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Hiking in the Heat
Living in Las Vegas in the summer is bittersweetness with an amazing backdrop of red and orange sandstone of multiple trails but with days that are over 100° F or more.
Valley of Fire is one of my favorites to visit and during the summer it’s hotter than Las Vegas! One of my friends jokingly commented that we were hiking on “the surface of the sun” when we hiked Valley of Fire in June.
Along with the high air temperatures, we also are “fighting” the ground temperatures from our hot rocks that make it feel even hotter.
So, how do we beat the heat when we want to go outside and play in our fabulous playground called Red Rock Canyon or Valley of Fire? Below are our top tips on how we prepare for a summer hike in the desert.
BTW, always be prepared and also know the difference between heat exhaustion vs a heat stroke and how to handle the situation. When we go hiking you will hear people asking others odd questions… why? To make sure they are not disoriented and at the start of heat exhaustion.
Information from the American Hiking Society:
For your own safety and the safety of those with whom you’re hiking, know what heat exhaustion and heatstroke look like and know what to do:
Symptoms: pale face, nausea, vomiting, cool and moist skin, headache, cramps. (Don’t ignore a headache when hiking in hot weather! This is serious stuff. Stop. Drink. Rest.)
Treatment: drink water with electrolytes, eat high-energy foods (with fats and sugars), rest in the shade for 30-45 minutes, and cool the body by wetting it with cool water. If nausea or vomiting prevents drinking fluids, get the victim to a hospital as fluids may need to be administered intravenously.
HEAT STROKE– This is a life-threatening emergency
Symptoms: flushed face, dry skin, weak and rapid pulse, high core body temperature, confusion, poor judgment or inability to cope, unconsciousness, hallucinations, seizures. Sometimes symptoms of heatstroke can mimic those of a heart attack or other conditions.
Treatment: the heatstroke victim must be cooled immediately! Continuously pour water on the victim’s head and torso, fan to create an evaporative cooling effect. Immerse the victim in cold water if possible. Move the victim to shade and remove excess clothing. The victim needs to be evacuated to a hospital. Someone should go for help while attempts to cool the victim continue.
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Hydration starts before you start your hike so start sipping before you hit the hot trails.
During winter months we normally take about 2-3 liters of water with us on hikes that average 4 hours. For the summer months, we double that amount (and then toss in an extra liter for safety).
Almost all the trails that we hike do not have water so filtering our own is not an option. There are a few times I have hauled 6+ liters of liquid on a hike and actually used it all.
We freeze our bladders and bottles of liquid goodness the night before so they slowly melt while on the trail. When we have drained all the liquid and have a clump of ice in our bags, we will pour a reserve bottle over it to cool it down for the hike.
Also, you can freeze a small water bottle or plastic baggies and cut the bottoms to add as a big chunk of ice to your bladder later on your hike.
When packing your snacks for the day(s), try to pack Hydrating Foods for extra hydration when you snack.
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Know Your Trails
When we hike in the summer months we pick trails that we know are shaded in the morning and have well-shaded stops along the way for us to stop to rest and have snacks.
Since we live in the desert there are not too many options for water hikes. If you have the option to choose hikes that are well shaded and/or have water, choose those over other trails as the ability to dip your bandana or hat in the water is recommended (or take off your socks and boots and jump in to cool down).
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Start as Early as Possible
For us, we normally start early year-round to beat the crowds that start entering Red Rock as soon as the gate opens for business. So an early morning hike is not unusual for us.
We will normally start from 6:30 AM – 7:30 AM depending on the trail, length, high for the day, etc.
That sounds early but it’s great to finish our hike and be leaving the trail as the mass of people are starting.
From the Old Farmer’s Almanac:
The hottest time of the day is around 3 p.m. Heat continues building up the afternoon, when the sun is highest in the sky, as long as more heat is arriving at the earth than leaving. By 3 p.m. or so, the sun is low enough in the sky for outgoing heat to be greater than incoming. Sometimes the hottest time is earlier because a weather system moves in with cool air early in the day.
Keep It Covered
Covered up and ready to hike Supai (Sep 2018)I know… I know…
Everyone recommends that you should keep covered to help beat the heat.
But for me, I prefer shorts and a tank top while Spencer will hike in jeans, long sleeve shirt, shemagh, and a hat. More recently I have been hiking in a lightweight long-sleeved shirt and it has helped some with the heat for me.
Look for highly rated wicking long-sleeved shirts to help keep the sun from beating down on your skin and help keep you cool. Bonus if they have UV protection.
Also, look for shirts that are vented and lighter colored clothing that is made from nylon or polyester.
Keep It Covered, Part II
When hiking Arches in Utah it was hot and since I get heat sick easy I decided to spend some bucks at the visitor center to purchase a thermal umbrella.
Insert the jokes from the boyfriend about hiking with an umbrella…
Along the trail to the Delicate Arch people were scrounging for shade and waiting their turn to sit under a tree. As I would walk by they would smile and comment things to me like “smart,” or “man, that’s a good idea.”
When we hiked Coyote Buttes North, where The Wave is located, we used our thermal umbrellas on the hike back to the car, which has very little to no shade. Then, the rain dropped from the clouds and luckily, our umbrellas served a dual purpose to keep us from getting drenched on the hike back.
Now, I am not the only one who has a thermal umbrella on the trails.
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Pack Salty Snacks
My friend Gina hikes with small packages of pickles and olives and my friend Deb loves Nut Rolls to keep in her backpack for our hiking breaks (and she eats Gina’s goodies too!).
Since I am not an olive or pickle fan, I like to take my honey roasted peanuts, trail mix, and my favorite electrolyte, Liquid IV.
There are times you will read about a hiker who got into trouble on a trail even though they had water. Sometimes the problem is that they were not consuming enough replacements their bodies needed. Certain foods and electrolytes will help replace and retain what your body loses while sweating, such as sodium, potassium, and magnesium.
Note: if you are relying on a sports drink make sure they are not loaded with all sugar and no “salt.”
When on the trails, try to take a 10-15 minute break for every hour of hiking. Yes, it slows down your time to get back to the trailhead but safety is more important.
When taking a break, try to find a well-shaded area or one near water to help you cool down.
Nothing feels better than taking my cooling towel that I have frozen the night before out of its bag and feel the cold against my skin.
Taking a break on the trail to rest, grab a break, and cool down is highly recommended. Add a cooling towel to this combo for additional coolness.
Hiking in the Heat Product List
Below is a round-up of all the items mentioned in our above article:
- Hydration Bladders
- Cooling Towels
- Thermal Umbrella
- UV Shirt
- Salty Snacks
Hiking in the Heat
I am an outdoor enthusiast who would rather be on a backcountry backpacking trip than a stroll on the beach (although I do love the beach!).
Living in Las Vegas has afforded me the opportunity to easily explore the Southwest region of the United States.
A nature lover, I am often found at the end of the pack taking photos and videos of the wildlife found on the trails. Colorful flowers, desert animals, and unusual geological rock formations are often the majority of my photos.