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Hiking in Hot Weather

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by on 08-10-2012 at 07:46 AM (468 Views)
By The Trailmaster John McKinney

Hot and bothered after a mid-day hike?

Well, it’s no wonder.

Recent studies have shown that optimum temperature for long-distance walks or hikes is 50 to 55 degrees F. Above this range a hiker’s performance degrades as much as two percent for every five-degree increase in temperature. Air quality, wind (or lack of same) and the amount of reflective heat are also environmental factors that affect a hiker’s performance.

As temperatures rise, hikers must adjust their routine. Too much sun, too much hiking and too little fluid intake can make even a strong hiker an accident waiting to happen. Heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke can result.

My fellow California hikers, who tend to be a bit blasé about hiking in the heat, are always surprised and shocked when a hiker dies of heat stroke on a trail just a few miles as the red-tailed hawk flies from air conditioned restaurants, shopping malls and suburbs full of swimming pools.

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Whether you hike in a part of the country with two months, four months or six months of hot weather, know that:

· Heat illnesses and deaths are preventable by taking the right precautions.

· A hike near home can be just as deadly as a trek across Death Valley.

The main environmental factors contributing heat-related illnesses are temperatures above 90 degrees F., humidity above 80 percent and sunlight exposure (partial to full) and dehydration.

Of course, “Wait ‘til it cools off” is always the best advice for the hiker contemplating a hike in the heat. But some hikers like it hot and, if you’re determined to hit the trail in the heat, you must take the right precautions.

Tips to beat the heat
· Time your hike for the cool of the day—early morning is best, late evening second best. Avoid midday when the sun’s rays are directly overhead, and late afternoon when the earth has absorbed the sun’s rays but the heat hasn’t dissipated at all.
· Wear a hat. A baseball cap will do, but a better bet is an expedition-type hat that has protective flaps to cover the neck. Another style is the wide-brimmed bucket hat; again, don’t worry about looking geeky on the trail.
· Apply sunblock on all exposed skin. Read the product directions: some varieties of sunblock need to be put on some time before exposure in order to be effective.
· Wear loose fitting, light-colored, lightweight clothing.
· Carry—and drink—lots of water.

Heat exhaustion can occur when the body is stressed by hot weather and depleted of fluids and salts. Symptoms of heat exhaustion include pale skin, dizziness, agitation, nausea, headache and rapid heartbeat.

Drinking lots of water or a mix of water and an electrolyte replacement drink will help ward off the condition as will moving from the sun to the shade. Eating a salty snack and taking a good rest will also help combat heat exhaustion.

More dangerous, heat stroke occurs when temperatures increase to the point where the body is unable to cool itself and brain function is affected. Symptoms of heat stroke include rapid pulse and breathing, irrational behavior, hot, dry skin, and unconsciousness. Treat this condition by cooling down the victim with cool (not cold) water and cold compresses. Immediate evacuation and medical help is required.

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Hiking Expert John McKinney, aka The Trailmaster, is a passionate spokesman for our need to reconnect with nature and the author of 25 books about hiking.

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Updated 08-10-2012 at 07:49 AM by GuestBlogger

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