14 thermal safety tips for hiking in hot weather LA

When it’s hot out there – really hot – you need a foolproof strategy for knowing what to wear and what to bring before you hike. Of course, avoid the down parka, but you’ll need to pack more water than usual. But that’s not all. I asked the experts for their best advice on how to stay safe in the heat. Here is what they told me.

(Micah Fluellen / Los Angeles Times)

Before you leave

1. Check the weather forecast. Southern California has a myriad of microclimates – urban, mountainous, coastal, desert and more – so look for how hot it will be where you plan to hike. “You want to do a little research on where you’re going, what the maximum temperatures are and also the humidity… this also has an effect on how your body cools down,” said Johnny Stevens, an REI provider. Be sure to check other conditions, such as air quality on the South Coast Air Quality Management District app and the Environmental Protection Agency’s UV Index app for sun exposure ratings. Both apps are free.

2. Avoid hiking during the hottest part of the day. It sounds simple, but it’s easy to get into trouble when you start late and want a hard workout. Go early (6am) or late (6pm or 7pm) to avoid the high temperatures. In Death Valley, where extreme temperatures rise to over 115 degrees in summer, authorities are warning hikers to stay away from Badwater and other low and exposed areas and suggest hitting the trails at the latest. at 10 a.m. In most LA climates, the sun is strongest and UV exposure is greatest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

3. Use sunscreen to prevent sunburn. The best time to apply sunscreen is at least 15 minutes before going out. “This allows the sunscreen (SPF 15 or higher) to have enough time to provide the maximum benefit,” according to the US Food and Drug Administration website. By the way, SPF, or sun protection factor, measures the amount of “solar energy” or UV radiation needed to burn unprotected skin, and not – as some mistakenly believe – the time it takes. protect you. The FDA said at least an ounce of sunscreen is needed to cover the body from head to toe. Some lotions are only for the face; just be sure to coat your nose, ears, and neck as well. Sunscreens usually lose their effectiveness after three years, so make sure yours is still working.

4. Acclimatize, acclimatize, acclimate. I acclimatize when walking at high altitudes, but the high temperatures and humidity also takes some getting used to. “Heat acclimatization occurs over the course of four to five days,” said Dr. Daniel V. Vigil, who specializes in sports medicine at UCLA and oversees the college’s athletic teams. Get outside and do light exercise to give your body time to adjust to the heat. Also make sure you are fit enough to tackle the trail or summit you have planned. The heat can make you feel worse if you are out of shape and struggling.

5. Make sure someone knows where you are going and when you will be back. Hikers, especially those going it alone, should not skip this step when setting out. It’s always best to share your plan with a friend or loved one, but this is especially true when the conditions are warm. Also leave a copy of your itinerary in your vehicle. It could be a lifeline; if you don’t make it back on time, rescue teams will know where to start.

graphic from a hiking book sweating a lot.

(Micah Fluellen / Los Angeles Times)

On the track

6. Bring more water than usual and drink. I have hiked in warm weather when people proudly return with a quart or more of water. It is not the goal. Sip enough water to replenish what you sweat. “The main mechanism in the human body for dissipating heat is evaporation,” said Vigil. “The only way to beat the intense heat is to stay hydrated, so that we can sweat and evaporate the heat. »How much should we drink? There is no correct answer because some people sweat profusely while others are simply glowing. Consider using a water / hydration well system with a drinking tube that fits most backpacks. This configuration allows you to drink without taking a break. If you prefer to use bottled water, be prepared to stop frequently for a few slugs along the way.

7. Bring electrolytes and snacks. You need something to cheer yourself up when you start hanging out. Electrolytes, essential minerals like sodium, potassium, and calcium, will also help you replenish what you’ve lost. “What’s most important is that you drink and snack,” said Gates Richards, education director for wilderness medicine at the National Outdoor Leadership School, or NOLS. “If you do these things, you’ll probably be fine. Electrolyte drinks and gels help too, especially if it means you’ll eat and drink more because you love the flavor. If you train in the heat for an hour or less, you probably don’t need to replace electrolytes, Vigil said. But those planning a longer day should bring them.

