Hiking in hot weather can be a lot of fun and very rewarding– for many outdoor enthusiasts, it’s the perfect summer activity. Summer hiking and summer camping do pose their own unique challenges, but if you plan and gear up appropriately, hiking in the heat won’t have you beat! Here’s our guide to the best summer hiking gear and the best summer hiking safety tips.
Planning And Understanding Heat Index
The first thing you should do when you’re planning a hot weather hike is to check the weather. It can take time for your body to get used to hot weather, but even if you’re acclimated to it, you still need to check the heat index for your planned hike.
The heat index, also known as the apparent temperature, is what the temperature feels like to the human body when relative humidity is combined with the air temperature. This means that a 100° day with 40% humidity feels about the same as a 90° day with 75% humidity to the human body. When the heat index is 125° or higher, it’s often way too dangerous to spend much time outdoors, let alone go hiking.
Here is The National Weather Service’s danger scale for the heat index:
- Caution: 80° – 90°
- Extreme Caution: 90° – 103°
- Danger: 103° – 124°
- Extreme Danger: 125° or higher
If the heat index is too high during the day, you might want to try hiking early in the morning or after the sun goes down at night. The sun is at its peak generally between 12:00 and 3:00 PM, so plan your hikes accordingly. During the day, you should hike in the shade or near water, making it easy to cool off when necessary.
Dressing for a Hot-Weather Hike
While tank tops and shorts are great for the beach, they might not be ideal for a serious hike. While it might feel counterintuitive, more clothing coverage can help prevent chafing and sunburn, and help protect your skin from the long-term damage of UV rays.
You also want to make sure that all of your clothes fit well to avoid chafing. Our body’s natural response to heat is sweating. But the downside of sweating is chafing. This uncomfortable skin condition occurs when friction between body parts or friction between your skin and clothing rubs off the protective cells on the top layer of skin. Sweat and heat make this worse, so if you notice that your clothes are rubbing at all before your hike, you might want to pick a new outfit.
Starting from the top-down, let’s go over the best clothing for a hot-weather hike.
A fully-brimmed sun hat protects both your face and your neck. A baseball cap can provide good shade and keep the glare down, but it won’t protect the back of your neck. You might want a neck gaiter or bandana to make sure your neck doesn’t burn if this is the case. We have a great guide to picking a hat if you want to know more about your options.
Cotton shirts are fine for hiking in the heat, as are breathable synthetic fabric shirts. When you’re choosing a shirt, pick one that’s comfortable and light-colored; dark colors absorb heat, while light colors reflect it. Depending on the sun, you might want to choose a long-sleeved shirt in a lightweight fabric. This will provide additional protection from UV rays. Some clothing is even UPF rated, which guarantees protection from the sun.
If you’re hiking through woods or grasslands, pants are preferable to shorts– they do a much better job of keeping ticks off of your legs! Hiking pants or shorts should be loose-fitting and comfortable. Wearing tight clothing in hot weather is just plain uncomfortable, and it can interfere with your body’s natural ability to cool off.
When you’re hiking in hot weather, you want to wear a sock that’s lightweight and breathable. You’ll be sweating a lot, and you want a sock that will help protect your feet from blisters. Don’t wear cotton socks, and make sure that the socks fit well. Socks that use Merino wool-like Fox River Socks, or socks with advanced moisture-wicking technology like Avoalre Running Socks, are great to use in hot weather.
In hot weather, a more breathable footwear style like hiking shoes or trail runners might be better at keeping your feet dry and blister-free. Hiking sandals are another popular, comfortable option for hiking in the heat. But the most important thing is that you wear hiking footwear that fits you well and that you feel comfortable wearing. If you’re comfy in boots, then wear your boots!
Gearing Up for a Hot-Weather Hike
In addition to the gear you’d normally take on a hike, there are some extra things you should bring that will make your hot-weather hikes safer and more enjoyable.
Sun glare can hurt your eyes and lead to other safety hazards. Polarized lenses are ideal for cutting down on glare and protecting your eyes.
Take sun protection seriously– you’re not just protecting yourself now, you’re protecting yourself from skin cancer in the future. Always use sunscreen, and remember that you’ll be sweating a lot, so reapply frequently.
Hydration Pack And Water Filtration
A hydration pack, like a Camelbak, makes it much easier to carry the appropriate amount of water to stay hydrated. Staying hydrated is vital to staying safe during a hot-weather hike.
Having a water filter is an extremely important safety factor when hiking in the heat. At a minimum, you should be carrying purifying tablets to ensure you always have access to clean water.
One of the fastest and easiest ways to cool down when you’re overheated is through evaporative cooling. This is part of why we sweat! The water in our sweat cools us off as it evaporates. If you carry a spray bottle of water, you can create a cooling mist that adds an even layer of fresh water to your skin, helping you cool off even faster.
This same principle can be applied to bandanas and towels that are designed to cool you off. When you get these wraps wet, the gel inside of them absorbs water and expands as they fill up, and then cools you down through evaporation. When worn on the head, where there are lots of blood vessels close to the surface, or on the neck, near the carotid artery, these items can help stabilize your body temperature.
You can buy towels like Frogg Toggs or bandanas that have great properties for evaporating liquid to cool you off. Microfiber towels and other materials can also be used, but might just be slightly less effective. Wetting a hat is also a great alternative to help regulate temperature.
