I don’t know about you, but I hate the feeling of sweat dripping down my back, pit stains, my clothes sticking to my body…  But, hiking in the Costa del Sol I’ve learned that bright sunny days can be the best time to hike. Averaging 25 – 30 degrees, bright blue skies and warm Mediterranean breezes spoil us most days.  Until we get a heat wave. Sometimes it can get up to 40 degrees – do we stay inside like scared little fair-weather-hiking-babies? Nope, that’s what most people would do, which means we get the trails all to ourselves!  Although, if you’re up for the challenge, there are a few things you’re going to have to keep in mind if you want to be safe, and actually be able to enjoy it!

To be covered in this post:

  • Things to Keep in Mind

  • Planning your Route

  • Pack List

  • Health Risks

  • Why you should still hike in hot weather

Things to keep in mind

Humidity:

Humidity is worse than heat.  Lucky for us in Southern Spain, the heat is dry.  That means our natural cooling system can work properly.  We hike, our temperature raises, our heat goes into sweat – sweat goes through pores – and then the sweat evaporates releasing that heat into the air.  When it’s humid it ain’t that simple. When it’s humid, there’s too much moisture in the air and your sweat can’t evaporate.  The sweat and therefore the heat just sits on your skin and turns you into a slow poached hiker.  Bad news if you don’t want any heat-related-illnesses.

Acclimatisation:

Have you ever been somewhere hot and just hid in air-conditioned rooms?  You may be comfortable inside, but you’re making it much more difficult to enjoy the outdoors.  It takes about 10 – 14 days for our bodies to get used to a higher temperature.  Keep this in mind if you’re planning on venturing out of the air-conditioning toward the trail.  You may want to take it easy until you’re used to the heat.

Planning your route

It really helps to know the area – if you’re hiking somewhere you know well, then these steps will be easy.  Otherwise, it will definitely pay to do your research!

Shade:

Aaah, shade. If the sun is the school bully; shade is the kid who comes and sticks up for you when you need it the most.  The only difference is, shade isn’t imaginary! So when you’re planning your route on a day where you know the sun is going to want to bully you, figure out how you can hide from it most effectively.

Timing:

When it’s a blazing hot day, it’s going to take you a lot longer to get places than it normally would.  It’s so easy to over-exert yourself and get exhausted, or worse.  Give yourself tons of breaks in the shade to chill out, get your groove back and re-hydrate, I can’t stress enough how important this is!  

Another point I want to make about timing, is consider where the sun is in the sky during your hike.  The sun rises in the East and sets in the West – you can be sure of that, and you can use it to your advantage when planning your route.  For example, if you’re walking alongside a cliff it can be either a cool break, or a convection oven depending on where the sun is.

The final point I’ll make regarding timing is this:  If the heat of the day is too much, just hike around the sun!  I’m not telling you to hitch a ride on Apollo’s chariot, I’m telling you to make the most of the dawn and dusk hours.  If you can’t handle the midday heat, early morning and evening will be your best friends.

Bodies of Water:

There’s a reason why the vast majority of human civilizations are near bodies of water.  They hugely increase the standard of living by providing food, hydration, and irrigation.  For a hiker planning a route in hot weather, it’s always worth hiking near water as much as possible.  If it’s fresh-water then you have an ample supply of hydration, and the means to cool yourself quite quickly should you need to.  If it’s a sea or ocean then you have the benefits of a cool off-shore breeze – and a cool breeze makes a huge difference when you’re hiking in hot weather!

Pack List

Clothing:

If you’ve experienced hot weather before, there’s no doubt you’ve seen it:  That flabby old guy who strips down to his very revealing speedo as if nobody’s watching.   He’s comfortable with his body, so power to him. But we’re uncomfortable, and really, he’s not doing his body any favours. 

It’s a common misconception that shedding clothing cools you down. This is actually not true, less clothes mean the sun’s rays are directly hitting your skin.  The best thing for you to do is to wear loose fitting, light coloured, clothes.

An additional point I’ll make is something that’s often overlooked.  Always pay close attention to the materials of your clothes.  Some materials just don’t do you any favours in the heat, and there’s a lot of misinformation when it comes to the best materials to wear.  The bottom line is – Linen is a lifesaver, and Synthetic sucks!  I go into much more detail about materials in this post – it’s definitely worth checking out!

The Pack:

The magic word when it comes to getting a hot weather pack is ventilation.  If you could minimise the back sweat and chafing, wouldn’t you?  I’m personally not a fan of external frame backpacks; I find them uncomfortable and they hold the weight further behind you which is not good for your back, but if back sweat is your number one concern (which it probably shouldn’t be by the way, more on the importance of a well fitted backpack here) it means more airflow thus better evaporation of sweat.

