Broad-brimmed hats help hikers keep a cool head in hot weather.

Hot and bothered after a mid-day hike?

Well, it’s no wonder.

Recent studies have shown that optimum temperature for long-distance walks or hikes is 50 to 55 degrees F. Above this range a hiker’s performance degrades as much as two percent for every five-degree increase in temperature.

Broad-brimmed hats help hikers keep a cool head in hot weather.
Broad-brimmed hats help hikers keep a cool head in hot weather.

As temperatures rise, hikers must adjust their routine. Too much sun, too much hiking and too little fluid intake can make even a strong hiker an accident waiting to happen. Heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke can result. A hike near home can be just as deadly as a trek across Death Valley, but heat illnesses and deaths are preventable by taking the right precautions.

The main environmental factors contributing heat-related illnesses are temperatures above 90 degrees F., humidity above 80 percent and sunlight exposure (partial to full) and dehydration.

Of course, “Wait ‘til it cools off” is always the best advice for the hiker contemplating a hike in the heat. But some hikers like it hot and, if you’re determined to hit the trail in the heat, you must take the right precautions.

Tips to beat the heat

  • Time your hike for the cool of the day—early morning is best, late evening second best. Avoid midday when the sun’s rays are directly overhead, and late afternoon when the earth has absorbed the sun’s rays but the heat hasn’t dissipated at all.
  • Wear a hat. A baseball cap will do, but a better bet is an expedition-type hat that has protective flaps to cover the neck. Another style is the wide-brimmed bucket hat; again, don’t worry about looking geeky on the trail.
  • Apply sunblock on all exposed skin. Read the product directions: some varieties of sunblock need to be put on some time before exposure in order to be effective.
  • Wear loose fitting, light-colored, lightweight clothing.
  • Carry—and drink—lots of water.