Recreation is very important for the healthy life of every person, and long walks in nature are an ideal way to nurture your health and enjoy being outdoors at the same time. Hiking tours have long been popular as a recreational activity, with many tourist destinations around the world promoting hiking routes.
The growing popularity of hiking notwithstanding, it all comes down to your personal preferences, level of activity before you go on a hike, and weather conditions. While hiking in snow conditions may be too strenuous and associated with certain risks, hiking in hot weather may be equally tricky.
How hot is actually too hot for hiking? Though it may be a matter of personal endurance, 100+ degrees aren’t something you’d want to mess with.
Temperatures 100 degrees and higher should be taken seriously. With proper preparation and prevention measures, you’ll have a great experience outdoors and avoid potential health hazards like sunburn or heat stroke. Keep yourself hydrated, use any available protection from the scorching sun rays, and you’ll acclimatize to the heat. Don’t push yourself too hard, especially on the first hike.
Here’s the list of essential tips on how to enjoy hiking in hot water. And when is hot too hot to do it.
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Hiking in Hot Weather
Warm sunny days are ideal for heading out into the wilderness and enjoy hidden alpine lakes, enchanting waterfalls, or a mountain summit. However, warm summer sun much too often turns into the sizzling hot sun which can make your fun day a potentially dangerous experience.
To avoid this and stay healthy in hot weather, you should be careful about where and when to hike. Pick the right clothes that will keep you comfortable. And whatever you do, think about hydration, protection against sunburn, heat exhaustion, heat cramps, and heatstroke.
Planning for Hiking in Hot Weather
Carefully planning when and where you’ll be hiking is essential for a successful hike in hot weather. Given that it can take 10 -15 days to acclimatize to the heat, you need to be extremely cautious, especially in the first few hikes.
Avoid hiking between noon and 3 p.m. On a particularly hot day, it would be best to avoid hiking at this time. Rather opt for an early start and end your hike by early afternoon. Alternatively, you can head out for a hike after 3 p.m. If that’s not the case, make sure to be in the shade or have enough water.
Constant sweat, the fear of dehydration, forgetting to use sunscreen, and losing appetite are only some of the issues you’ll be facing if you hike in hot weather. This is all expected in such circumstances and the best you can do is to be prepared for them. On the other hand, there are certain risks people often ignore, including overhydration or heat stroke.
Opt for a night hike. If you’re hiking during the hottest season, high temperatures can be rather uncomfortable. Therefore, you should consider hiking at night.
If you have experienced any of the above symptoms, you already know that prevention is the best method. Namely, if you’re aware of all the dangers and ways to avoid them, you’ll be able to take care of a problem. Prevention means you’ll be carrying less equipment, needing fewer skills, and keeping yourself safe and comfortable all the time
However, you should do some extra research on each of the potential risks to know how to address them.
What Is Considered Hot Weather?
So, we already discussed when it’s too cold for hiking. Now, let’s see what temperatures are considered to be too hot for hiking.
While it may be referred to as a subjective feeling, facing conditions above 95ºF (35ºC) is generally considered hot. The situation is further influenced by humidity levels, cloud cover, and wind temperature. High humidity may lead to sodium depletion and low humidity to heatstroke.
This situation can get even more extreme, such as in deserts. Namely, high temperatures (100+ degrees), low humidity, hot wind, and lack of shade combined make hiking not only unbearable but almost impossible. Hiking in the desert in summer considerably increases your chances of dying. Accordingly, desert hiking should be your fall/spring routine.
To prevent being exposed to the said dangers, we recommend choosing a hike that keeps you in the shade instead of exposing yourself directly to the sun. It may be anything – the shade of trees or canyon walls, as long as it keeps you protected. If there’s not any shade, you should choose a hike near a body of water.
Tips for Staying Safe in Hot Weather When Hiking
- Dress appropriately for a hike to keep yourself safe and comfortable.
- Opt for light-color (tan, white or khaki) clothing that reflects the sun’s rays.
- Choose loose-fitting, breathable clothing, like nylon or polyester. It will help with your body’s temperature regulation.
- Cotton absorbs moisture and dries slowly which makes it a bad choice for hot and humid weather, but also wet and/or cold days. However, in hot and dry conditions, this could be an advantage as the moisture evaporating from your clothing will make you feel cool.
- Open vents on your clothes to improve airflow.
- Using UPF-rated (UPF 15, UPF 30, and UPF 50+) clothing for more protection.
- Use additional coverage to protect yourself from UV rays, especially if you have sensitive skin. For example, neck gaiters or long sleeves.
- Wear a head covering. To effectively protect yourself from the sun, a hat is one of the bare necessities. Ideally, it’ll be a sun hat with a brim that goes all the way around.
- Use a wet neck gaiter, bandana, or any lightweight cloth to cool your neck and keep it covered.
- Mind the socks. Wear wool or synthetic socks (avoid cotton) and make sure they fit well.
