9 tips for hiking in hot weather

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

1. Check the weather

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

2. Plan your hike

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

3. Hike early / hike late / high very late

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.

  • Hike Early: One of the advantages of summertime hiking is that it gets light early. Look at starting your hike just after sunrise
  • Hike Late: Hike after most of the heat has gone. As I am finishing this article it’s 8:00pm in the evening and while the sun is no longer visible it’s still over 30° Celcius. Once the sun goes down the temperature drops reasonably quickly and the intense impacts of the sun have disappeared so walking is now more pleasant
  • Hike at Night: Depending on your experience, how well you know the area, your equipment, and the amount of light generated by the moon hiking at night is a good option. I love night time hiking and do so any opportunity I get providing its safe.

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

4. Cover Up

Choose appropriate clothing and accessories for the forecast weather conditions. Things to consider are:

  • Cover your head: While caps provide reasonable shade for your eyes they often don’t keep the intense effects of the rays off your head. Wear a decent broad brim hat, particularly if you have no hair
  • Wear light coloured clothing: Avoid dark colours, in particular black, which tend to absorb heat and make you hotter
  • Cover up: For the last few years almost exclusively I have worn long sleeve tops and long pants. In addition to providing protection from sunburn which can occur very quickly sun exposure on bare skin will also dehydrate you, sapping your energy. If your shirt doesn’t have a collar look at wearing a buff around your neck to provide protection. If you have access to plenty of water you can soak your hat and neck buff to help cool you down
  • Wear the correct socks and footwear: Many people still prefer to hike in boots and if that’s how you roll it’s OK. I prefer to wear light weight trail runners and in summer I try to use models that are breathable to allow any moisture to escape. If your footwear and socks cause your feet to sweat that’s when blisters can occur. What’s appropriate for cool weather may not be appropriate in the heat
  • Wear sunglasses: Thesewill help to protect your eyes from intense sunlight. They don’t have to be expensive but they should be good quality. This is one item you shouldn’t skimp on

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

5. Hydrate

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:

  • In cooler weather conditions I will drink 1 litre/10km
  • In hot weather I will drink 1 litre/hour (which is roughly 2.5 litres/10km). On my longest hot weather day I consumed 8.5 litres

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

6. Learn to recognise negative impacts of heat

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:

  • Sunburn: Wear long clothing and if need be use sunscreen on exposed skin. The backs of hands are often an area that people tend to neglect
  • Dehydration: By the time you realise you are dehydrated the symptoms are already there. The obvious symptoms include headaches but one of the big problems is that when people become dehydrated they loose focus and their mental ability is impaired leading them to make poor judgements
  • Heat Exhaustion: Heat exhaustion happens when someone becomes dehydrated due to loss of water from exercising or working in poorly ventilated conditions
  • Heat Stroke: Heat stroke is a life-threatening emergency and can cause a person to collapse or fall unconscious. Heat stroke is serious and means the body is no longer able to regulate its temperature by cooling the skin’s surface through sweating. The internal body temperature rises, and organ damage can occur

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

7. Take a break

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

8. Be fire ready

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)

9. Snake season

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

Last words

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.

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