The weather is getting warmer, and while that makes for long days of sunlight, and balmy evenings for camping, it can also mean heat exhaustion, bushfires and dehydration. That being said, summer is a great time to go hiking, even on the hottest days, as long as you’re prepared. Here’s some tips to help you get on the trail through the warmest time of the year!
Pick your location
One of the key parts of enjoying summer hiking is choosing your location. If you’re going to be walking through the middle of the day through a saltpan or semi-arid eucalypt forest, you’re going to have a bad time. Water is great for taking the heat out of the air, so finding areas that are already moist to start out with is the key. In Victoria, try for rain forested areas such as the Otways, walks along rivers and by the sea, or in the mountains, like the Bogong high plains and Mount Dandenong.
Get started early – or leave it till late
The best time to get started on the trail during summer is often at sunrise – the weather hasn’t yet heated up and you get to see all sorts of wildlife you might miss otherwise miss. It’s a lot of fun to be headed home in your car when the heat really starts to hit, and watch other people just start to arrive – you know they are going to wilt in the heat.
Alternately, you can wait until the peak of the heat has gone for the day, and take advantage of the long, sunny evenings for a shorter hike. If you’re doing this, don’t forget your headlamp! You might find yourself finishing in a balmy dark night, surrounded by all sorts of nocturnal wildlife.
You might find yourself needing to do shorter walks to accommodate these timeframes, but don’t let that deter you! A short walk in the early morning or late evening can really refresh and energise you to help you sleep through those hot nights better.
Weather and warnings and bushfires, oh my!
Unfortunately summer doesn’t just bring sunshine, but it brings real risks – heat, torrential downpour and thunderstorms are all part of living in this wide brown land. To keep safe, it’s really important to check the Bureau of Meterology for weather warnings on the evening before a hike.
However, its not enough to just check the weather! Bushfires are a constant danger, so make sure you check your state or territory’s emergency services page for up to date information about bushfires before you head out – if you are hiking in a bushfire area and call emergency services you are unlikely to be rescued, so it’s safer to avoid areas with bushfires altogether. Bookmark your state or territory’s incident page below, and make sure you check it regularly!
Water – our most critical resource
Drinking water and hydration almost warrants an article on its own, because its so important! Dehydration is a real danger on the trail in summer, and can result in even very fit hikers struggling to move. To avoid dehydration, start drinking lots of water before you hit the trail – aim for 1 litre before you start. When you’re actually hiking, you’ll want to be drinking 750ml – 1L per hour. One of the easiest ways to do this is to carry a hydration pack – most day packs and hiking packs these days have accommodation for them. I carry a 3L hydration pack, and on the hottest days I’ll throw in a few icecubes as well (not too many though, as you can block the hose).
Once you’ve finished hiking, take some time to replenish your electrolytes by drinking an electrolyte drink. I like to freeze some Gatorade or Powerade and have it sitting in the car, melting by the time I’m done. Both Gatorade and Powerade have a powdered version that’s available at the supermarket, so you can make it at home the night before, or Hydralite have little sachets or tablets that work really well for overnight hiking. A budget-conscious alternative in a pinch is to grab an effervescent multivitamin – magnesium is great for recovery from exercise – and pop that in a nice cold glass of water.
You can be certain that you’ve avoided dehydration if you can have a wee at the end of the hike, and your urine is a clear straw colour (pale yellow). If you manage this, you’ve hydrated enough to account for the liquid you’ve lost in sweat – good news!
Sweat and Blisters
Speaking of sweat, another thing to be aware of in summer is avoiding chub rub – more commonly known as chafing. The feeling of wet skin rubbing against wet skin can make an easy hike excruciating, so knowing how to avoid it and is vital. Activewear pants made from a wicking fabric are really helpful, but there are also creams and balms that will help prevent chafing, as well as soothing any damage you’ve already experienced. I swear by Body Glide balm which is available at sports retailers (don’t bother with the “women’s” version as its just a smaller size that costs more). Other Escapees recommend Neat Effect 3B Action Cream, which is available at many chemists, and does pretty much the same thing.
Also, more sweat means that the skin on your feet can become soft and blisters may form in areas that rub on your shoes or socks. Make sure your hiking shoes fit well, and get them properly fitted by a specialist outdoor store – and keep in mind your feet will swell after a long day’s hike, so if they are even a bit tight in the store they are too small.
Blisters can be minimised through getting good quality hiking socks – everyone has their own preferences here, but there are two main styles – socks that have a liner and and outer layer, such as Armaskin, and socks that are a single layer. Either is fine, find what works for you.
Once you’re on the trail, as soon as you feel an area in your shoe start to get hot and rub, stop immediately and apply a stick on bandage or tape. If you can cover the affected area before the blister starts, you’ll find you’ll have a much better time of it!
Sun, Spiders and Snakes
When you’re on the trail, you’ll need to protect your skin – so a nice shady hat (not a baseball cap), sunscreen and sleeves. Its often tempting to wear a tank top during summer, but having at least a t-shirt on helps avoid your backpack cutting into your shoulders, and will help avoid sun damage to your skin. Sunscreen needs to be reapplied on the trail, so don’t forget to stop every 2 hours to reapply!
Make sure you’re up to date on how to treat spider and snake bites, and carry the relevant first aid gear in your bag. I have a snake bite kit which has the wide bandages needed for a compression bandage, and it just lives alongside my other first aid supplies. A fantastic first aid resource is the Red Cross First Aid app, for iOS and Android, which has quick and easily accessible information on how to treat all sorts of injuries and illnesses.
Hiking in the height of summer is definitely possible, as long as you are prepared! It can be a lot of fun to take some time to be tranquil and reconnect with the natural world, and challenge yourself to overcome obstacles. See you on the trail!
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