Hiking in Hot Weather

Four points to keep in mind when hiking in hot conditions:

1.  Proper Hydration

In regards to health and safety, not drinking enough water may well be the most common mistake made by hikers. Whether you are walking in the heat or the cold, at sea level or at altitude, adequate hydration should always be a priority. For all the lowdown, see Hydration in the Health & Safety section of the site.

Sahara Desert | Morocco, 2008.

2.  Timing Your Day

In hot, largely shadeless conditions, particularly when water sources are scarce, consider doing the bulk of your hiking whilst temperatures are cooler (i.e. early morning, late afternoon and early evening).

It works like this:

  • Begin your hiking day at sunrise.
  • Walk until 11.30 am – midday.
  • Find yourself a shady spot, ideally by a water source, and rest until 2 or 3 pm.
  • Make the most of your extended break by eating your main meal for lunch, thus enabling you to hike into the early evening without having to worry about cooking a big dinner.

By following such a strategy, it is possible to make do with less water because you are resting rather than exerting during the hottest part of the day. Less water equates to a lighter pack, which in turn means less energy spent and more enjoyable hiking.

3.  Sun Protection

Whilst spending 10 hours plus in the sun day after day, hikers need to protect themselves from the sun’s harmful rays. Preventative measures include:

  • Sunscreen: Broad-spectrum with an SPF rating of 30+ is recommended. Generally needs to be reapplied every 3 to 4 hours depending on the conditions and the level of activity.
  • Hat:  Wide-brimmed or Foreign legion type. A cap combined with a bandana for neck protection is a good combination. For years I have worn an Adapt-a-cap. It still ranks as my favourite sun hat.
  • Umbrella: If you are walking in an arid shadeless desert an umbrella is hard to beat for the shade that it provides. Not so great in high winds.

Ryan Sylva & Joshua Stacy with GoLite umbrellas and polyester shirts | Death Valley | Lowest to Highest Route, USA, 2014

  • Sunglasses: Especially important for the snow. Go for practical rather than fashionable. This means larger lenses, which either wrap around or have removable side shades. Polarized lenses definitely make a difference in minimizing glare.
  • Lightweight Breathable Clothing:

    • Avoid cotton, which tends to retain moisture, stick to the skin and takes a long time to dry
    • Long-sleeved shirt and pants made of breathable synthetic materials (see Clothing in GEAR section) are ideal for maximum protection whilst hiking in areas devoid of shade.
    • Tip:  When walking in arid environments try and soak your shirt and hat at each water stop. Another tip is to soak a second shirt and store it in a sealable plastic bag inside your pack. When the first one dries, break out the second.

4.  Appropriate Footwear

  • Shoes: In hot, dry or humid conditions, go as light and breathable as the dictates of your feet and weight allow (see Footwear in the GEAR section). Avoid waterproof footwear in such conditions as it cuts down on the shoe’s breathability, causing your feet to sweat excessively which can lead to blisters. Ditto for leather boots. If you are ever going to try hiking in running shoes or low cut trail shoes, hot environments are the place in which to do it.
  • Socks: Thin ankle or crew sized synthetic or synthetic wool blend socks are ideal for hiking. They wick moisture away from the skin and are lightweight and quick drying. Avoid heavy or thick wool socks. Always wear socks that fit. Too much loose material will result in friction and excessive moisture. Socks that are too tight restrict circulation and swelling can result.