With the warmer months approaching us faster than we think, the cool short winter days are slowly coming to an end. But that doesn’t mean your treks have to just yet! The Red Centre and Top End are renowned for exceptional trekking destinations, however alongside their trekking reputation is their reputation for warm and even hot days - even in the middle of winter! With the right planning, trekking in hot weather is still possible, it just requires additional thought and preparation compared to hiking in the cooler months. Read on to find out how to make your trek in hot, humid weather more comfortable and enjoyable.
Clothing and gear tips
Long sleeve tops and pants
When hiking in the heat, your first instinct may be to wear shorts and t-shirts. However, you may be surprised to learn that it is actually better to cover up completely when out in the sun, to shield your body from dangerous UV rays and limit your exposure to the sun. By protecting your arms and legs from the sun, you’re also shielding them from brushing up against sharp plants such as spinifex grass which can leave nasty scratches along the trail.
Light colored clothing
Chose light colored clothing when hiking in the heat. They reflect the sun rays, unlike the dark colored clothing which absorbs the sun rays and makes your body heat up. Ensure you carry an extra change of socks. It is inevitable that your feet will sweat more due to the hot weather, and it’s worth changing your socks when you feel hot spots on your feet to avoid blisters that may be brewing under the surface of the skin.
Loose, breathable clothing
Choose clothing that has breathable and moisture wicking abilities. This moisture management fabric pulls water or perspiration from your skin and spreads it across the surface of the fabric, where it quickly evaporates. While cotton shirts may seem like a comfortable top to trek in, they are actually one of the worst as the material is extremely moisture-absorbing, can take a while to dry, becomes much heavier and also loses its ability to retain warmth. Some alternatives to cotton clothing are polyester or merino wool, as these are breathable, moisture wicking, quick drying and light. Also, when hiking in hot, humid weather, ensure your clothing is loose fitting, to avoid them clinging to your body when you sweat.
Sun protection when hiking is one of the most important things to pack when embarking on a trek at any time of the year. We recommend you always wear a hat to protect your eyes and shield your skin from the sun. A wide brimmed hat is ideal to protect the back of your neck, and a light colour will help reflect the sun and keep your head cool.
Pack a pair of UV-blocking sunglasses as well to protect your eyes from the strong glare of the sun, particularly if you are walking on landscapes with a lot of light coloured rocks or sand which can have a strong glare in the middle of the day. Protect your skin by applying sunscreen to your face and neck and any exposed parts of your body, and carry it along with you so that you can reapply throughout the day. This is especially important if you’re hiking at high altitudes where the sun is intense, as you can burn faster.
Drink frequently: How to carry water while hiking
Hydration is essential when hiking in the heat. Your body loses about half a litre of water every hour through sweat, and it can double in hot weather. Ensure that you carry enough water to keep you hydrated during the course of the day. Dehydration can impair your brain function which leads to confusion and impaired judgment. Also, when you sweat you not only lose water, but also electrolytes. This can cause electrolyte imbalance which leads to muscle cramps, which can take hours or days to alleviate.
We recommend you carry one bottle of water and another with an electrolyte solution to stay properly hydrated. Consider sipping water often instead of gulping water all at once during the trek during your breaks. A camelback is one of the best ways to continually hydrate yourself, as it allows you to keep sipping water while walking, keeping your hands free to balance yourself or use walking poles.
Drink cold water
If walking in warm weather, try to prevent your water from overheating. Aside from missing out on the bliss of drinking a mouthful of cool water on a hot day, warm water take on a plastic taste from the tube with some hydration systems.
For example, if you are using a camelback, the water that remains in the tubes that are outside the bag will heat up if exposed to the sun. Once you are done sipping, blow the water back to the main chamber to clear it and prevent it from heating up. As the main chamber is in the backpack, it won’t heat up as quickly, and you’re sips will be cool and refreshing.
Check your urine
The color of your urine will indicate how well hydrated you are. If you are properly hydrated, the color should be light and clear, and you should be able to pee a steady stream. If your urine is dark and seems concentrated, it indicates that you are dehydrated. Check the color of your urine to help to take action immediately to avoid the adverse effects of dehydration.
When is it too hot to hike?
Apart from using sunscreen, sun glasses and hats, timing your trek also plays a critical role in preventing sun burns. You may notice on our guided treks that we avoid trekking during the hottest time of the day where the sun is too intense. Timing your lunch breaks with a leisurely lunch and even a swim next to a swimming hole can be a great way to break up the day and avoid trekking in direct sun, which can increase the risk of sunburns and cause heat related sickness such as heatstroke.
Rising early and starting your trek around 8am allows you to cover more distance before the sun becomes too hot. Don’t worry though: on our guided treks our guides will wake you up and ensure you are well fed and packed before you start the morning hike!
How to protect against dehydration
Hydrating yourself is one of the most important things to do while on a trek, so ensure you take frequent breaks to hydrate and cool off. Consider carrying a hydration pack that helps you to sip water often as you walk, such as a camelback. These fit neatly into your backpack and have a long straw that hangs over your shoulder, ready for easy access when walking along the trail.
Remember to take frequent sips of water – even if you’re not feeling thirsty. Once you’re thirsty, it means you’re already dehydrated, which is not ideal when you’re out in the wilderness. This is because when you sweat you not only lose water, but also electrolytes like sodium and potassium. You can replace the electrolytes by drinking an electrolyte solution or eating snacks made of complex carbohydrates to boost your energy and also replenish the lost electrolytes. Snacks such as nuts have added salt which can also be a great source of electrolytes.
A much as you need proper hydration while hiking in the heat, it is also harmful to over hydrate. Your body is only able to efficiently absorb about half a liter of water per hour. Therefore, avoid drinking large amounts of water at once, as the salt level in the blood can drop too low which can lead to nausea, headaches and cloudy thinking.
How to avoid heat cramps
Hiking in hot, humid weather increases your chances of getting heat cramps, which can progress very fast to a heat stroke if the body’s cooling mechanism gets overwhelmed. It is important to know the early symptoms of heat stroke. They include a throbbing headache, muscle cramps, nausea, vomiting, and dizziness, fast heartbeat, confusion, and light headedness. If you feel these symptoms, find a shady spot to sit and cool down. Heat stroke can be very dangerous, so know the symptoms and take adequate rest breaks when required to ensure you protect yourself and your body from the heat.
How to avoid heat exhaustion
Paying attention to your body during trekking is paramount. If you feel like you’re overheating, find some shade and have a rest. This is a good time to have a snack and drink some water. Don’t be afraid to have regular breaks during your trek. As well as helping avoid heat exhaustion, regular breaks give your joints and muscles a chance to recover, as well as allows sweat to evaporate and helps your body cool down. If you are near a creek or lake, dunk your head in the water to cool off for the ultimate refreshment.