There are no conglomerate death statistics for heat related hiking deaths, but there are several reports from around the U.S. about deaths in the regions. While not the only cause of death, heat is definitely high on the list, particularly the southern regions of the country. The sad part is, these deaths and the many who become ill are preventable.
Preparation: Being adequately prepared for a hike in hot weather is extremely important. Make sure you are completely hydrated before leaving for the trip. Bring plenty of water with you. If it’s going to be a long hike, you’ll be better off with a higher capacity hydration pack. Wear light colored clothing and a broad brimmed hat. The hat will help keep you cool and provide protection from the sun.
Know the symptoms: Heat related illnesses can sneak up on you. Chances are good you won’t recognize the problem until it is serious. Check here for a complete list, but watch for a change in consciousness, skin color changes, profuse sweating or a lack of sweating and cramping. If you have a serious headache, you’re in extreme danger.
Never hike alone: Because you may not notice heat illness on your own, be sure to have a partner. Your partner can watch for these problems…and vice versa. A cell phone can’t make a call without you conscious, but your hiking partner can.
It’s not just humans: It may be fun to hike with your pet, but the pet also needs to be kept safe. You may be able to tolerate temperatures a dog can’t. If you do take your dog, bring water for it. There are special bottles and attachments that can provide a portable bowl. Watch for signs that the dog is in trouble, and if it happens stop. Find some shade, offer water and when the dog has recovered enough to be moved, take it to a vet. You should also get paw covers to protect the dog’s pads.
How to avoid: The most obvious answer is to stay home. If the weather is overly hot and/or the humidity factor makes it dangerous, don’t go. Proper preparation and clothing will help. Seeking shade on occasion will help. Don’t try to go too fast, pace yourself. Also, drink the water you brought with you. It won’t do any good still in the bottle or water pack.
What to do if it happens: The moment you notice heat becoming a problem, stop. Find shade. If you or your hiking partner are still conscious, slowly drink water. Assess the situation. You may need to call 911. This is particularly true if sweating has stopped, consciousness is limited, there’s a severe headache or the patient has passed out.
Hiking in hot weather can be done, but you have to be careful. On top of all of these things, make sure someone knows where you are going, what trail you are going to be on and a time for your return.