Sunshine and warmer days have returned, which means that hikers everywhere are dusting off their boots and seeking out the perfect trail. I’ve hiked some pretty spectacular trails, and I know that I won’t be the only outdoor enthusiast spending time in the wilderness this summer.
Though sunshine and high temperatures seem to promise a perfect day, it’s important to know the risks of hiking in hot weather. This way you can avoid illness and injury, and spend more time enjoying the spectacular views! Here are our top 5 safety tips for summer hiking:
Choose the right clothing and gear for hot weather hiking
When the temperature starts to rise, picking a hiking outfit can seem tricky, especially if you’re new to the trails. It’s only natural to want to pick shorts and t-shirts as hot weather hiking attire, but it’s actually a better idea to cover up when you’re out in the sun to avoid the strong UV rays. Same goes for sunscreen. Pack light, but don’t forget to carry sunscreen, so you can reapply throughout the day.
Covering up also provides a bit of protection against minor injuries. As a very clumsy hiker, I’ve avoided a ton of scrapes and scratches just by wearing long clothes. When choosing a hiking outfit, it’s best to pick a fabric that wicks moisture away, such as light merino wool or a synthetic merino alternative. Some hiking clothing even has UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) ratings. And, of course, don’t forget to wear a hat!
Hiking Hack: You’re going to sweat, so why not bring a full change of clothing and leave it in the car? Sweaty socks are gross, and there’s no better feeling than changing into a clean, fresh pair after a long day of hiking.
Protecting your eyes is also important, which is why it’s a good idea to wear sunglasses on particularly sunny trails. If you’re hiking in the shady forest, it’s less of a concern, but if you’re crossing an alpine meadow or exposed rock fall, you’ll definitely want those shades. I’ve found that some sunglasses can cause visual distortions or depth perception problems, which can be hazardous when tackling challenging terrain, so choose your sunglasses carefully.
Bugs are an unpleasant reality of hiking in hot weather. On a recent hike, the air was so thick with mosquitoes that I consumed more of them than I’d like to think about. Unfortunately, I’d also forgotten to bring bug spray, and came home with the bites to prove it. Long clothes can help protect against biting insects, but it’s also important to use bug spray. This helpful article shows the effectiveness of various repellents.
Choosing the right day pack can also have an impact on your hot weather hiking adventures. Many day packs feature mesh backing, which holds the bulk of the backpack away from your back, allowing for maximum airflow. This means that sweat can evaporate freely, keeping you cooler and more comfortable.
Travel safety tip: Even if you’re just adventuring within Canada this year, travel insurance is a good idea for all trails, long and short. Learn why it’s important to have travel insurance that provides out of province medical coverage.
Timing is important
To avoid overheating on a hot weather hike, you’ll want to avoid being out for prolonged periods during the hottest part of the day. Generally, this is between 10:00 AM and 4:00 PM, so a good way to beat the heat is to go early.
Avoiding the snooze button on a weekend might seem crazy at first. But a cooler hike isn’t the only advantage to being an early bird. Starting out early might also help you get a better parking spot, since parking lots at popular trails fill up fast!
If you just can’t bring yourself to forego sleeping in, don’t despair! You can still enjoy the trails, just make sure to plan lots of rest and hydration stops in shady areas if you’re going to be out in the hottest hours. Many parks are also open later during the summer, which means that evening hikes are an option. Just make sure you know when the gates close!
Another summer hiking option to consider is night hiking. This way, you can definitely avoid getting sunburned! However, it’s important to be aware that night hiking comes with its own risks. Reduced visibility is an obvious one, since it could cause a fall on more challenging terrain. It’s also important to know that park gates are often locked at night, which could leave your car stranded. Some areas even look for cars that are left overnight, and post signs warning that search and rescue will be called if your car is still there after closing! Don’t forget to check the rules for wherever you’re adventuring.
Know your trail route before you go
Choosing a route carefully can definitely have an impact on your summer hiking plans. Last year, my partner and I were forced to abandon a hike in 34 degree weather when we discovered that our route actually lay on an exposed bank with no tree cover whatsoever! After that, we learned to study our trails, and pick one that’s weather-appropriate.
