Hot Weather Hiking Tips

hot weather hiking in the Sahara desert
The Sahara Desert – the ultimate hot weather destination for hikers.

You unzip the door of your tent and the heat rolls in – it’s a scorching day outside. Your lips crack at the more thought of hiking into what will become a midday inferno. Even the parched plants look back at you with pity. But suffering for no good reason is dull and painful, so here’s a big list of hot weather hiking tips taken from my many miles of exploration.

Let me caveat this post: I find hiking in cold climates far easier than warmer places.

Time to get down to it…

Key Considerations For Hot Weather Hiking

What do you need to before lacing up your hiking boots, pulling on your backpack and heading out into another scorching day?

Everything you’ll read here is based on real world experience. I trekked through parts of the Sahara Desert and travelled through the hottest, most inhospitable jungles in the world. All of these journeys place required me to be self-sufficient; all my food, water and shelter was carried in my backpack.

In some locations temperatures reached over 50° C. Even though most of you are never going travel to places where the soles of your hiking boots can literally melt, the basic rules for hiking still apply.

Take The Right Outdoor Gear And Supplies

Success hinges on planning. Selecting appropriate clothing and outdoor gear specifically designed to keep you cool and comfortable can make, or break, your hike.

Carry Plenty Of Water

Just because you’re not hiking across a desert doesn’t mean water will be readily available. In the jungles of the world, water is plentiful and that’s before the monsoon season begins. But be wary, especially in places where water can be tapped almost on demand – sources can be riddled with parasites and other pretty unpleasant organisms.

When you start thinking about access to water you need to consider the purification process. Boiling water each night in readiness for the next day is the highest priority you have. But you can only carry so much water (consider this: 1 litres of water weights approximately the kilogram. 5 litres of water is an extra 5 kg of weight).

To reduce the weight, you carry you’re going to need a way of purifying water on the move.

On all of my expeditions and treks I always carry purification tablets and some of the best drinking straws available to buy at the time. I recommend you use a straw as water purified with tablets can taste like crap.

Wear Lightweight Clothes

When the temperature starts to rise you immediately feel warmer, which is a bit of a no-brainer. When you add in hard physical activity, you’re really going to notice the difference. The type of clothing you need for warm weather conditions needs to be lightweight and have excellent wicking qualities.

Anything that is lightweight, breathable and loose will do. As an added bonus, clothing with good wicking qualities draw sweat away from your body and reduces stickiness.

On my legs I wear a pair of walking trousers with removable lower legs that can be unzipped and removed when temperatures start to get warm.

There are many different options available, but I’m still using my Columbia walking trousers about that I bought about 15 years ago.

Headgear

A peaked cap is ideal for minimising the amount of glare the from the sun. Also, reducing the amount of sunlight that hits the top of your head will help reduce the risk of heat and sunstroke.

The longer and harder you hike the more you’re going to sweat. Wearing headgear, whether it be a cap, or a buff wrapped around the top of your head, helps mop up sweat that would otherwise run into your eyes.

Consider Taking Warm Clothing

Hot weather at the bottom of the mountains, cold on top.
Down at the base of the mountains the temperatures were a touch over 30 C. Up top, somewhat cooler.

Consider packing some cold weather gear. Some of the hottest places on Earth experience a full reversal of temperatures at night. Sizzling daytime temperatures give way to the kind of frigid lows you’d normally only expect to find in Arctic conditions. Going on a self-supported hike requires you to consider every possibility.

You should check historical data for weather conditions in the area you’re going to be travelling through. If necessary, pack some really warm gear like a down jacket. You’ll thank yourself when the temperatures dip.

Don’t Go Ultra Lightweight

It’s easy to fall into the trap of going ultra-lightweight. Going on a short hike shouldn’t be a reason for scrimping on the essentials. In fact, plan for eventualities. For any warm weather hike lasting more than a day, or two, you should use a decent size backpack rather than trying to cut corners on the load you carry.

When planning what equipment you need, be generous. If you think you need two days’ worth of food, pack for three days. Don’t be tempted to take a shelter, or tent, that isn’t suitable for the places you’ll be hiking.

