Tips for Hiking and Hydrating in the Heat

Summer is hot. But for a lot of people this is the main time of the year to do some hiking. Here are tips for hiking and hydrating in the heat.

Hiking and Hydrating in the Heat

If you listened to my podcast episode about Pedernales S.P. then you would know that I learned all about hiking in the heat when I visited that state park for the first time.  I’m hoping that my lessons learned there will help you hike in the Texas summers a little more efficiently.  So here are some basic tips to hiking and hydrating in the heat.


My hike at Pedernales was supposed to be 5.5 miles.  Because that’s what it said on the map and I didn’t account for anything else. 

  • I didn’t account for the trip from the parking lot, and how much that would add.
  • I didn’t account for additional exploring along the water at the park.
  • I didn’t account for getting a bit sidetracked on my way to the 5.5 mile loop.
  • And for the record: Do not go right after Trammels Crossing.  Just go straight ahead.

It was during this hike that I learned about proper hydration and the signs of heat exhaustion.

Growing up in Texas, specifically from the valley, I thought I was acclimated to the Texas heat.

But not having enough shade, not taking enough breaks, and not having enough water created a perfect combo that could’ve ended dangerously for me.

Instead I left with a gnarly headache, and felt really weak for days after this hike. 

What was supposed to be 5 and a half miles, ended up being almost 11 in the middle of the day in July. This experience really helped me change my idea for hiking in the heat.

Heat exhaustion vs. heat stroke

There is a difference. One common sign of both is a headache.  So if you start to feel like you’re getting a headache then you need to start going down the checklist of symptoms and start taking care of these immediately.

Here is the signs and what to do courtesy of the Center for Disease Control:

Hiking in the heat may cause exhaustion on heat stoke

Before we get into hydration, one quick way to prevent dehydration from happening even faster is wearing protective clothing and sunscreen. Becoming sun burnt will dehydrate you even faster, so make sure that before you even head out for the day you’re protected.

I’ve grown accustomed to wearing fully synthetic materials when I’m hiking in the heat.  When I’m out during the summer I’m definitely dressed more to work out than what you’d typically see from me in the winter.  Running shorts, merino wool socks, highly breathable and quick drying shirts, and usually long sleeves.  I also started wearing a neck gaiter and some type of hat.  For any skin that’s exposed I make sure to wear sunscreen. So usually on my face and neck.

Examples on Ways to Hydrate:

Hydration bladders and packs: For day hikes- discovering the hydration bladder was a godsend. I have two backpacks, but both of them have weird pockets that I can’t quite reach. So in order to drink from the water bottle I need to stop, take off my pack and grab my bottle.  That seems like a small task, but when I’m hiking I don’t really want to stop.  After Pedernales I upgraded to an Osprey Skarab 32 that came with its own hydration bladder.

Featured Hydration Pack:

Gregory Nano H2O 18L Hydration Pack – 3 Liters

A handy companion for a spontaneous hike, music festival or busy weekend, the Gregory Nano H2O 18L hydration pack hauls all of your must-haves—and 3 liters of water—when you’re out and about.

While the design is really similar to other bladders you may see, the Osprey pouch has a few design details that really make this work well.  It has built in reservoirs that help eliminate the water swoosh that really shifts weight, and it has a magnetic tab on the end by the valve that keeps it in place on my back.

It only works on packs that have the opposite end magnet included, so when I use the bladder on my other backpacks for shorter hikes it just hangs from my shoulder stap.

The one drawback to the bladder pouch is because it is tucked away in your pack, it’s hard to know if you have enough water for your journey. So even though I like the ease of use, I’m still needing to check it ever so often.

Since I’ve started riding my bike on the trails I  also picked up a new waist-pack that allows for a water bottle too.  You’ll find them in the cycling or running sections, and are a great options for lighter strolls through a park, or walking some lighter trails.

Water bottles:

So when you’re hiking in the heat you’ll for sure be using a water bottle if you don’t have a hydration bladder. Right now I’m using an insulated cycling water bottle because when I have it on my backpack the liquid doesn’t warm up in the sun.

It has been a great option for the random occurrences where I drank more water than I expected.  And if you’re following the 10 essentials, then you’ll know that taking extra food and water is always a good idea.

Filtration and planning ahead

Taking the right amount of water is important depending on the distance you’re hiking. 16 ounces of water is about a pound, so to offset how much water you’re going to take and trying to cut some weight, you’ll need to take into consideration your water sources.  So if you’re going to a place that you’ve been to plenty of times,  or has a map where you can check ahead, you can plan ahead and see if there are water sources like water fountains or pumps.

But on the flip side of that, you can also check ahead on any natural, or unnatural water options where you can source water.  This would be ideal on more through hikes, so that’s where the water filtration comes into play. 

I’m going to have a separate episode on water filtration, so look into what’s available in your price range.  But for any long distance hikes I definitely think you should be taking filtration devices with you.  There are a handful of options that pack easily.

So these options allow for you being able to refill as you go.  And definitely something that you’d be more mindful of on longer hikes and backpacking trips.

Hydration techniques.

What you’re trying to avoid is dehydration, but also over dehydration.

REI wrote a great guide about dehydration, and the symptoms they include: 

  • cramps
  • headaches
  • nausea
  • the “umbles” (stumbling, mumbling, grumbling and fumbling)
  • dark urine with less volume (note that vitamins like B12 can cause urine to be bright yellow, which may not indicate dehydration)

When you’re hydrating know that it’s better to take frequent sips of water rather than chugging larger amounts infrequently. Adding in sport and/or energy drinks can help restore carbohydrates and electrolytes. You’re also going to be mindful of your salt intake as well.  So salty snacks are actually important for hydration.

There are three steps you’re going to want to be considerate of in terms of hydration:

  1. Pre hydrating (about 17-20 oz.) When I get up and start getting ready for a day out on the trails I’ll get some fluid in my body. I’ve talked to runner about this, and if you don’t prehydrate you’re always going to be playing catch up to get enough fluid in your body. I’ve also had a bad habit of drinking too much coffee before a hike, so you want to make sure you’re replacing that fluid you may lose as coffee can be a bit of a diuretic.
  2. Hydrating during the actual hike. This guide is assuming you know that you should be hydrating while you’re hiking, but remember the key point from above: Frequent sips and not big chugs. This will help maintain your fluids, and not over-hydrate, which is rare but can be dangerous.
  3. Post hydrate. This is where sport drinks come into play for me.  I usually keep a sport drink in my car on ice for when I’m done too. Let me tell you- there’s nothing like a nice cold beverage waiting for you in your car after a long day out on the trails.  I mean, if you’re just day hiking you can totally get away with treating yo’ self.

Electrolytes

Electrolytes are really important for hiking in the heat, and can be consumed in a variety of ways.  Powder mixes and tablets can be added to your beverages for a more cost effective and weight management way.  So you can make your beverages as needed and not have to pack all of these pre made brands.

I use Nuun tablets and have been really happy with them. They are slightly carbonated so it’s important to keep that in mind when you are putting them in the bottle.

I hope some of this helps prepare you for your next hike in the heat!  If you have some additional tricks, leave a comment down below or on the Facebook page.  Just search the Texas trailhead. And to hear more check out the podcast episode below!

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