Stay Comfortable in Any Weather: Heat

Think like a desert dweller to stay cool and comfortable.
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Think like a desert dweller to stay cool and comfortable.

On the Trail | In Camp | Key Gear

ON THE TRAIL

Stay hydrated. You know this, but every year dozens of hikers get into trouble.

1. Store water in multiple containers, so you can never lose your entire supply.
2. Keep water accessible and sip often.
3. Use drink mixes (like CamelBak's Elixir tablets; $10, camelbak.com), to replace the electrolytes you lose through sweat.
4. Shoot for at least one liter of liquid per hour; your urine should be clear.
5. Eat salty snacks to avoid dangerously low sodium levels, a condition called hyponatremia caused by overhydration.

Hike north. Plan your route so the sun is generally at your back. Your pack will absorb heat instead of you.

Adjust your schedule. Start before dawn to take advantage of the coolest time of day (after sunset, heat from the day still lingers). Get your miles done before noon, or take a long lunch layover in the shade and continue hiking after dusk. "There's a reason why people all over the tropics take siestas during the hottest part of the day," notes Bruce Smithhammer, a veteran NOLS instructor in Mexico. If you're climbing out of a canyon, time your ascent so that the trail will be shaded. Note: Avoid night hiking in rattlesnake habitat; they come out when the temperature cools.

Shade your legs. Sun at your back? Hang a shirt from the bottom of your pack so that it shields your legs.

Air out your feet. Take off your boots and socks during rest breaks.

Protect your head. If you don't wear a hat (or opt for a visor), put sunscreen in the part of your hair.

Eat light. Your appetite might decrease in hot temps, but you still need fuel. Replace greasy summer sausage with a chicken pouch, and have smaller, more frequent meals.

On the Trail | In Camp | Key Gear

IN CAMP

Sleep low. Cool air sinks, so look for shaded, north- or east-facing sites in valley bottoms.

Skip the stove. When you have to ration water in camp, save what you have for drinking–not cooking and pot cleaning. Pack dried fruit, bread with pesto, or backcountry sushi rolls made with cream cheese, pouch tuna, wasabi, and carrots on nori (or a tortilla).

Scrub down. You'll sleep better if you wipe off sweat and grime. Pack wet wipes, or use a moistened bandanna.

Sleep in a mesh tent. If you can't sleep en plein air because of bugs, use a well-ventilated shelter like Black Diamond's Beta Bug; $139, blackdiamondequipment.com). Leave the fly off of any tent when the sun is out so that solar heat doesn't collect inside.

Protect your pad. In the desert, shine your flashlight horizontally across the ground to locate pad-puncturing cactus spines. Sweep the area thoroughly before laying your pad down. Alternatively, pack a puncture-proof, closed-cell foam pad like Therm-a-Rest's Ridge Rest ($25, thermarest.com).

On the Trail | In Camp | Key Gear

KEY GEAR

Protective clothing Minimize exposed skin with a light-colored, long-sleeve, collared shirt and lightweight pants. "You may feel warmer initially," says Death Valley National Park backcountry ranger Aaron Shandor, "but once you start moving, creating a breeze, and sweating, you'll be much cooler."

Sun hat Best: A wide-brimmed sun hat (like Royal Robbins's Extreme Expedition Hat; $20, royalrobbins.com). Cheaper: Tuck (or sew) a bandanna under the back rim of your cap, Lawrence of Arabia-style.

Skirt Women: Get maximum comfort and breathability in an above-the-knee cotton skirt, says Mountain Travel Sobek guide Shelli Ogilvy. And guys: Try Mountain Hardwear's Mountain Kilt ($50, mountainhardwear.com).

Sleeping sack In jungle-worthy weather, pack a lightweight cotton model (such as Cocoon's Cotton Mummyliner; $20, cocoon.at) instead of your sleeping bag. (And use it to line your bag for extra warmth in cold weather.)

Mist bottle Fill one at the trailhead and spritz yourself regularly on hot, dry hikes, advises Shandor.

Cotton shirt Yep, you read that right. Cotton's slow-drying properties make it perfect for scorching temps: Soak a shirt in a stream, then put it on for sweet relief. "Warmth moves to a cooler area to equalize, so the cool water from a bandanna or T-shirt draws heat off your body," explains Iris Saxer, an instructor with the Wilderness Medicine Institute.

Portable shade Bring a backpacking umbrella for protection on the move or a light-colored tarp for lunchtime.

My Secret: Dennis Lewon

"Admittedly, there's no science to back this up," says our executive editor, who once hiked through a Sonoran Desert heat wave. "But when I trek in temps above 100F, I like to drink a cup of hot tea in the afternoon in camp. Some say it makes you sweat more, which increases cooling. I think it slightly raises your internal body temperature, which makes the outside air feel cooler."