As climate change continues to reshape the environment of some of America’s most cherished parks, the risks for hikers are on the rise. Data from the last decade indicates an average of about four heat-related deaths annually in national parks, but at least seven heat-related deaths were suspected in state and national parks during a record-breaking heat wave in 2023. These tragic incidents occurred across iconic locations like Big Bend National Park in Texas, the Grand Canyon in Arizona, and Death Valley in California.
With this alarming trend, planning hiking trips this year requires not just enthusiasm for nature but also a meticulous approach to sun and heat protection. Let’s take a closer look below.
Cooling down your body
In extremely hot conditions, cooling down with water, such as by hydrating, as well as wearing appropriate clothing can help mitigate the impact of the sun’s intensity on your body. These help regulate your internal temperature and reduce the risk of heat-related illnesses such as heat exhaustion or heatstroke.
One of the first lines of defense against the scorching sun is proper clothing. Opt for moisture-wicking clothing, which efficiently moves sweat away from your skin, keeping you cool and dry. Hiking experts generally recommend materials like merino, nylon, or polyester for base layers, emphasizing the importance of layering. You can then top these off with an insulating mid-layer and a waterproof outer shell. This approach ensures adaptability to changing weather conditions, making it ideal for unpredictable trail environments like the varying elevations of the Grand Canyon National Park.
Drinking water cools your body down from the inside while helping to replenish lost fluids and maintain proper hydration levels. Thus, a constant hydration source on the trail is crucial. The LifeStraw Go Water Filter Bottle is a favorite among hikers from Lake Superior to the Half Dome in Yosemite for its advanced filtration technology. The water bottle is designed to filter out parasites, microplastics, and dirt, allowing hikers to fill up from ponds, streams, waterfalls, or any available source without compromising their health. This is priced at $40 on Amazon, with occasional sales that savvy hikers should watch out for.
Protecting your eyes and skin
Ultraviolet (UV) radiation can be especially intense at higher altitudes because there is less atmosphere to absorb and scatter the UV rays. It can also be amplified in areas with reflective surfaces like snow or water, making hiking destinations like the Rocky Mountains or Glacier National Park more potentially challenging to navigate without the proper sun protection.
Sunglasses for your eyes
Prolonged exposure to UV radiation can have adverse effects on eye health, contributing to conditions such as cataracts, macular degeneration, and other forms of eye damage. With UV-protective properties, the right sunglasses can act as a shield for your vision. Opt for frames with a lightweight design and scratch-resistant lens, as exemplified by the Flak or Holbrook of performance sunglasses brand Oakley. You can upgrade these into polarized lenses to reduce the glare off water or rocky terrain, with the Prizm TRAIL of Oakley specially engineered to help hikers spot textures between different types of dirt and spot obstacles.
Sunscreen for your skin
Similar to sunglasses, sunscreen forms a protective barrier over your skin that helps prevent sunburns, skin cancer, or even premature aging caused by UV radiation. The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends sunscreen with SPF 30 for outdoor activities like hiking but emphasizes that regular reapplication every two hours is crucial for extended outdoor exposure, regardless of the SPF level. Brands like Baby Bum or Badger offer reliable sunscreen options designed to withstand the rigors of outdoor activities without the inclusion of environmentally harmful ingredients like oxybenzone and octinoxate. These can be the perfect companion for trails with water activities, like The Narrows Zion National Park, which takes you through the Virgin River within towering slot canyons.
With these tips, a comprehensive approach will not only shield you from the sun’s harsh effects but also enhance your overall hiking adventure. Stay informed, invest in the right gear, and embark on your hiking journeys well-prepared for the elements.