Across the Mountain West, record heat waves are already making this a brutally hot summer. This can pose challenges when it comes to hiking, as walking with a pack while baking in 100+ degree heat is nobody’s first choice of activity. However, there are ways to mitigate the effects of extreme heat and make outdoor activity much more enjoyable.
Many of these tips may seem obvious, but are always worth repeating. Even though I lived in California for 23 years and now am battling a hot Utah summer, I still catch myself on the trail without proper nutrition or hydration. Following my own advice laid out in this article helps my body perform and recover even when moving through excruciating heat.
Like, seriously early. An hour earlier than you initially think. If the sun is beating down on me while I’m still on the ascent, I’m in for a rough day. I do my best to start with enough time to make it to the halfway point of my hike or run before I will be in direct sunlight. This saves my skin, my hydration levels, my energy, and overall morale out on trail. Plus, the earlier you start the easier trailhead parking will be.
Get High (in Elevation)
If possible, it’s worth driving an extra hour or so to find a spot as high in elevation as possible. Here, you’re more likely to encounter cooler temperatures and mountain breezes. Especially when backpacking, temperatures still tend to dip much lower up in the mountains than they do at lower elevations. However, do be careful to always check weather conditions and be prepared for the possibility of summer storms.
Hydrate Before, During, and After. And Manage Electrolytes.
I always start hydrating the night before a long hike or run. Then, I aim to drink roughly one liter of water per hour that I’m on the trail. I also utilize electrolyte mixes for extremely hot days or intense trails. Afterwards, I chug a liter of water and some sort of hydrating drink like Pedialyte or coconut water to restore my salt depletion. Electrolyte tabs also serve this purpose, if you don’t much like the taste of drink mixes or are concerned about their effects on your water bladder. When it's hot out, I take one every 30 minutes to an hour.
Eat Before, During, and After
Heat can be an appetite suppressant. Oftentimes after a long, hot hike a big meal is the last thing I want. Especially if you’re slightly dehydrated or heat exhausted, food might sound awful. Whenever I feel like this, I get either a smoothie or salad until I feel ready for a large meal. Also be mindful to bring food on the trail that won’t spoil in the heat. PB&s and chips are my summer go-tos; I’ve lost one too many Snickers bars to make that mistake again.
Save the Alcohol for Later
I am a big big fan of a summit beer. But, in the summer, it’s usually a one-way ticket to a complete meltdown on the descent. If I do anything exceptionally long and am feeling completely wiped, I also skip alcohol altogether that night. Though it’s tempting to unwind with a drink after a day full of activity, if I’m already dehydrated and exhausted it impedes my recovery time significantly.
Invest in UPF Protective Layers
Sun shirts change the game. A quality long sleeve designed for high activity keeps you much cooler than exposed skin baking in the sun. Plus, it cuts down the amount of sunscreen you have to wear/carry. If it’s extremely hot, I’ll usually start in a sports bra and put on my sun shirt as soon as the sun hits my skin.
Bring a Sun Umbrella
On backpacking trips or day hikes where I know I’ll be extremely exposed to the sun, I bring my Gossamer Gear Liteflex Hiking Umbrella. This provides me shade, and saves me from constantly reapplying sunscreen. It’s also especially useful at high altitudes, where the sun is even stronger. Six Moon Designs also makes ultralight umbrellas available through GGG.
Don’t Push Your Pace
My paces are always comparably slower in the summer than the winter, whether I’m running or hiking. It doesn’t matter. The heat elevates your heart rate and perceived exertion, so trying to keep up with your previous self when it’s significantly hotter outside is a fool’s game. As soon as the temperatures start to drop in the fall, I know my paces will pick up.
Utilize Cold Water and Ice
Before I drive to a trailhead, I fill my Hydroflask with ice cubes. Then, right before I start hiking I put a few ice cubes in the top of my hat and in my sports bra. As I heat up, the ice melt drips down my face and it’s absolutely heavenly. Additionally, if I’m running or hiking on a trail where there are natural water sources I stop at every one and douse my hat and face in the water. It may be worth the extra weight on a day-hike to bring a stainless steel water bottle that will keep ice cold throughout the day. Pro tip: freeze a bottle of Gatorade or the like the night before an adventure. Then put it in a car cooler. It will slowly melt while you’re out adventuring, making it the ultimate end-of-day refreshment.
What’s in My Summer Hiking Pack?
- Energy chews
- Electrolyte endurance powder + hydration tabs
- Salt tabs
- Snacks: ~200 calories/hour of planned activity
- ~one liter water/hour of planned activity
Katie is a freelance writer based in Salt Lake City, Utah. When she's not behind her laptop, you can find her guzzling instant coffee in the backcountry or developing a new and expensive outdoor hobby. To see her adventures and occasional long rambles, follow her on Instagram @katelyn_ali