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Outdoor Safety in Extreme Heat

  • Sean Tucker
  • 21st August 2018
How to manage outdoor activity in extreme heat

You didn’t expect to get cabin fever in the summer time, when every outdoor activity you love should theoretically be easiest.


But here you are, in the middle of a heatwave that is likely only the first of several this year, longing for some outdoor activity but afraid to venture out of air-conditioned spaces.


Can hiking, backpacking, paddling, climbing, and your other favorite wilderness activities be safely done when the temperature is this high?


Yes. With a few precautions.


Here are 13 tips, from hard-won outdoor experience, from the Go Ape team.


Keep Your Activities to the Morning and Evening Hours


Before 11am and after 4pm are the safest times of day to exert yourself on the hottest summer days. You’ll want to stay out of the sun between those hours, no matter what activity you have planned. For longer hikes, plan to find shade and rest during the brutal late morning/early afternoon hours.


Factor in Rest Time


If the website calls it a three-hour hike, it isn’t a three-hour hike in a heat wave. Allow lots of time to stop and rest, and enjoy shady spots along the way.


Don’t Venture Too Far from Transportation


Loop hikes are better than long in-and-out hikes on the hottest days of summer. Should one of your party start to experience heat illness, you don’t want to be too far from your transportation to the nearest air-conditioned space.


Plan Shorter Times Than Usual


Even walking is more exhausting than normal when the air temperature is as high as it is now. So, get in your wilderness time, but keep it shorter than you otherwise might. You’ll still get the restorative effects of the forest, but won’t take unnecessary medical risks.


Drink Often, Before You Need It


Everyone knows that hydration is the key to staying healthy in the heat. But if you wait until intense thirst hits, you’re already in danger.


The body can lose fluids and electrolytes at an incredible rate of two quarts per hour in mid-summer. Heat-related illnesses come on with a cascade effect – the more fluid you lose, the less efficient your body is at cooling itself. You don’t want to let that cascade even begin.


So, bring lots of water (a liter every two hours outside is a good rule of thumb, but you can never have too much water with you). Drink often, whenever you are thirst, and even if you are not.


Freeze Your Water Halfway


This isn’t medically necessary, but as a comfort measure, it’s genius. The night before you head out, fill your drinking bottle halfway with water, and throw it in the freezer. Top it off with water when you’re ready to go. It melts over the course of the day, always giving you refreshing, cool water when you need it.


Eat More Than Normal


Really? Yes, really. The caloric demands on your body during any activity in hot weather increase. This isn’t an excuse to eat junk food, but it is smart to bring more on the trail than you would in cooler weather. Focus on frequent snacks rather than stopping for heavy meals.


Stay Wet to Stay Cool


If your hike or activity takes you near water, use it. Soaking your skin and clothes can provide psychological relief, and keep your body temperature lower.


Don’t Just Apply Sunscreen Before You Start. Take it With You


The American Academy of Dermatology recommends that Americans reapply sunscreen every two hours in the sun. If you’re taking our previous advice and staying wet, you may need to apply it more often to counteract the effects of washing it off with dips and splashes.


Wear Loose-Fitting, Light Clothing


High-tech, moisture-wicking fabrics are awesome. But you don’t have to spend a fortune at a fancy outdoor outfitter to have safe clothing for outdoor activities in the summer. Just focus on light weight and light-colored clothes (which don’t store heat next to your skin like darker colors can).


Wear a Wide-Brimmed Hat


Or carry a trekking umbrella. The permanent shade does a lot to make you feel more comfortable.


Know the Signs of Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke


Above all, know when to call it quits. Keep an eye out for the signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke, in yourself and your companions, and be ready to treat quickly.


Heat exhaustion symptoms can include:
• pale and clammy skin
• heavy sweating
• nausea
• tiredness, dizziness, or fainting
• headache
• muscle cramps


Someone experiencing these signs should be treated promptly – get them to the shade, get them to drink water, loosen clothing, apply wet cloths to the skin and don’t let them resume activity until symptoms have been gone for at least an hour.


Heat stroke is even more serious, and begins when the body’s core temperature reaches life-threatening levels.


Signs of heat stroke include:
• flushed face
• dry skin
• weak and rapid pulse
• confusion
• poor judgment or inability to cope
• unconsciousness
• hallucinations
• seizures


Heat stroke is a medical emergency, and always requires a call to 911.


Lastly, Don’t Go Alone


It’s hard to recognize heat illness in yourself. You’re safer with a friend, so you can keep an eye on each other. 





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