Tips for keeping your cool in the summer

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Given how hot of a summer we've already endured so far, and the fact that high temps won't be leaving anytime soon, I thought I'd take this time to revisit a previous post that offered a few tips for dealing with the heat while out on the trail:

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. I’d like to offer some tips for beating the heat this summer.

Before we dive into anything else, I would like to emphasize that 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 lost 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.

You can sweat anywhere from 1/2 to 1 quart of fluid for every hour you walk in the heat. This fluid/electrolyte loss can exceed 3 quarts per hour if you hike uphill in direct sunlight and during the hottest time of the day.

When it's really hot, my wife and I will fill a couple of water bottles about half-way and stick them in the freezer the night before. Then, just before leaving for our hike the next day, we'll top-off the bottles with cold water. This way we'll have cool water to drink for a much longer time on the trail. Please note that you don't want to put a full bottle of water in the freezer because it will crack the plastic.

If you’re thinking about drinking water from the backcountry, know that it must be treated for Giardia lamblia, 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 in the vicinity. 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.

* To make sure you have all the essentials before heading out on the trail, please review our hiking checklist.



sciencedude said...

I will not deny that water is important, but I find that many people overestimate the amount of water they need. They pack enough to get across the Mojave. They don't know what dehydration really is. At any rate, in my latest foray in the tropics, for day hikes, I would fill up two 16 oz soda bottles with water and head out. Perfect amount.

The Smoky Mountain Hiker said...

To find out the amount of liquids lost during any type of exercise is to weigh yourself before and after. If you weigh less, it's likely you didn't drink enough.

Also, another indicator is to check the color of your urine after exercise. Clear or slightly yellow indicates you're properly hydrated. The darker the color is an indication of the level of dehydration.

Here's a pretty good article on the subject:

And another:


Anonymous said...

The amount of water depends on the size of the person also. I'm a large person so I tend to use quite a bit. I went through 2000mL (two 2 liter bottles worth) of water on a 10 mile/5 hour hike containing both flat stretches and uphill climbs on a moderate weather day and only had to void once (3 hours into the hike) during the hike. That's about right for me.

The Smoky Mountain Hiker said...

Anon - great point! Thanks!

Tentspro said...

100 % cotton absorbs water and will take a very long time to dry. It really is a great reason for hypothermic scenarios, which is a bad thing. A cotton t-shirt soaked in water can help keep you cool but that wet t-shirt can also chill you when the weather cools down If you are in an arid climate.

No one is going to be making char cloth in the wilds, although It's fine to have a cotton bandana. Pouring water through a cotton cloth can trap some of the big particles, but Bacteria will go right through so it doesn't filter