These days, the summer heat comes earlier and stays longer than it ever has, and that makes it more difficult to plan a hike that won’t kill you. Because that heat isn’t going away any time soon – if ever – I wanted to spend some time today writing tips for hiking in hot weather.
Like my other tip-based articles, nothing you’re about to see is groundbreaking. If you’re experienced with high-temperature hiking, this article won’t feel very useful. If you’re used to mild temps, though, this article will teach you some of the things you need to know, do, and think about when it comes to hot weather hiking.
1. Hot Weather Hiking Requires More Preparation
The hotter it’s going to be, the more you need to do to prepare. More water, more sodium, a higher priority on wearing the right things, etc. When it’s hot outside, you just have more to do.
So, don’t plan a hot weather hike without doing your due diligence. If there is anything left up in the air with your preparation, you are just increasing your level of risk without reason.
Make sure you’re prepared with all the things you’d need if you twisted your ankle and became stranded alone on a scorching hot section of trail. Will that happen to you? Probably not, but you don’t want to risk it, either.
2. You Might Want To Leave Your Dog at Home
Dogs get just as hot as humans, and often hotter, when the sun is high in the sky. While we all daydream of bringing our pups on hikes with us, if your dog has thick fur, dark fur, or both, they may be a lot happier at home.
Sure, there are tons of dogs who don’t mind the heat, but heatstroke in dogs is a real, dangerous thing (that I wrote about in that link), and dogs can’t always communicate well enough for you to know whether they’re okay or dying from the heat.
It’s up to you whether or not you bring your dog on a hot day hike or backpacking trip, but if you do, preparation and attentiveness are crucial. Your dog’s skin can be damaged by the sun, their feet can be burned by hot pavement or rock, and heat stroke/dehydration can set in quickly. I’m not telling you not to do it, but I am strongly recommending you think about looking out for your dog by simply leaving them at home!
3. Double Up on Water
You already knew this one, but it’s worth mentioning anyways. The hotter (and more humid) it is compared to the temperatures you’re used to, the more water you’re going to need.
I suggest having at least 100 milliliters of water per mile, though you’ll probably want more than that. 10 miles on a hot day? That would be a full liter of water at a bare minimum. Like, bare minimum; I bring 1.5-2 liters of water with me, or a water filter and notes on water sources, every time I know it’s going to be hot.
Others recommend bringing 1-2 cups of water for each hour of hiking. When it’s hot, 2-3 cups of water per hour are even better.
I get dehydrated faster than most people, so I tend to overpack water, but overpacking water is one of the best “mistakes” you can make in high heat. If there’s room in your pack for another plastic water bottle, bring it!
4. Dawn is Better Than Dusk
Hiking in hot weather means waking up earlier and beating the heat by getting in as many miles as you can before the heat of the day, then resting when the sun is high.
What about hiking in the evening, when the sun has started to go down? I’m not a morning person by any means; if I had my choice, I wouldn’t do anything remotely physical until at least 5 PM. But heat is a funny thing – it gets hot in the middle of the afternoon, and stays hot until well after the sun goes down.
It’s almost always going to be colder in the early morning than it will be in the early evening. Those overnight hours are crucial for cooling, and it’s always going to feel better at 7:30 AM than 7:30 PM.
So, if you’re trying to figure out when to start your hike, the answer will almost invariably be: as early as possible.
5. Learn to Recognize Signs of Heat Stroke
Heatstroke is nothing to play around with; it can kill you in just a couple of hours, and the most severe symptoms can appear seemingly without warning if you aren’t paying attention.
Here are the symptoms of heat stroke; watch out for each of them not just for yourself, but for everyone in your group!
- Confusion, altered mental status, slurred speech
- Loss of consciousness
- Hot, dry skin or profuse sweating
- Very high body temperature
The CDC says that heatstroke can prove fatal if left untreated, which means recognizing it early is crucial.
6. Exposed Skin is Vulnerable
If it’s hot outside, you should probably cover up. If that seems counterintuitive, just remember that sunburn is a whole lot worse than sweating. Wearing long clothing made from thin, breathable fabrics (lightweight wool is a great base layer) is usually preferable to short sleeves or tank tops.
Covering your skin in the right type of fabric ensures you won’t be suffering from intense sunburns or letting your body literally bake in direct sunlight. There’s a reason people groups living in the desert are far more covered up than tourists – the more you’ve got on, the better off you are.
7. It’s Okay to Stay Inside
It’s okay to hate hot weather hiking. I hate it. When the temperatures rise above 90 degrees Fahrenheit, I become, essentially, a useless person. I’m a lover of the cold, and I just can’t function in hot weather like that. I think that’s okay, and I think that you should feel okay, too, if you decide to cancel your hike the morning of, simply because it’s too damn hot.
Some people may not understand canceling a hike if it’s still technically doable, but it’s better to stay inside than it is to wind up on an IV after being hit with heatstroke.
So, if you wake up the morning of a hike and the weather just doesn’t look right, stay home. Nobody’s going to judge you, and you can always plan your hike for another day. It’s much better to lose out on a hiking experience than it is to take unnecessary risks and make your next hike your last.