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Summer, Sun and Sweat: A Guide to Keeping it Cool

A collection of expert tips for how to keep your hiking cool in the heat of a summer day.

Adventuring outdoors in the summer means paying even more attention to hiking basics like adequate hydration, proper layering and on-trail first aid (how do you treat a sunburn in the backcountry)? Peruse our collection of time-tested tips for beating the heat and staying safe while hiking in the height of summer.

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Summer in the Pacific Northwest — the only season you'll need shades. Photo by Joseph Tobiason.

Stay hydrated

You've heard it before, but it bears repeating — the number one way to stay healthy in the outdoors is to make sure you're getting plenty of fluids (and that means drinking water before, during and after your hike.) Drink water whenever you feel thirsty, and make sure you are carrying enough to make it to your next water source. This is even more important as the temperature rises. Check out our other hydration-savvy tips.

WTA Pro Tip: Your four-legged friend needs water, too! Make sure pups drink whenever you do — they're more prone to dehydration and heat exhaustion than we are.

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Make sure everyone in your hiking group is staying properly hydrated! Photo by David Auyong.

Lighten your layers

Hot-weather hiking means loose-fitting, lightly-colored synthetic fabrics that will wick moisture and keep you cooler as you move. As counter-intuitive as it may seem, long pants and long-sleeved shirts with hoods can help keep you cool by keeping off the sun, which will prevent sunburn and keep internal temperature more regulated. And don't forget your hat! 

WTA Pro Tip: Little ones may need a slightly different layering system than their grown-up companions. Read about how to keep kids comfy on trail.

Sunscreen 101 

It's one of the 10 essentials and is extra important when hiking on reflective snow or sand — or at elevations above 5,000 feet, where the sun's rays are more intense. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using a water-resistant, broad-spectrum sunscreen — which protects against both UVA (aging rays) and UVB (burning rays) — with a rating of SPF 30 or higher. 

  • Apply sunscreen 15 minutes before going outside.
  • Use enough sunscreen to cover all exposed areas of skin; most adults need about one ounce (or one shot-glass full) of sunscreen to fully cover their body.
  • Don't forget to cover lips, tops of feet and tips of ears with sunscreen, too. 
  • Reapply every two hours, or after swimming or sweating. 

WTA Pro Tip: Sunglasses are a must for protecting sensitive eyes. Opt for a polarized pair if you're concerned about the glare on snow or water. 

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Snow, sand, water and hiking at higher elevations make sunglasses, sunscreen and hydration all the more important. Photo by Craig Peterson.

Know what heat exhaustion feels like

Heat exhaustion — often characterized by sudden general confusion, fatigue, possible headache or muscle cramps, pale skin, profuse sweating and a rapid heartbeat — can lead to heat stroke, a possibly fatal condition, if left untreated. As scary as that sounds, heat exhaustion is easily preventable with some common-sense approaches for planning your summer hikes:

Pay attention to the heat index. When temperatures rise to 90 degrees or higher, the risk of heat-related illnesses increases dramatically. Skip the exposed hill climb and opt instead for a shade-filled ramble in the woods.

Again with the hydration. Down some H2O (about 20 ounces) a few hours before you hit the trail and replenish frequently during your hike. 

Add in electrolytes. Dehydration can result in salt depletion, a mineral necessary for proper body function. Replace some water with a sports drink or coconut water to replenish this vital nutrient. 

Choose your layers carefully and don't forget the sunscreen.

WTA Pro Tip: If you find yourself or a hiking companion exhibiting signs of heat exhaustion, rest immediately, in shade if possible.

  • Remove packs and any constricting clothing.
  • Dampen a handkerchief with water and use it as a cooling compress on the neck and face.
  • Drink water and replenish electrolytes.
  • When resuming your hike, move slowly and rest as often as needed.

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Find a place to rest and relax if you're feeling the heat while hiking. Photo by Cory Egan.