Tips for Keeping Cool on Long Summer Hikes
The temperature might be climbing but that doesn't mean you can't too with this list of advice to keep you comfortable and cool from mile one to done.
The heat is on in many parts of our beautiful country! If you like to hike, you are going to need some tips for keeping cool on long summer hikes. Beyond the obvious, these tips will help you actually enjoy hiking during the hottest months of the year. By sharing them, I hope that you can get out and enjoy plenty of sunshine this summer instead of feeling like you have to stay in because you can’t handle the heat!
Hike Early or Late in the Day
The best thing you can do to beat the summer heat is to do the hardest part of the hiking trail during the coolest part of the day. Usually, that means getting started as close to sunrise as possible so that you can save the easier part of the hike (the return journey) for when the day has heated up.
You can also beat the heat by waiting to hike until later in the day if the trail you are planning to hike is short enough to be completed before it gets dark. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with finishing the last bit of your hike by headlamp, but it is rarely as enjoyable as getting home as the last little bit of light leaves the sky.
Hike With A Neck Gaiter
At first glance, this tip might seem counterintuitive. Aren’t neck gaiters usually used to protect the gap between your beanie and winter jacket?
While that is one of their uses, gaiters or buffs can also be used to help you stay cool on long summer hikes. They are most effective, however, if the hike you are on crosses a few small streams or meanders along a creek or river.
This will allow you to dip your neck gaiter into the water and then put it back on your neck. Cool water will drip down your back and help to cool down your neck. If it’s a really hot day, you can also dip your hat into the creek to provide much needed relief for your entire head.
Cotton kills! It is an old saying at this point but it rings true for any type of outdoor recreation you can imagine. If you want to stay cool on long summer hikes, you need to wear clothing made of some type of non-cotton, moisture-wicking fabric.
Fabrics like nylon, polyester, and even elastane breathe much better than cotton, which tends to trap a lot of your body heat. While dry cotton layers can be nice on a cool winter evening, they will greatly elevate your body temperature and increase perspiration on hot summer hikes.
In addition, you should consider actually wearing long sleeves and pants when hiking during particular hot summer days. This is increasingly important if you know that the hike you are going to do will offer minimal shade.
While this might feel awkward and hot at first, reducing the amount of your skin that is directly exposed to sunlight will actually keep you cooler in the long run. Plus, it has the added benefit of helping you avoid bad sunburn that will leave you regretting your hiking choices for days after you get home.
Choose Your Hikes Wisely
You can also help yourself (and your hiking partners) by making a wise choice when it comes to the trails you hike during the hottest parts of the year. As temperatures increase, so does the importance of choosing hikes near reliable water sources.
There is quite possibly nothing more refreshing and rewarding for the summer hiker than to arrive at a clear, cool body of water after toiling over several miles of trails. Even if you don’t strip down and go for a full swim, just dipping your toes in the water will cool you down significantly.
This is only possible, however, if you sufficiently research the hike in advance to confirm that there is water at the end (or along the journey).
Additionally, summer is also a great time to explore the higher mountain elevations that are completely inaccessible during the winter months. Because of their higher elevations, mountain trails are also going to offer cooler temperatures when the lower valleys are sweltering.
Take Strategic Breaks
My best friend hammered this idea home for me because I would absentmindedly decide to drop my backpack and grab a drink of water in direct sunlight. He would just keep hiking right past me muttering something like, “see ya at the next shade spot.”
When you are hiking in the heat of the summer, you may find that you need to take breaks more frequently than in the spring, fall, or winter. But it pays to be strategic about where you take these breaks when you feel the need to give your legs a rest.
If you can, do your best to find a healthy amount of shade for your breaks. This will allow everyone in your party to rest their legs while also getting a break from the strong rays of the sun.
You can even turn this one into a game if you are hiking with small children. Challenge them to make it to the next big tree with shade underneath it before they can get another sip of water or enjoy handful of your family’s chosen trail snacks.
Hike with an Umbrella
Okay, I have to admit that this was a new one for me. I grew up hiking all summer and never even considered bringing an umbrella. But I listened to an episode of the Backpacker Radio podcast and learned that this is a thing that a lot of long-distance hikers do.
It is an especially effective strategy if you know that the hike you are going to do offers very little natural shade. And the good news is that they now make small umbrellas that attach right to your backpack so that you can keep your hands free.
Share A Pack With Your Friend or Hiking Partner
While most of the best hiking backpacks out there these days are intentionally designed to breathe well in the heat, having something against your back is always going to restrict heat loss more than if you were hiking unburdened.
So if you are just going on a short day hike, consider packing everything that you and your hiking partner want to bring in just one pack. In the best case, choose a hydration pack that allows you to carry plenty of water without the added weight and bulk of a water bottle.
This will allow you ensure proper hydration and preparation. It will also give you the ability to switch off carrying the pack so that you can both enjoy some weight-free hiking.
Of course, if you have a partner that prefers the ‘pack-mule’ role in your relationship, then you may be able to get away with a pack-free hike for the entire duration!
At the end of the day, you shouldn’t let a little heat stop you from being active in this season, especially with all these tips for keeping cool on summer hikes. Summer hikes are a great way to stay (or get) in shape and they allow you to experience some of nature’s wildest places. Plus, they are a great excuse to get out of that crowded RV park and find the peace and quiet you were looking for when you planned your camping trip.