Tuesday at lunch I headed to a favorite local wild area for a two-mile hike. Five minutes in and I was a glow: my eyes stung with sweat, my shirt stuck to me, I’d even collected a cobweb or two. Ah, the return of hot weather hiking.
I love a good hike in the heat. In large part that’s because not everyone else does. Head out on a day when the temperature’s in the upper 80s, as it was Tuesday, and there’s a good chance you won’t see another soul on the trail. But the summer forest is a whole other world: it’s teaming with life, yet it’s oddly quiet. It’s the best time of year to find a secluded spot and plant yourself for 15 minutes and quietly observe the world around you.
As the days heat up, though, a lot of you are inclined to shelve your hiking boots until fall. Don’t. Every year around this time we show you how to embrace hiking in the heat. Our thoughts on the subject follow.
Tips for cool hiking
Timing is important. Evening is good: you’d be surprised how much the temperature drops between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m., and how how you’ll notice it on the trail. Early morning is good as well: Hit the trail at 7 a.m., be done by 11 and you can get in a decent hike before the temperature gets much above 80.
Distance. One concession you might make is the length of your hikes. If you love a good 10-miler in winter, maybe a 5- to 7-mile hike is more appropriate in hot weather.
Location. Select trails with high canopies: leaf cover can trim about 10 degrees from the heat. Also look for trails with minimal understory to allow better access to whatever breeze may be available.
Location, location. Trails that are wide, preferably double track, provide superior air flow. And on early morning hikes, you’ll be less likely to Swiffer up a raft of spider webs on these wider paths.
Location, location, location. Especially at lower elevations, hike along water. If you start to heat up, shed the hiking shoes and wade in, and splash a little over your head and neck.
Dress appropriately. In summer, cotton can be your friend (for the very reason it is your enemy in winter): Cotton absorbs sweat and keeps it close to your skin; on hot days, this works as a personal air conditioning system
Hydrate! Of course you’re carrying water; make sure your water is cold. If you use a hydration pack, fill the bladder with ice, then water. If you use bottles: the night before, fill them 3/4 full and put them in the freezer, then top off before heading out. Going for 5 miles or more? Take an electrolyte drink (or water stir-in) to replenish your body with vital minerals including sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium.
Listen to your body. Stop, drop, and rest if you have any of these symptoms: you sweat more than usual, you have muscle pain or spasms, you feel nauseous or dizzy or get a headache, or have any of the heat-released illness symptoms you’ll find listed at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention link below. Take further action as noted at the CDC site.
Prepare for pests. Things that fly and bite and spread rashes are a few of our least favorite things about summer hiking. But if you plan ahead and prepare, you can make them a little less pesky. See our handy link below.
Back to location. Hike in the mountains! They’re cool in more ways than one.
Don’t let the summer heat sideline you. Follow our advice and keep hiking!
Cool summer hiking
Join us on one of our cool camping weekends this summer:
GetCamping! Mother’s Day Weekend Camping Outing, Falls Lake State Recreation Area, Raleigh, May 11-12. On the shores of Falls Lake, we’ll have a hike along the water and two kayaks for paddling an intimate cove on the lake. While the days are warming, the nights remain ideal for sleeping out. Learn more and sign up here.
GetHiking! Classic Weekend: Lake James State Park and Fonta Flora State Trail, Lake James State Park, Nebo, May 31-June 2.A day of hiking (on a state trail that will one day link Morganton and Asheville), a day swimming and paddling. The perfect way to welcome summer. Learn more and sign up here.
GetCamping! Father’s Day Camping Outing, Jordan Lake State Recreation Area, Apex, June 15-16. Paddling, hiking, frolicking in the surf … plus, we do all the cooking. Learn more and sign up here.
GetHiking! Classic Escapes: Standing Indian and the AT, Standing Indian Recreation Area, Nantahala National Forest, Franklin, August 15-18. Learn more and sign up here.