As spring transitions to summer, getting outside becomes more and more appealing.
The warming temperatures encourage you to get outside — something you eagerly oblige.
Most people enjoy hiking in summer because you can move more freely when you’re not weighted down with heavy insulating layers.
It’s also prime time for exploring high alpine lakes, meadows, and the unique hikes in Colorado (that link will take you to some of our favorite Rocky Mountain day hikes) with their mountain peaks that would otherwise be covered in snow.
During any season there are precautions to take before setting out on the trails — highlighted by what to wear and what to carry with you.
Don't let the heat deter you. This guide will help you enjoy hiking in hot weather and make the most of your summer hiking adventures so get outside and say HELLO TRAIL!
Summer is associated with soaring temperatures, humidity and warm nights — but the degree to which these environments are present depends on where you are in the world. It also depends on elevation.
Though the temperatures at sea level might be in the high 90s, if you will be venturing into the mountains, you’ll experience a significant temperature decrease and may want to plan as if you were hiking in the fall.
Rainfall also varies depending on where you are. It is very dry in the mountainous western and Northwestern regions during summer while in the East and South you can experience quite a bit of rainfall.
The best thing to do? Be prepared for anything.
Northwest: Summer temperatures range between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit on average, with warmer temps during the day and cooler temps at night.
This is the driest time of the year with the area receiving between 0-2 inches of precipitation on average, but in the mountains, the weather can still be unpredictable.
Mountains: Similar to the Northwest, the mountainous regions of the US feature cooler temperatures due to the higher elevation, ranging between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit on average, with warmer temps during the day and cooler temps at night.
The higher the elevation, the cooler the temperatures will be.
The mountainous regions are drier in summer, receiving 1-2 inches of rainfall on average, but unexpected afternoon thunderstorms are prevalent, so plan on bringing rain gear if you’re hiking late in the day.
Northeast: The lower part of the Northeast is significantly warmer than the upper tip, specifically Maine.
Maine experiences averages temperatures between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit on average while New Hampshire, Vermont, and New York are a bit warmer, with temperatures averaging between 65 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
The more southern and coastal portions of the Northeast are warmer due to their lower latitude and proximity to the coast, with average temperatures in the 70s.
East: The East is a warm place to hike in summer, with temperatures averaging between 70 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit on average although during the day temperatures can easily soar into the 90s.
The further south you go, the warmer the temperatures will get.
South: The South can be sweltering hot in summer with temperatures that often soar high into the 90s, particularly in the southernmost state of Florida. Average temperatures range between 75 and 85 degrees.
Expect high humidities and almost unbearable heat during peak daytime hours.
In the South it’s best to hike in the early mornings or evenings in order to stay cool.
Intense heat can be defeating, especially at low elevations and in the Eastern and Southernmost parts of the country.
When you’re planning a summer hike you should take these tips into consideration:
Plan on starting a hike early in the morning and finishing before the afternoon, if possible. The hottest part of the day is usually between noon and 3pm.
If you plan on going on an all-day hike you’re going to want to break, seek shelter, and wait out the hottest part of the day before continuing back to the trailhead.
While this is not necessarily recommended for beginners due to the hazards associated with hiking at night, with a little experience, a guide, and some illumination like the Black Diamond Revolt headlamp we prefer (visit that link to see all of our favorite hiking headlamps) it can be a great way to stave off the summer heat and experience a hike out under the stars.
While this one might seem obvious, you really do have to be careful hiking in the heat. Search for trails that are primarily wooded.
If you’re hiking in an open area, when do you come across shade, take advantage of it with plentiful breaks.
There’s nothing better than taking a dip in a pool at the base of the waterfall.
Look for hikes that lead to water sources or run along a riverbank, the ocean, or a lake. This allows you the ability to cool off when needed.
Dipping in your shirt, hat, or bandana is a great way to cool off if you don’t want to go swimming. The fabric will cool down your body as the water evaporates.
Lighter colors are your best choice. Dark colors will absorb the sun’s rays, resulting in making your body warmer, while light colors will reflect the sun’s rays, keeping you cooler.
