Stay Safe & Cool: What to Wear Hiking in the Summer
While warm weather makes summer one of the most popular times to hit the trails, soaring temperatures can sometimes conspire against you. Not only is it important to carry plenty of water and slather on that SPF when hiking in hot weather, but you'll want to equip yourself with the basic hiking essentials along with summer hiking clothes and gear that keep you cool and comfortable. Think garments and products that protect you from the sun, moisture wicking fabrics and breathable hiking shoes. This guideline outlines what to wear hiking in summer so you can enjoy every step.
From undergarments to UPF clothing to hiking shoes and beyond, a lot goes into summer hiking outfits. There are a handful of factors to consider when choosing what to wear, including terrain, sun exposure, personal preferences and elements you may encounter on the trail. Whether you're partaking in some dusty desert hiking clothing or seeking apparel for humid climates, here's what to wear hiking in summer.
Hiking Shoes vs. Boots
A pair of light, breathable hiking shoes are usually your best bet when hiking in hot weather. They'll help keep your feet cool, and many styles offer excellent ankle support and traction. When hiking very rugged terrain—or in cases where you expect a bit of moisture—a water-resistant hiking boot may be better. However, it'll be heavier and rarely as breathable as a regular shoe.
Whatever type of hiking shoe you choose, don't forget your socks. Choose hiking socks for summer made of thin, breathable materials. Though lighter, they'll provide cushion and help prevent blisters.
Pants vs. Shorts
Though you may be inclined to grab a pair of shorts for your summer day hiking trips, that's not necessarily the best option. Hiking pants protect you more from the sun, which means you'll feel cooler, lose less water and have more energy. You can find well-vented, quick drying pants for hiking that both protect and keep you feeling cool. Not to mention, pants help protect you from ticks, bugs and brush.
Long Sleeves or Tank Top
Like pants, wearing long sleeves versus a tank top offers additional protection from the sun, bugs and brush. Stick to lightweight, breathable, sweat-wicking materials in light colors.
Even better, opt for garments with Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) technology. The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends choosing a fabric with UPF of 30 or higher to greatly reduce UVA and UVB exposure.(1)
If it looks like rain, you may want to consider packing a rain jacket, as well.
Shielding yourself from the sun helps prevent sunburns, sun damage and skin cancer. It'll also keep you more comfortable during and after your hike. Bring all of the following with you:
- Broad spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher and reapply often.(2)
- Lip balm with SPF 30+
- UPF clothing with a rating of 30 or higher
- Brimmed hat (a baseball cap is a great choice)
Whether you opt for a base layer or just stick with a sports bra and/or underwear, choose synthetic materials that keep you cool by wicking away sweat. Avoid fabrics like cotton that tend to soak up water and stay wet.
Tips for Summer Hiking
Now that you've been fully briefed on what to wear hiking in hot weather, review these summer hiking tips and heed them!
- Hike early in the day or at night: The middle of the day is always hotter than the early mornings and evenings. If you're hiking somewhere known for soaring temps, it's best to stick to these cooler hours for a comfortable, safer hike.(3)
- Pick a shady trail: When possible, prioritize trails with lots of coverage to help stay cool. This may not be feasible when desert hiking, which makes the previous tip extra important.
- Be mindful of weather warnings: As beautiful as she is, nature can be a mighty force and shouldn't be underestimated. Whether there are warnings to avoid trails due to blazing temperatures or inclement weather is afoot, heed the warnings and pick another day to hike.
- Pace yourself: Start off slow and take as many breaks as you need. Remember, hiking is all about enjoying the journey versus racing to the finish line. This is doubly important when hiking in hot weather.
- Carry extra water: You never want to be caught without enough water on the trail. In the most minor cases you'll feel thirsty and lethargic, but the situation can quickly turn severe. While every person and hike require different amounts of water, the rule of thumb is to pack half a liter of water per hour of moderate hiking and one liter per hour in intense scenarios.(4)
- Don't trail blaze: It might be tempting to go off-trail, but always stick to the beaten path. Trail blazing puts you at risk of getting lost and can impact important natural growth.