There are lots of good options for increasing the airflow while using an internal frame bag.  The most effective ventilation I’ve found for internal frame packs, in my experience so far, is a mesh vent layer (shown in the pictures above).  They raise the pack just slightly away from the back allowing air to flow.  Some other good options to look for include ribbed and raised designs.

Boots:

The most important thing to remember when it comes to boots is to make sure they fit perfectly.  If there is any slippage when you try them on, imagine what’s going to happen when your feet get a bit sweaty!  If you’re unsure what to look for when trying on a pair of boots, check out this post.  Another thing to keep an eye out for is padding.  It may be nice and cushy when you try them on, but when it’s hot and you’re hiking, that padding is going to turn your feet into a couple of saunas.  Would you crawl into a winter sleeping bag in the middle of a summer’s day? Don’t do it to your feet! Lightweight, well-fitted, well-ventilated boots are important factors to remember when it comes to heat. For an explanation of how we recommend you choose your boots, check out this post.

Bandana:

You don’t have to be an outlaw or a biker to benefit from the bandana.  They have so many great uses, especially in the heat! If you don’t have a hat, or you’re not getting adequate sun protection on your neck, the bandana might just be your lifesaver.  But, the best use for the bandana in the heat is to cool you down.  Dunk that bad boy in some cool water, wrap it around your neck, and as the heat radiates into the water and evaporates, you’ll quickly feel much cooler. This is because you have several major blood vessels in your neck: the facial, superficial temporal, and occipital arteries, and of course the jugular vein.  That’s a lot of blood travelling around your whole body converging at one easily accessible place.  Vampires know it, so should you! It might just save your life!

Sunglasses:

A strong sun can do a lot of damage to your eyes, so there’s no need to get super fancy here.  How much you spend, what brand, and what features you get are all personal preference.  What isn’t personal preference is having a pair at all – when the sun is beaming down you need something to protect your eyes.  As long as you have 100% UV protection on the label that’s all you need to keep your eyes safe on a bright day.

Water:

Arguably the most important thing of this list.  During exercise, the average perspiration of an adult is between 0.8 to 1.4 litres per hour.  When you throw hot weather into the mix, that rate can skyrocket.  To avoid becoming dehydrated you need to be drinking water regularly.  Whether you use a bottle or a hydration bladder is up to you, as long as you have something.  On very hot days, I like to use the hydration bladder – it’s just easier to stay hydrated when you have a tube right by your shoulder ready to drink.  Whether you use a bottle or a bladder, make sure to get something that is BPA free (If you want to learn more about BPA check out this post).  This is especially important in the heat because the rate at which plastics leach into the water will be increased. 

(www.safetymoment.net)

Weight is very important to consider on any hiking trip, and water tends to be the heaviest thing you’re going to have to carry.  In hot weather you need to be drinking more water than you normally would, so it would be easy to load your bag up with water, but that’s going to exhaust you much quicker.  A good, lightweight filtration system will be invaluable to keep your water topped up.  That’s assuming your hike includes bodies of fresh water, if not you’ll have to bring all of your water with you – just be sure to take plenty of breaks.

Sun Block:

It’s not a question, sunblock is a necessity when hiking in the summer.  The sun can do a hell of a lot of damage to your skin if left unprotected. The higher SPF, the better.  For those of you with sensitive skin, there are a lot of great hypoallergenic options.  For a list of great options to look for check out this post.

First Aid Kit:

(www.desertcart.ae)

Never ever go for a hike without your first aid kit.  This small piece of kit truly could mean the difference between life and death in the outdoors.  For the most part your first aid kit is going to have the same components as it normally would;  but for a hot weather hike I’d add:

  • Sunburn Lotion / Aloe
  • Instant Cooling Pack
  • Extra Sun Block
  • Extra Sunglasses
  • Hydration tablets
  • Extra Bandana
  • Water Purification Tablets

Phone / Radio:

The hotter the weather, the more risk you are putting yourself through.  So unless you’re a Tuareg Tribesman (in which case, you really don’t need to be reading this blog post!)  You always need to have a method of contacting emergency services, just in case.  Expect the best and prepare for the worst.

Health Risks for Hiking in Hot Weather

(A handy guide to understand your risks. The boxed units are the 'Feels-Like' Temperature. Converted into metric, data sourced from www.aafp.org)

Heat Rash:

What is it:

Heat rash is caused when a lot of sweat can’t get through your pores when it needs to.  Whether it’s tight fitted clothing, antiperspirant, or any other reason – when your body isn’t allowed to sweat, pores become inflamed, bumpy, and very itchy.  In most cases it is easily dealt with, but if you’re not careful the area can become infected, in which case you’ll need to get a doctor involved.

Symptoms:

Red, Itchy bumps on the skin

Prevention:

Wear loose fitting clothes, be aware of how much time you spend in a hot, humid environment.

