Keeping Your Cool While Hiking in the Summer

"And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies, I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer."

-F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

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Summertime has begun, well not officially, but temperatures have increased, the beaches are crowded and wildfires have already begun in California. Hiking in the summer has it perks, you don’t have to deal with rain, snow and cold weather, but it also has some dangers. Thousands of rescues on the trails take place in the summer secondary to heat-related emergencies and therefore it is important to take extra precautions when hitting the trails on a hot summer day. If you are like me and do not do well in the heat, this post has some great tips and tricks to navigate how to stay safe and have a great time on the trails during the hot summer months. I incorporated a few of my previous blog posts that go more in-depth on these sub-topics such as hydration and sun protection.

Avoid the hottest time of day

This should be obvious right? Wrong. So many hikers set out for the trails too late in the morning or too early in the afternoon. The hottest time of day is usually around noon to 3 pm. On scorching days, it can be best to avoid this time altogether by getting an early start and ending your hike by early afternoon or heading out sometime after 3 pm. If you can’t avoid hiking during the warmest hours, try to plan your trip so you’ll be in the shade or near a body of water during that time.

Location, location location

Pick your geography wisely. Avoiding desert regions is a safe bet. Instead of heading out to Joshua Tree National Park or Death Valley National Park in the summer, pick places that have a cooler climate and are closer to water such as lakes, coastal regions or mountains at higher elevation.

Ice ice baby ice

You should always have an emergency ice pack in your first aid kit and if hiking in ho temperature, make sure to carry extra in your pack. If you feel if you are overheating, place them under your arms, in between your thighs and on your neck to allow your body to cool down.

Remember your neck

A bandana, sun-protective neck gaiter or other lightweight cloth can be dunked in water and worn over your head or around your neck to keep the back of your neck cool and covered while the water evaporates. Special polymer-crystal filled neck scarves maintain the moisture for even longer periods of time.

Always have a GPS

The heat can you leave your confused very quickly. Confusion can lead to anxiety and venturing off the trail, which can result in an emergency if you are not careful. Always have a fully charged GPS with you on the trail with the coordinates mapped in case you become disoriented on the hike, regardless of the length of the hike or how popular the trail may be.

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Heat-related emergencies

 Heat exhaustion

Heat exhaustion is your body’s inability to cope with the stress of heat. It can occur after lengthy exposure to high temperatures and is often accompanied by dehydration.

Symptoms of heat exhaustion:

  • Heavy sweating
  • Rapid pulse
  • Faintness
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Headache

Treatment for heat exhaustion:

It’s important to treat heat exhaustion immediately if you or another hiker is showing symptoms.

  • Get out of the heat: Look for a shady spot and lay down and rest. Remove any excess clothing. If there aren’t any trees to provide shade but you have a tarp, use it to block the sun.
  • Rehydrate: Drink plenty of water and if you have electrolytes or salt tablets, use some of those.
  • Cool off: It can feel good to splash cool water on your face and head. If you’re hiking near a lake or stream, dunk your head or dip a bandana or hat in the water and put it on your head. Use ice packs from your emergency kit to cool down by placing them under your arms, in between your thighs and on your neck.

How to prevent heat exhaustion:

  • Take time to acclimate: You need to ease into hiking in hot weather. It can take 10 days to two weeks to acclimatize, so be cautious and take it slow on your first few hikes of the season.
  • Stay hydrated: Make sure you’re drinking enough fluids. A half-liter per hour is a good starting point, but you may need more depending on the intensity of the hike.
  • Wear appropriate clothing: Choose lightweight, loose-fitting clothing that allows your body to regulate temperature and a sun hat that will shade your face and neck.
  • Rest in the shade: If you need to take a break, take the time to find a shady spot rather than toughing it out under the hot sun.
  • Know what you’re capable of: Be honest about your level of fitness and choose hikes that complement that.

