I’ve come home drenched from my last half-dozen hikes, and it’s only getting hotter with the Dog Days of August just around the bend, so I might as well revisit the sweaty realities of summer on the trail.

Hiking under the hot sun

Jeff at Mid South Hiking posted the most vital details this morning: keeping plenty of water in your body. That’s a good intro, to which I’ll add the following:

1) Take ice if you have it

I noticed on a balmy hike a few summers back that a sip of cool water seems to cool me down before I even swallow it (see, we’re just like dogs, only less loyal). Most hikers in warm climes know you can pack your hydration bladder with ice cubes; I have a couple refinements:

  • Filling your hydration bladder with icy water has two pitfalls: condensation drenches everything and the ice melts by the time you drive to the trail. My fix: wrap the bladder in a hand towel, which soaks up the sweat, then wrap the towel/bladder combo in my self-inflating sit-pad, which keeps my water cold all day.
  • Large chunks of ice stay frozen much longer. The trick is to find something you can freeze the water in that’ll make large cubes that’ll still fit into your hydration bladder. I wouldn’t advise pouring a bunch of water into your hydration bladder and freezing it overnight — it might work once or twice but if it weakens the plastic, you could have a messy disaster on your hands.

2) Stay in the shade, silly

Sounds obvious, I know, but sometimes in the heat of planning a hike to some way-cool locale, you might overlook the small detail that the majority of the mileage goes over ridge lines exposed to the blazing sun.

Save the sprawling vistas for when the weather’s cooler. Forests are way-cool in the summer. especially if you’re into redwoods or mushrooms.

3) Think about hiking at night

Lack of daylight adds immense complexity to a hike, and massive potential for encounters with nocturnal creatures (remember: skunks are nocturnal; as are bears).

Don’t just barge into the woods with your headlamp on: find local hiking groups that lead “full-moon” outings. While I’m the first to urge folks to get out of their comfort zone and hike solo during the day, I’m much more circumspect about soloing after dark. (More tips at Sgt. Rock’s Hiking HQ).

4) Keep your shirt on, dammit

Avoid the temptation to show off your fabulous pecs — leaving your shirt on will trap moisture near your skin, allowing the breeze to lavish the benefits of evaporative cooling on your body’s core.

Trapping moisture in your shirt is kind of like banking the water in your bottle: it stays with you in the form of sweat much longer. Going shirtless dries you out much quicker.

I used to think it might help to wear cotton shirts in the summer because cotton fabric stays wet so much longer; lately, though, I’ve noticed that once a polypro shirt like a Patagonia Capilene T wets out, it still holds moisture as long as you’re producing it.

(If you’re backpacking and hoping to keep your clothes dry, you’ll have to adjust a bit).

Go on easier hikes
Heat saps your strength, and exhaustion takes all the fun out of a hike. If you’re usually game for 2,000 feet of elevation gain in three miles, cut it to 1,000 in the depth of summer. And cut your eight-milers to six.


What are your tips for cooling it on the trail? Add a comment and share with the whole class.

Related: First impressions on hiking in North Carolina.