Heat and Hiking

In good weather, hiking is a great way to enjoy the outdoors. However, the warmer months bring an increased risk of heat injury. Hikers in hot and/or humid conditions can overheat quickly, which can lead to serious injury and even death.

The signs of overheating are common and may be subtle—fatigue, thirst, sweating, irritability, or headache. However, while traveling with a designated buddy or in groups, inexperienced hikers often fail to recognize these symptoms as overheating and continue moving. As symptoms worsen, nausea, vomiting and loss of appetite are common. Muscle cramps, dizziness, and confusion may set in with heat exhaustion, or even heart attack.  

When heat exhaustion is suspected, the person should sit in a shaded area to drink water and rest. Removing excess clothing and wetting the person’s skin and clothing will greatly speed the cooling process. If the person’s condition does not return to normal, they may have experienced heat stroke—a life-threatening illness in which the brain and other organs are damaged by heat.

At least one person should be trained in first aid or wilderness first aid. If you fear someone may be experiencing heat stroke, get them immediate medical attention and start cooling. Communicate to others not on your trek your route, estimated trek length and when you leave.

The BSA wants all outdoor activities to be safe and enjoyable. Help prevent heat injuries by

·         Staying hydrated. Consume water frequently in small quantities instead of all at once. Try sipping throughout the day and keep extra water on hand as needed or depending on the length of your trek. Drink before you feel thirsty.  Make sure you eat, too.  Small frequent meals will help maintain your energy. 

·         Wearing appropriate clothing. Wear loose fitting clothes that absorb moisture and wick it away from the body. Dress in layers and avoid cotton fabrics. Dark clothing can also lead to overheating because it retains heat from the sun. Don’t forget to wear a broad brimmed hat to help block the sun and help keep you cool. 

·         Avoiding mid-day and afternoon hiking. Temperatures tend to be highest during this time of the day. If hiking must be done then, walk in shade as much as possible.

·         Taking frequent breaks. The hotter and harder the hike, the more you’ll need to rest. Also, getting plenty of sleep prior and after a hike to keep you well-rested.

·         Acclimating to your surroundings. A gradual exposure to heat may help keep you from overheating or raising your body’s core temperature too quickly

·         Recognizing and responding. A person who has experienced heat injury before is at increased risk for getting it again. People visiting from cooler climates, heavier hikers, and those not accustomed to strenuous activity are also at increased risk. Certain medications and medical conditions can make you more susceptible to high temperatures. Exposure to high temperatures for multiple days in a row increases the risk of heat injury. Respond to a person’s symptoms by immediately stopping your activity.

Resources

Hiking Safety Moment: https://filestore.scouting.org/filestore/HealthSafety/pdf/680-055(17)_Hiking.pdf

Ariel’s Checklist: https://ksi.uconn.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/1222/2015/06/Ariels-Checklist.pdf

The American Hiking Society: https://americanhiking.org/resources/hot-weather-hiking/

Hot Weather Hiking Tips: https://americanhiking.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/Hot-Weather-Hiking-fact-sheet.pdf

 

Review the Sweet Sixteen of BSA Safety for safety practices and chapter 8 of the Boy Scout Handbook for hiking essentials