 Heat Stroke

Heat stroke occurs when your body literally overheats. It is a serious medical condition that can strike fast and requires immediate medical attention. If you see a hiking partner displaying symptoms of heat exhaustion combined with a change in mental status, he or she may have heat stroke. Pay particular attention to these signs:

  • Throbbing headache
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Confusion
  • Disorientation
  • Anxiety
  • Body temperature of 104-degrees-Fahrenheit or higher (if you have a way of measuring body temperature)

 Treatment for heat stroke:

  • Cool down: It’s necessary to rapidly cool a person with heat stroke. Lay the hiker down in the shade, remove extra clothing and use cool water and fanning to lower their temperature. If you’re near a lake or stream, you can attempt to lay the hiker down in the water, taking care to keep their airway clear. Also, be aware that rapid cooling can cause hypothermia. Use ice packs from your first aid kit.
  • Hydrate: If the hiker is alert enough to hold a water bottle, get them to drink water.
  • Evacuate: Heat stroke can cause internal organ damage, so get the hiker out as soon as possible and head straight to the hospital for further evaluation.
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Hydration 101

For all the details about hydration in the wild, this blog post will do the trick.

 If you’re actively hiking, it’s good to drink about 1 liter (32 ounces) of water every two hours. You might need more or less depending on the temperature, humidity and body weight, but that’s a good estimate of what you’ll need to carry if you can’t refill on your route. So on a 10-mile hike (assuming you hike an average speed of 2mph), you will need 2.5 liters of water.

For those of us who struggle with numbers:

10 miles/2mph =5 hours/2 =2.5 liters

How much does water weigh?

1 liter of water = 1kilogram = 2.2 pounds

As a rule of thumb always bring an extra 0.5 – 1 liter of water in your pack in case of an emergency (you get lost, it's warmer than anticipated, your hiking pal ran out of water, etc.)  Many people on the trails are rescued primarily due to heat exhaustion and heat stroke because they did not have enough water with them.

If you are not peeing clear urine while on the trail, you are not drinking enough water. Urine that is plentiful, odorless and pale in color indicates you are well hydrated.

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Sun protection

From different types of sunscreen and lip protection to clothing and buffs, my post on sun protection goes pretty in depth to keep you protected from those strong UV rays.  

Re-apply a physical barrier sunscreen with a broad spectrum SPF on your face and body every 2 hours and do not forget your hands (they are the first to show signs of premature aging). The two main ingredients in physical barrier sunscreen, commonly referred to as sunblock, are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.

Our lips are vulnerable to damage from the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays. Not only do they have a thinner protective top layer of cells compared with the rest of our skin but the bottom lip also tends to protrude slightly, so it can easily catch the sun's rays. Use a lip balm that is SPF 30 or higher and remember to reapply often.

 UPF clothing

UPF is the rating system used for apparel. It’s similar to SPF (Sun Protection Factor) in sunscreen but UPF gauges a fabric's effectiveness against both ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) light. A UPF rating of 25 indicates the fabric of a garment will allow 1/25th (roughly 4 percent) of available UV radiation to pass through it. A garment rated UPF 50 permits only 1/50th (roughly 2 percent) UV transmission. Any fabric that allows less than 2 percent UV transmission is labeled UPF 50+.  I personally try to wear UPF shirts whenever I am out on the trails.

Don’t forget your sunglasses, hat and/or buff

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Dog days of summer: protecting our pups in the heat

 If the ground is too hot or cold for you to comfortably place your palm flat on the ground for 5-10 seconds, it is not suitable or comfortable for your dog.  Check your dog’s paws regularly for signs of blistering. Be aware that the ground will be hotter as the day goes on. Just because the ground was okay at 9 AM, does not mean it will be okay at 1 PM.
Your dog should not be hiking in over 85 degrees under any circumstances. If you check the weather on the day of your hike and notice that the temperature will be higher than that, leave your dog at home. Your dog’s life will never be worth it. The trail will always be there. 

Symptoms of heat stroke in dogs include: 

  • Rapid panting
  • Bright red tongue
  • Very red or pale gums
  • Thick, sticky saliva
  • Depression
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

Cooling Vests
Dogs are wearing a fur coat at all times, and as a result, they aren’t able to cool themselves as efficiently as we are. Dogs only produce sweat on areas not covered with fur, such as the nose and paw pads, this means that they are unable to regulate their temperature and overheating is a very real concern. Some good solutions to dogs overheating include cooling vests and cooling bandanas. Ruffwear makes an awesome cooling vest for dogs called a Swamp Cooler, and cooling bandanas can be purchased at REI. 
 

