It’s Friday night, mid summer in Canberra, and today’s maximum temperature was 38° Celcius (100°F) with more of the same forecast for the next six days. While I don’t like hiking in extreme heat I am going hiking tomorrow and want to ensure I not only enjoy the hike but do so safely. So what are my options?
This article discusses 9 tips for hiking during conditions of hot weather and while we usually think of summertime where you are hiking in extreme heat, hot weather hiking can be a year round issue.
To listen to the podcast version of this article click here
Most of us associate hot weather with summertime but this is not always the case. We hiked the Larapinta Trail in central Australia in late winter and had two days over 30° Celcius as well as a number of days in the high 20’s. Get in the habit of checking the weather forecast, regardless of where you are for the day(s) you will be hiking to ensure you have adequately planned for the expected conditions. Remember to check the weather forecast the day you head out to see if any changes need to be made to your hiking plan.
It’s over 30° Celcius and there’s no shade to be seen on this day on the Larapinta Trail
Choose a suitable hiking route depending on what the weather forecast. This also includes an appropriate distance. Leave the longer days of hiking to the cooler weather if possible. Choose sites that have plenty of shade on offer. This shade can be provided by the surrounding vegetation or by geographic formations such as cliffs or valleys. If possible, avoid hiking over open exposed terrain for long periods.
Always have a plan no matter how short the hike. This is particularly important in hot weather
If you are hiking during hot weather avoid the hottest part of the day. In most parts of Australia our maximum temperature tends to be reached sometime between 2:00-4:00pm. Having said that the heat can be pretty intense around 10:00 in the morning particularity in central Australia.
Leaving home just before sunrise to hike the Glenburn Heritage Trail so I can take advantage of the cool early morning weather
I started this days walk at 6:15am when the sun had come up. The starting temperature was 13.6° Celcius which was nice and comfortable
Just on 2.5 hours later when I returned to the car at around 8:40am the temperature was now 23.7° Celcius. By the days end it had reached 38.1° Celcius. Take advantage of the early part of the day
I also love hiking at night when the conditions are right
Choose appropriate clothing and accessories for the forecast weather conditions. Things to consider are:
Having no hair I will often wear a buff. Don’t forget to cover the neck and to protect the eyes with good quality sunglasses
On hot days its crucial that you wear a hat that offers plenty of protection for your head and neck
It’s 37° Celfius and I have just finished a three day walk on the Canberra Centenary Trail and I’m pretty much covered from head to toe in lightweight clothing
Regardless of the time of the year or the temperature you should alway drink plenty of water when you hike. The hotter the weather the more you will drink:
If you have a long day hike ‘Camel up’ (i.e. drink a litre or more before you start your hike). What all this means is that you need to ensure there is either water available on the trail or that you carry enough water to last you until your next water source. I use a water bladder when I hike and will drink small amounts regularly.
One issue that most hikers don’t think about is the impact of drinking too much water. This can be very serious and also life threatening. Hikers have died from drinking too much water.
At the risk of over sharing use your urine colour to provide an indication of adequate hydration. If your urine colour is dark then you aren’t drinking enough water. If your urine colour is light or clear then you are adequately hydrated.
If you’re going to be hiking in the heat, go light on the alcohol which can dehydrate you.
Apart from water itself your body also loses various minerals as you sweat. If you are hiking in the heat, particularly over multiple days, look at adding Hydralyte™ electrolytes, tablets or powder, to your water.
Tip: Leave a couple of spare litres of water in your car just in case you run short.
Ensure you have adequate water with you and know what ‘adequate water’ means. Don’t just carry the water but drink it as well
Think about replacing lost minerals that you loose when you sweat
Hiking in the heat has the potential to be dangerous if you don’t pay attention to what your body is telling you. Learn to recognise how your body is reacting to the additional heat and make sure you know what to do. Common issues that can occur are:
If you are a regular hiker you should ideally have an up to date first aid qualification.
St John First Aid along with other organisations offer basic as well as wilderness first aid courses
If you are hiking in hot conditions take plenty of breaks. This will mean you are likely to be hiking slower than you would normally but it will also mean you will get there in good condition. If the weather conditions are really hot then allow plenty of time to rest during the middle of the day and plan to be somewhere that is relatively cool and offers plenty of shade while you take a break.
Take advantage of the shade to take a break when you can. This road underpass was a great place to take a break on a 35° Celcius day
Bush fires are a common occurrence in many parts of Australia and when you are planning your hike you should also be looking at fire danger for the area to which you are heading. Look at the broader region, not just the walking trail you are planning on doing. If conditions are severe you may not be able to cook on the trail. In late 2017 we hiked the Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail and due to the fire conditions no stoves could be used at all.
Royal National Park Bushfires 2018 (image by Instagram: sallyjayl)
Australia has a number of highly venomous snakes so keep any eye out during the warmer months. Regardless of the temperature you should always be scanning the trail ahead of you. For more information see our article on Snakes on the trail
Red Bellied Black Snake on the trail
All said and done there is nothing wrong with hiking in the heat provided you are adequately prepared and equipped and have planned your hike well. If the conditions are too extreme don’t be afraid to pull the pin on a hike. You can always come back another day to do the hike, and if you can’t because you’re leaving the country it doesn’t matter; your health and safety are the number one consideration.