Staff portrait for Leslie Patron.
By ,
Content Marketing Manager

Hiking in the heat when you’re underprepared can be a daunting experience. You don’t want to find yourself staggering around the trail dehydrated with a chapped face, like Clint Eastwood in the iconic desert scene from The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly. Fortunately, these discomforts are easily avoidable, as long as you research and plan ahead.

Can You Safely Hike in the Heat?

Absolutely! As long as you proceed with caution, you don’t need to let the warm rays stop you from enjoying local open spaces. After all, sunny weather makes for some ideal conditions out on the trail — within limits, of course. Please pay attention to heat advisories and listen to your body.  Take extra care to stay hydrated, pack salty snacks, wear cooler clothing, know the signs of heat-related illness, and choose your hiking location with the weather conditions in mind.

So, before you head out in a heatwave, here are some tips I’ve learned that will help ensure you have a good, safe time and stay healthy:

How to pick the right time and place to hike

What to wear to stay cool and comfortable

Essential snacks to pack to stay healthy and hydrated

Signs of heat-related illness

Two friends sit on the trail, observing the sun setting behind a tree-covered ridgeline.

When to Go Hiking to Avoid the Heat

Skip lunchtime. When it’s really hot out there, you’re going to want to avoid the hottest time of the day, usually from around noon to 3 p.m. Instead, join the early birds and beat the crowds (and the scorching sunshine) by planning a morning hike.

Note that our local parks and preserves open at different times, so plan accordingly. Many open a half hour before sunrise and remain open to a half hour after sunset.

If you’re not a morning person, you don’t have to rise and shine. Evening strolls are another way to dodge crowds, avoid the sun and see a different side of your favorite open space. Plus, the light can be most photogenic during the “magic hour” just before sunset. Just don’t forget a flashlight, and please respect the posted closing times.

A group of hikers on the trail at La Honda Creek.

Where to Go Hiking on Hot Days

The best hikes for hot days are the ones that offer plenty of shade. Trails close to big bodies of water like large lakes or, better yet, the Pacific Ocean, also have a cooling effect. We have it good here on the Peninsula and in the South Bay because we have several options that are almost completely covered in dense forest. We also have some of the most beautiful coastal hikes in the state, which tend to stay much cooler during the summer months.

Find two destinations below to avoid the heat even on the hottest days of summer!

Two hikers wearing hats and carrying backpacks walk on a lush trail.

What to Wear Hiking in Hot Weather

Protect Your Neck

Aside from your normal list of essentials, there are few items you should definitely have handy if you’re planning a hike on a hot day. Number one is a hat. Ideally, it’s a large, brimmed hat that gives your face and neck plenty of coverage. Though a baseball cap can provide some protection, you should pair it with a neck gaiter for extra assurance. You might also consider bringing an inexpensive bandana that you can soak in water and drape around your neck to really keep you cool.

Keep It Light:

As for the rest of your outfit, think of wearing looser clothing in pale colors. You want your fabrics to be breathable, which will help your body regulate its temperature. However, there are some exceptions to this rule! If you are especially prone to burning, consider choosing UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) rated clothing. Just like sunscreens, UPF rates can vary with a UPF of 50+ being the highest. UPF rated clothing is usually made of synthetic materials, has a denser weave, and comes in darker colors to keep those UV rays from scalding your skin.

Though cotton absorbs wetness easily and dries slowly, it is actually one of the better materials to wear in the heat. In fact, having a material that holds moisture might keep you cooler for longer. Just be sure the damp fabric isn’t rubbing against your skin in an uncomfortable way. Rashes are no fun no matter what the weather is like. So try to opt out of 100% cotton socks and go with thinner synthetic materials. And as for your footwear, ideally you have some breathable shoes that can still hold up on rough terrain.

Shades — and Shade:

This one is obvious, but don’t forget your sunglasses! Having shades with UV protection (even on a cloudy day) can really make or break your hike (or your cornea). And what might seem less obvious, but could really come in handy, is an umbrella. Even a smaller hand-held model can provide a much-needed break from the direct sunlight.

