How to Hike Safely During Arizona Summers

Water, water, water! The magical liquid that keeps us alive!

Arizona is known for many things like hiking, beautiful scenery, wildlife, and history. 

However, during the summer months it’s known for one thing: heat. 

“It’s very serious,” said Arizona Fire and Medical Authority Division Chief Ashley Losch. “It will kill you if you aren’t paying attention to the signs.”

Hiking Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Last year, Arizona saw the highest number of heat-related deaths in some time so as temperatures start to rise, so does concern for safety.

Heat-related emergencies can creep up quickly so it can be life-saving to know when there’s a problem.

We get used to being outside and enjoying the nice weather and it hits you out of nowhere. Complacency is a problem when it comes to heat.

Heat exhaustion can cause dizziness, excessive sweating, nausea/vomiting, and/or cool and clammy, pale skin.

And that’s time to get inside, sit down, and drink some water. Don’t chug the water though, take small sips.

Hiking Canyon de Chelly National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Heat stroke is much more serious. Signs include severe headache, confusion, and a change in behavior. The body also stops sweating and will feel hot to the touch (heat stroke can present itself when the body reaches at least 103 degrees). If the person is in an altered state, don’t give them water; instead call 911 to get help on the way.

Get them inside, cooled down, and that means active cooling. So, ice packs in the groin, armpits and something behind the neck. Maybe even a cool compress on the head.

Every minute counts. Every minute your body is above that critical temperature it’s causing damage—damage to your kidneys, damage to your liver, your brain.

Hiking Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Staying hydrated is one of the most important things someone can do during the scorching temperatures. How much to drink depends on the person, so experts say a good rule of thumb is to drink when thirsty. 

Even better is to drink constantly throughout the day (as much as you can) and if you’re headed outside, be sure to hydrate before, during, and after. 

Phoenix has already experienced its first 100-degree day and temperatures are going to keep climbing. Here are some tips from Arizona State Parks on staying safe on the trail.

>> Related article: Excessive Heat Warnings: Safety Tips for RVers

Hiking is one of Arizona’s most popular weekend activities. But the days are getting longer—and hotter. Every year, over 200 hikers are rescued from Phoenix alone, according to Arizona State Parks and Trails (ASPT).

But there are numerous ways to get out on the trails and enjoy Arizona’s gorgeous summers without becoming one of those hikers in distress. 

Hiking North Mountain Park near Casa Grande © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hydration is a journey, not a destination

I can’t stress this one enough: Always bring more water than you think you’ll need! 

You should be drinking water before, during, and after a hike, according to ASPT. You may not feel like you’re sweating a lot because of the dry weather but you’ll be losing water even faster in the heat.

“When you’ve finished half of your water supply, it’s time to turn around—no matter where you are on a trail,” the department said. 

Hiking Fountain Hills © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How much to drink?

How much you need to drink depends on a number of factors such as the activity you’re doing, intensity level, duration, weather, your age, your sweat rate, and your body type. A good general recommendation is about one pint (16 fl. oz.) of water per hour of moderate activity in moderate temperatures. You may need to increase how much you drink as the temperature and intensity of the activity rise. For example, strenuous hiking in high heat may require that you drink one quart (32 fl.oz.) of water or more per hour. As you gain experience, you’ll be able to fine-tune how much you drink.

Hiking Old Baldy Trail at Madera Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Preventing Dehydration

Dehydration occurs when the loss of body fluids usually through sweating exceeds the amount taken in. If you don’t counteract this by drinking water, you risk becoming dehydrated.

>> Related article: Heat Alert: The Hidden Symptoms of Extreme Heat

The following early signs of dehydration are a tipoff that your fluid intake is insufficient:

  • Dry mouth
  • Decrease in energy
Hiking Montezuma Well © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More serious symptoms of dehydration:

  • Cramps
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • The umbles (stumbling, mumbling, grumbling, and fumbling)
  • Dark or brightly colored urine with less volume (Note that certain foods and drinks like those containing B12 vitamins can cause urine to be bright yellow so urine color isn’t as reliable as other symptoms)

The remedy for dehydration is simple: Drink water. Drink the moment you feel thirsty. Try to take frequent sips of water rather than chugging large amounts after your thirst grows intense.

