Here are five ways to beat the heat on the AT.
1) Hike early or hike late
One of the easiest ways to beat the heat on the AT is to avoid the hottest time of each day – typically between 11 am and 2 pm. If your goal is to complete a thru-hike you can’t take a day off every time the weather is not cooperating … you would never hike.
So, we work with what we’ve got and in the heat that means getting up extra early and hiking in the morning, finding shade for a mid-day nap and continuing your hike into the evening. Similarly, you can eschew the day all together and hike through the night, seeing (and hearing) the trail in a whole new light (pun intended). Make sure you have a good torch/headlamp, preferably one that is rechargeable, so you don’t have to carry heavy batteries. We used the Black Diamond Revolt.
2) Use a cooling towel
The cooling rag was my savior through all of New Jersey and New York. I would have gone mad without it, which is why it made our Gear that will Save Your Sanity post. This cheap piece of two-plied fabric stays cool if it is wet. Dip it in a stream and twirl it overhead for several rotations letting the air cool the water down. Then place it over your head, wipe your brow, or wrap it around your neck to cool you down. You can twirl it to cool it down as long as it is damp.
An alternative would be to do the same with your Buff or bandana, although these won’t stay as cool as long.
3) Stay hydrated and use electrolytes
I would venture a guess that most thru-hikers are chronically dehydrated. Even under pleasant weather conditions it is tough to hydrate someone hiking up and down mountains 10 hours a day. Add to the effort needed to complete a thru, the fact that long distance hikers are constantly trying to manage weight (water weighs 2.2 pounds per liter) and it’s easy to see hikers not drinking enough.
To beat the heat on the AT a hiker must consume more water. One way to do this is to camel-up at watering holes. Don’t just fill your Smart Water bottle, drink a liter or two in addition. The water from the spring or stream will be cold and delicious, not like the unappetizing water in your bottle after an hour in the heat, and you can carry less water to the next source.
Also, it is wise to add an electrolyte mix to your water. In the heat your body is a sieve for salt and you must replace it, otherwise the lack of sodium will cramp your style … literally. Not all water mixes have electrolytes so be sure to check the label. Our favorites were Propel and Mio.
At one point my shirt had salt crystals all over it and I was cramping severely once I got into our tent each night. In addition to the water mixes I would take salt packets from fast food joints and add them to my water. Once, I even packed out a glass jar of pickles, so I could drink the juice. Heavy, but worth it.
4) Proper clothing/ hat
Light colored clothing reflects the sun while dark colors and black absorb the heat. This is why khakis are so popular in the desert terrain. In addition to color choice many hikers disregard wearing long sleeve shirts in the summer, thinking they will be too hot. With today’s wicking fabrics long-sleeved shirts are a viable option for sun protection.
Another overlooked item is a sun hat. Many choose just to wear a baseball cap and while better than nothing, doesn’t protect the hiker as well as a hat that can shield the eyes and face AND the neck and ears like a sunhat. I used the Exoffico Bugs Away hat. It not only provided protection from the sun, it was ventilated so I didn’t overheat, it was pretreated with permethrin for mosquito and tick protection, and it could be crushed down into my pack and still retain its shape once back on my head.
5) Flip Out
Assuming you are hiking NOBO (northbound) you have the option of shuttling north in the summer. We had many friends who did this when they could no longer take the heat. They shuttled up to Maine and hiked south giving them cooler temps along the way.
For us, we wanted Katahdin to be the culmination of our trip more than we wanted to cool down. So, we suffered through about 3 weeks of heat and coped using the methods above.