This is a topic that has been weighing on my mind a lot as Catherine and I approach our Rim-to-Rim hike. Staying cool while hiking in the summer heat is going to be one of our biggest struggles. Ideally, we would do this hike in the fall or spring, but snagging a reservation at Phantom Ranch during those months proved too difficult. Instead, we’re hiking it in mid-August…yep, you heard that right.
In an effort to not fall victim to heat exhaustion or heat stroke I’ve put together a list of ways to help stay cool while hiking in the summer heat. As an added bonus I also included a list of signs and symptoms for heat stroke and heat exhaustion at the end of the post.
10 Tips to Stay Cool While Hiking in Summer Heat
- Timing is key. Avoiding hiking during the hottest part of the day is the best way to stay cool. Generally speaking, the hottest part of the day is between noon and 3pm. I completely understand not wanting to get up early on the weekend, (I’m right there with ya), but if you want to stay cool and avoid heat exhaustion this is a really good way to do it. If you can’t avoid hiking during the hottest part of the day do your best to choose trails with plenty of shade. If you’re feeling brave you could also go for a night hike. REI has a great post filled with tips for night hiking.
- Choose the right hike. Hike location can really help with the heat. The first thing to look for is shade. If at all possible find a hike in a canyon, or in a forested area to provide an extra shield from the sun. If you live near the mountains, head upward towards cooler temperatures. Hiking near water can also really help. If you’re near a lake or ocean you can take advantage of the breeze and stop to dunk your hat or bandana in the water to cool you down.
- Take breaks. This one is deceptively simple. One of the best ways to stay cool on a summer hike is to remember to stop and allow your body to cool down a little. I know it can be tough to stop, especially if you have an awesome destination in mind, but taking a few minutes to sit in the shade can really allow your body to revive a little and cool down before you keep moving forward.
- Dress accordingly. The clothing you wear can make a HUGE difference when you’re hiking in the summer heat. The best way to go is loose and breathable light-colored clothing. You might be tempted to wear shorts and a tank, but I highly advise you to cover up. There are plenty of brands out there making high tech UPF clothing that will shield you from the sun and provide plenty of breath-ability. I always wear long sleeves (I love this Patagonia hooded top) and generally wear long pants or sometimes capris. I’ve put together a huge list of plus-size hiking clothing recommendations for all your hot weather hiking clothing needs. For additional protection make sure to put on a hat, bandana or one of these Kafta Kool ties, they stay cool for several hours.
- Bring extras. This one is more of a comfort tip, but I think it’s worth mentioning. If you’re hiking in the heat chances are your clothing is going to get wet. One of the best tips Catherine has taught me is to bring an extra pair of socks and a clean shirt. If you start feeling a blister you can change your socks and hopefully reduce the chances of it getting worse. The extra shirt is great for the turn around point, or the ride home. I also try to throw my Birkenstock’s in the trunk of our car before we head out that way when we drive home I can take off my socks and shoes and drive home with breezy feet.
- Wear sunblock. This one is simple, and while it technically won’t keep you cooler, it will protect your skin. I love BeautyCounter’s Countersun Mineral Sunscreen Mist SPF 30. The mist sprays on white so you can actually see any spots you missed. Make sure to reapply as directed, especially if you’re hiking longer than 2 hours.
- Bring on the water. As you’re hiking your also losing water. A good rule of thumb to use is you need 1/2 liter of water for every hour of moderate hiking in moderate weather. For hiking in hot weather, you will want to bring 1 liter of water for every hour you will be hiking. When you’re figuring out how much water you need to make sure to take into account the mileage you’re planning on hiking and the amount of climbing the hike includes. Always remember to bring enough water for your dog too if you have a pup coming along.
- Add in some salt. This one might seem strange, but as you’re losing water you’re also losing salt. Drinking plain water won’t replenish the electrolytes your body is using. You can drink your electrolytes using tablets like Nuun Hydration tablets or you can bring some salty snacks like trail mix, pretzels, or chips. They really hit the spot on a big hike.
- Know the signs of severe dehydration. If you start to notice any of these conditions make sure you stop and respond accordingly. This could mean taking a longer break in the shade. Dunking your shirt or hat in a river to cool you down. Drinking some electrolyte water like Nuun or eating a salty snack.
- Know the signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion. Severe dehydration and heat exhaustion are often found together. If left unattended head exhaustion can increase in severity, causing a much more dangerous situation known as heat stroke. If you start to notice any of these symptoms react in the same way as severe dehydration. Get out of the sun and rest in a shady area. Dunk your hat or shirt in water to help cool down the hiker.
Symptoms of severe dehydration can include:
- Increased thirst
- Dry mouth
- Tired or sleepy
- Decreased urine output
- Urine is low volume and more yellowish than normal
- Dry skin
Symptoms of head exhaustion can include:
- Dark-colored urine
- Muscle or abdominal cramps
- Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
- Pale skin
- Profuse sweating
- Rapid heartbeat
Summing Up: How to Stay Cool While Hiking
Hiking in the summer is totally possible! You just need to plan ahead, have the right gear and most importantly be willing to get up early. I’ll admit I’ve been guilty of hiking during the worst parts of the day. When I’ve done that it’s rarely gone well. During our Rim to Rim hike, we fully intend on starting at the crack of dawn. I anticipate many breaks will be needed and we might even need to hike at night. Catherine and I are prepared for that.
We’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this trip and how we can stay safe. The one other thing we’ve done is give ourselves an out. The thermometer read 108 at the bottom of the Grand Canyon last week. After much discussion, we have come to grips with the fact that this trip might need to be canceled if the conditions are too harsh. That’s all part of being a good hiker. You need to know your limits and plan for the worst.