So know what to look for and stay on top of your hydration game!

Hiking Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Plan ahead and gear up

Hydration tips

Drink often: Rather than chugging water infrequently take many smaller sips to continually hydrate.

Don’t forget to snack: When you sweat, you lose electrolytes which can sap your energy. If your activity lasts for only an hour or less, this usually isn’t an issue but when you’re out for longer it’s important to compensate for the loss. Snack foods with sodium and potassium can help as will foods with calcium and magnesium. For an extended, high-intensity activity, also consider bringing an electrolyte replacement sports drink.

Hiking Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Drink more at altitude: Doing any activity at higher altitude can lead to dehydration. You’re less likely to crave water and feel thirsty at higher elevations so it’s important to drink frequently.

Rehydrate: Drinking after exercise gets your fluid levels back to normal and can help with recovery. This can be as simple as drinking a glass of water when you get home or if you want to get scientific about it, drink 16–24 fl. oz. of water for every pound you lost while exercising.

Plan your route: Water weighs a lot (16 fl. oz. is just over a pound), so if you want to avoid carrying extra weight on a run or bike ride, plan a route that will take you by a water fountain where you can drink or refill a bottle. Another option is to use your car like an aid station and plan an outing that does loops from your vehicle. You can stop at your car to refill a water bottle and grab a quick snack.

Wear sun protection: Getting a sunburn can expedite dehydration, so lather up with sunscreen and wear sun-protection clothing before heading out.

Set a timer: If you tend to lose track of the last time you drank set a timer on your watch to sound an alarm about every 20 minutes as a reminder to take a sip.

Hiking Thumb Butte Trail at Prescott © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Know where you’re going

Before you hike, make sure you have all of your trail maps and guides downloaded or printed.

>> Related article: Stay Safe this Summer by Using These Outdoor Heat Hacks

You can find plenty of trail information at AZStateParks.com/Arizona-Hiking or third-party organizations like AllTrails or Gaia GPS. When you’re heading out, it’s a good idea to take a GPS with you and make sure your phone is fully charged.

Keep an eye on emergency alerts. The National Weather Service will issue a heat warning if the temperature poses a threat.

Hiking Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And if you’re hiking alone, tell someone you know where you’re going and how long you expect to be gone. 

And make sure you have the right gear. Here are a few things to consider:

  • Wise-brimmed hat
  • Sunglasses
  • Sunscreen
  • Long lightweight sleeves
  • Light-colored, moisture-wicking, breathable clothing
  • Sturdy, comfortable footwear
  • Insect repellent
  • Salty snacks
  • Plenty of water
Hiking Paralta Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Know your limits

As so many people like to say: It’s a dry heat. And I would add, so is an oven! And that dry heat will sneak up on you. Make sure you know the warning signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

Heat exhaustion can cause dizziness, excessive sweating, nausea, and vomiting as well as cool and clammy, pale skin.

Heat stroke which is much more serious can cause severe headaches, confusion, and changes in behavior. A person suffering from heat stroke will stop sweating and feel hot to the touch.

At that point, it’s time to call 911. 

Hiking Ramsey Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But it’s always best to avoid the problem entirely. There’s no shame in calling off a hike and turning around! 

>> Related article: Traveling To a National Park this Summer? Prepare For High Temperatures!

During a hike, check in with yourself and see how you’re doing. How are your energy levels? Do you still have enough water? What’s the temperature?

Questions like those are the key to having a fun-filled weekend on Arizona’s beautiful trails.

As ASPT puts it, “Every trail can be your favorite if you have a great time.”

Worth Pondering…

As soon as he saw the Big Boots, Pooh knew that an Adventure was about to happen, and he brushed the honey off his nose with the back of his paw and spruced himself up as well as he could, so as to look Ready for Anything.

—A. A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh