With Summer fully upon all of us across the country, many of us have already dusted off our packed away gear or have already started planning big outdoor trips. This is exactly what the Summer season is perfect for, but with it comes the added risk of operating in high heat environments. Just as you need to make sure you stay warm enough during the winter, staying cool in the Summer shares equal importance. It's significantly easier to tell when you're too cold, but heat stroke or exhaustion under the hot summer sun can happen quicker and easier than you think.
First and foremost, depending on where you'll be and the specific climate, there will be different opportunities and ways to help you stay cool. Forests offer plenty of shade, while a desert will have little or next to none. Be sure to take into consideration where your trip takes you to determine the appropriate equipment and supplies to be properly prepared to avoid any heat related issues. Items like sun hats and even sun umbrellas can go a long way in the right circumstances. The number one rule, especially during the summer, is to stay hydrated - which means to pack PLENTY of water and maybe some purification options as well, just in case.
It is completely safe to hike in hot weather, but your limitations will be based on your personal capabilities, or for many of us, the capabilities of the group. Do not abandon members of your group to catch up later if they're struggling - especially if it's just one person who assures you that they will catch up. Staying together is important, as heat affects us all differently. If someone in your group needs a break, that's a sign that everyone should take a few minutes to prepare for the next leg of the hike. Taking frequent breaks will be hugely important to preventing heat stroke, looking for areas that protect you from the sun, such as under some shady trees or a large boulder that casts a wide shadow. It's especially important during the summer to hike within your means, as heat stroke or heat exhaustion sets in rapidly, and many who have experienced it are noted to have felt completely fine just before it set in.
For extremely high heats, 90 degrees and up, hiking earlier in the morning and later in the afternoon is a good practice to prevent exhaustion. The temperatures will be hottest during the high noon, and if you're able to avoid moving or doing strenuous activities during those times that will go a long way to helping you stay comfortable. Night time hikes would be the best way to put some distance behind you while staying cool, but I would only recommend this if it's a familiar path and if you have the appropriate lighting equipment to do so safely. Getting lost is significantly easier in the dark, so if it's a previously untraversed path for you, wait until the sun rises before you continue on your way.
Specific types of clothing are designed for warmer temperatures and help to keep your body cool as well. Synthetic fabrics such as polyester have a lower thread count than cotton, allowing for more air to travel through the fabric. Not only does this help the heat drain out of your body through the surface of your skin, this also helps to wick away moisture. For any woodland hikes in warm weather where shade may be frequently available, short sleeve clothing is a nice way to get some additional ventilation on your skin. However, in desert environments full coverage is recommended. As the sun and heat evaporate moisture more rapidly in arid environments, covering your skin fully maintains the liquid in your body, and also helps to prevent things like sun stroke or sun burns from prolonged exposure - especially in cases where shade may be entirely unavailable. Remember, there are still pesky creatures like ticks to be aware of, so some coverage may be necessary to prevent annoying pest issues.
Two must haves for any summer hike are water (lots of it) and sunscreen. Depending on your complexion and skin type, different ratings of sunscreen and formulations exist for all types of skin. This is important to protect you from harmful UV rays from the sun. Prolonged exposure can lead to sun burns, which are an immediate concern, but continuous long term exposure can lead to more debilitating diseases, such as skin cancer. Some of us may not burn easily but that is not a reason to not wear sunscreen. UV-C rays penetrate through your epidermis and attack your skin cells directly, and over time this can lead to the outright destruction of your skin cells ability to replicate. Hydration, however, is never more important than in the summer. As I said earlier, heat exhaustion can settle in rapidly, and one of the largest ways to prevent this is to ensure you're getting a proper intake of water. Chugging a bottle every few miles is not proper hydration - consistency is key. Taking a few sips here and there as you walk, as well as larger amounts when you stop to rest, is the best practice for hiking in the heat. Many of us have noticed that we may need to use the bathroom less in high heat, as you are sweating much of the moisture in your body out, rather than it turning into urine. One key indicator that you are not getting enough water is lower frequencies of urination, where you should be going every 3-4 hours regularly. If you notice this isn't the case, pull out that water bottle and take a drink!
If you do start to feel dizzy or woozy at any point, stop IMMEDIATELY. Find a shady spot close by and rest, drink some water and maybe eat a snack to help your body recover. Give yourself as long as needed - your health will always be the most important thing out there. Unknown to us, our bodies are constantly working to expel excess heat generated by our own bodies as we move around, and this is especially harder to expel when the temperatures in the environment get closer and closer to our internal body temperatures. Doing things to help drain excess heat, such as a wet towel draped over your neck, is a great way to speed up the cooling process. A common sign of dehydration is headaches and fatigue, and if those symptoms are apparent it is just as important to stop and take a drink, allowing yourself enough time to collect yourself. The harder you push yourself when you're already dehydrated, the quicker those problems will get worse.
As always, be sure to plan accordingly and pack what's needed for your trip, taking into consideration the environment, weather, and how long you'll be out there for. Carry extra water - not just for yourself, but maybe another in your group or another unfortunate traveler.