Around this time of summer in the Mid-Atlantic region, a grand divide develops between friends, family members, & neighbors. This chasm can often bring new plans to life, but for some it can also bring summer outdoor adventure motivation to screeching halt.
Those who relish, even celebrate, the slow, hot days at the height of summer - and those who, well, just don't.
Whether you are the first to head out for adventures on a steaming day, or you are just sucking it up and going along with family & friends to keep the peace - this blog is for you.
There’s no doubt about it: some of us are cold weather people.
We like to be in the woods when the leaves turn on a cool fall day, see our breath on a morning run or hike, and some of us ski, snowboard, snowshoe, or even ice climb. We often wait (im)patiently for the temperature to drop for the season, and delight in the first frost followed by the first taste of fresh powder.
Unless your neighbor is a polar bear, however, summer is an unavoidable fact of life.
Summer can get pretty darn hot these days, and here in the Mid-Atlantic Region keeping the basics in mind when playing outside in the summer has become an absolute necessity.
Below are six tricks from the sleeves of some experienced hikers to help you stay cool while hiking this summer.
It sounds like a no-brainer (and of course, beat the heat advice always starts here) but the importance of drinking enough water cannot be overstated.
Beyond quenching your thirst, sweat (which is water) is your body’s primary way of cooling itself. Drinking enough water also increases concentration and improves mood - both of which can be critical when you are adventuring in the heat.
Knowing how much water to bring for your length and difficulty of outing is a good start. You should also identify where all your water sources are on your Purple Lizard map, and carry a small filter to treat it before drinking.
If you are off to explore the mountains, you will want to keep in mind where you are heading. Choose your adventure carefully - is the trail or area you plan exploring shaded?
There’s a good reason that many plants grow more quickly on south-facing slopes. In the Northern Hemisphere, the sun’s trajectory is more southern throughout the day. That means that mountain slopes facing the south receive more sunlight, and are thus are generally quite a bit warmer.
When planning your trip, consider looking for trails in the shady valleys (streams or river trails with lots of shade can be fun on a hot day) or trails that traverse on the north-facing slopes of mountains and hills to get out of the sun. With a little research you can find some amazing water holes - like this one on the Mid State Trail!
If you like to wear a neck gaiter, dipping it in a cool stream and stretching it around your forehead can make all the difference. The same can go for your trusty bandana, or even a shirt.
Of course, you can always go for a dip if you find the perfect swimming hole. You don't have to actually swim - the benefits of taking off your shoes and socks and putting your feet in a cold stream are immeasurable on a hot day.
In the thick of summer, the time of day that you choose to hike can make all the difference. It’s best to avoid the middle of the day into mid-afternoon, when temperatures will be hottest. Opt instead for a sunrise or a sunset hike, when temperatures are cooler. If you are less experienced adventuring in the heat and are planning a hike, you may want to plan a shorter than trip, or have a bailout option available.
If you’re on a multi-day trip, try to get started early in the morning while it’s still cool. When the day heats up, take a nap or a long break, and as the afternoon rolls around, resume hiking.
Unless your trip involves overgrown trails or extended exposure to sunlight, your best bet is thin, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing. Lighter colors will reflect sunlight more effectively than darker clothing while loose-fitting fabric will allow more airflow around your skin. That means moisture can evaporate, and your body can cool itself more efficiently.
While you don't have to invest a bunch of money in fancy hiking clothes, remember that light, synthetic fabric is often best in high heat, because it wicks moisture and dries quickly. Basically, wear your favorite exercise shirt instead of your favorite cotton tee.
If you’ve ever worn shorts and a t-shirt to start a hike only to be cold when you reach the top of a mountain, then you’ll know that it can be surprisingly chilly on mountain tops. Air pressure decreases with altitude, and temperature as a result. You can typically expect to lose around five degrees Farenheit per thousand feet of altitude.
Be sure to keep an eye on the weather - you’ll be more exposed to storms on summits. A cool breeze or light drizzle may be welcomed, but a micro-cell burst and lightning strikes definitely are not. But in general, if you’re trying to escape the heat, a mountain top destination may be just the place.
Summer is hot, but it doesn’t have to keep you hiding out indoors for the AC. Just like when you play outdoors in winter, being prepared in summer makes all the difference. Always let someone know where you are heading, keep the essentials in your pack, stay within your limits, and pay attention to yourself and your hiking partners. Learn the signs of heat illness - it is no joke.
Don't miss the beauty of an awesome summer season - unfold your Purple Lizard map, dunk your bandana, and enjoy the (shady) trails! You don't have to make it a hard hike - pack a hammock and go find a shady spot by a stream!
By Renée Korma
copyright Purple Lizard Maps 2021
Renée Koma is a writer in mental health and personal development. When she’s not tapping away on her laptop, she loves to play her cello, go backpacking, and write for her own outdoors-themed blog, The Dirt.