Australia gets hot. And although spending lengthy stretches of time outside in the heat can be tough, with the right preparation and knowledge, you can still make the most of hiking in hot weather. Here’s how.
Australia is home to some of the most unforgiving climates around. The hot dry heat that covers much of the country in summer can lead to horrible sunburns, cramps, heat stroke, or worse.
That doesn’t mean hiking in hot weather can’t be enjoyable, in fact some of my best times on the trail were during 35°C+ days. All that’s needed are a few practical considerations to manage the heat.
1. Plan Your Hike Around The Weather
This really applies to any day out in the bush – take some time to plan your hike and observe the weather forecast. Having an understanding of what climatic conditions and terrain to expect will help you figure out how much water to bring or where to find it, what clothing to wear, and the best time to start hiking.
Be conscious of any bushfire warnings in the vicinity you’re hiking and don’t hesitate to cancel if the risk is too great.
2. Cover Up
Most of us love nothing more than a day out in the sun. However, Australia also has the unfortunate title of being the skin cancer capital of the world. Covering up is one of the most effective steps to minimise the sun’s rays making direct contact with your skin. Before venturing out on a hot and sunny day, make sure you’ve got;
- A broad brimmed hat
- Polarised sunglasses
- Loose fitting UPF rated long sleeve top and long pants
- Wool or synthetic socks to help prevent blisters
Avoid wearing dark coloured clothes (particularly black) to help keep you feeling cooler. And for those remaining areas of exposed skin, be sure to regularly apply sunscreen (at least SPF 50) throughout the day.
Handy tip: Covering up also reduces the amount of dust that gets under your clothing and can help prevent chaffing.
3. Avoid The Hottest Time of Day
Shifting the time of your hike to avoid the sun at its peak hours (typically 12pm to 3pm) is an effective way to manage heat. An early start can help you make the most of the day before things really heat up.
While the early wake-up may feel rough for those who aren’t early risers, it’s almost certainly the lesser-evil compared to sweating profusely and risking heat exhaustion in the middle of the day. Starting early also has the advantage of getting to your destination sooner and allows you to take it easy during the hottest hours of the day.
On some 37°C afternoons on the Jatbula Trail, the best way I got through the heat was simply lying in my tent under the shade and sipping on water with some dissolved electrolyte solution.
If the day’s hike is particularly long, it may be worth taking a rest during the hottest hours before resuming once it begins to cool down.
Alternatively, night hiking after sunset is also an option, though preparation is all the more important, as visual cues are limited and you’ll need a powerful head torch.
4. Stay Hydrated
Sweating is one of your body’s primary ways to keep you cool, and to maintain this function you need to stay sufficiently hydrated. Sufficient hydration could literally be the difference between life or death on a multi-day hike. The rate of water consumption will vary from person to person based on the activity but a general rule of thumb is to drink one litre of water for every hour of hiking.
Definitely use a hydration bladder – having easy access to your water can make a big difference. It may seem trivial but the minor inconvenience of continually needing to take a water bottle out of your pack can reduce how much water you’ll drink.
It’s also generally better to sip water throughout the day rather than chugging huge quantities at once. The human body can only absorb a certain amount of water at a time.
Staying hydrated doesn’t just allow your body to sweat, it also helps to prevent cramps and heat-induced fatigue.
However water alone may not be enough to sufficiently hydrate you – there’s also the loss of electrolytes (sodium, potassium etc.), that help regulate muscle behaviour and help keep you hydrated, to consider. Mixing electrolytic solutions into your water, such as Gatorade powder or Hydralyte, and consuming salty snacks will improve your body’s ability to re-hydrate and stay hydrated.
Handy Tip: Alcohol has a dehydrating effect on your body so it’s best to avoid big nights on the drink the day before and during a hot weather hike.
5. Know Your Limits
If you’re hiking in heat that you’re not acclimatised to or on a multi-day hike in the heat, stay within your limits.
Gradually increase the duration and intensity of hot weather hikes. Spend some time practicing hiking in the heat before taking on a long day or multi-day hike. Don’t just plough through but plan regular rest breaks to have a drink, eat a salty snack, let your muscles relax a little, and check in with anyone you might be hiking with.
Have a good stretch while you’re taking a break and at the end of the day to help prevent muscle stiffness and cramping. Bring Vaseline to prevent chaffing as well as an extra water bottle or bladder in case the primary one fails or is lost.
6. Look For Signs of Heat Exhaustion
Being out in the elements all day can take more of a toll on your body than you initially realise and puts you at risk of dehydration, heat exhaustion, and possible heat stroke.
Knowing the symptoms of these increasingly severe conditions can allow you to treat the initial warning signs before things turn ugly.
The first noticeable sign of dehydration is often a headache. If you start to feel one coming on, take a break in the shade and sip on water. Avoid tea, coffee, and alcohol.
Other symptoms of dehydration include;
- Increased thirst
- Dry lips, mouth, or tongue
- Dizziness and tiredness
- Dark coloured urine
If you keep pushing on through these first warning signs, your dehydration can quickly turn to heat exhaustion.
If you’re suffering from heat exhaustion, it’s unlikely you’ll be physically able to keep on hiking. Certainly take an extended amount of time to rest in the shade, while sipping water, and if possible, take a cool shower or bath, or cover yourself in cold, wet towels.
If the following symptoms persist or are severe, don’t hesitate to seek medical treatment.
- Heat cramps
- Heavy sweating
- Nausea or vomiting
- Weakness or dizziness
- A fast but faint pulse
Heat exhaustion has the potential to quickly become heat stroke, turning the situation into a medical emergency. If this is the case, call Triple Zero (000) and seek medical treatment immediately. Remove excess clothing and try to submerge yourself (or your mate) in water if possible.
Heat stroke symptoms are;
- Sudden rise in body temperature (above 40.5C)
- Declining mental condition
- Red, hot, dry skin (as sweating has stopped)
- Rapid, shallow breathing
- Slurred speech
- Poor coordination
- Losing consciousness
Bring a Personal Locator Beacon to call for help if you’re really in trouble, especially in very remote areas.
Feature photo by @explore_with_ab