- Bring sunscreen and bug spray: Always carry extra sunscreen so you can reapply throughout your hike. Bug spray comes in handy for areas with lots of insects.
- Bring bear spray: If you're hiking somewhere known for bear sightings, carry bear spray with you and keep it handy. You probably won't need to use it but having some on hand will provide peace of mind.
- Protect yourself from blisters and chafing: Blisters and chafing are par for the hiking course, but you can mitigate the discomfort. Never wear brand new shoes on your hike; wear shorts or pants that prevent your skin from rubbing together, and pack a first aid kit.
Hot Weather Safety Concerns
Hiking in summer is a joy, but it does have some inherent risks. Take this advice to heart, and be mindful of the following heat-related conditions that can occur when exerting yourself in hot weather.
Dehydration occurs when your body doesn't have enough water. Remember, you need much more water than usual when exercising, and even more water than that when exercising in high heat.
Symptoms of dehydration include(5):
- Extreme thirst
- Less frequent urination and darkly colored urine
- Exhaustion and lethargy
Overhydration occurs when your body has too much water, which causes your sodium levels to drop.(6) While this is very rare, it can occur.
Here are some signs to be aware of:
- Muscle weakness
Excess exposure to heat can take a toll on the body, which may lead to heat exhaustion.(7)
Heat exhaustion presents as:
- Excessive sweating
- Cold and clammy skin
- Quick, weak pulse
- Nausea and vomiting
A heat stroke can occur if you cannot get your body temperature under control, and it is essentially an escalation of heat exhaustion.(8) Heat stroke occurs when your temperature soars to 103 degrees and struggles to cool down. This can ultimately impact organ function and potentially cause death. As such, it requires immediate medical intervention.
Heat stroke symptoms include:
- Hot and red skin that's either damp or dry
- Body temperature of 103 or higher
- Quick and strong pulse
- Loss of consciousness
Spending more than 10 minutes in the sun puts you at risk of getting a sunburn. The longer you're exposed to the sun's powerful UV rays without proper protection, the more severe the burn.
In mild cases, a sunburn is sore to the touch and will heal within a few days. Severe burns can result in blistering, peeling and extreme pain. Some may even make it difficult to complete normal activities several days because of the discomfort.
All sunburns put you at risk for developing skin cancer.(2) Always apply sunscreen (and reapply frequently) and wear hats, sunglasses and UPF clothing.
As you can see, knowing what to wear hiking in summer requires foresight and planning. Follow the above advice and you'll be ready to hit the trails with confidence. Here's to a summer full of inspiring exploration and adventure.
1. The Skin Cancer Foundation. “Sun Protective Clothing." Accessed March 11, 2022. https://www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer-prevention/sun-protection/sun-protective-clothing/.
2. “Sun Safety | Skin Cancer | CDC," August 13, 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/skin/basic_info/sun-safety.htm.
3. CDC. “Extreme Heat." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, July 19, 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/features/extremeheat/index.html.
4. Darley, Heather. “Ask a Trail Steward: How Much Water Should I Pack for a Hike?" New York - New Jersey Trail Conference, June 11, 2021. https://www.nynjtc.org/news/ask-trail-steward-how-much-water-should-i-pack-hike.
5. Mayo Clinic. “Dehydration - Symptoms and Causes." https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/dehydration/symptoms-causes/syc-20354086.
6. Mayo Clinic. “Hyponatremia - Symptoms and Causes." https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hyponatremia/symptoms-causes/syc-20373711.
7. “Warning Signs and Symptoms of Heat-Related Illness | Natural Disasters and Severe Weather | CDC," April 15, 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/disasters/extremeheat/warning.html.
8. Mayo Clinic. “Heatstroke - Symptoms and Causes." https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heat-stroke/symptoms-causes/syc-20353581