8. Choose loose clothing that breathes and allows air to circulate. Spandex is not your friend in hot weather; save it for the air-conditioned gym. Loose clothing allows air to circulate and cool you. The color you wear matters too. Black clothes absorb more heat, so you don’t want anything dark or too tight against your skin. Look for shirts with mesh vents under the arms and back that improve airflow.

9. Wear a hat. A hat will keep the sun from scorching your brain – as well as your neck and face – if you wear one with a wide brim. Make sure it is well ventilated on the top so that your head does not overheat. Experts recommend a hat that covers your ears, back, and sides of your neck; Straw hats can be stylish but allow the rays to penetrate, if you are concerned about sun exposure. “Most baseball caps don’t do a good job with ventilation,” Stevens said. “They protect the eyes, but I like a sun hat more.”

10. Cover up. It may seem counterintuitive, but long pants and long-sleeved shirts are a good idea in hot weather. “If you plan to hike in exposed areas, better to be covered than to be short-sleeved with shorts,” REI’s Stevens said. Sun protection can also include sun sleeves (if you’re wearing a tank top or short-sleeved shirt), a lightweight neck warmer, and sun gloves, especially for people who use trekking poles at high altitude. Also look for sun protection clothing that can help protect your skin. UPF ratings on shirts, pants, and hats measure the amount of ultraviolet radiation that can penetrate the fabric. For example, clothing labeled UPF 50 only lets through 1 / 50th, or 2%, of UV rays.

11. Also keep your feet cool. Thick leather boots can make your feet sweat more than you need to. Consider lighter boots with straps (but still providing waterproof protection) that allow for some breathability. Avoid cotton socks which absorb sweat and cause blisters. Instead, use woolen or synthetic-blend socks that will keep your feet dry.

12. If you are lucky enough to find water on the trail, get wet. Water is scarce in Southern California, but even small coves or seeps on the mountainside allow you to soak your hat or scarf to wear around your neck. This is a good tip for cooling off, especially if you stop and rest in the shade. (There are “ties” and gaiters with insulation designed to keep you moist / cool). Do not drink the water unless it is filtered or treated.

Graphic of a woman lying on a rock

(Micah Fluellen / Los Angeles Times)

What could go wrong

13. Stop if you or someone you are with starts to feel sick. You want to push yourself over difficult terrain, but heat cramps in your legs or abdomen can suddenly set in in hot weather. Heat cramps are the result of two things: You’re low on glycogen and you’re dehydrated, or you’ve overloaded your muscles, Vigil said. Either way, it’s time to slow down, drink more fluids, and try stretching or massaging your legs. If you are dehydrated, you may not realize the first signs, such as becoming moody or agitated. “You have to trust the people you travel with to say, ‘Yes, you are not as friendly as usual. Let’s all stop and have a drink right away, ”said Richards.

14. Understand the signs of more serious heat problems. Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are serious and can be fatal. It’s important to understand what happens when things go wrong. With exhaustion, you or your boyfriend may look pale, feel nauseous or vomit, and complain of headaches and cramps. Stop in the shade (if you can find any) for at least half an hour, drink water with electrolytes, and eat foods that are high in energy. The most important thing: don’t keep walking; hope you and / or your friend can slowly walk safely or ask for help.

Heat stroke, which Vigil calls “cooking from the inside out”, is far more serious and deadly. Symptoms include dry skin, a weak and rapid pulse, high body temperature, confusion and poor judgment, and even seizures. “Check their mental state,” Vigil said. “Maybe their sense of humor isn’t there, they’re not so talkative, maybe they’re a little confused. You ask, “Is everything okay” and they don’t answer clearly. It is a serious sign. The key here is to cool their bodies immediately and get help. Click here for more information on heat exhaustion and Red Cross heat stroke.

About Adam Motte

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