Is it just me, or is it getting a little hot out there?! Too hot for hiking?
I don’t do that well hiking in the heat. As a coastal-dwelling surfer type I’ve grown used to foggy summer days bundled in a thick sweatshirt. So, when I take the family to the local mountains for a hike, I need to make sure I’m well prepared for the summertime heat.
What I’ve learned is that you don’t need to let a little hot weather stop you from enjoying our local open spaces. After all, sunny days make for some ideal conditions out on the trail — within limits, of course. Please be sure to pay attention to heat advisories and listen to your body. As long as you’re well prepared though, hot-weather hiking can be safe and comfortable!
So, before you head out into the heat, here are some tips I’ve learned that will help ensure you have a good time and stay healthy:
Skip lunchtime. When it’s really hot out there, you’re going to want to avoid the hottest time of the day, usually from around noon to 3 p.m. Instead, join the early birds and beat the crowds (and the heat) by planning a morning hike.
Note that our local parks and preserves open at different times, so plan accordingly. Many open a half hour before sunrise and remain open to a half-hour after sunset. Evening strolls are another way to avoid crowds, avoid the sun and see a different side of your favorite open space. Plus, the light can be most photogenic during the “magic hour” just before sunset. Just don’t forget a flashlight, and please respect the posted closing times.
The best hikes for hot days are the ones that offer plenty of shade and are close to big bodies of water like large lakes or, better yet, the Pacific Ocean. We have it good here on the Peninsula and in the South Bay because we have several trail options that are almost completely covered in dense forest. We also have some of the most beautiful coastal hikes in the state, which tend to stay much cooler during the summer months.
Aside from your normal list of essentials, there are few items you should definitely consider bringing if you’re planning a hike on a hot day. Number one is a hat. Ideally, it’s a large, brimmed hat that gives your face and neck plenty of protection. Though a baseball cap can provide some protection, you should consider a neck gaiter for extra coverage. You might also consider bringing an inexpensive handkerchief you can soak in water and hang around your neck to really keep you cool.
As for the rest of your outfit, think of wearing looser clothing with light colors. You want your clothing to be breathable, which will help your body regulate its temperature. However, there are some exceptions to this rule! If you are especially prone to burning, consider choosing UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) rated clothing. Just like sunscreens, UPF rates can vary with a UPF of 50+ being the highest. UPF rated clothing is usually made of synthetic materials, has a denser weave and comes in darker colors to keep those UV rays from hitting your skin.
Though cotton might not seem like the best option on a hot day (because it absorbs moisture easily and dries slowly), it is actually one of the better materials to wear in the heat. In fact, having a material that holds moisture might keep you cooler for longer. Just be sure the moist fabric isn’t rubbing against your skin in an uncomfortable way. Rashes are no fun no matter what the weather is like. So try to opt out of 100% cotton socks and go with thinner synthetic materials. And as for your footwear, ideally you have some breathable shoes that can still hold up on rough terrain.
This one is obvious, but don’t forget your sunglasses! Having shades with UV protection (even on a cloudy day) can really make or break your hike (or your cornea). And what might seem less obvious, but could really come in handy, is an umbrella. Even a smaller hand-held umbrella can provide a much-needed break from the direct sunlight.
Again, pretty obvious, but when it’s really hot out you’re going to need more water than you might think. The general recommendation is about 17 oz of water per hour of moderate activity, assuming the temperature is also moderate. Here’s where using a hydration pack can really be smart. The seemingly small convenience of having a sip tube can make it much easier to stay well hydrated. Another good option would be a squirt bottle. Again, the convenience factor can really save you in the long run. You can use it to squirt down your hat or handkerchief too. Last but not least, if you’re hiking with your furry best friend, don’t’ forget that they will need water too!
Salt! When the heat is on, your body is sweating and releasing salt and electrolytes which water alone will not replenish. Consider bringing a salty snack or an electrolyte-filled sports drink. There are even salt tablets that some athletes use for intense training sessions.
Sticking with the theme of water, consider packing foods that naturally contain a lot of it. Some of the foods with the highest water content include cucumbers, tomatoes and watermelons. Consider a fresh cucumber salad with some salty feta cheese to keep you firing on all cylinders. It’s also smart to pack some bananas with you to prevent the dreaded heat cramps. Bananas are a great source of potassium, magnesium and calcium — three nutrients that are proven to help prevent muscle cramps. A few more foods to consider bringing on your hot-weather hike include celery, oranges and mint. Mint contains menthol, which your brain experiences as being “cold.”
Overdoing it in the heat can be deadly! If you start to exhibit any of these symptoms, it’s time to find some shade, rehydrate and cool off: dizziness, heavy sweating, nausea, fast weak pulse and muscle cramps.
If you try to push it too hard you could end up with heatstroke, which is a medical emergency and requires an immediate trip to the hospital. Signs of heatstroke are headache, confusion, lack of sweat, rapid heart rate, and nausea or vomiting. In both of these cases having some type of cold compress will really come in handy to bring the body temperature down.
It’s important to know your limits and to find a shorter hike for those hot days if you haven’t had enough time to acclimate to the warmer weather. It can take your body up to 10 days to fully acclimate to high heat. So take it easy on your first few hot-weather hikes.
Getting a little sunburned after being in the sun all day can be hard to avoid. Always choose sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher, apply sunscreen at least 15 minutes before sun exposure and reapply every two hours. There are other things to consider when choosing the right outdoor skincare products, but in general, don’t forget the sunscreen.
This loop takes you through two parks in the heart of the Pescadero watershed and some of the healthiest, continuous forests on the Peninsula. There is plenty of shade cover from redwood and oak forests and the creek is always nice and cool, making it great for a rest stop.
The Cowell-Purisima Trail lies just south of Half Moon Bay. It is a favorite among POST staff with expansive views of the Pacific Ocean and the farmland which borders parts of the trail. It is also the only way to access Cowell Ranch Beach, making it one of the more remote and less crowded beaches to visit.
Distance: 3.6 miles one way (if you arrange a ride back to the start)
Elevation change: Flat
Hiking time: 2 hours
Trail surface: Gravel, fully exposed
Managing agency: San Mateo County Parks
Parking lot location: Click here for directions
Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST) protects open space on the Peninsula and in the South Bay for the benefit of all. Since its founding in 1977, POST has been responsible for saving more than 86,000 acres as permanently protected land in San Mateo, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties. Learn more