Booties
You wouldn’t climb a mountain barefoot, so why make your dog do it? Our pups and their paws are more used to hardwood floors and carpets than they are too rocky, rough trails. Your dog’s pads should always be protected on the trail. Musher’s Secret Paw Wax is great to keep the pup’s toes safe on shorter hikes of fewer than five miles. On hikes of over five miles or hikes in extreme heat or cold, your dog should absolutely wear booties. Make sure boots are sized appropriately. My favorite pair of reusable and affordable dog booties PAWZ

Water

Your dog needs 1.5 -1.7 oz. of water per pound of body weight over the course of a 12-hour day. The formula to use here is: [(weight of dog x 1.5 oz.) / 12 hours] x the hours you will be hiking. 

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Rattlesnakes

It’s that time of year, rattlesnake season and your hike is in their territory, so chances are you may encounter one on the trails. If you see a snake, the first thing you want to do is to give the animal some space. Regardless of whether the animal is venomous or nonvenomous, you’ll want to treat it the same way: leave it alone. That’s right- don’t touch the snake! Most snake bites occur when people try to move or kill a snake. The closer you get, the more likely you are to suffer a bite. Fortunately, the venomous snake species in the United States very rarely pose fatal threats to humans, which means there is absolutely no need to harm a snake on the trail, venomous or not (according to the Center for Disease Control, of the 7-8,000 people in the US bitten by snakes, only 5 will die). Moving around the snake, even if in the middle of the trail, is your best option.

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Wildfires

Be sure to research and be aware of the fire danger level for the day of your hike. Obey all fire restriction rules; you don't want to be the cause of a forest fire.

One major cause of wildfires unrelated to humans is lightning strikes. Embers left behind from a lightning strike can burst into flame even days after a storm. If a recent thunderstorm has occurred in the mountains, know that the fire danger may be elevated. If you see smoke or a fire while hiking, get out of the wilderness and away from the fire as quickly as possible, then notify the authorities (such as the fire department, the ranger station, or the police department) immediately.

If the fire is very close to you, look for areas free from brush, trees and other fuels for the fire. Travel away from the fire along routes that don't easily burn like dirt roads, trails, gravel, asphalt, and rock.

Avoid canyons and saddles that can act as natural chimneys. If at all possible, do not travel uphill to escape a fire, heat rises and so will the flames. Shield yourself from the heat of an approaching fire with a jacket, backpack or hat.

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Bugs (mosquitoes and ticks)

If you are like me, you will get eaten alive by mosquitoes. I have tried every essential oil and natural bug repellent on the market and the end result is the same, I get eaten alive. I highly recommend using insect repellent with 100 percent DEET in addition to wearing long pants, socks, and sleeves.

April through September is considered the most active season for ticks. Ticks live at or near the ground, so shoes, long pants, and socks are your first line of defense to prevent them from latching on to you.

Spraying socks, shoes and clothing with the insecticide DEET is also effective, although that treatment will need to be reapplied over the course of the day. Check your body for ticks: Since no repellant is 100 percent effective, experts say you should always do a visual tick check of your body once you return inside, ideally in a shower. The water will help wash off ticks that haven’t attached to you yet, but you need to look thoroughly, too. Deer ticks are small, the larvae are the size of poppy seeds and like to hide in hard-to-see places, especially around the groin, but also in hair, behind the knees, and around the ears. In most case, ticks need to be attached for at least 36 hours before they begin to transmit Lyme disease.

How to remove a tick

  • Use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible.
  • Pull upward with steady, even pressure.
  • Don’t twist or jerk the tick; this can cause the mouth-parts to break off and remain in the skin. If this happens, remove the mouth-parts with tweezers. If you are unable to remove the mouth easily with clean tweezers, leave it alone and let the skin heal.
  • After removing the tick, thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol or soap and water.
  • Never crush a tick with your fingers. Dispose of a live tick by putting it in alcohol, placing it in a sealed bag/container, wrapping it tightly in tape, or flushing it down the toilet.

Thanks for reading

Stay cool, stay safe and see you on the trails!

xx,

Kristen