Summer is finally here! Which is great, but it can also imply some disadvantages when it comes to being in the outdoors hiking, backpacking, thru-hiking or any other sort of active activity (excuse the pan!).
To be ready to face hot weather when hiking is incredibly important and it is as crucial as getting ready for the hike itself. Indeed, your gear and your pace are going to change a lot because of weather conditions and you must be 100% ready for it. Heat can actually ruin your hike and force you to turn back. Also, it could imply danger: knowing how to hike safely in hot weather is a skill that you must develop at some point if you want to survive during summertime.
However, whether they are beginners or experts, many hikers and backpackers make mistakes and have a bad time because of hot weather when they are in the outdoors. As we said for thru-hiking endeavors and bike commuting, knowing and sharing common mistakes can be very helpful. So today we will discover some of the most common hot weather mistakes to avoid and we will explore some tips on how to prepare for summer heat while spending time outside.
Stripping down too much
Way too many people think that the best way to fight the heat is to strip down as much as possible, but that’s not true at all. Indeed, the more exposed you get to heat and sun, the worse it will be.
Of course, this doesn’t mean you have to wear thick and heavy layers of clothing, however even a thin layer, a good hat and a good pair of sunglasses can make a big difference. Indeed, they will not only shield you from heat and humidity, but they will also protect you from the sun.
This is true when it comes to sunscreen too. Many people don’t apply it much (or even at all, sometimes) because they think sunscreen is going to make them feel sticky and hot. And this can be true if you are using commercial, low-cost products, but if you choose a good sunblock, then you can make sure it’s not going to bother you so much and it will help you to stay safe.
Another thing that can help you a lot are anti-UV t-shirts. They tend to be long sleeves, but they protect you from both sun and heat, becoming an incredible piece of gear to have with you!
Not getting wet
This will probably require you to put sunscreen on a bit more often, but it can be a great way to battle heat, and too few hikers and backpackers do it: get your cap/bandana and your tops/t-shirts wet, and if you can, wet your hair too, which is even better. Indeed, water will help you to cool down and keep heat strokes away.
Thinking that all trails and all days are the same
Many hikers think that heat is heat and summer is summer, as if there was no difference between one day and another, or one place and another, but it’s not exactly like that.
Of course, no place becomes colder in summer, however not all trails respond in the same way to the hottest months. Some of them are better to be hiked in the morning, some others in the evening. For those who backpack around cities it’s the same: not all cities have the same kind of heat and sometimes cities from the north will be hotter and more unpleasant than cities from the south.
Document yourself and compare places both in terms of weather conditions and of difficulty, or crowdedness. When we talk about weather conditions, we don’t mean just to check the weather for a specific day, but for the whole week (or set of time you are going to spend there). You might find out that it's better to postpone or anticipate your visit or hike of a few days in order to meet better weather conditions. Maybe a rainy day will be preceded by or will bring cooler temperatures, or a change of pressure/wind will make the day more ventilated and suitable for your goal.
Have you ever noticed how the first days of heat always feel hotter than the rest of summer, the same way the first days of cold feel colder than the rest of winter? That’s because your body is not used to the new temperature yet and you must give it a few days to acclimatize and learn how to cope with it.
The wrongest thing you can do is to assume that your body will perform at the beginning of the summer the same way it would perform at the end of the previous one. So many hikers and backpackers jump straight into summer hiking as if their body didn’t need time to get used to the heat.
Start gradually and allow acclimatization, so you can make the best out of this summer too. Start from easier or more shaded trails. Train properly and use a few tricks to acclimatize to extreme heat for hiking and backpacking. Some examples? Overdressing in the spring can be a good one: hike with a bit more layers on than what you would actually wear and start to get used to high temperatures. Also, spending 30 minutes a day in a dry sauna can help to get your body ready for the heat.
Beware of your reservoir and bottles
You wouldn’t imagine the amount of people who have a poor water planning or, even worst, are not very careful about their bottles and water bladders, so they end up with empty ones right before the beginning of their hike.
Indeed, water bladders can spill water (and get your backpack soaked) if they’re not placed correctly in your bag. So always make sure to keep them above your stuff and not underneath everything. Also, make sure your water bottles are well sealed, or all your water is going to be gone very quickly and you might not get a water fountain where your trail starts to refill your reservoir.
Always keep in mind that water planning doesn’t refer to hiking and backpacking per se, but to your days previous and after it. Indeed, some people think they should keep hydrated only during their hike, but they should actually drink a lot even before and after that. This can be for various reasons: not only your body needs to get ready for it, or will need to recover after your endeavor, but also to allow you to bring less water (which means less weight, therefore less fatigue) during your hike or your backpacking explorations.
Also, water plans normally include a water filter and some iper-hydrating products that will help you keep hydrated even in the most extreme conditions.
This most definitely is one of the most common mistakes when hiking. Indeed, whilst you want to keep your body a bit wet, you want your feet to stay dry and well ventilated. Indeed, wet socks in hot shoes, or poor feet ventilation, are the best way to assure yourself some blisters. Gear is absolutely key to safe feet, in order to keep hiking and backpacking all summer long. Make sure your socks are not too heavy or too thick, made of good fabrics and suitable for lots of heavy walking. Your shoes should be well ventilated and as much comfortable as possible: not too tight, nor too large, or too rigid. Make sure you feel 100% comfortable with them and of course test all your gear before setting off for your journeys.
Choose your hours wisely
Okay, you probably won’t always be able to do that at your best, because not all hikes allow that, but you can still adopt the right precautions in order to avoid the hottest hours of the day.
Start early, at the break of dawn, so you will use the best hours to walk and not feel too hot. Also, when the hottest part of the day is about to come, fetch for shade and wait there until that critical moment is passed: this will help you to also restore your energies and get some rest, as extreme heat can be very tiring.