Dry mouth, dizziness, a pounding headache – these are the symptoms that fill every hiker with dread.
Staying cool and hydrated not only prevents discomfort, it also helps prevent more serious medical conditions, such as heatstroke.
Read on for our tips on what to bring, how to stay cool and hydrated, and how to recognise the symptoms of dehydration and heat stroke when hiking.
Drinking enough water is important, but there are other factors to keep in mind too. Image: Grayl
What to bring to keep cool and hydrated
1. Electrolyte tablets/powders
Replacing lost fluids is obviously essential. But that’s not all you need to replace. Electrolytes are very important for your body to maintain proper functioning.
Carry an electrolyte supplement, whether it be concentrate, powder or tab form with you at all times in your rucksack. Also, add salty snacks like nuts or pretzels to your hiking menu to help your body retain water.
If weight is a problem, then compact and lightweight electrolyte powders are the way to go. The Thorzt Solo Shots come in little 3g sachets which each makes 600ml of hydration drink. These are perfect as they take up minimal space. You can also get electrolytes supplements in tab form if that’s what you prefer.
Electrolytes are important, so incorporate them into your hydration routine. Image: Nuun
2. Easy to use hydration system
It’s important to remain motivated at all times to hydrate. This can be a little tricky when you’re exhausted and hot. If your current hydration system isn’t working for you, then definitely change it up.
Whether your bladder or reservoir is uncomfortable to use, or your soft bottle is too cumbersome – ensure that hydrating is as easy as possible so that it doesn’t fall by the wayside.
If the mouthpiece isn’t right, or the bottle isn’t comfy to hold then change it before your trip. Image: Kelly Thompson
3. Use a cooling necktie or towel
If you can’t find someone to follow you around and fan you with an oversized banana leaf, or your air conditioner is too bulky to fit in your rucksack – the next best thing is a Kool Tie.
Kool Ties are neckties that are filled with polymer crystals. All you need to do is soak them in water for 30-45 minutes, and the crystals will absorb the water. Then you then simply hang it around your neck, and the water will evaporate to cool you down. You could even wet a bandana or use a Chill Towel for a similar effect.
A Kool Tie is basically a personal evaporative cooling system. Image: Erin Wescombe
3. Instant ice packs
If you suspect that you or your hiking buddy has heat stroke, get them medical attention ASAP. In the meantime, you’ll need to attempt to cool them down. Seek out shade immediately, have them lie down, and then apply an instant ice pack to the back of their neck and under the arms if possible.
Instant ice packs are readily available at pharmacies or with larger first aid kits. If your kit is missing one, then definitely add it in.
An instant ice pack can cool you down in an emergency. Image: Erin Wescombe
How to avoid dehydration & stay cool
1. Drink before you start your hike each day
Anyone who’s completed a multi-day hike will tell you that drinking a litre of water every morning helps you stay on top of hydration. This way you’re not just replacing fluids just when your body needs them. For more on hydrating on a multi-day hike in hot and dry conditions, check out this article here.
Drink water before you leave your campsite in the morning. Image: MSR
2. Wear appropriate clothing
Wear lightweight, loose, long sleeves to shield from the heat of the sun and keep you cool. It’s generally best to avoid fabrics such as cotton, as that fabric doesn’t wick away sweat. Instead, choose nylon or polyester fabric clothes that are designed especially for hiking.
Longer sleeves may seem counterintuitive, but they’ll act as a shield. Image: Biolite
3. Seek out shade
This may not always be possible depending on the terrain, but when you’re stopping for a snack or rest break, do so in the shade. If you can coordinate your rest periods under a tree, you’ll be able to give your body a break from the sun.
Research the area in advance, and check out other blogs and forums to find where you can find shelter. Also, take a longer rest than you normally would when the weather is warm.
If shade is scarce, make the most of it when you see it. Image: Ben Collaton
4. Sun protection
You should wear sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat to protect your skin. This will not only prevent UV damage and sunburn, it’ll also help shield you from the heat. If you’ve covered most of your exposed areas you also won’t have to wear as much sunscreen.
For shorter day hikes where you’ve got mobile reception, then one of the best apps to use is SunSmart. It tells you when the UV levels are high, will notify you when to reapply sunscreen, and gives you the UV levels of your location which will help protect you from the sun.
5. Get a head start
If you start your hike early, then you can finish in the early afternoon to avoid the hottest part of the day. If you spend less time in the heat, you won’t put your body through as much stress.
If you set off early, you can beat the hottest part of the day. Image: Grayl
How to recognise dehydration
Here are some of the symptoms you should be aware of:
- Infrequent urination
- Dark small amounts of urine
- A headache
- Dry mouth
- Rapid breathing
Symptoms of heat exhaustion
Take note of how your body is faring every step of the way, especially if you experience:
- Dark urine
- A headache
- Muscle or abdominal cramps
- Nausea, vomiting or diarrhoea
- Profuse sweating
- Rapid heartbeat
Symptoms of heat stroke
Heat stroke is a very serious condition, so take note if you see anyone showing these signs:
- A throbbing headache
- Lack of sweating despite the heat
- Red, hot skin
- Muscle weakness or cramps
- Nausea and vomiting
- Rapid, shallow breathing
- Rapid heartbeat
Some multi-day hikes like Larapinta or Kokoda are always warm, so prepare accordingly. Image: Eve Woods
Keep in mind that we are not medical experts here. We can only give you some guidelines about what to do and look out for in these situations.
If you have any medical conditions or requirements – then get in touch with your GP for more information. Before a multi-day hike, make sure you get the go-ahead from a medical professional.
If you like to explore off the beaten path a lot, it’s also worth updating your first aid skills. A PLB or satellite phone should also be on you at all times.
Stay cool, hydrated and safe on the trails
Whether you’re out in the heat at work, spending a day at the beach, or going for a ride or run – it’s essential that hydration is factored in.
You don’t want your well-planned adventure to go awry. So pack the right gear, stay cool and keep hydrated. Happy hiking!
Have you ever experienced dehydration or heat stroke on the trail? How did you deal with it?
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