One of the most important considerations you can make is around comfort. I find that many of the ultra-lightweight backpacks can be uncomfortable to wear when you add anything over a small amount of weight into them. The straps tend to dig deep and, in most cases, I simply don’t provide enough support when you have a significant amount of gear packed into it.

Take The Right Type Of Hiking Rations/Food

It’s a simple fact that physical activity in the cold burns more calories than when performed in a warm environment. The research shows that a long trek through icy wastes will burn an average of 1,000 calories more than a similar journey on a warm day.

Rather meals loaded with a huge payload of calories, opt for light options. An example of this would be a high energy 800Kcal main meal vs a standard 500Kcal.

Don’t pack food that will spoil or melt. Dried noodles and tinned products are fine if you have a way of transporting the packets and tins to a suitable disposal site.

When it comes to the snacks you take, I recommend you substitute chocolate with something like dates. Having a chocolate river running out of your pocket and down your leg is not a pleasant sensation!

Footwear

Light and airy does it. The footwear you choose should ideally be lightweight and comfortable and capable of repelling water for a reasonable period. On warm summer days I tend to wear my Merrell Moab 2 mid boots when hiking. Not only do they let your feet breathe, they also have a Gore-Tex layer which, whilst not perfect, will keep my feet dry in the event that mother nature decides a month’s worth of rain on me in half an hour.

Feel free to discard the above advice if you are planning to tackle a mountainous region. Heavier, study of boots that provide excellent ankle support are an absolute must for anyone planning to go scrambling up significant peaks.

Take A Sweatband/Bandana

Time for a flashback to the 1980s and that classic story of dance in an American high school, Fame!! If you’re horrified by memories of pink leg warmers, spandex and big hair, fear not: we’ll be wearing none of those nonsenses. What I do recommend is that you pack is the sweatband.

A small piece of material that can be hung and tied around your neck, the sweatband is useful for wiping away perspiration that runs off your forehead and into your eyes. I know this take some of the fun out of your hike because you can no longer run around screaming, ‘I’m blind I am blind’, then wiping away the sweats and shouting, ‘It’s a miracle, I can see you again!’

This simple piece of gear is a great alternative to hat for when the temperatures spike up and you don’t fancy wearing headgear. At this point, I just like to add that sometimes, no matter how uncomfortable it might seem, you really should consider protecting your head from the heat.

Salt in your eyes is no fun.

Underwear

Breathable underwear is key. Way back I used to hike in only be described as hungry underwear. It wasn’t until I joined the army that I discovered the pleasure of cycling shorts as an alternative to underwear. But cycling shorts can be uncomfortable, especially when travelling long distance as they have habit of keeping sweat close to your body.

This can make your hike an unpleasant experience.

A few years ago, I discovered alternative underwear: Robert Pierre. And I was very pleased with them. But even though they dried fast there was no going away from the fact they hadn’t been designed to cope with real heat.

Last year I discovered Robert Pierre’s sports range and I love them. The combination of wicking, relatively high waistband and perforated gusset (the less said about that, the better) makes for an incredibly comfortable fit and experience.

I know there are a number of brands out there that have similar design features and the choice is down to you.

Plan Shorter Legs Between Waypoints

Hiking long distances is hard work. The problem with warmer climates is that we can be easily deceived as to how our bodies are performing. For most of you I can imagine that being out and about on warm sunny day is a far more but more pleasurable experience than humping your gear through a cold and wet. But don’t be deceived: not planning for all eventualities could be disastrous.

Your body is excellent at great you when it needs fuel and water. And it’s easy for us to attempt to override that feeling those warnings when we’re trying to cover a set distance in a certain time. This is a dangerous process.

Rather than planning long and arduous legs along the route, make each one shorter and give yourself plenty of time to rest, eat and drink. Your body will thank you for it.

Set A Comfortable Pace

Set a fast pace and you’re going to sweat no matter where you are. In cold environments it’s easier to build and maintain a good strong pace when you’re hiking. This isn’t always the case in warmer environments when you’re speed-walking under the gaze of the midday sun.

The pace you set should be brisk enough that you’re going to meet you daily mileage, but not too fast that you soon become a quivering, sweaty mess. For a start are you going to smell pretty unpleasant after a few days, possibly swamp like. Secondly you increase the risk of dehydration.

