It’s hot out there, people.
The human body performs at its best when it can maintain a core temperature of around 98 degrees Fahrenheit.
Depending on your physical condition, it might not take much more than a brisk walk — never mind a rugged hike — on a day with high temps and high humidity before your body can struggle to shed excess warmth.
And, no, “toughing it out” is not going to make a challenging outdoor activity in hot weather any safer. There are very few physical stressors more challenging to the human body than intense physical activity in hot conditions.
The only way you can safely beat the heat is with our three-step process: preparation, hydration and nutrition.
Scouts preparing for a backpacking trip at Philmont Scout Ranch don’t start practicing a week or two before they leave. They start preparing many months — if not close to a year — in advance.
That’s a good model to use to Be Prepared for super-strenuous summertime activities.
If your outings this summer are going to be hot, but not as extreme as Philmont, I have one word for you: acclimation.
Acclimating to the environment before beginning strenuous activity can literally be a lifesaver, especially if you’ll be traveling from a comfortable, cool environment to a hot and humid one.
Taking a few days — or, ideally, a week — to acclimate would be ideal. If you’re planning a hike in the heat, maybe get there early and spend a few days sightseeing before you embark on your outing.
If that’s not possible, any time you can spend getting used to the weather is beneficial. Maybe that means making sure the first day of the outing is nice and easy before stepping it up as the days go by.
“Drink, drink, drink!” says the BSA Fieldbook. Experts recommend that you drink to thirst, meaning, whenever you’re thirsty, drink up!
A good way to check your hydration is to look at your urine. The optimal urine color is a very light yellow. That means you’re doing great. Keep it up!
The darker it gets, the more you’re falling behind. Drink up!
While drinking water is great, either alternating water with a low-sugar electrolyte solution, or drinking a 50-50 mix of water and electrolytes, is even better. It helps you avoid hyponatremia, a condition that occurs when the level of sodium in the blood is too low. Many sports drinks are high in electrolytes but also high in sugar. Those are less than ideal.
Energy drinks are a terrible substitute for water and electrolyte drinks. They should never be on any Scout trip, especially those occurring in warm weather. Their side effects, which include a rapid heartbeat, muscle tremors and more, can be deadly in the heat.
Nutrition is what gives your body the fuel it needs. It’s always important to eat healthy before and during any kind of extended demanding activity.
Hot weather can cause you to feel less hungry than you might in cooler temperatures. A balanced menu — maybe only with a higher percentage of carbohydrates — can make a huge difference.
Carbohydrates provide both quick and long-term energy. You can get them from whole-grain bread, bagels, crackers and cereals.
What else can you do?
Know the symptoms of heat exhaustion, which may include dizziness, faintness, nausea and a severe lack of energy. A person with heat exhaustion also may develop a headache, experience muscle cramps, have a rapid pulse, look pale and be sweating heavily. To treat heat exhaustion, have the victim lie down in a cool, shady spot. Cool the person with a damp cloth or a fan. Have the victim sip water. If the person doesn’t start feeling better pretty quickly, get medical help.
Heatstroke is heat exhaustion’s much angrier, more dangerous relative. It is a true emergency. The person will not survive if their temperature isn’t quickly lowered. In addition to any symptoms of heat exhaustion, heatstroke symptoms can include hot, dry, red skin, confusion and disorientation. Cool the victim with fans, wet clothing, ice packs … whatever you have. And seek medical attention immediately.