your complete guide to walking in the sun
The best time of year to hike is in the summer. Why? Well, less chance of rain, landscapes flooded with light, which in turn makes everything grow and blossom and honestly, there is nothing like walking in the sun, with the heat on your back while you soak up your surroundings.
That’s why hiking overseas is so popular (away from the United Kingdom!), where warm weather is a sure thing and cold layers can be left at home, especially during the autumn and winter months.
But before you go marching off into the sunshine, there are some considerations. Hopefully this simple guide on walking in the sun will help you to enjoy a comfortable hiking experience.
But first some sunshine myths about the sun...
I hate to break it to you, but sunburn is possible when its cloudy or cold. Warm winter days, with the sun on you can cause sunburn. Warm summer cloudy days can also cause sunburn in equal measure.
Remember, its not the heat, but the UV rays. Light cloud cover only stops about 20% of UV rays, leaving the rest to come through the atmosphere and cause damage to your skin.
Suntan isn’t a guaranteed way to keep the sun off you. Sure, a suntan or darker skin does protect you against harmful rays, but not to the extent where you don’t need additional protection from the sun.
By all means, keep out the sun at noon, and plan to take a shaded lunch break during these hours. However please don’t forget that the intensity of the sun doesn’t stop until the sunsets.
Myths busted – conclusion, the sun is one hot ball of gas, which we need to treat with respect while we bathe (or hike) under its majestic glow.
But how can we get the best out of walking in the sun?
Protect your skin
Protecting your skin, and keeping it both cool, and covered is the single best thing you can do. It’s really easy to get this wrong, but with a bit of prep, you will enjoy cool country walking, while keeping your skin protected.
Here is how.
Wear clothing with certified UV protection. You can usually find this on website descriptions, or product labels. Many hiking shirts, base layers, and lightweight tops have a level of UV protection. Long sleeve tops offer the best protection.
Suncream for exposed areas of skin is obviously a non-negotiable part of hiking. If you are like me and hate sticky suncream on your skin (which is worse still after dust and dirt has stuck to it) then there are oil-based spray ons which feel a lot less errr…sticky.
Hats are also a no-brainer. Wearing a baseball cap is fine as long as you cream up your neck. Wide-brimmed hats are also a great choice as this offers full protection around your head and makes you look like a cowboy/girl – never a bad look.
Keep it cool!
A burned body is a hot body.
Keep it cool and keep the sunburn away. How do you do that? It’s quite simple:
1. Wear loose clothing, which both covers you up and allows air for airflow.
2. Consider keeping a portable fan with you. It may be extra weight for some but honestly its’ a lovely luxury to have on exceptionally hot days.
3. Keep hiking trousers at home and get those legs out
4. As before, hats keep you cool, and keep the sun off your face. Don’t forget your hat
On a day hike, which lasts about 5-8 hours I recommend bringing 4 litres of water with you IF you have no planned water stops. This may feel heavy, but you will be consuming the water throughout the day, and then sweating/urinating it out as you go.
Bladders work better than bottles for carrying water. Why? Well, because you don’t need multiple bottles to carry 4L. Some bladders will take that much.
Moreover you can have water accessable without taking your bag off.
Take small sips, little and often to avoid being too filled with water. This is never comfortable on a steep hill or sharp descent.
Hydration pouches are also helpful, and just spike you a little when your sugars run low.
Finally, if possible mark some potential water stops on your map. Pubs, tea-rooms, even good quality streams are great sources of water. This leads me onto….
Plan your day
Planning your day is really important, especially when you know its going to be hot.
As before, make sure you know where sources of water are if you expect to get through more than you can carry.
Start as early as you can manage. Sunrise walks are great, and allow you to get a load of the miles in while the trails are quiet. But for many, I do appreciate this isn’t your cup of tea. If not, make sure your on the trail by about 8 am to get the most of the low sun.
And finally, manage your expectations based on the ability of your group. Remember a 16-mile day may feel OK on steady ground, but in the mountains, it will be a lot harder, with much more water consumed.
Take a long hard look at…. your bag.
Go on, lay it out, lets see it.
Take that insulated jacket out, you don’t need it at this time of year.
And what else is in there? No, you don’t need your whole set of car keys, with the keyrings attached.
And its hot, so that spare change of clothes is really unecessary. And get rid of that winter weight Gore jacket.
See where I’m going? Pack what you need, along with a first aid kit for emergencies (one per group).
The lighter you pack, the less you carry, and therefore the cooler you will be.
Packing light can be a little daunting at first but honestly, once you experience the joys of carrying less, you won’t want to go back.
Make sure to prepare, bring lots of water, and be realistic about the day.
it’s so easy to get excited by a sunny day, only to realize halfway along the route that you have run out of water, your dehydrated and the fatigued s setting in.
Be sensible, and be safe.