Treatment:

Over the counter creams and sprays are readily available.  In the case of infected heat rash, a medical professional will have to get involved.

Heat Cramps:

What is it:

Another form of hyperthermia, while not as threatening as heat exhaustion and heat stroke, heat cramps are very painful, and can exist on their own, or as a symptom of heat exhaustion. They are involuntary spasms of major muscle groups when they are being exerted in a hot environment.

Symptoms:

Painful, involuntary spasms of large muscle groups

Profuse sweating

Prevention:

As is the case with all hyperthermic illness, the best way to prevent heat cramps is to avoid exerting yourself too much in a hot environment; and again, stay hydrated.  Give yourself plenty of time to rest in the shade.

Treatment:

To treat heat cramps, find a cool, shaded place to rest and gently stretch and massage the cramping muscles and keep hydrating.

Heat Stroke:

What is it:

Also known as Sunstroke, Heat stroke is a potentially fatal form of hyperthermia. It happens when your core temperature reaches 40 degrees and your body can’t cool down.  Whether it’s dehydration, extreme heat, humidity, or physical exertion hot weather, heatstroke is always a medical emergency.

Symptoms:

High Body Temperature
Confusion
Hallucinations
Disorientations
Agitation
Absence of Sweat
Rapid Pulse
Seizure
Coma

Prevention:

Stay hydrated, avoid exerting yourself in extreme heat and humidity.

Treatment:

It is critical to cool the person quickly and always call emergency services as soon as heat stroke is suspected.  

Heat Exhaustion:

What is it:

Another form of hyperthermia, when your body’s ability to cool itself is overwhelmed by physical activity in a hot environment.  If you become dehydrated it can easily become heatstroke.

Symptoms:

Profuse sweating
Weakness
Nausea
Vomiting
Headache
Lightheadedness
Muscle Cramps

Prevention:

Be aware of your environment and how much you exert yourself.  Spend plenty of time resting in the shade and stay hydrated.

Treatment:

The first thing to do in the event of heat exhaustion is stop hiking and get to the shade.  Cool down and hydrate. Keep an eye on symptoms in case things progress to heat stroke.

Dehydration:

What is it:

Our bodies are 75% water, every part of our body relies on water to function.  Dehydration occurs when we lose water faster than we consume it. It can be anything from mild to fatal depending how rapidly you lose water or how long you go without consuming any.

Symptoms:

Dry Mouth
Dry Eyes
Cease Sweating
Muscle Cramps
Nausea and Vomiting
Heart Palpitations
Light-headedness
Weakness
Decreased Urine Output

Prevention:

Be aware of your water consumption and how much you’re exerting yourself in the heat.

Treatment:

In mild cases, sip water and rest.  In severe cases you must call the emergency services and will usually go on an IV drip.

SunBurn:

What is it:

The sun emits three types of Ultraviolet Light.  UVA, UVB, and UVC. UVC doesn’t even reach the surface of the earth, but UVA and UVB can cause a lot of damage to your skin.  UVA is known to cause aging in skin cells, and also damage their DNA. UVB having more energy is thought to be the main cause of skin cancer. Some people are more prone to damage than others. Skin will turn red and over the course of a few days your body will try to get rid of the dead cells.  During this time you will get very itchy and skin will peel away. Make sure you don’t pick and peel though because you’ll damage healthy skin cells and increase the chances of permanent scarring.

Symptoms:

Warm, red, painful Skin
Peeling of the Skin
Blisters
Fever
Dehydration

Prevention:

Be aware of how much time you spend in the sun; especially between the hours of 10am and 4pm when the sun’s rays do the most damage.  Be sure to cover up with loose clothing and apply ample sun block with a high SPF 30 minutes before going out into the sun, then reapply at least every 2 hours.

Treatment:

There are lots of ways to treat sunburn.  Most commonly for moderate cases is the application of soothing creams and aloe vera. Cold compresses also help.  In any case of skin damage, your body won’t retain water as well is it normally does, so becoming dehydrated can happen a lot faster. To avoid making things much worse, keep hydrating!

Why you should still hike in hot weather!

Can you really call yourself an outdoorsman/woman if you hide inside when it gets hot, or cold, or wet?  One of the beautiful things about going out into nature is that you trade comfortable for connected.  You leave the rat race and enter the real world, and the rules are very different out here.  

If you do it right, hiking in the sun may be exactly what you needed to do.  A hot, bright day does wonders for the psyche. As a sufferer of Seasonal Affective Disorder, (more on that here) I never feel better than I do after a long hike on a bright, sunny day.  Heat does tend to accompany ‘bright and sunny’, and even though I don’t like to sweat, the positives always outweigh the negatives.

If I’ve missed anything that’s worth mentioning, please do share it in the comments!  If you want to experience our amazing Mediterranean views and weather here in the Costa Del Sol, get in touch and we can plan your next adventure!