Look for UPF fabric, which will protect against the harmful rays of the sun.
While clothing generally provides protection from the sun, sheer shirts do not provide as much protection as you might think, and should be avoided as a general rule.
Outdoor companies design plenty of UPF-rated clothing ranging from UPF-15 to protection to UPF-50+.
Wear long sleeves or pants (find the best women's hiking pants for summer in our article here). While this might seem like the opposite of what you would want to do in summer, covering up your arms and legs protects them from the sun and is especially necessary for people with sensitive skin.
Wear sunscreen. This should seem like a no-brainer, but we can’t reiterate this enough.
Even hiking on a cloudy day, your skin is exposed to UV rays.
Apply sunscreen thirty minutes before you head outside and carry some with you so that you can reapply every two hours while you’re on your hike.
Loose, breathable clothing is best.
Wearing lightweight, loose-fitting, breathable clothing will allow for plenty of airflow and circulation even in the sweltering heat.
Some clothing articles have built-in vents — you should definitely make use of them.
Accessorize with sunwear. Hats, bandanas, and neck gaiters are great for carrying with you on a summer hike.
Sun hats are better than baseball caps because they will provide sun protection for both your neck and face.
Bandanas and gaiters can be dunked in water and then hung around your neck to help cool you off.
Carry plenty of water — or even better, a hydration reservoir.
You’re going to be drinking a lot more water on a summer hike than you will during any other season because you’re going to be sweating more.
To stay hydrated, it’s recommended to take a sip of water every 10-15 minutes, even if you’re not thirsty.
We highly recommended the Camelback hydration backpack which is one of the 5 top day hiking backpacks we reviewed and use ourselves.
Take preventative chafing measures. Hiking in summer makes you more susceptible to chafing — in all the worst places.
To start, wear synthetic underwear — avoid cotton!
Synthetic underwear will wick moisture away from your body and protect you from chafing.
Also, body glide and anti-chafing creams come highly recommended by ultra runners — if you’re prone to chafing, take their lead and apply some before setting out on a summer hike.
It’s easy enough just to toss some into your pack and carry it with you, as well.
Eat frequently. While the warm weather might make you feel less hungry, you should eat frequently to keep your body adequately fueled. It’s working hard to keep you cool — you need to return the favor.
Cotton doesn’t always kill.
Although you’ve no doubt read cotton is taboo (as in 7 sentences ago!), in extremely hot conditions a cotton t-shirt is okay, as long as you’re comfortable in it.
Cotton absorbs moisture rather than wicking it away from your body so it will actually feel refreshing against your skin and will cool your body temperature as the water evaporates.
Top: A cotton or synthetic loose fitting t-shirt or long sleeve shirt
Bottom: Synthetic, technical lightweight hiking pants, convertibles, or shorts
Head: Sunhat, neck gaiter, sunglasses
Feet: Synthetic or merino wool socks and hiking boots or shoes
Summer Day Hiking Gear List
-Sunscreen, body glide, snacks, a hydration reservoir, rain gear (optional), a light wind shell (optional)
Hiking out in the heat can have some detrimental repercussions if you don’t take appropriate precautions.
Similar to how hiking in cold weather can result in hypothermia if you don’t dress warmly enough, hiking in hot weather can result in sunburn, dehydration, heat exhaustion, and a plethora of other medical conditions.
Here’s an overview of medical considerations, ways to avoid these situations, and tips on handling them if they do happen to occur to yourself or someone in your hiking party.
Sunburn: This is one of the most common occurrences when hiking in summer.
A combination of UPF-rated sunscreen and application of sunscreen to exposed skin is your best line of defense against sunburn.
Pick the sunscreen that’s appropriate for you — if you have extremely fair skin you’re going to want a sunscreen with a high SPF.
A waterproof or water resistant sunscreen is recommended because you’ll likely sweat on your hike.
Remember to apply sunscreen thirty minutes before you set out and reapply every two hours.
