How To Hike In a Heat Wave
If its the PCT or the Camino de Santiago the weather can be unpredictable. It can rain on days when its supposed to be sunny or the temperature can rise to a level that you could have never predicted. On my latest thru hike my longest hike became the hottest day I ever experienced in Spain. I am talking about the devils 9th infernal asshole heat of 40c (104f). If you're coming from abroad and have everything planned out you can not really do much about the situation. So, do you give up? I don't think so. Here are some tips for hiking in the scorching heat.
Freeze half of your water bottle or hydration pack the night before.
Ill start with my favorite. Freezing your water bottle or hydration pack can provide cool water for a few hours into your hike, but there are a few complications you need to get past. If the bottle is frozen when full there is a risk of it rupturing or the frozen water stays frozen well into your hike. I found if I freeze half my bottle or even hydration pack I can have access to cool water for the first few hours. If your bottle is not a good insulator then maybe invest in a koozie. Koozies are inexpensive and do a descent job at insulating a bottle without much of a weight penalty.
Bring enough water and refill often.
Dehydration can be a serious problem, so dont get dehydrated. Know the symptoms and drink about a liter or more of water every 2 hours of hard hiking. The easiest way to keep track of how hydrated you are is to track how many times you are going to the bathroom and the level of clarity of your urine. The darker the urine the less hydrated one might be. Below a chart showing the different shades of yellow urine can be and how they relate to the bodies level of hydration.
Another tip when it comes to water is to refill your bottle in a cool water source. Cool water will help cool your body from the inside. This can be at a fountain, a stream (using the appropriate filter), in a tap, or buying a bottle at the super market. Even room temperature water might be cooler then the water you have been carrying in the heat.
If you are going through a descent amount of water that means you are also flushing your body of critical salts and bicarbonates. These will need to be replenished. If passing by a bar or supermarket maybe pick up a Gatorade or Aquarius or you can bring gels or tablets to place in your water and get back those essential electrolytes. If these salts are not replenished it can lead to other issues.
Take breaks in the shade and do not overwork yourself.
Obvious, but very important. You may not know your limit because maybe you never hit it. Passing out of exhaustion or suffering a heat stroke are limits that are better left unknown, especially if you are hiking alone. At the sign of any negative symptom that is not muscle sourness take a 9 min break in the shade. Give your body time to rest. Most importantly educate yourself on symptoms of heat stroke, dehydration, and other common hiking ailments.
Take a dip in a river or pool.
This is as much as a mental recover as it is a physical one. A dip in a river or cool pool can feel so good to your muscles, mind, and a great escape from the heat. If you have a chance take a dip, but be wary of hiking in wet cloths. Wet cloths can lead to other issues like chafing or other serious issues.
Get up early
If the day is going to be long and hot I recommend waking up early. Do all your hiking during the coolest parts of the day. Wake up early so that you get to town before the midday heat when the sun is right above you.
Im not good at waking up but for some reason I always found it easier to wake up before the sun comes up. It feels less of a chore then waking up from your bed when the sun is peaking through the window. I am sure there is some sort of scientific reason for this, but I found this is the case for many others and not just myself. Wake up before the sun so that you leave just before suntrise when there is just enough light to see. This will maximize how far you can walk safely.
Take it slow, educate yourself, and have fun. Even though you will suffer and be in pain this will be nothing compared to the joy and freedom you will feel on the trail. Buen camino and happy trails!