a lot of casual hikers. That means that, if you're hiking alone, you won't see as many people very often.
That might be appealing to the introvert, but it can be dangerous during a hot summer.
Choose a commonly-traveled trail: I'm all for a nice isolated hike. However, if you're hiking alone, go with an area that has frequent hikers. The increased heat is going to weed people out of more isolated areas, making your probability of human contact very infrequent. This is dangerous on hot days, especially if you suffer an injury or didn't bring enough water.
Pick a trail with shade: If you're hiking in hot weather, you need to pick the right trail. It's best to stick to a trail that provides some form of shade at one point or another, allowing proper rest and breaks from the sun. If you're near water, make sure you keep your sunscreen up to par—those reflective sunburns are no joke!
Use a trail with lower elevation: A trail with lower elevation will probably be your ideal choice. Hiking in the heat on higher elevations leaves you more exposed to the sun and can cause heat exhaustion pretty quickly.
Avoid big, open areas: Vast, wide-open trails with no trees is a horrible choice for hiking in hot weather. The sun relentlessly beats down on you and it feels like there's no escape. This happened to me once, and I made sure it never happened again. Stay away from unpopulated, barren trails.
What To Pack For Hot-Weather Hiking
The increase in temperature will make you want to shed some weight from your pack. And it's a good idea.
Higher temperatures are going to make your work seem twice as difficult, so be sure to rid your pack of any items you probably won't use during hot weather hikes. But, be sure to keep your essentials.
If you can't strip much weight, consider using a lightweight backpack. It's good to know how much your backpack should weigh for hiking, that way you know exactly how much extra weight you're going to carry around.
Water: This is the number one thing you should consider before going hiking in the heat. It's vital to know how much water to bring hiking. Staying hydrated should be of the utmost importance on your hikes. Higher temperatures cause an increase in water loss from sweat. You'll need to bring more water than you would on a normal hike.
Snacks: Aside from hydration, picking the right snacks for hiking is also very important. You'll need to stay fueled under strenuous weather conditions. Pick foods that are balanced in nutrition and also contain salt. Just because you're drinking water doesn't mean you won't need to replenish electrolytes from all that sweating you're going to be doing!
Supplements: If you're worried about getting headaches or becoming fatigued, there are several electrolyte mixes on the market. You just add it to your water and it replenishes those much-needed minerals to fight off dehydration and exhaustion.
Sunscreen: You know what's coming. You've spent your entire life listening to your family, significant other, and your friends nag at you about this. And you know exactly what's going to be said. It was mentioned earlier. Always bring and wear your sunscreen :)
Things To Consider When Hiking In The Heat
Mind The Critters
Depending on your trail, hot weather can bring out animals you wouldn't otherwise see in cooler seasons.
For example, here in California, there has been an increase in rattlesnake bites.
Always be aware of your surroundings and try to keep your eyes focused a few feet ahead of you. This way you can scan the terrain for possible animals. Wearing the proper attire can also help with combating ticks.
Snakes: Most snakes are harmless and only strike in defense. If you do happen to come across a rattler, though, get away from it and don't make any jarring movements. Remember: it just wants you to leave. The rattling isn't a sign that it's going to strike, it's a sign that it will if you don't back off.
Mountain lions: A lot of people have a fear of running into mountain lions during a hike. Here's something to keep in mind: they will see you long before you see them. Don't let that spook you. Mountain lions will do everything they possibly can to avoid you, and often only attack if you're threatening the cat or its young.
Ticks & Other Insects: Ticks and other insects like mosquitos like to come out when it's warm. To avoid ticks, wear long pants or a pair of gaiters. Try to stay out of tall grass. Dealing with mosquitos is a little more of a chore, though, so be sure to bring some bug spray with you.
Take Breaks During A Hot Hike
It's hot. You're working hard. It's okay (and recommended) to take a break every now and then. Though pushing yourself is a great way to build physical and mental toughness, it's also a good way to get heat exhaustion and do serious damage to your body.
If you took the previous advice and mapped out a trail near some shade, take some time to sit, drink some water, and refuel. This will also allow your body to cool off and some of your sweat to evaporate.
Stretch: When you stop for a break, be sure to remove your backpack and get some stretching in. Stretching during a hike is a good way to keep you agile and also helps deal with back pain when hiking.
Stay hydrated: Staying hydrated during a hot hike should be a no-brainer. Unfortunately, hydration tends to be forgotten time and time again. During a hike, your body can lose up to one liter of water an hour. And in the heat, this can be doubled, so ensure you're bringing the right amount of fluids, too. In this case, being over-prepared is smart. You will be shocked and how fast you're unknowingly going through your water.
Consider the temperature of the water, too. Though the heat will most likely just make the water warm—unpleasant to drink—it's wise to pack an insulated container with iced water to keep yourself cool.
In any event, always plan ahead and know how much water to bring on a hike.
Snack: Feeding and hydration go hand-in-hand if you're hiking when it's hot. Through proper hydration is important, it's important to give your body energy when it needs it. You're going to sweat a lot, and you'll lose electrolytes through that sweat. Make sure you're bringing the best snacks for a day hike, like trail mix. Dried peas are great, too, as they've done wonders for my energy levels during a hot hike.
Dangers Of Hiking On A Hot Day
Heatstroke is no joke. It's not only dangerous, but it's also life-threatening.
To reduce the risk of heatstroke, take the proper measures to stay hydrated and fueled on your summer hikes.
It's important that you and your hiking partners know and understand the signs of heatstroke and act accordingly.
Signs Of Heatstroke
Needless to say, heatstroke is dangerous. It causes severe damage to your body, brain and can lead to serious repercussions. Even if you're staying hydrated, fueled, and taking proper breaks, it's important to know the signs of heatstroke/sunstroke if you're hiking when it's hot.
The signs of heatstroke:
- Throbbing headache
- Dizziness or Light-headedness
- Lack of sweat
- Red, hot, dry skin
- Muscle cramping or weakness
- Nausea or vomiting
- Rapid heartbeat, which may be either strong or weak
- Rapid, shallow breathing
- Behavioral changes such as confusion, disorientation, or staggering
If you or one of your hiking partners begin to exhibit or complain about any of these symptoms, stop and get help. Don't worry about overreacting in an emergency—call 911 if the symptoms are getting serious.
Even if you're sipping water, you still may be at risk of dehydration during a hike on a hot day.
Dehydration occurs when you're losing more water than you're taking in. This can become troublesome if you're not drinking the right amount of water.
Always make sure you follow the hiking water rule of thumb and drink more on a hot day.
Muscle cramping, or "heat cramps", is a mysterious little oddity.
During exercise or exertion on a hot day, you might get painful cramping in your muscles. This is typically a sign that you're doing a bit too much.
If you begin to cramp up, take a break and hydrate. Shoveling a few snacks down into your belly probably won't hurt, either.
Even if you've filled up with water and food, fatigue can still hit you during a hot-weather hike.
If you're starting to feel gassed out regardless of how much water or food you've taken in, don't feel bad about calling it quits.
A physically demanding activity like hiking will put extra stress on your muscles, especially in the heat. Sometimes the extra strain on your muscles will cause them to fill up with lactic acid, which causes muscle fatigue. In any event, it's always wise to play it safe than to be wild and reckless.
Stay Cool & Be Safe
Whenever you're going for a hike on a hot day, always remember to make smart choices and be properly prepared.
That peak will always be there for you to conquer. Let's make sure you're around to conquer it.