Summer hiking season is already upon us. Anyone who has ever been to the Smoky Mountains during the summer knows how hot and humid it can get in the Southern Appalachians. Temperatures have already soared into the mid-nineties in Gatlinburg. I’d like to offer some tips for beating the heat this summer.
Before we go into anything else, the most important thing about hiking during the summer is staying properly hydrated. Hiking in hot, humid weather depletes your body of liquids. To replace those fluids and electrolytes you need to drink frequently. If you wait until you feel thirsty you’ll more than likely already be dehydrated. The more dehydrated you become, the less efficient your body is at cooling itself down. Your body becomes less efficient at walking as well.
Make sure you take plenty of water or some type of sports drink with you on any hike. Sports drinks are excellent sources of liquids because they replace both fluids and electrolytes. Good old Gatorade gets the job done for me.
If you’re thinking about drinking water from the backcountry, know that it must be treated for Giardia lamblia. Giardia is a parasite that can cause an intestinal infection with a variety of symptoms. To avoid this infection, boil water for at least one minute or use a filter capable of removing particles as small as 1 micron.
To help offset the effects of fatigue, bring a lunch and/or snack with you. Food is your body's primary source for fuel and salts (electrolytes) while hiking. Try eating a salty snack every time you take a drink.
Finally, stay away from sodas and alcohol as they will only promote dehydration.
Besides staying properly hydrated, there are a few other things you can do to help avoid over-heating while out on the trail.
For one, go slowly and rest often. Also, try hiking in the early morning as this is coolest part of the day.
Summer provides a great opportunity to explore trails at the higher elevations of the Park where it’s naturally cooler. Keep in mind, however, that the summer season brings thunderstorms to the Smokies. Never ascend above tree line when there’s lightning. If you’re already above tree line when a thunderstorm approaches you’ll want to descend immediately.
Wear moisture-wicking clothing made of polypropylene or polyester to carry sweat and moisture away from your body. Moisture-wicking material keeps you dryer, cooler and more comfortable than a sweat-soaked cotton shirt. It’s also a good idea to wear light colored clothing because it tends to reflect heat away from your body.
Wearing a hat, a baseball hat, or, preferably, a wide-brimmed hat, will help protect your face and neck from the sun. Don’t forget sunscreen either. Sun-burned skin makes you feel hotter.
Finally, you should be aware of heat related health issues on the trail. As part of your first aid training you should know the signs for heat exhaustion, heatstroke and even hyponatremia; and know what to do if someone in your party has any of these signs.
For additional safety tips, please click here, and to make sure you have all the essentials before heading out on the trail, please review our hiking checklist.