- Always have a hydration pack with you. It will make you hydrated more effectively than reaching for a water bottle now and then.
The Dangers of Hot-Weather Hiking
Among the many health concerns relating to hiking in hot weather, dehydration, overhydration, heat cramps, heat exhaustion, heatstroke, and sunburn are certainly are the most common.
When hiking in hot weather, your body uses sweat to cool through vaporization. If you don’t drink enough water, it may lead to losing valuable liquids. In turn, blood thickens and reduces oxygen flow and the body starts shutting down functions. Do you know when your mouth gets dry? That’s it!
Avoiding dehydration is as simple as staying hydrated. Not exactly. It may be quite challenging to stay hydrated when you sweat constantly. To compensate for the loss of liquid, you need to drink water – either in large quantities in one go or small amounts at a time.
Make sure to fill your containers every time you reach a water source. Ideally, you’ll drink 3-6 liters of water for a day of walking. You don’t have to drink water each time you’re thirsty, but make sure you have it when needed.
Drinking too much water is not likely to cause overhydration because normal kidneys easily excrete excess water. But you need to be careful about sodium (salt). When you sweat, your body releases minerals and chemicals to balance its concentration in the bloodstream. This includes salt, potassium, urea, and so on.
When drinking too much water in hot temperatures, much of those minerals and chemicals are lost by sweating. If you drink high volumes of water, it’ll dilute minerals and chemicals and may result in hyponatremia (low sodium levels) and impaired cell function. In very extreme cases, it may lead to coma and even death.
The symptoms of hyponatremia include headache, fatigue, and nausea. Critical to preventing dehydration is to control how much water you drink. Ideally, you’ll have a few gulps of water about every 15–20 minutes. Besides, you need to keep your salt levels balanced by eating salty and sweet snacks regularly. Or by occasionally drinking a sports drink with electrolytes.
There’s hardly any experienced hiker who hasn’t experienced heat cramps on a longer hot-weather hike. These painful muscle contractions often happen suddenly and usually warn you that you’re pushing your limits. While their cause is not yet defined, you need to make sure you’re properly hydrated to avoid them. And if you do get them, just do some stretching.
Heat exhaustion happens when your body cannot handle the stress of being exposed to heat. The most common symptoms of heat exhaustion include rapid pulse, dizziness, heavy sweating, nausea, fatigue, and headache.
Treatment for heat exhaustion includes getting in the shade, removing any excess clothing, cooling off, and, above all, hydrating. To prevent it, give yourself some time to acclimate, especially on your first few hikes of the season, rest in the shade and wear appropriate clothing. Most importantly, know your limits!
Heatstroke is a direct consequence of hot-weather hiking and represents your body’s inability to regulate the heat due to excessive internal heat. When the heat that we produce during some activity cannot escape the body, it leads to heatstroke and our body practically starts “cooking” the internal organs.
Heatstroke typically happens when your body is under heat stress and can’t cope with it. To avoid a heat stroke, you need to find external ways to minimize the internal heat and help your body get rid of it. It means having a break only in shaded areas and getting your clothes and your head covering wet frequently to try to cool through evaporation.
If heat stress is unbearable, make a longer break until temperatures reduce.
Unlike heatstroke, sunstroke is the result of exposure to the sun, not internal heat. It usually happens when you don’t cover your head when hiking in the sun. The high exposure and radiating heat of the sun can raise your body temperature, especially your head.
To avoid this, wear a hat and cover your skin and have occasional breaks in the shade. You should also wet your hat to help reduce your body temperature through evaporation. If you are exposed to direct hot sun, wearing a hat is something you must not do without.
Hiking in a sleeveless top and not using (or not using enough) sunscreen is a common mistake many people make. On hot summer days, the sun is highly radiating, which is why you should have high factor sunscreen (30+ or even 50+). You should also cover your shoulders because they will burn first.
Should you fail to protect yourself adequately, sunburns could reach 2nd or even 3rd-degree burns. This can be very painful, but it will heal over time. To alleviate the problem, you can pour some cold water or use wet clothes and apply more sunscreen.
Headache is typically the first symptom of any of the above dangers of hot-weather hiking. Your body ( actually your brain) starts indicating that something is wrong and you should listen to it. If you feel a headache or any of the said symptoms, stop!
Take a break in a shady place, get yourself cooled down, drink some water, have a snack, and drink some more water. If the headache persists, you may be needing a longer break or an escape route.
The tips contained in this article are a general “how-to”, but you’ll need to rely on your own hiking gear, tools, and skills to be able to deal with those health concerns.
So, if you’re wondering if it is OK to hike in 100 degrees, here’s the answer. Yes, but you need to be careful and responsible. Keep yourself hydrated and use any available protection from the scorching sun rays. As long as you do this, you should be fine. And you’ll acclimatize to the heat. Most importantly – don’t push yourself, especially on the first hike.