It’s fairly easy to work out if you’re walking pace is appropriate: simply more monitor perceived exertion versus the amount of perspiration.

Staying Healthy When Hiking In Hot Weather

Hot weather hiking is peppered with health concerns: heatstroke, dehydration, sun burn and cramps amongst the common injuries experienced.

Dehydration

Water is your lifeline. It’s a known fact that we can live without food for up to 2 months. Our bodies will fade and wither after only 3 days of not drinking water stop. Personally, I don’t think the Tutankhamen moon look is in the season, I prefer my skin to be a little bit old and crusty roll desiccated.

This is important, and you should never be tempted even consider placing your water bottle anywhere not immediately to hand. The perfect location is in a water bottle carrier on the waistband of your backpack, or on a belt around the waist.

The side pockets of your backpack or not easily accessible. If you’re hiking alone, you’ll probably need to stop and remove your backpack to access your water bottle and it’s tempting to skip a water stop. At this point the risk of dehydration becomes very real.

I’m not a great fan of Camelback. Aim to set that allows you to see how much water is left inside. This simple approach will give you a visual prompt of when you need to refill the container. Having a camelback tucked away inside your backpack doesn’t provide you with this facility.

In a temperate climate you should aim to drink around half a litre of water per hour. As the temperature increases you need to up your intake accordingly.

Sings of dehydration:

  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Confusion
  • Dry lips and mouth
  • Dark urine

Going for a pee is a very accurate predictor of your hydration levels. If it’s not clear, you need water. Treating dehydration is easy if caught when the early stages:

  • Drink plenty of water

Heatstroke

Imagine your body is a broken oven: the internal thermostat goes wild and everything inside starts to overcook. Not a nice thought. Heatstroke is serious and, when detected, requires immediate medical attention.

Signs of heatstroke include:

  • Headache
  • Disorientation and dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Confusion
  • Unusually high core body temperature

When hiking in pairs pay close attention to you teammate and monitor for any signs of heatstroke.

Treatment for heatstroke:

  • Strip the victim and attempt to cool using cool water and fanning to lower the body temperature.
  • Rehydrate with water.
  • Evacuate the casualty as soon as possible.

Sunburn

Can you recall the first time you ever had sunburn? I’ll wager you don’t want to experience that feeling ever again. Protecting yourself from the cooking effect of the sun’s rays is an easy task, although you need to keep on top of your routine.

  • Wear clothes that have a certified SPF rating
  • Cover any exposed skin with sunscreen (a minimum of SPF 30 for a hike of two hours, or more)
  • Apply the sunscreen about 30 minutes before exposure to the sun
  • Depending on your exertion level and amount of sweat you produce, consider reapplying every hour, or so.

The only real treatment for sunburn is to cover the affect areas and allow your skin time to heal.

Other Considerations

Set A Comfortable Pace

Set a fast pace and you’re going to sweat no matter where you are. In cold environments it’s easier to build and maintain a good strong pace when you’re hiking. This isn’t always the case in warmer environments when you’re speed walking under the gaze of the midday sun.

The pace you set should be brisk enough that you’re going to meet you daily mileage, but not too fast that you soon become a quivering, sweaty mess. For a start are you going to smell unpleasant after a few days, possibly swamp like. Secondly you increase the risk of dehydration.

It’s easy to work out if you’re walking pace is appropriate: simply more monitor perceived exertion versus the amount of perspiration.

Avoid The Hottest Part Of The Day

Do you remember that advice your Gran used to give you? The one that went along the lines of, “stop picking your nose or you’ll scrape out your brain!” Oh, sorry not that one. My grandmother was a huge fan of the outdoors and spent many days and hours stomping around Dartmoor National Park. She always advised me to stay out of the midday sun.

Top advice: in particular, when your hikes and expeditions take you through into places where temperatures are abnormally high.

It’s relatively easy to plan around the hottest parts of the day. Factor a long stop, maybe a lunch break, into your walk and take a long break.

Hot Weather Hiking: What Next?

Hot weather hiking, like any expedition into extreme climates, might seem hazardous. With a little planning and some consideration for both your own tolerances, and those of your fellow hikers, you’ll be just fine.