Maybe your summer vacation to a cooler high elevation was canceled. Or the window for that cool-weather springtime trip passed while you were under lockdown. Wherever you live, odds are you’re looking for someplace closer to home for a summer adventure—and, odds are, that might be … hot. But you can still hike and backpack in the heat—it sure beats sitting at home! Here are 11 tips for staying safe and comfortable while backpacking or hiking in hot weather.
#1. Choose a shadier hike.
Studies show the temperature difference between shaded and non-shaded ground can be as much as 36°F. If you can, opt for a tree-lined hike. Or if you’re headed into a canyon, consider what time of day the sun will shine on the trial. If there’s no option for shade on the trail, see below.
#2. If you can’t hike in the shade, wear your own shade.
Hiking early in the day, late in the evening or on a shady, tree-lined trail are great ways to beat the heat. But sometimes that’s just not an option. The good news: You can carry your own shade with you. A wide brim sun hat, or one with a sun cape like our Sun Runner Cap, can help keep the sun off while letting the breeze cool you down. Combining a lightweight hood—like the one on our Echo Hoodie—with your favorite sun cap is another great way to fend off the heat. You can also add a removable sun cape to your favorite sun cap.
#3. Opt for light-colored clothing.
Lighter colors reflect the sun’s rays while darker colors absorb them. That’s why most of our sun gear comes in lighter shades–it’s not so much about fashion.
#4. Go for loose fit.
The most efficient way for your body to cool itself is by air moving across the sweat on your skin. So you might think exposing more skin would be smart. Except that’s a great way to get sunburned and increase your risk of skin cancer. Instead, opt for loose-fitting items that allow air to move over your skin.
#5. Open up your vents.
The more air flowing over your skin, the more easily your sweat will cool you. So if your shirt or pants have a vent, be sure to open it up for maximum cooling.
#6. While you’re at it, add UPF-rated clothing.
Not all clothes are created equal when it comes to protecting you from the sun’s harmful rays. What does UPF mean? UPF is a textile rating system that rates the amount of ultraviolet radiation blocked by the fabric. Our UPF-rated clothing makes use of specific weaves, fibers and construction that make them more protective than regular clothing.
Outdoor Research has a number of UPF 30 and 50 garments including the best-selling Men’s Astroman UPF 50+ Short Sleeve Sun Shirt, Women’s Optimist UPF 30+ Short Sleeve Sun Shirt and the UPF 50+ Sombriolet Sun Hat.
#7. Cotton might actually be OK.
Except for socks and underwear, that is. You may have heard the outdoor mantra “cotton kills.” And it’s true—in some situations. If there’s a chance you’ll be caught with a sweat-soggy shirt when the sun goes down or a chilly storm rolls in, dropping the temperature, you run the risk of hypothermia. But if you’re guaranteed to have only hot weather, cotton can actually help keep you cool by holding your cooling sweat against your body. So go ahead and rock your favorite cotton t-shirt or plaid top.
But any place that might see consistent movement—like underwear lines, inner thighs and feet—can be a hot spot for chafing and blisters with cotton. So even if you wear a cotton t-shirt to backpack in, consider smooth, wicking synthetic fabrics for underwear, socks and any other place that might see friction. Also, don’t be afraid to stash a tube of Body Glide in your pack. Long days out in the heat can cause hot spots to form in places you may never have expected during your cooler hikes.
#8. Add some ActiveIce to your wardrobe.
Our proprietary ActiveIce fabric actively lowers skin temperature an average of four degrees as you sweat via active cooling technology. From sun-blocking sleeves and gloves to sun caps and trail gaiters, we’ve created a whole line of active cooling gear designed for your hottest days on the trail. How does it work? By using xylitol, which releases the same endothermic cooling reaction you get from chewing gum. That refreshing tingle you feel when you bite into a fresh piece of gum? That’s the same effect your skin feels when our ActiveIce products come into contact with water. The ActiveIce fabric collects moisture—or sweat—and actually uses that moisture to cool you down. Learn more about our ActiveIce Collection here.
#9. Take time to acclimate if you can.
Did you know your body can actually adjust to hot weather over time? That’s why pro athletes often go to the effort of heat training instead of trying to avoid working out in the highest temps. If you’re not used to exerting yourself in hot weather, start slow. The good news is you can see progress from adding heat training within one to two weeks of starting. Read more about acclimatizing to heat here.
#10. Take good care of yourself.
In hot weather, it can be easy to lose appetite and forget to eat. But making sure you have plenty of calories, electrolytes and fluid is important for both safety and comfort. A trick guides often use during hiking or mountaineering trips is to set a timer for 50 minutes to remind them to take a 10-minute break each hour. That way, even if your stomach isn’t grumbling at you, you’ll remember to give it some fuel. Keep an eye on your pee, too. If you’re well hydrated, it should be clear and copious. If you’re not stopping to urinate at least every three to four hours, drink up! Know the signs of dehydration and hyperthermia and pay close attention to what your body’s telling you. Maybe add a plug to Face Masks good to have in your pack if you run into people, and that OR masks are breathable and washable.
#11. Shift your expectations.
This year has been an exercise in adjusting expectations for most of us. Our summer plans probably don’t look like what we thought they might if you’d asked us back in January. Keeping a positive outlook and knowing your trip might look different than what you’d imagined will help you have a better time. If the temperatures are high, it probably isn’t a good day for setting a personal record for how fast you hike the trail. So go easy on yourself. Slow down, hydrate, and enjoy a moment of gratitude that you’re out on the trail at all.