For most places in the country, summer is probably the best time to get some good hiking done. Clear, sunny skies, vacation time, and long daylight hours can all mean a great, full day spent on the trail … but here in Southern California summer can often feel like the worst possible time to go outside, let alone hike.
Those same clear, sunny skies and long days can bake the ground you’re walking on, the coastal scrub and chaparral that make up most of the nearby trails provide little or no shade, and when temperatures hover near (or into) the triple digits, it’s tough to get the motivation to do anything that doesn’t involve strapping a block of ice to your forehead or trying to fit inside your refrigerator.
However, it is possible to still enjoy the outdoors in our brutal late summer weather. You just have to adjust your thinking a bit and take a few extra precautions beyond the basics (like making sure to tell someone where you’re hiking). You don’t have to let high temperatures keep you off the trails!
1. Start Early
Look, nobody likes waking up early Monday through Friday for work, and even fewer people like waking up early on the weekend – but if you don’t want to go for weeks without getting your boots dirty, you’re going to have to get an early start. 11AM to 2PM is usually when the thermometer peaks, so if you can get most of your elevation gain over with before then you’re going to have a much nicer time on the trail.
2. Cover Up
This may seem counterintuitive, but long sleeves are actually your friend here. The more of your body you can shield from the sun, the happier you’ll be. Loose-fitting long sleeves and pants paired with a wide-brimmed hat will do wonders on a summer hike. Remember to shield your eyes with some UV-blocking sunglasses and slather that sunscreen on every exposed part of your body – especially if you’re hiking at altitude. The sun is stronger up there and you’ll get burned faster – even more so if you’re constantly sweating it all off. Also, don’t wear cotton. Just don’t. Go with wool or wicking fabrics.
During most hiking, your body will lose about a liter of water every hour, and strenuous hiking in hot weather can more than double that amount. Be sure to bring more water than you think you’d need – and remember to sip often. Under most conditions, your body can only efficiently absorb about a half-liter of water every hour and in many cases chugging a bunch of water at once can actually do more harm than good. Remember – if you’re thirsty, you’re already dehydrated. BONUS PRO-TIP: When you’re done sipping from a hydration bladder, blow back into the mouth piece so the water doesn’t stay in the drinking tube. There are few things worse than getting a drink of hot, sun-soaked water on your first gulp and this will at least ensure your next sip is temperate!
4. Stay Salty
It’s not enough to replace the water your body’s losing – you also have to rebalance those electrolytes while you’re doing it. Sodium and potassium are the two big ones you’ll need to make sure you don’t run out of energy – and always look for sources with complex carbohydrates instead of simple ones – the complex carbs will be easier on your stomach and give you a longer, more sustained energy boost than simple sugars. Trail mixes or GORP is great for this – and even better when paired with a starchy fruit like an apple. Or you can pack some electrolyte drink mixes or tabs along with your regular drinking water, too.
5. Remember to Rest
While you’re eating those snacks and sipping that water, why not also find some time to sit down in the shade? Chilling out for a bit will give your muscles a chance to recover and also give your sweat some time to evaporate and cool down your body temperature.
6. Don’t Forget the Extras
When I’m hiking in hot weather, I bring two pairs of socks. I don’t usually have a problem with blisters, but your feet sweat, too (gross, I know) and if it’s hot out, they’re going to sweat more than they usually do. When I’m feeling hot spots in my boots I’ll take a break in the shade and swap socks. I’ll turn the first pair inside-out and tie them to the outside of my bag to dry out – and make sure I’m hiking in the back of the group so no one behind me has to smell foot-funk. Also, Summer Heat + Sweaty Hiker = BUG SWARM. Especially in canyons, be sure to bring some bug spray along with you.
7. Know the Signs of Heat Stroke
Alarmist? Maybe. Important? Yes. When your core body temperature gets too high, you run the risk of suffering from heat stroke – a potentially lethal condition. The most common early signs are:
– Throbbing headache
– Muscle cramps
– Disorientation or confusion
– Lack of sweating, despite hot temperatures
If you or your hiking partner (you ARE hiking with a buddy, right?) think you’re getting heat stroke – stop hiking, find shade, and cool down ASAP. Immediately start planning on getting off the trail and to medical attention and don’t hesitate to call 911.
8. Check the Weather
Although skies may be clear in the city, the mountains can make their own weather. Oftentimes when it’s very hot – and especially when it’s more humid than usual – the mountains can trigger surprise monsoon downpours that can do some serious damage whether you’re on the peak or in a nearby canyon. Check the weather before you go and check with a ranger, too. You don’t want to get caught in one of those storms.
9. Pick the Right Trail
Let’s face it, if you do a trail that’s all along shadeless fire breaks in the low San Gabriels, you are not going to be a happy hiker no matter how much water you’re drinking or how many layers you’re wearing. When choosing your hike, you’ll want to look for three things: SHADE, WATER, and ELEVATION.
Lucky for you, we’ve broken all that down for you on our list of 15 Best Summer Hikes in Southern California.
What about you? Do you have any tips for staying cool on a hot weather hike?