Summer Hiking Gear – Staying Cool on Extremely Hot Days


If you are planning to hike in hot weather, knowing the proper clothing and gear to keep cool will make your experience much more safe and enjoyable. After all, nothing gets me motivated for a nice, long hike like a warm and sunny day; but nothing bums me out more than getting a sunburn or heat exhaustion! 

When preparing to hike in hot weather, be sure to wear loose, breathable clothing that is light-colored. White, tan, or khaki shirts, shorts and pants are best. It’s also a good idea to wear a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen. 

Keep reading to find out more about how to plan for a summer hike, the specific types of clothing and gear you should wear, and how to recognize the signs of heat exposure.  

How to Plan a Hike Around the Heat 

Choosing the right time and place to hike during hot weather is probably just as important as the clothing you wear. If you know you’re going to be hiking in a hot location, take precautions before you even set out to ensure you and your group don’t get into trouble. 

Choose the right time to hike 

If possible, get to the trailhead right when the sun comes up. You’ll be guaranteed a good parking place, and depending on the length of the hike, you might even be done before the day really heats up, which is generally  between noon and 3:00 PM. 

Some locations may simply be off-limits for mid-day hiking in the summer. Check to see if a night hike is an option; if it is, plan to hike when the moon is full or nearly full. 

Choose a hike with options for cooling off

Another way to beat the heat is to take a trail that has shaded sections. Look for shade in the trees, or in the bottom of a steep canyon. 

If you can hike near a large body of water, you will likely be able to catch a breeze throughout the day. A lake or river can also provide opportunities to dip your toes, go for a swim, or soak a bandanna or hat and enjoy the cool water as it evaporates.

Hiking Gear 

Pick the Proper Clothes to Stay Cool 

Once you have decided on where to hike, putting some thought into what you will wear can guarantee you have a great time. Wearing tight clothes, dark colors, or not covering up enough can all lead to disaster. 

Choose light-colored, loose-fitting shirts and bottoms

White, tan, khaki, or light gray clothing all reflect the sun’s rays instead of absorbing them. Loose-fitting clothing drapes over your body and allows the slightest breeze to enter and cool you off. 

Cotton isn’t as evil as you’ve been told

Nylon and polyester fabrics are known for being lightweight and breathable, which makes them a good choice for hiking in any weather. Cotton has a bad reputation in the outdoor world because it holds moisture and takes a long time to dry. Cotton can actually be great on hot days, however; as your sweat evaporates it can cool you off. 

If there is a chance you will still be outside when temperature drops at night, you should stick with synthetic materials to avoid any chance of hypothermia. 

Look for UPF-rated shirts 

Did you know that you can get a sunburn through your t-shirt? As the dangers of sun exposure have become more widely known, there have been a few types of synthetic fabric developed to block the sun’s rays. These shirts are referred to as “UPF-rated”, which stands for Ultraviolet Protection Factor.

When selecting a UPF-rated top, look for one that is rated at least 30 UPF to block a decent portion of sunlight; one with a UPF rating of 50 or higher will provide excellent protection. 

Hiking in the Sun 

Long sleeves, vents, and hoods are all your friend 

Try to find a shirt that has long sleeves, vents in the armpit areas or along the back, and possibly even a loose-fitting hood to cover your neck and ears. Sleeves that can be rolled up are a nice option. 

UPF-rated t-shirts are also available, but If you choose to wear one, be sure to apply sunscreen on your arms and neck to avoid getting a sunburn. 

Decide on shorts or pants 

Most folks choose to wear shorts in the summer, and any comfortable pair of shorts made from synthetic fibers makes a good choice for hiking on an extremely hot day. Long-distance hikers might prefer loose-fitting running shorts that feature a mesh liner, or one of the lightweight hiking skirts that have become popular in recent years. 

If your skin is sensitive to sunburn, or if you’ll be hiking in rough terrain, look for a pair of relaxed-fit hiking pants. There are UPF-rated versions of these available, as well as convertible pants that feature zip-off legs.  

Always bring a hat

Even if you’re not a fan of wearing a hat while hiking, bring one with you; you never know when you might forget to pack the sunscreen, or the sunscreen you applied might wear off. 

A baseball cap provides decent coverage but it leaves your neck and ears exposed. Choose a wide-brimmed sun hat made from synthetic materials for the best sun protection. 

Other gear that can keep you cool 

  • Wool or synthetic socks wick moisture away from your feet. Make sure they fit well; socks that are too big can lead to heat rash and blisters. 
  • A bandanna can be worn under your hat to protect your ears and neck from the sun, or doused in water and draped over your neck to gain the cooling powers of evaporation. 
  • Open-fingered sun gloves can protect your hands from the sun’s harmful rays. 
  • Carrying a hydration pack will encourage you to sip water throughout the day. Staying hydrated is critical for staying cool. 

The Dangers of Hiking in the Sun 

Even if you are wearing the right clothing for hiking on a hot, sunny day, you should be aware of the dangers of sunburn, dehydration, and heat exhaustion, and know the warning signs to look for. 

A bad sunburn is no joke 

Many folks like to get a bit of a tan for that healthy summer glow, but it can be easy to overdo it and get a sunburn. Besides the immediate pain, sunburns lead to premature skin wrinkling, age spots, and an increased risk of skin cancer. 

No matter how much protective clothing you wear, you will likely still need to apply sunscreen to any exposed parts of your skin. 

Choose a sunscreen of at least 30 SPF or higher if you’ll be hiking longer than two hours. Apply it 15 minutes before exposure to the sun, and reapply at least every two hours, or more often if you are sweating. 

Dehydration can ruin your day 

You know how your mother is always telling you to drink more water? Well, she’s right! Dehydration doesn’t just lead to an overall cruddy feeling, it is also the leading cause of heat exhaustion and heat stroke. 

Knowing how much water you need to drink can be difficult. It varies based on your age, activity level, body type, and the outside temperature and humidity. Plan to bring at least two liters for a 2-3 hour hike, and more if you will be out all day, or hiking in extreme heat. 

If you’re hiking with a dog, don’t forget to bring plenty of water for them as well. 

Look for the signs of heat exhaustion

Even if you are careful to stay hydrated, hiking in extremely hot conditions can cause anyone to suffer from heat exhaustion. If you see any of these warning signs, get out of the heat, rehydrate, and cool off any way that you can: 

  • Heavy sweating
  • Quickened pulse
  • Faintness or dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Headache

Prevent the onset of heat exhaustion by taking time to get acclimated to the heat, staying hydrated, knowing your limits, and wearing the appropriate clothing. 

Heat stroke can set in quickly 

Heat stroke is a serious medical condition that if untreated, can quickly lead to death. It may happen to a person who pushes past heat exhaustion or it may happen without those symptoms. Either way, stop, hydrate, and send for emergency assistance if you see these symptoms: 

  • Throbbing headache
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Confusion
  • Disorientation
  • Anxiety

A sure sign of heat stroke is confusion, disorientation, and vomiting. If you or someone in your party is experiencing these symptoms, stop walking, cool off, rehydrate, get in the shade, and immediately send for help. 

Hiking on hot, sunny days can be a great experience, as long as you are prepared. The best ways to be prepared are to plan your hike, stay hydrated, and perhaps most importantly, wear the proper summer hiking clothes. 

The best clothes for summer hiking are light-colored, loose fitting, and allow you to stay covered up to minimize sun exposure, while also being able to roll up sleeves or vent certain portions. Nylon or polyester fabrics are the best choice since they are lightweight and breathable. 

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