Hiking Hack: if you’re doing a loop trail in a valley that runs north/south, the sun will be mostly on one side of the valley in the morning, and will shift to the other side as the day goes on. So all you have to do is start on the side with more shade, and pace yourself so that the shade will follow you like magic!
Another way to avoid hotter temperatures is to choose mountain routes with plenty of elevation. Though the temperature drops the higher you go, your risk of sunburn actually increases, so make sure you’re covered up!
Hiking trails are often covered with poisonous plants and berries. Familiarize yourself with such common plants and avoid consuming any unknown herbs or leaves. Take it from avid hikers, Ken and Irene who learnt this the hard way on their hiking holiday in California.
If you’re planning on travelling to BC this summer, some of my favourite BC hiking trails include Kennedy Falls and Norvan Falls in North Vancouver, Brother’s Creek Trail in West Vancouver (with a side trip to Lost Lake), and the Buntzen Lake Loop or Lakeview Trail at Buntzen Lake in Anmore. These trails all feature plenty of lush forest and water. If you’re looking for a bit more of a challenge, you can tackle all three peaks of the iconic Stawamus Chief in Squamish. Mount Seymour and Joffre Lakes Trail are other stunning hiking trails near Vancouver.
Make sure your food and water is hot weather hiking-ready
One of the first things to think about when hiking in hot weather is proper hydration. But staying well-hydrated means more than just bringing extra water. When you sweat, you lose more than just water, which can cause an electrolyte imbalance. This can cause symptoms like muscle weakness and cramping, which you definitely want to avoid on a hike. To stay properly hydrated on the trails, I usually fill one side of my dual-chambered hydration pack with electrolyte solution, and the other side with plain drinking water. Not all electrolyte solutions are created equal, so if you’re using a hydration pack, make sure you choose one that’s won’t cause your hydration pack to mold and mildew.
Hydration packs are a great way to stay consistently hydrated, since they allow you to sip constantly while walking, and keep your hands free. Your body can only efficiently absorb about a half-litre of water per hour, so chugging large amounts of water in a short amount of time may actually be harmful (not to mention uncomfortable). It’s a better idea to drink small amounts more frequently.
Hiking Hack: If you’re using a hydration pack in hot weather, the fluid in the tubes will heat up, since they’re exposed to the sun. When you’re done sipping, clear the tube by blowing the water or electrolyte solution back into the main chamber. Since the main chamber is in your pack, it won’t heat up as quickly, and you’ll avoid a mouthful of hot water on your next hydration break!
Hiking in hot weather can make you feel lethargic, so it’s important to keep your energy up. Choosing snacks with complex carbohydrates will provide more sustained energy, since complex carbs are broken down more slowly. Trail mixes are a good source, or you may like the convenience of activity bars such as Clif Bars. You’ll want to avoid bringing anything that might melt into a soggy mess, so save the ice cream for after your hike!
Watch for signs of heat stroke
Nobody likes to think about the dangers of heat stroke, but hiking in warm, sunny weather increases your chances of getting this potentially fatal condition, so it’s important to know the signs. Some early symptoms of heat stroke include:
• Throbbing headache
• Dizziness and light-headedness
• Muscle cramps
• Lack of sweating, despite the heat
• Confusion or disorientation
• Shallow breathing
• Rapid heartbeat
If you or any of your hiking buddies are showing these symptoms, get off the trail immediately, find a shady area, and try to cool down. If you think you have heat stroke, it’s important to get medical attention as soon as possible.
Heat stroke most commonly affects people over 50 and athletes, but it’s still important to pay attention to what your body is telling you. If you feel overheated, find a shady area and take a rest. If you’re hiking near a creek or lake, there’s no better feeling than dunking your head to cool off. If you find that you’re thirsty, take a break and sip some water. If you’re tired, stop and enjoy the view.
Whether you’re hiking in Canada or abroad, travel insurance can help protect you this summer. Here’s how to choose the right coverage for your upcoming hiking adventures.
Where are some of your favourite summer hiking trails? Let us know below!