How to prepare for the weather and conditions of a hike
Updated: Mar 8, 2020
Being prepared for the weather and other conditions on a hike can make the difference
between enjoyment and unpleasantness, if not disaster in the worst-case scenario. For
instance, extreme hot or cold weather can cause discomfort as the body tries to maintain an even temperature. Neither lead to an enjoyable day on the trails!
You can prepare for the weather and conditions of a hike in different ways to minimize discomfort and risk. The starting point is to establish the likely weather and conditions at your intended hike destination for the time of the year you are planning.
Key points are:
Research predicted weather from reputed source
Take appropriate gear for predicted temperature and weather
Keep yourself hydrated
Eat food that provides you with energy for the expected conditions
Know about different health conditions that can be caused by weather and other adverse elements, and how to prevent or treat them
Hiking is a wonderful experience but you need to fully prepare for the weather and conditions to enjoy the adventure. There are a number of weather and location based factors that you should be aware of, and ensure you are prepare and plan well in advance for expected conditions.
Assuming you have a selected the location of your hiking trip, you have probably also
considered when to go. Before you lock in your arrangements, take a moment to consider the best season for the trip. The enjoyment of any hike can be enhanced by selecting the best season for temperature (for example average, minimum, maximum, changeability), wind, precipitation (rain average, days precipitation, intensity, hail, snow etc.), daylight hours and other factors.
As an example, in parts of Western Australia, the summer tends to be too hot for
pleasant hiking. Not only that but the hot weather increases the risk of bush fire which can be life threatening. Another risk may include the local fauna- snakes can tend to be prevelant during the warmer months, with snake bites a very real risk that needs to be accounted for.
Hiking along the Cape to Cape is a very different prospect in summer than in winter.
Months and weeks out you can start to research the likely seasonal and local factors you might expect. Other than seasonal factors what are other local factors? These can include conditions impacted by weather, for example river water levels, difficulty in traversing low-lying terrain covered standing boggy swamp, or steeper terrain covered in ice or snow. Local factors not directly related to the weather but perhaps seasonal in nature might include pests like flies or mosquitos.
Non-seasonal factors could include the nature and density of vegetation, the geology of the area which makes walking or scrambling easier or more difficult. Research the area on the internet, contact the local tourist information center and speak to people who have visited and hiked in the area. At least you know you have started off on the right foot by considering your options, whether or not you have a choice in your timing.
Once you have locked in your destination and timing, you can then begin preparations for the anticipated weather and conditions. This lays the foundation for you and your hiking party to plan and assemble the clothing and equipment you will likely need.
Checking the detailed weather forecast during the final week helps you fine tune your
preparations. Let’s consider hiking in the different conditions.
Tips for hot-weather hiking
Avoid hiking during the hottest period of the day which is usually between noon and around 3p.m. When the day promises to be extremely hot, you should consider starting your trip early in the morning and ending before the temperature rises too much. Alternatively you can also hike late in the afternoon as the temperature drops.
Gear and clothing
You should choose the right gear and clothing that can go a long way in keeping you fresh and comfortable during your hike.
Wear comfortable and breathable footwear that is suitable for the weather and conditions of the terrain
Wear lightweight and breathable clothes such as nylon and polyester. Cotton may not be perfect for hot-weather hiking since it absorbs a lot of moisture
Wear light colors that reflect the sun’s rays instead of dark colors that absorb them
Wear a hat
Wear sunscreen to prevent uncomfortable sunburn
Wear clothes with open vents for improved aeration
Remember that you can get burnt even when the weather is not sunny or hot. Cloudy weather, or indeed sunny skies in high altitudes or on the ski fields still require sunscreen.
Keep your body hydrated
Hydration is important regardless of the temperature but hikers require more water in hot weather as perspiration rises. It is imperative to carry sufficient water that can help you to prevent dehydration and conditions such as heat stroke, sunburn, heat exhaustion and heat cramps. The amount of water that you should take depends on factors such as temperature, body type and age as well as humidity. A guide is … and be aware that you tend to under- hydrate in cooler weather (evidence)?
The duration of your hike can also determine the amount of water that you should drink. You should at least drink one liter of water per hour when you are walking in hot weather.
