There have been a lot of incidents recently where hikers have gone missing on trails that are known to be very warm in the summertime. With the proper preparations you can prevent these kinds of problems from happening to you.
Hiking in HOT Weather
Yup, summertime is in full force and I still wanna get my hike on. However, hiking in the heat, and being as comfortable and protected as possible, is a skill in itself. Some do better than others in hot weather. For some, it’s their Achilles Heel. For others it’s just another hike, only with more extreme conditions that they adjust to. I’m somewhere in between , but I can acclimate to the heat fairly well. Wherever you may be on the hiking thermometer, the following tips should help you enjoy (and survive) a warm day on the trail.
It’s always a good idea to start a warm hike early in the morning. Depending on the terrain, you’ll get cooler temps and shade from the mountains where the sun has not yet risen over. Also, the ascent is usually more taxing on the body, so the cooler the better. There’s also considerably less traffic on the roads when you’re heading out early to a hike. A HUGE plus for me! And depending on the length of your hike, you’ll not only start earlier, but you’ll also finish earlier, and still have a lot of day left to do other cool stuff. Like another hike!
Try to choose a shady and cooler hike
Depending on where you live, you may have a good choice of hikes that you can do which can be more geared toward the summer season. Using the San Gabriel mountains as an example, The back range of these mountains, like Mount Baden Powell, are cooler in the summer but you still want to get an early start. The front range of these mountains, like Mount Baldy, Mount Wilson and Jones Peak, can get pretty hot in the summer.
Some rare shade on the Holy Jim Trail to Santiago Peak. 90 degrees!
Also, try to choose a hike that has more shade on the trail and less exposure to the sun. Some peak hikes have different routes to the summit, and some of those routes have more shade than others. For instance, the Sturtevant and Upper Winter Creek trails to Mount Wilson provide an ample amount of shade on a hot day. If you’re going to tackle a hike where you know it’s going to get hot, definitely start earlier rather than later, and make sure you have all the sun protection gear with you. This is described next.
Sun protection stuff
When it comes to the sun, some of my hiking friends are like, “OK sun, bring it on. Wadda ya got?”. Their skin seems to be resilient as the sands of the Sahara Desert. Still, why risk setting yourself up for skin problems that may come back to bite you later on in life?
Starting from the top, protect that dome of yours with a good sun hat. A baseball cap type of hat is only going to shade your head and the front of your face, so you’ll want to protect the sides of your face and ears with sunscreen. A better choice for me, is the 360 degree brim sun hat. It provides shade all the way around your head, and there’s some nice ones out there, made with light breathable materials and venting in the dome. If the 360 degree brim isn’t enough for the back of your neck, you can look for the kind that has the long neck flaps in the back. Also, try to get one that has a chin strap. A strong gust of wind can blow that sucker right off your head, and send it flying down the mountain. This has happened to me a couple of times only because I didn’t use the chin strap, but I was lucky enough to catch my hat before it took off. And last, a pair of sunglasses, with good UV (ultraviolet) ray protection is highly recommended.
Your legs can get sunburned too! I wore shorts on my last hike to Mount Baldy, and it was a very sunny day. My legs also got a little cooked when I was done. Wearing some nice, breathable hiking pants can take care of this problem.
Sunscreen? Ahhh yes, sunscreen. I am not the biggest fan of sunscreen, and I try to find alternate ways to protect my body from the sun. For instance, on sunny day hikes, I like to wear DRI-FIT long sleeve shirts. These shirts are made of light, breathable materials and very comfortable to wear on warm, sunny days. They should also have a good UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) rating to deflect those harmful rays. However, using sunscreen is highly recommended if you don’t want to wear long sleeves, pants, and a sun hat. Make sure you get one that’s more resistant to sweat and moisture. Also, get one that has a high SPF (Sun Protection Factor) rating. You can get all these items at REI and Amazon.
Water, water, and more water
Good hydration is key on ANY hike. Even more so on warm days. So many times I see people on the trail who are carrying a 16 ounce bottle of water on a seven mile hike, or even longer. I don’t get it. Here’s some quick stats that I pulled off the Internet:
The amount of water in the human body ranges from 50-75%. The average adult human body is 50-65% water, averaging around 57-60%. The percentage of water in infants is much higher, typically around 75-78% water, dropping to 65% by one year of age.
Age and gender are big factors when it comes to the numbers. It’s a very good idea to supply your body with plenty of water under strenuous conditions to keep those levels up. One interesting thing I learned about dehydration recently was posted on the wall inside of a bathroom at the Sandstone Peak trailhead. It explained how you can determine your level of hydration by how dark or light your urine is. Darker urine means a higher level of hydration. Lighter urine means a lower hydration level, which is obviously better. Not to get too personal, but try checking that out after a night on the town with a few drinks. Below is a chart similar to the one I saw recently.
I take my CamelBak Fourteener on all my hikes. It can hold up to three liters of water, which has proven to be very sufficient for me since I tend to drink quite a bit of water when I hike. On the 15-plus mile hikes I’ll carry the full three liters, and then carry one or two extra .75 liter bottles of water in the side pockets. One of those bottles I use to put electrolyte tablets in (more on this next).
Sorry if I’m stating the obvious here, but water is heavy. My pack does gain a few pounds when I load it with extra water. You should definitely “train up” for the extra weight on your back. Try going out on some short hikes first with a pack like this on your back. You’ll definitely notice the difference so take precautions and don’t go all out right away.
Packing the energy
I always take two forms of replenishment with me on my hikes: electrolyte tablets and GU packets. Often times it’s insurance, but on the long hikes, warm days or not, I’ll take a GU packet when I feel like my legs are gonna be running out of gas. Then, about halfway through my ascent, I’ll take out one of the .75 liter bottles I brought and drop two FIZZ electrolyte tablets in. I consume about half, and save the rest for later in the hike. I’ve also tried salt tablets but they make my mouth way too dry afterward, and I find myself consuming more water than usual.
I’ve taken GU and CLIF Energy Shots, and found that I prefer the GU over CLIF. I like the GU flavors better and they don’t rely as much on caffeine for an energy source as the CLIF shot. Be sure to do your own research on this for yourself. There’s also a decent article on this here.
The rest is up to you
A good night’s sleep is essential, no matter what kind of physical task you plan on doing the next day. I can’t stress this enough. I’m a musician and played a gig one Friday night, but was gonna hike to Mount Wilson early the next morning. I thought that getting about four hours of sleep would be enough for me, but I got my butt handed to me about three quarters of the way to the summit. We took the shady Sturtevant trail going up, and even though there’s really no easy trail to Mount Wilson, at least this trail had a lot of cool shade. I still summited, but I was wiped out when I got to the top. Lesson learned. Got about eight hours of sleep before doing Mount Wilson again earlier this year. This was the harder 16 mile route (you can read the hiking log here), and it was also a more exposed trail on a warm day. I was in much better shape when I reached the top on that hike, and I attribute some of that to proper rest. Again, lesson learned.
This sort of thing can be prevented with a little pre-planning and preparation.
So now what?
I hope all this stuff serves as a good primer for how to better handle the heat on the trail. Do your research and get the gear you need for an awesome adventure. There’s nothing worse than running out of water, energy, or both before finishing a hike. Being unprepared on a hot day, and on a hot trail, is the last situation you want to be in. There have been a lot of incidents recently where hikers have gone missing on trails that are known to be very warm in the summertime. With the proper preparations you can prevent these kinds of problems from happening to you.