Hiking in the Texas Heat

Ok Texans, you know the drill. July and August is when we pay the price for having such mild weather most of the year. This is when the mercury rises into the triple digits, and we are thankful for air conditioning and summer blockbuster movies! But all hope is not lost, even when the heat is rising, you can still get outside and enjoy your favorite activities. You just need to use some common sense and take some precautions, and you aren’t stuck inside during the dog days of summer.

Water, Water, Water

This one shold be a no-brainer for everyone, but having enough water is critical in the summer months if you are outside and active. Honestly, you should always bring water with you, but in the hottest part of the year, it’s a necessity. Whether you use a Hydrapack or Camelback type device (backpack with a drinking tube), or carry a hand-held water bottle, make sure you don’t leave home without fluids. You may prefer something with electrolytes like Gatorade or Powerade, although many experts say plain water is just fine for hydration. I’ve heard some people freeze their water ahead of going out, I just put some ice into an insulated flask (I have hydroflasks, Yeti is another popular making of insulated drink ware), and with that I’m good to go. Whatever. your method, water is critical! Don’t be stuck out there without it. And if you hike with a furry friend, don’t forget water for them as well.

Timing is Everything

When my friends up north ask how I can stand the heat of the summer down here, i have to remind them that the heat may not be pleasant, but you can plan around it (unlike up there when everything is covered in ice). Even on the hottest days, the mornings are going to be cooler (if you can call lows in the 80s cool). You can still get out in the morning and finish up by early afternoon before it gets too hot. Just plan to wrap it up by around noon or so, and you’re fine!

Sunscreen is your friend

The days are hot, but they are also sunny! You don’t want to come back with a bad sunburn, so make sure to slather on some sunscreen to your face of course, but also anywhere else your skin is exposed to the sun. Sun cancer is not a laughing matter, and sun damage does cause premature aging and visible damage as you get older. Don’t skimp on the sunscreen!

Protect your head

I’m not big on hats, I’ve got a big head so hats don’t fit me well, but when I’m out hiking in the summer, i do have a wide brimmed hat i wear for hiking. Sun stroke is not a laughing matter, I’ve come very close to passing out from the heat before when i was younger and stupider, and that taught me a valuable lesson. A hat can help create shade and cool your noggin, as well as protect your face from a bad sunburn. Whether you do a wide brimmed hate, a baseball cap, or even one of those newer cooling hats that use reflective technology to reflect the heat off your head, make sure to bring a hat if you are out somewhere without any shade.

Picking the right trail

So when heading outside on a hot day, not all trails are created equal. If it’s going to be 114 that day, you probably don’t want to plan for a 15 mile hike at the LBJ Grasslands. And if the day is already heating up, White Rock Lake may not be the best choice either given the lack of shade. Some spots can get sticky and humid, there was one ride at Cedar Hill State Park that about killed me on a humid August day. So picking the right trail is important when the weather is steamy. Maybe wait until it’s cooler to trek out on the longer trails, and look for something with a bit more shade or breeze. And make sure you understand how the trail is laid out. While this is always good advice when setting out at a new spot, the health risks of the heat make it more critical to know exactly where you are in relation to your vehicle. Using an app like Strava or MapMyRun is also useful, I’d say critical if you are at the LBJ Grasslands. Being aware of the layout of a trail system is important, but critical when the heat can be dangerous.

Wear Cool Clothing

It’s important to wear the right clothing in the heat. Throwing on jeans and a sweatshirt for an August hike is definitely not going to make you comfortable, but you probably also want to ditch the cotton t-shirt as well. Cotton soaks up perspiration and gets heavy, preventing you from cooling off and weighing you down. Find sweat wicking fabrics that help you stay dry and cool. By wicking the sweat from your body and spreading it across the fabric it helps you stay dry, and cooler. Synethetic materials tend to be the best at sweat wicking, cotton being one of the worst! So ditch the cotton t-shirts and shorts, you’ll be more comfortable and drier!

Summing it Up

Don’t let the Texas heat stop you from getting out and enjoying the outdoors, with a little pre-planning you shouldn’t have any issues. A few years ago i went out to Fort Worth Nature Center during an especially hot afternoon in June, when i was young and stupid and felt invincible. I had no water, no plan, and set out. After I was fairly far from where i parked i realized i was in trouble and tried to get back to the car, and took a ‘short cut’ which wound up being a longer route back. The Nature Center was closed, so I had to drive to a fast food place nearby, and the employees were very concerned at how i looked, as I was gulping down something to drink in the a/c. I was unprepared, and almost got heat stroke. Don’t be stupid, the heat is something serious you need to consider, but with some common sense and planning, it shouldn’t stop you from enjoying the summer and getting outdoors!

What other things do you take into consideration before stepping out?

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