Summer is the best time to hike: the snow has melted, the flowers are blooming and the skies are blue. But unfortunately that also means it can often get ridiculously hot. I’m really heat sensitive (I wilt in hot temperatures) but I always want to go hiking even if it’s way too warm out. After years of experience (and some not-so-awesome trips where the heat really beat me), here are my tips for hiking in hot weather.
Pick the Right Hike
A hot day with lots of sunshine may not be the best day for ridgeline or mountain top hikes that get full sun. In scorching weather, pick a forested hike with lots of shade. If it’s really hot out you will get tired more easily, so you may also want to pick a shorter or easier hike than normal.
When it’s really warm out, I also like to pick a hike near a river or lake. Often the air is cooler near the water, which can be refreshing. Plus, the best way to cool down is to jump into chilly water. (Leave No Trace Tip: Make sure you wipe off any sunscreen or bug spray first to avoid harming plants and fish.)
Avoid Hiking at the Hottest Times of the Day
It’s usually the hottest in afternoon, around 3 or 4pm when the heat of the day really begins to build up. Instead of hiking when it’s super hot out, plan a sunrise hike so you are off the trail in time for lunch. Or head out after dinner for a sunset hike. For either option, don’t forget a headlamp!
Drink Lots of Water
It’s easy to get dehydrated when it’s really hot out. Your body cools itself through sweating, so if the temperature is high, you are going to sweat a lot. Unless you replace that sweat by drinking water, you’ll get dehydrated. At best the symptoms of dehydration include increased thirst and peeing less often. At worst you might experience headache, dizziness, nausea, fatigue, confusion and vomiting. Not fun.
Bring lots of water with you. How much to bring depends on how hot it is out, how far you plan to hike and may also vary by person. However, keep in mind that while hiking in hot weather, some people will need to consume up to 1L of water per hour. That’s a lot! I like to use a hydration reservoir so that I can take small sips of water as I hike. I also sometimes bring collapsible Platypus Soft Bottles to hold extra water since they pack down easily when empty.
If I am planning to hike in hot weather I will often plan to get some water along the way instead of carrying it all with me. (Water is heavy!) I do some research and pick a trail with a reliable water source. (Pro tip: Know before you go. You don’t want to get to a stream and discover it has dried up. Here’s my list of places to find trail conditions for Vancouver.) And of course I pack water purification drops or a water filter so that I can treat the water before I drink it.
Keep Your Electrolyte Levels Up
Drinking water by itself may not be enough to keep you hydrated. We all know that sweat contains salt (aka sodium) but did you know it also contains potassium and other minerals known collectively as electrolytes. When you have depleted electrolyte levels you may experience the similar symptoms to dehydration plus the added bonus of muscle cramps. Definitely no fun.
To ensure you don’t end up with low electrolytes, drink a sports drink such as Gatorade that contains added sodium, potassium and other minerals. Bottled sports drinks are heavy, expensive and often full of sugar. Powdered or tablet alternatives can be much cheaper. They are also easy to carry with you so you can add them to water on the go and customize the strength of the mixture. I like Nuun tablets as they aren’t as sweet.
Wear Sun Protection
Getting a sunburn is a surefire way to feel even hotter than you already do. Wearing sunscreen is always a good idea when you’re hiking, but it can be challenging on a really hot day since your sweat will wash it off. You can try using sweat-resistant sport sunscreen, but you’ll still have to reapply it often. Instead having lots of exposed skin and relying on sunscreen, you could choose to wear a wide brimmed hat and a lightweight long sleeved shirt for sun coverage instead. When your sweat soaks your hat and shirt, it actually helps to keep you cool!
Weird tip: you can also use an umbrella for shade. When I trekked to Annapurna Base Camp in Nepal the weather at lower elevations was so hot and muggy that I found using an umbrella for shade really helpful. It looked dorky, but it really worked! You can figure out a way to attach an umbrella to your backpack straps MacGyver-style to keep your hands free. Thru-hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail often use specialized ultralight umbrellas for both rain and sun protection. (They aren’t a good choice for windy days or brushy trails though.)
Manage Your Sweat
When it’s hot, you’re going to sweat. As I already mentioned, sweating depletes your electrolytes and washes off sunscreen. But there’s a couple other ways that sweating can affect your hike. Firstly, it gets in your eyes and that stings! I carry a small PackTowl to mop my brow, but a bandana works too.