If you happen to go for a swim, reapply once dry as even waterproof sunscreens lose their efficacy after a certain amount of time in the water.
If you do get sunburned, be sure to treat it with aloe vera gel when you get home. Taking ibuprofen can help reduce pain and inflammation also.
If you’re going to be outside again the next day, be sure to cover the affected area with clothing. The worst thing to do is expose sunburned skin to more sun.
Dehydration: Dehydration occurs when you don’t drink enough water.
It can leave you feeling poorly and if not remedied can lead to more serious health conditions, including heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
Dehydration most commonly occurs when hiking in warm weather.
The more you sweat, the quicker you dehydrate, and the more water you need to be drinking.
The key to avoiding and remedying dehydration is to drink plenty of water. How much you need to drink depends on the exercise intensity, temperature, humidity, and your body type.
A general rule of thumb is to drink half a liter of water per hour during moderate activity and moderate temperatures.
The hotter it gets outside, the more you need to drink — and the same applies for more strenuous hikes.
Bringing more water than you need is always better than running out — so make sure you carry enough for you and your hiking companions.
A hydration reservoir is an efficient way to carry water and will save you the bulk a bunch of water bottles will cause in your backpack.
If you’re hiking with your dog, you’re going to need to bring enough for him or her as well, and a packable bowl they can drink from.
Heat Exhaustion: This is one of the more serious medical conditions associated with hiking in hot weather.
Heat exhaustion usually results from prolonged exposure to the elements and is likely accompanied by dehydration.
Symptoms include faintness, dizziness, nausea, rapid pulse, profuse sweating, and fatigue.
If you or one of your companions seem to be experiencing heat exhaustion, it’s important to immediately get yourself or them out of the heat.
Seek shelter or a shady area and remove your pack and unnecessary clothing. Lay down, rest, and cool off.
Splash water in your face or wet a banana or other article of clothing and apply it to the back of your neck, which will help cool you off.
Start rehydrating immediately — it’s likely the cause of heat exhaustion is in part due to dehydration.
Drink plenty of water in slow, steady sips so that you don’t upset your stomach and if you have electrolyte tablets, add them to your water.
The key to preventing heat exhaustion includes wearing appropriate clothing, acclimatizing to the heat, keeping hydrated, and taking plenty of breaks in the shade.
Know your limits — if you’re headed out on your first hike of the summer, just go a few miles.
While you might be in shape, hiking in the heat can really sap your energy, so start slow and build up to longer hikes.
Heat Stroke: This is the most serious medical condition associated with hiking in summer. It typically occurs very rapidly and requires immediate medical attention.
Symptoms are similar to heat exhaustion but much more severe and can be accompanied by a throbbing headache, confusion, disorientation, and a high body temperature.
The treatment is similar to heat exhaustion but more drastic measures need to be taken to cool off the afflicted person’s body temperature.
If nearby a lake or river, submersion of the body in water can be helpful.
Evacuating the hiker and getting them to a hospital is necessary to make sure no internal damage occurs.
You can prevent heat stroke the same way you can prevent heat exhaustion.
The refreshing feeling of jumping into a pool at the base of a waterfall or lounging in the most comfortable hammock near a lake is one of the greatest appeals of summer hiking.
The warm temperatures encourage outdoor activity and the snow up in the high mountains has finally melted away, leaving behind beautiful alpine lakes just begging to be explored.
If you’re a beginner hiker, summer is a great season to start your foray into hiking because the warm temperatures require less layers and the season offers relatively decent weather in most climates around the country.
Pack plenty of water, apply your sunscreen, and call up your hiking buddy — it’s time to hit the trails.
Over to you...
Where are you going hiking this summer? Make me jealous and tell me about your upcoming trail adventure in the comments!
Ashley's a Florida girl that didn't see snow until her twenty's. Andrew initiated her with a January trip to Breckenridge and the rest is history! A flatlander most of her life, Ashley now craves challenging trails but isn't a fan of log crossings over rapidily flowing mountain streams. Click here to learn more about Ashley's outdoorsy background...
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