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Summer Hiking: Tips & Techniques for Hot Weather Hikes


Aaron Zagrodnick

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Summer is a great time to be out on the trail. The long daylight hours expand opportunities and you can get away with lighter gear when staying warm isn’t as large of an issue during the day and at night. At the same time however, considerations such as heat, hydration, and insect protection must be considered – any one of which can quickly turn a great trip into a journey where putting one foot in front of the other becomes an exercise of sheer determination. Here are a few tips and techniques that I find will make the process go a whole lot smoother.

Summer Backpacking in Dry Hot Conditions

Summer hiking requires seasonal considerations and techniques for a comfortable experience on the trail.

Hydration for Summer Hikes

This one is really important no matter the time of the year, but becomes critical when temperatures soar and you’re hiking all day while potentially exposed to the sun. If a summer hike is planned, it’s important to be hydrated when you first hit the trail – trying to catch up while hiking usually results in empty bottles or a hydration reservoir while craning your neck around each bend in the trail, hoping the next water source is just ahead. I’ll even start hydration for a hot weather hike at home the night before, and use the same technique to get ready for the next day on multiday trips when spending a night in camp. The key is to drink before you’re thirsty and keep drinking.

One huge difference I’ve found is the use of a hydration reservoir instead of just water bottles; I find that the sheer convenience that a hydration system offers for drinking while on the go results in a much higher hydrated and dehydration headache-free hiker when the day is over, despite a bit of additional weight when compared to the bottle-only approach. Adding a powdered energy drink mixture containing electrolytes and complex carbohydrates to your reservoir or bottle really helps as well. If using an inline filter with a hydration reservoir, carry a lightweight bottle along as well for mixing things up. When you get to a water source, it can really help to “camel up” – drinking a healthy share of filtered or purified water before filling up your hydration system and bottles and then moving forward. See our guide on hydration options for backpacking and hiking for more info.

Summer Backpacking in Hot Weather

Hiking in hot conditions requires extra planning to stay healthy and safe.

Hiking Clothes for Hot Weather

This one is pretty personal. Synthetic? Superlight wool? Even cotton for summer weather can definitely work, but after a few miles of hiking with a soaking wet shirt things can definitely become uncomfortable. And while this depends greatly upon your destination of choice, cotton can of course become extremely dangerous if the temperature were to suddenly drop or if you were in a hot day / chilly night environment. My favorite approach is to wear quick-drying, fully synthetic clothing all around with a slightly loose fit to allow for a bit of airflow. Light colors are key; they will keep you much cooler in the sun but just as warm at night if needed. Approach clothing colors in the opposite manner for cold weather.

Sun protection is important, so a very light long sleeve shirt can be an asset and sleeves pushed up when needed. If you don't like long sleeves when it's hot, sunscreen will be needed for lower arm protection. Use sunscreen anywhere else that you’re not able to keep in the shade with a hat or clothing. Convertible pants allow you to switch to shorts to stay cool or pants for sun and brush protection. If in full pants mode, unzip the lower leg detachment point of a convertible pant about halfway with the opening facing the direction of travel – a great ventilation system. Wool or synthetic socks that dry fast and won’t hold onto moisture, along with breathable, non-waterproof shoes are a great asset as well. A wide-brimmed and breathable hat will offer shade for your face, ears, & neck – and don’t forget the sunglasses. While the above are some of the points to consider, what works for you will obviously be key, and with experimentation a solution for everyone can be found. For more on clothing across the spring, summer, and fall seasons take a look at our 3-season clothing guide.

Dealing with Insects and Mosquitoes While Hiking in the Summer

A bug-proof shelter can offer relief during summer backpacking trips.

Insects and Mosquitoes

With the summer heat mosquitoes, ants, and all other types of insects pick up their activity. An insect proof shelter along with bug repellent really become key factors towards the enjoyment of any trip. So far as repellent is concerned, products containing DEET work very well, but have a bad habit of destroying / melting certain materials like plastic, leading me to worry both about my gear the product might come in contact with and my health as well.

I’ve tried natural repellents containing lemon eucalyptus oil, but my test mosquito subjects in the backwoods of Ontario didn’t seem to mind the product too much – unless I reapplied every few minutes. Another natural repellent I've tried is Herbal Armor (you can find our full Herbal Armor review here), which is very effective, but it does need to be applied fairly often. I’ve also had great success with products containing Picaridin, which won’t hurt your gear. Just make sure to obtain a product containing a 20% solution. At concentrations less than 20%, Picaridin is not nearly as effective and cannot compete with DEET.

If you’re using long pants and sleeves to shield yourself from the sun, this will really help to create a barrier in the insect department as well. In camp, a smoky fire can help to keep the mosquitoes at bay, though sitting around a fire on a hot night isn’t always an appealing pastime. Our guide on hiking in mosquito and tick season has additional information on repellents and strategies for this concern as well.

Summer Hiking Relief from the Heat

Taking advantage of a last remaining snowdrift in the mountains on a hot summer afternoon

Summer Camping and Backpacking

During really hot weather, plan your day of hiking accordingly. Waking up early to beat the heat, with a lunch / siesta session during the middle of the day can be a great approach. Then push in the late afternoon and evening towards your final destination, the air cooling as you move forward. If you have a mind to sleep in however, morning comes early (and hot!) during the summer months. Setting up camp on the western side of a hill or ridge can give you another hour or so of sleep without the hot and bright sun beaming through your tent or shelter first thing in the morning. In level country, a tree or treeline can give you the same type of shade. Tossing and turning during the night because it’s just so hot isn’t any fun either. Avoid a winter-rated sleeping pad. Unzipping your sleeping bag and using it as a quilt (or simply using a summer quilt instead of a bag) can help with ventilation and allow for a comfortable night. For more tips on backpacking in hot weather, see our article from Issue 28: Hot Weather Backpacking.

Summer Hiking and Backpacking

Hiking in hot weather requires a change to your overall approach and a combination of skill, technique, and the right gear.

Final Thoughts

Obviously summer is one of the best times of year to be out on the trail, and you can do so with a much lighter pack than during winter months when much warmer clothing and more sturdy shelters are / might be required. Staying hydrated will be your number one goal, and usually water ends up being the heaviest thing in a summer pack. Mostly though, all that daylight leads to longer and greater explorations and trips to remember. Along the way you’ll find a few interesting seasonal issues to deal with like all that sun and the yearly flock of mosquitoes chasing you along the trail. But with practice and a good outlook, these issues can be easily dealt with. And with fall approaching, the mosquitoes should begin to dwindle and crisp, cool nights are just around the corner.

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in Issue 3 of TrailGroove Magazine. You can read the magazine article here.

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