Hiking in the Heat
As the temperature soars, so does the number of heat-related incidents. Poway has more than 78 miles of trails, making it a popular hiking destination and providing a summer full of explorations around our city. Whether it’s strolling along an urban trail along a creek or tackling the rising elevation at of Mt. Woodson, hikers need to be prepared.
Heat-related illnesses are the body’s response to being dehydrated and overheated. They are serious medical emergencies that can quickly result in death. Heat exhaustion occurs from dehydration if water isn’t replaced quickly. Symptoms include headache, nausea, decreased sweating and urination, dizziness, headache, impaired judgement, loss of coordination and muscle cramps. Left untreated, the condition rapidly deteriorates into life-threatening heat stroke.
“The most important things hikers can do to prevent heat-related illness are to be well-hydrated, have extra water and know their physical capacity,” said Poway Fire Chief Jeff Chumbley.
In addition to being preventable, these rescues in response to heat-related illnesses take away resources from other emergencies and put the city’s first responders in danger in the extreme heat.
Kealy Fox oversees some of Poway’s most visited trails at the Blue Sky Ecological Reserve. An avid hiker herself she emphasized one of the most important things a hiker can do before they step out on the trail is to hydrate.
“And continue to drink water the whole time you’re out there,” she said.
Poway’s Community Services department offers these key tips to keep you safe this summer:
- Pay attention to weather forecasts
- Hike early in the day; avoid the most intense sun
- Keep clothing loose and light
- Wear a hat
- Choose shoes appropriate for the terrain
- Use (and pack) sunscreen
- Carry your cell phone in case of an emergency
- Don’t hike alone
On hot days, your body can lose large amounts of water through perspiration. The general rule is that you can sweat roughly a quart of water every hour, and even more when hiking uphill or in direct sunlight. Hiking at higher altitudes will also accelerate the loss of body fluids. In arid climates, you may not even notice how much you’re sweating because of rapid rates of evaporation. As you perspire, you also lose vital minerals from your system. So, what can you do?
- Start the hydration process before you go out. Begin to hydrate a couple of hours before you hit the trail.
- Drink frequently. Carry plenty of water for yourself and your dog! Instead of guzzling a bunch of water all at once, take smaller and more frequent drinks of water. Once you’re halfway through your water supply, turn around!
- Cold water is best. Your body will process cold water more quickly. Fill up your water bottle or hydration system with ice to keep water cool for as long as possible while you’re out.
- Take breaks. Forget about setting any personal bests. Stop more frequently and for a longer duration than you would on a cooler day.
- Look for shade. Get out of the sun as much as you can, both on breaks and on the trail. Especially when the sun is lower in the sky, portions of the trail may be shaded by trees or slopes.
Fox reminds hikers that during the warm months, hiking can be dangerous for dog as they dehydrate more quickly than their human counterparts.
"A dog will follow you and may not let you know he is suffering until it’s too late," she said.
When hiking with your pet, please bear the following in mind before you head out:
- Carry your cell phone in case of an emergency.
- It’s critical to keep your dog hydrated before, during, and after a hike.
- Evaluate your dog’s health: Is your dog in good physical health and properly conditioned for a hike?
- Check the condition of your dog’s pads. Are they tough enough for a hot, rocky trail?
- Pay attention to the hot pavement in the parking lot. Can you keep your hand on it for 7 seconds? If not, it’s too hot for your dog.
- Hike early in the morning or later in the evening, or better still, leave your dog at home during hot weather.
Signs of heat stress include profuse panting and salivation, weakness, staring, warm dry skin, rapid heartbeat. If you notice any of these signs, find shade, soak the dogs head, abdomen and pads with cool water, and seek immediate help. It’s imperative your dog receive veterinary care.