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Backpacker Magazine – October 2009

Stay Comfortable in Any Weather: Heat

Think like a desert dweller to stay cool and comfortable.

by: Molly Loomis

Pick Your Conditions

On the Trail | In Camp | 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, 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,

Sleeping sack In jungle-worthy weather, pack a lightweight cotton model (such as Cocoon's Cotton Mummyliner; $20, 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."

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Dan S.
Feb 10, 2010

It's a good idea to have a water purifier in case you run out of water.

Michael Rysenaer, Belgium
Feb 10, 2010

Correction of my previous comment : please read "by very HOT weather" and nor "old weather".

Michael Rysenaer, Belgium
Feb 10, 2010

By very old weather it may also be interesting to wear one or two tennis wristbands, so you can wip off the sweat on your forehead.

Feb 07, 2010

I have been hiking in the height of Australia summer 40 degrees celcius and 1 item i would never consider leaving without is my "KOOL IT" neck band. They last 2-4 hrs b4 you have to soak them in water again and boy do they work!

I swear by these things im not sure if they have a website or what country they are made but they can be found here http:


well worth the $15 Aus

Dec 28, 2009

Drinking hot tea on hot days, I'm told, is a trick used by Salt Merchants in North Africa. Apparently, there is some physiological reason why it works. This is what I heard: the tea heats up your core, and your body responds by pushing blood away from your core nearer the skin and into your extremities to compensate. Because more blood is passing near the skin, more blood is cooled by the effects of sweat evaporation. Presumably, this works best when humidity is lowest (< 50%).

Nov 02, 2009

The umbrella trick is a good idea but realize that nylon is tranparent to UV and you can still get a sunburn. Cover the umbrella with a piece of mylar emergency blanket and secure at the points. Very cool.

Oct 23, 2009

We kept our tent cool in the afternoon by placing a sleeping bag over it. It really made a difference.


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