Hikers taking a snack break at a bench.

What Food to Bring When Hiking in Hot Weather

Water, and More Water:

When it’s really hot out, you’re going to need more water than you might think. Keep an eye on your water consumption as you go. When you’re halfway through your water supply, it’s time to head back!

The general recommendation is about 17 oz of water per hour of moderate activity, assuming the temperature is also moderate. Here’s where using a hydration pack can really be smart. The seemingly small convenience of having a sip tube can make it much easier to stay well hydrated. Another good option would be a squirt bottle. Again, the convenience factor can really save you in the long run. You can use it to squirt down your hat or handkerchief too. Last but not least, if you’re hiking with your furry best friend, don’t’ forget that they will need water too!

NaCl:

Salt! When the heat is on, your body is sweating and releasing salt and electrolytes which water alone will not replenish. Consider bringing a salty snack or an electrolyte-filled sports drink. There are even salt tablets that some athletes use for intense training sessions.

Snack Attack:

Sticking with the theme of water, consider packing foods that naturally contain a lot of it. Some of the foods with the highest water content include cucumbers, tomatoes, and watermelons. Consider a fresh cucumber salad with some salty feta cheese to keep you firing on all cylinders. It’s also smart to pack some bananas with you to prevent the dreaded heat cramps. Bananas are a great source of potassium, magnesium, and calcium — three nutrients that are proven to help prevent muscle cramps. A few more foods to consider bringing on your hot-weather hike include celery, oranges, and mint. Mint contains menthol, which your brain experiences as being “cold.”

Warning Signs for Heat-Related Illnesses

Heat Exhaustion & Stroke:

Overdoing it in the heat can be deadly! If you start to exhibit any of these symptoms, it’s time to find some shade, rehydrate, and cool off: dizziness, heavy sweating, nausea, fast weak pulse, and muscle cramps.

If you try to push it too hard you could end up with heatstroke, which is a medical emergency and requires an immediate trip to the hospital. Signs of heatstroke are headache, confusion, lack of sweat, rapid heart rate, and nausea or vomiting. In both of these cases having a cold compress will really come in handy to bring the body temperature down.

Know Thyself:

It’s important to know your limits and to find a shorter hike for those hot days if you haven’t had enough time to acclimate to the warmer weather. It can take your body up to 10 days to fully acclimate to high heat. So take it easy on your first few hot-weather hikes. Remember: it’s not a race, so take as many breaks as you need.

Sunburn:

Getting a little sunburned after being in the open air all day can be hard to avoid. Always choose sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher, apply it at least 15 minutes before sun exposure, and reapply every two hours. There are other things to consider when choosing the right outdoor skincare products, but in general, don’t forget the sunscreen.

Two Hikes to Escape the Heat:

Pescadero Creek Loop

A hiker rests by Pescadero Creek.

This loop takes you through two parks in the heart of the Pescadero watershed and some of the healthiest, continuous forests on the Peninsula. There is plenty of shade cover from redwood and oak forests and the creek is always nice and cool, making it great for a rest stop.

Distance: 6 miles
Elevation change: 700 feet
Hiking time: 3 hours
Trail surface: Varied
Managing agency: San Mateo County Parks
Parking lot location: Click here for directions

Cowell-Purisima Coastal Trail

View of the beach from Cowell-Purisima Coastal Trail

The Cowell-Purisima Trail lies just south of Half Moon Bay. It is a favorite among POST staff with expansive views of the Pacific Ocean and the farmland which borders parts of the trail. It is also the only way to access Cowell Ranch Beach, making it one of the more remote and less crowded beaches to visit.

Distance: 3.6 miles one way (if you arrange a ride back to the start)
Elevation change: Flat
Hiking time: 2 hours
Trail surface: Gravel, fully exposed
Managing agency: San Mateo County Parks
Parking lot location: Click here for directions

About Post

Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST) protects open space on the Peninsula and in the South Bay for the benefit of all. Since its founding in 1977, POST has been responsible for saving more than 87,000 acres as permanently protected land in San Mateo, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties. Learn more

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