Overhydration is a lesser known risk. If you drink excessive water, it can cause hyponatremia, a condition that leads to dilution of sodium levels in your blood which can impair cell function. Some of the symptoms of hyponatremia include headache, fatigue, and nausea. To prevent overhydration, it is crucial to monitor the amount of water you drink but the basic rule is drink when becoming thirsty – don’t wait until you are parched or conversely force liquid down when you are already hydrated.
Tips for cold weather hiking
In colder climates and seasons and at higher altitudes the weather tends to be less predictable and temperatures may fall rapidly without much warning.
Snow hiking offers different considerations to a summers trail hike
Clothing tips for cold-weather hiking
Consider wearing layers to keep moisture and wind out. Layers mean you can add or remove clothing to stay warm yet avoid overheating of the body
Avoid tight clothing since these can lead to generation of more heat from the body
In extreme cold, cover your body as much as possible to avoid frostbite. You must not leave your cheeks, ears, toes, fingers and nose exposed to freezing weather
Wear clothes like polyester that can absorb sweat from your skin
Wear clothes like synthetic and wool which dry faster. Avoid cotton since it takes a long time to dry
Wear a woolen hat that is designed to cover your ears
Sunscreen is especially important in snow and higher altitudes
Food and hydration tips during cold-weather hiking
Your body’s metabolism has to work hard to keep you warm when it is cold. The food and water you consume determine how effectively this happens.
Eat and drink regularly to maintain your body’s rate of metabolism at desired level
The freshness of food lasts longer in cold weather which means you can carry healthier, less processed options
Remember not to keep foods like chocolate too close to your body since they can be affected by your body heat
Make provisions to prevent your drinking water from freezing in very cold conditions
Warm beverages like coffee can be pre-prepared and carried in a flask or break out the cooker during breaks in the hike
Illnesses and injuries related to cold-weather hiking
Frostbite and hypothermia are two common conditions that affect many people who hike in cold weather. Frostbite refers to the freezing of body tissue and it is common on exposed ears, fingers as well as toes. Frostbite causes numbness, pain, tingling and the skin become pale and waxy. When the frostbite thaws, blisters may develop. To treat the frostbite, you should cover the exposed skin with warm clothing until it gradually gains warmth. Avoid using hot water since the affected tissue would be sensitive and can be damaged easily.
Avoid frostbite in the first place by wearing warm clothing.
Hypothermia is a condition that is often experienced when the body’s temperature drop
below normal. This condition can be caused by cold rain, immersion in water or in other cold conditions, and it can be life threatening. In mild hypothermia there is shivering and mental confusion. In moderate hypothermia shivering stops and confusion increases. In severe hypothermia, there may be paradoxical undressing, in which a person removes their clothing, as well as an increased risk of the heart stopping.
Stay warm and dry where possible to avoid hypothermia and monitor other members of your party where there is a risk.
Other options and guidelines
For multi-day hikes where weight minimization is critical gear choice is critical. Essentially, you must pack those essential items that are crucial while at the same time minimizing the weight in your backpack. Consider the following factors before you head out.
Choose the best hiking shoes
Get a map of the location
Check location alert information
Tell someone about your route
Get the right tent and sleeping bag for over-nighters
Source and note down emergency numbers
Avoid bushwalking alone if possible and stay on track
When hiking, the weather has the final say and ironically, it can change any moment. Therefore, it is important to ensure that you adjust your hike to suit the weather conditions obtaining at any given time. It is a good idea to check the weather forecast on the radio before you go out.
You can also use mobile apps to check the weather during your hike to make sure that it does not spoil your adventure. It is also crucial to prepare for other different conditions related to weather that you can expect during your hike.
Weather Predictor Resources:
As mentioned earlier, it is important, when planning for your hike, to use reliable resources that accurately predict the conditions in your chosen location. Most countries will have their own local service that is going to be the best option. Here are a few examples...
The US National Park Service provides weather information for each national park throughout the country.
The New Zealand Department of Conservation provides a resource that details weather within individual regions throughout New Zealand.
Mountain Weather Forecast is a phenomenal database for major mountain climbs all over the world.