Sunday, June 1, 2014

Backpacking in hot weather

The balmy days of summer are few and far between in the UK
The balmy days of summer are few and far between in the UK
When you live in Wales (or Britain, come to that) you tend to get used to walking in miserable conditions - snow, sleet, hail, fog, torrential rain. Our wonderful, constantly changing climate means that even the Met Office can't get it right most of the time. You get a forecast for a warm, sunny day, set off in sunshine and end up soaked through a few hours later.
Harri and I have had some dreadful experiences over the years; we've shivered and dripped our way up and down Wales and around the South West Coast Path. During one unforgettable summer trip to the western tip of Cornwall, we walked from St Ives to Sennen in the heaviest rain imaginable. The coast path had become a raging torrent around our feet and the rain and wind was relentless (unsurprisingly, we only passed two other hikers all day and they looked as miserable as us!).
Three years ago, Harri tackled the Rhinogs in weather that was so bad I was fearful for his safety (yes, you've guessed it... in August!). When I finally picked him up near Harlech hours later, he was so cold we had to have the car heating turned up high.
Locked out in the rain at Ilston, Gower
Locked out in the rain at Ilston, Gower
My point is that in the UK we're so busy expecting (and preparing for) the worst possible weather that we rarely pause to consider the likelihood that it might end up being hot and sunny.
On our recent trip to the Somerset Levels, it was really blustery but the sun was so strong that we both managed to burn our lips. Had we been hiking in Europe, or the States, we'd have stocked on up lip salve with UVP but it didn't cross our minds that we'd need protection from the sun here in the UK, in May.
When it gets too hot  there's only one thing to do... find water and JUMP IN!!
When it gets too hot there's only one thing to do... find water and JUMP IN!!
Hot weather hiking requires an altogether different mindset so who better to ask for some pointers than someone who lives in central Texas, where summer temperatures can reach the high 90s Fahrenheit. Joseph is an avid kayaker, who works for Austin Canoe and Kayak ( so he's got plenty of experience of staying safe in the sun while still having plenty of fun.
So, while I sit here dreaming of another summer like 1976, it's over to Joseph.
"When you think about summer hiking, you probably imagine the blistering sun beating down, dusty soles edging on hot rock, snakes rattling from the bushes, and shimmering mirages off in the dusty distance. And yet, these thoughts aren’t all that far from the precautions one must take when considering a desert hike or during the summer months. Important things to consider on your hike are the conditions of the trail, staying hydrated, wearing adequate clothing and carrying helpful gear, as well as the possible dangers of exposure and fatigue when it’s hot outside. Consider the following points when you’re planning your next summer hike.
Enjoying the heat in Setubal, Portugal
Enjoying the heat in Setubal, Portugal

Proper planning 

The first point of your logistics should be to tell someone you’re going for a hike. Tell them when, where, for how long and swap contact names and numbers for all those in the party. Prepare an emergency plan. Hiking as a pair or as a team is not only safer, but sharing the experience is more fun. Make sure you research your proposed route and any contingency plans. Take note of any potable water points or permanent streams and lakes as these may become useful in the event you exhaust your water supply.
Know your terrain. Sometimes it’s best to make sure the members of your team are of similar ability, but in the case of a family group or multi-experienced team, pace yourselves to accommodate the lowest level of experience in your party.
Check the weather before you go. This will help you to plan more effectively for possible severe events, even though it’s good to pack a rain jacket anyway. In more mountainous terrain, the weather is increasingly unpredictable and so too the likelihood of being caught in a thunderstorm, especially during the summer months and even in the desert.
A rare hot day in the Brecon Beacons (Harri on Pen Cerrig-calch)
A rare hot day in the Brecon Beacons (Harri on Pen Cerrig-calch)

Stay hydrated

The most important personal factor to consider when planning a warm weather hike is proper hydration. If you are hiking uphill and in full midday sun you can lose up to two quarts of fluid an hour, not to mention the essential electrolytes you are losing during this time as well. Be sure to pack an appropriate sized water bladder, a handheld water bottle, and a water purifier (tablet, bottle attachment or pump) if you’re going to hike for a long period of time. This will allow you to collect water from the natural resources along your hike such as streams lakes and pools. Note that long slimmer bottles pack more easily than shorter bulkier ones.


When packing clothing, be sure to carry proper attire for all expected inclement weather. You need to be prepared for thunderstorms, hail, and even 30-40 degree drops in temperature.  You should wear layers and pack extra pieces you may need. A sweat-wicking under layer, mid layer for morning and evening, and a rain jacket to protect against wind and rain. If you have room in your pack, it’s nice to have a third outer, warm layer in case darkness falls during your journey. You should also pack a hat or bandana and sunglasses in order to shield yourself from the intense sun.
However hot it is, always carry extra clothes for sudden weather changes


Wear appropriate hiking boots and be sure they have adequate tread, can lace up tight, and fit properly. If they are too tight or loose, you can develop blisters and actuate poor circulation. High-topped hiking boots can also help protect your ankles through cactus and snake terrain. If you’re planning a trip with a few hikes, or a particularly long hike, and you’re thinking of purchasing new boots, it’s a good idea to break them in for at least two to three weeks prior. A tip to help minimize friction inside your boots and prevent blisters or hotspots forming is to wear two layers of socks. Wear a thin under-layer made from a material that helps wick moisture away from your foot and a second thick outer-layer sock to provide good support and cushioning. The friction will be mitigated between the two layers of socks and reduce any potential hotspot on your foot.

Selecting the proper pack

When selecting your pack, it’s best to consider the length of your hike and the personal items you’ve decided to pack including your water, food, extra clothing layers, first aid, and emergency kit. Typically a good size pack for a day hike is anything between 20-30 kilograms and will depend on how much water and food you need and whether you are carrying items for others (in the case of a dad or team leader). It’s important to make sure the pack is positioned on your body correctly, with the weight placed predominantly on the hips. Also consider packing the backpack properly by distributing the weight evenly. This will help you to save energy on the hike and eliminate a shifting load.

Bring the proper gear 

It’s important to pack anything you may need in the lightest way possible. You should bring a headlamp to be contingent on a late arrival time. Make sure to have sunscreen, bug repellant, extra batteries for your headlamp, a first-aid kit, a flint fire starter, and a GPS device or a map.
About the Author:
Joseph is an avid kayaker based out of the central Texas area. He has spent many a weekend and holiday on the Texas coast attending sea kayaking events or just having some fun with a kayak or paddleboard. He’s currently employed at Austin Canoe and Kayak ( and loves that he gets to spend time working with his favorite toys.

A refreshing dip in a shallow stretch of the River Monnow... but never jump into deep, cold water
A refreshing dip in a shallow stretch of the River Monnow... but never jump into deep, cold water

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