Secondly, if you get sweaty feet, you can be prone to blisters. Wear well ventilated hiking shoes if possible (you don’t need those big waterproof leather hiking boots on hot dry days). Choose synthetic and wool blend socks that breathe well and don’t absorb moisture. Bring an extra change of socks to swap out at your halfway point. Pack extra bandaids and blister dressings and be sure to stop and tend to your feet at the first sign of a hot spot. Don’t wait until you have a giant disgusting blister!
Lastly, the most evil reason sweat can affect you when hiking in hot weather: chafing. If you’ve never had chafing on a hike, consider yourself blessed. Chafing happens when your skin and/or clothing gets damp from sweat or rain and then rubs together. Common places to get chafed include butt cheeks, crotch and feet. All the fun places!
To prevent chafing choose hiking clothes made of synthetic fibres like polyester or nylon that don’t absorb as much water as cotton or wool. Of course this applies to your underwear as well! For underwear and sports bras look for seamless options or version with flat seams. Men may want to consider underwear such as Saxx or MyPakage that use a protective pouch to keep the boys separate from the legs. Women who experience inner thigh chafing may also like boxer brief or boyshort style underwear that provides a bit coverage.
If you know you sweat a lot and are prone to chafing you may also want to get some Body Glide or other sports lubricant. Apply it before your hike as a preventative and maybe even bring it along with you to reapply. This stuff has literally saved my butt on more than one occasion 🙂 (TMI? Sorry, not sorry!) If you do end up getting chafed, head to the baby section of the drugstore and pick up some diaper rash cream. Babies know what’s up – it works.
Know the Signs of Heat Stroke
Heat stroke is no joke. It can actually kill you or damage your organs. Heat stroke happens when your body temperature gets too hot (over 104F/40C). Symptoms of heat stroke include headache, dizziness, lack of sweating despite the heat, skin that feels hot, muscle cramps, nausea and vomiting, rapid heartbeat and breathing, and confused behaviour. At its worst it may lead to seizures and unconsciousness. I had mild heat stroke during my trek in Nepal. I felt weak and dizzy and started to vomit. It was a bit scary, but at the time I didn’t realize how dangerous heat stroke can be.
If you think someone has heatstroke, seek medical attention immediately. Get off the trail if possible and/or call for help. Move the patient into the shade and try to lower their temperature. Pour cold water over the patient and have them drink liquids with electrolytes as dehydration and heat stroke often occur together. In Nepal our guide poured cold water over me, then helped me hike a short distance to a teahouse where I sat in the shade and drank Coke and a sports drink. I rested for a few hours and my temperature came down enough to continue trekking, even though I felt weak.
Favourite Vancouver area hikes for hot weather
It doesn’t usually get that hot in Vancouver, but nearly every summer we have a short heat wave where temperatures soar above 30C (86F) for a few days. Here are a few of my favourite hikes for super hot days in Vancouver. None of them are that long or that hard and they all let you cool your feet off in a river or lake (some are even good for swimming).
This short hike in West Vancouver only takes about 2 hours round trip and stays in the trees the entire way. Your turn around point is pretty little, Whyte Lake. It’s a popular spot for swimming so bring your suit and hang out for a few hours. Get directions here.
This hike is not super short, but it does stay in the shaded forest at the bottom of a river valley so it’s bound to be a bit cooler. It crosses several small streams and passes by a giant cedar before arriving at Kennedy Falls. The falls are a great place to hang out and enjoy the spray. You can dip your feet in the stream, but swimming here is not advised. For more info check out my blog post about my trip to Kennedy Falls (on a much cooler February Day).
A trip to the beach at Bunzten Lake is a popular one. But if you want to enjoy the lake without the crowds, head off on an 8km hike that circles the lake. You’ll hike in the trees with views of the lake. Halfway along you’ll come to North Beach. Unlike the car-accessible South Beach, North Beach has a fraction of the crowds but it still has picnic tables, outhouses, grass for lounging and a swimming dock. If North Beach is still too popular for you, there are lots of little spots to hang out close to the water along the east shore of the lake. Get directions here.
The hike to Crooked Falls near Squamish is not that long, but it does climb steadily through the trees. Enjoy the spray coming off the falls if you need to cool down. If that isn’t enough to cool you down, there are lots of places to stop along the Squamish River on the drive back. Sticking your feel in an icy cold glacier-fed river is a great way to lower your temperature. You can find full directions and lots of photos on my blog post about hiking to Crooked Falls.
So don’t let the heat keep you inside, head out for a hike on a hot day. What are your top tips for hiking in hot weather? Do you have any other favourite Vancouver area hikes for hot days I should check out? Let me know in the comments.
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