Tips for safe hiking in the heat
Hiking and recreating in and around the Borrego Valley and Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is a great experience, but it has some hidden dangers to be aware of; dehydration, overhydration, sun stroke, sunburn and heat stroke While we all experience heat in different ways in general when it is 95F and above you are going to get hot. It is a good idea to plan how to manage your hike in the heat.
The body uses sweat to try and cool the body, losing valuable liquids while not getting enough water to replace it. The blood thickens, reducing oxygen flow so the body starts shutting down functions starting with the saliva in the mouth – which is the first symptom. The best way to avoid dehydration is staying hydrated – Always fill your containers every time you reach a water source. The rule of thumb is two gallons of water per person for a day of walking. The hotter and drier the conditions are, the more water you should be carrying.
The counter of not drinking enough water is drinking too much, a risk that tends to be ignored by inexperienced hikers. The instinct is to think that more water is better, which is generally true when it is hot and you are being active, but there is an important ingredient that is needed with the water: sodium, or salt. When we sweat, we also release a host of minerals and chemicals to make sure we don’t have a high concentration of them in the bloodstream; one of the main ones is salt (along with sugar, ammonia, urea, potassium and more). If the weather is very hot and the body temperature is high, we sweat a lot and lose much of those minerals and chemicals that are vital for healthy functioning. High volumes of plain water coming into the body (hydrating) actually dilutes those minerals and chemicals and leads to hyponatremia – low sodium levels. The best way to avoid hyponatremia is to eat salty and sweet snacks regularly – a salty trail mix and a sweet trail mix are the best solutions, especially ones that are full of nuts. Adding electrolytes to your water at times is also useful, but not instead of snacks and not all the time.
Sunstroke is often confused with heat stroke but unlike heat stroke, sun stroke comes from exposure, not internal heat. Covering your head and skin can help avoid sun stroke, with the occasional shade and taking breaks out of the sun’s direct radiating heat. A head cover in the direct hot sun is a must.
Covering up wearing a long sleeve shirt and pants is the best way to avoid getting a severe sunburn. Sun in a hot area is highly radiating, with UV rays just waiting to fry your skin. Planning for a hike in the sun cover up or apply a high factor sunscreen (30+ or even 50+) to exposed skin. Sunburns can and will reach 2nd or even 3rd-degree burns and can be really painful, but they do heal naturally over time. If you feel the skin starting to warm up too much, pour some cold water or use cold presses and apply more sunscreen.
You want to AVOID a heat stroke. As a whole, the first symptom of the various dangers in the heat is a headache; our brain is a great indicator that something is wrong, especially when it comes to heat. If your head hurts when hiking in hot weather – stop, find a shady place, drink some water, get yourself cooled down, eat something sweet and salty, drink some more. If a headache is not gone after 15-20 minutes continue to rest until you feel better. Heat Stroke is essentially losing the ability to regulate the heat in the body due to excessive internal heat.