How To Make A DIY Cooling Wrap
Here are the steps to make a DIY cooling wrap:
- Cut a strip of fabric that’s 36 inches long by 4 inches wide. If you’re buying fabric at a craft store, they can easily cut this for you. (You can also use old clothing.)
- With the decorated “right” sides of the fabric together, fold and pin the fabric in half lengthwise.
- With a marking pen, mark the midpoint of the length. Mark 8 inches on either side of this midpoint. Mark 4 inches from the midpoint. You’ll be using these marks to make pockets for the water beads or water crystals.
- Stitch one short end and up the long open side 2 inches past the first mark. Repeat with the other end. You should have a tube of fabric that’s closed at one end and has an opening in the middle.
- Turn your tube inside out.
- Stitch across the width of your tube at the midpoint and the 4-inch marks, creating a total of 4 pockets for your gel beads. These should still be open- this is why you didn’t sew up the whole tube!
- Insert ¼ teaspoon of gel beads in each pocket. The beads swell much more than you think – this will be plenty!
- After filling each pocket with 1/4 tsp. of beads, sew the pocket openings closed.
To activate this kind of cooling wrap, just soak it in water for 30 minutes. The crystals will absorb water and you can use it whenever you’re overheated. You can put it in a plastic bag for your hike, but make sure to store it outside of the bag so that the crystals can dry out between uses.
Here is a helpful video that can be used to create a scarf, or towel of any size you’d like.
Health Tips for a Hot-Weather Hike
There are a few specific health concerns that you need to pay attention to when you’re hiking in the summer. The most serious is heat stroke– in extreme cases, heatstroke can kill. But even less dangerous health concerns can arise during summer hiking, so it’s important to know the signs and how to prevent them.
Heatstroke is a serious condition that occurs when the body’s internal temperature reaches above 104°. It can cause organ damage and even death, so it’s vital to know what it looks like and how to prevent it.
- Drink every 15-20 minutes
- Plan your hikes carefully– stay in the shade and try to stay within cell service
- Take it easy during the hottest parts of the day
- Know your risk factors– for example, certain medications can increase the risk of heatstroke
Heat Stroke Symptoms
- Throbbing headache
- Nausea and vomiting
- Trouble breathing
- Lack of sweating (indicates dehydration- the body can’t sweat if it’s out of water)
- Flushed skin or extremely pale skin
Heat Stroke Treatment
- Call 911 if possible
- Lay the hiker down in the shade
- Remove extra clothing
- Use water and fanning to lower temperature
- When stable, evacuate to a hospital for evaluation
Heat exhaustion happens when your body can’t cope with the stress of heat. It is usually accompanied by dehydration and can lead to heatstroke if not dealt with quickly.
Heat Exhaustion Prevention
- Drink every 15-20 minutes
- Know your limits and how much your body can take
- Acclimate to the heat before hiking
- Avoid hiking during the hottest parts of the day
Heat Exhaustion Symptoms
- Heavy sweating
- Faintness and dizziness
- Extremely pale or flushed skin
- Dark urine (a sign of dehydration)
Heat Exhaustion Treatment
- Get out of the heat
- Remove extra clothing
- Use water and fanning to lower temperature
Your body needs water to function, and when you sweat, you lose that water. If you don’t replace it, you will find yourself at risk of dehydration. Dehydration is easy to prevent if you drink an adequate amount of water. During strenuous activity in hot weather, that can be over a liter per hour, so make sure to carry plenty of water with you.
- Drink frequently, at least every 10-15 minutes
- Drink enough water
- Use electrolyte tablets to replace the salt you sweat out
- Don’t hike during the hottest parts of the day
- Dry mouth and feelings of thirst
- Reduced sweating
- Dark-colored urine
- Dry skin
- Exhaustion and dizziness
- Stop and rest, getting out of the sun if possible
- Slowly drink water – don’t chug
- Replace lost salts with electrolyte tablets or electrolyte-enhanced food
- Go slower and rest frequently
Sunburn can range in severity from a mild inconvenience to a serious health concern. The most severe sunburns can require treatment in a hospital. Fortunately, there are several ways to avoid sunburn. You can use clothing to protect against the sun, and you should always put sunscreen on exposed skin.
- Wear sun protection clothing like sun hats and sun sleeves
- Wear sunscreen that is SPF 30 or higher
- Reapply sunscreen frequently– every 40 minutes if you’re sweating a lot
- Avoid prolonged sun exposure, especially during the early afternoon
- Hike in the shade
- Flushed skin that doesn’t go away
- Skin that feels warm or hot to the touch
- Tender or painful skin when touched
- Small, fluid-filled blisters
- Feverish feeling or chills
- Apply aloe vera gel
- Cool the skin with water or fanning
- Avoid further sun exposure
Hiking in the summer can be a great experience. All hiking, not just summer hiking, requires knowing the best safety precautions and trail practices for the season. If you plan ahead, you can minimize your risks and maximize your fun.
Max DesMarais is the founder of Hiking & Fishing. He has a passion for the outdoors and making outdoor education and adventure more accessible. Max is a published author for various outdoor and marketing websites. He is an experienced hiker, backpacker, fly fisherman, trail runner, and spends his free time in the outdoors. These adventures allow him to test gear, learn new skills, and experience new places so that he can educate others. You can read more about him here: hikingandfishing/about