Hiking events

Here’s what to know about hiking safety in the heat

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(NEW YORK) – As excessive heat continues to grip the West Coast, people are at higher risk of suffering from heat-related illnesses, officials warn.

Temperatures in Livermore, Calif., reached 116 degrees Monday, the highest temperature on record for the Bay Area, according to the National Weather Service.

Over the holiday weekend, two hikers died and several others were hospitalized in Arizona from heat exposure while hiking trails in the state. Another Utah hiker has died after falling near American Fork Canyon, authorities said.

Heatstroke, heat exhaustion, heat cramps, sunburn, and heat rash are all examples of heat-related illnesses that can be life-threatening in extreme conditions, if they are not processed quickly. The body normally cools down by sweating, but sometimes sweating is not enough. When this happens, body temperature can rise rapidly and damage the brain or other vital organs, according to the National Park Service.

Several factors can affect the body’s ability to cool down in extremely hot weather, such as strenuous physical activities; high humidity, preventing perspiration from evaporating so quickly and preventing the body from giving off heat; and other health factors, such as age, obesity, heart disease or poor circulation, may also put people at higher risk for heat-related illnesses, according to the NPS.

Heat exhaustion, heat stroke and electrolyte imbalances can prevent the body from functioning normally and can occur when a person becomes dehydrated, there is an imbalance in the loss and intake of salt and water or that the body cannot cool itself enough to cope with the external heat.

These issues can lead to confusion or loss of consciousness which can be very dangerous, especially when hiking, where a person can fall from a greater height than in other settings.

Hiking in extreme or excessive heat warnings can be dangerous, even for experienced hikers. Check the weather before you hike and don’t take chances if the weather conditions aren’t ideal, according to the NPS.

There are several hazards associated with hiking that may not be present in other outdoor environments, including the risk that there is no one to witness an injury, if a hiker passes out they could fall from a greater height, an unconscious hiker may not be discovered in time or help may be far away in remote environments.

It is safest to walk with a companion, but those who choose to walk alone should take extra steps to ensure they are prepared. Hikers should also be aware that it takes more effort to hike at higher elevations due to the reduced amount of oxygen available in the air, according to the NPS.

Hikers should know their limits, plan their hike, and know what to bring with them. There are a wide variety of hiking trails to accommodate different skills and abilities, so it’s important that hikers don’t overestimate their abilities, according to the NPS.

It is helpful to leave a travel plan with a friend or family member who does not join the hike in case of an emergency. According to the NPS, information that may be useful to search and rescue teams includes where you will be hiking, your contact information, the time you expect to arrive and return, and who is accompanying you.

The NPS lists 10 essentials for summer hikes:

  • Water: ordinary and with electrolyte replacement
  • Food: especially salty foods
  • First aid kit: including items such as bandages, ace wrap, antiseptic
  • Map
  • Pack to carry the essentials
  • Flashlight and spare batteries
  • Spray bottle: fill with water to spray on yourself for air conditioning
  • Hat and sunscreen
  • Whistle or signal mirror
  • Waterproof clothing: a poncho or jacket can be particularly useful during the monsoon season

There are no scientific studies to show how much water someone should allow, but a good rule of thumb is to allow a liter of water for every two hours of hiking, but this can vary depending on the trail and time of year. If in doubt, ask a ranger what they recommend for the planned hike.

Hikers should also know if there is water on the trail and where to find it.

Hikers should also consider taking a backup map that does not rely on a cell phone, as the heat can drain the phone batteries faster.

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