How to Keep Your Cool during Summer Heat

Featured Article, Home & Family, Outdoors
on June 29, 2003

It’s only natural to want to shed clothing when the temperature creeps upward, but when it’s hot out, less clothing isn’t always better.

Besides drinking plenty of water, proper clothing is essential when doing any strenuous activity outside in the heat. A little preparation and caution can mean the difference between outdoor fun and an emergency, says Sherrie Collins, a ranger at Grand Canyon National Park. “People do more than their bodies can tolerate,” she says.

Informing hikers of the risks of trips into the canyon are daily tasks for rangers at the park—where the mercury can rise to 120 degrees deep in the canyon on summer afternoons. What the rangers advise, however, applies to anyone braving the hottest months, whether they’re hiking, running, biking, or gardening.

Many clothing options exist. Don Singer, director of safety at Grand Canyon National Park, recommends long-sleeved shirts made from light cotton blends and similarly woven slacks for visiting hikers. The clothing protects against the sun’s harmful rays and also wicks away moisture as a person sweats, the body’s natural cooling mechanism.

Bikers have long adopted synthetic jerseys designed to help perspiration evaporate from the skin to create an “air-conditioning” effect. Similar technology now appears in T-shirt styles ideal for running, hiking, or biking.

Collins suggests a fashion popular among anglers. Nylon-like fabric blends are designed to block the sun’s skin-damaging ultraviolet rays. The material often is found in hats, loose-fitting pants, and shirts. Search for them in outdoor stores.

One of the most critical items for summer adventure is a hat. When possible, Singer recommends ditching baseball-style caps in favor of hats with 3-inch brims all the way around to keep your head, face, and neck area out of direct sunlight.

For activities where a floppy-brimmed hat won’t do, such as running or biking, consider caps with cloth attachments that hang down the neck and ears. Search for a style offering both comfort and good sun protection.

But don’t forget to take the hat off occasionally. “A tremendous amount of heat goes off the head and a hat traps that,” Singer says. Dousing the hat in water helps immensely.

Water is essential, whether adventuring in the dry desert West or the humid Southeast. Drink plenty before heading out, and understand your specific water needs, Collins says. Medications or the amount of caffeine consumed through soda, coffee, or tea are two factors that can increase an individual’s water requirements.

Don’t drink too much water, however, if you’re sweating heavily. Sweating robs the body of vital salts, which water alone doesn’t replace, Collins says. In fact, rangers in the canyon often help hikers who drink too much water and flush even more vital nutrients from their body.

Hikers should eat salty snacks such as potato chips or crackers, Collins says. Runners, tennis players, and others should consider sports drinks designed to replace needed nutrients.