The first day of summer: for some it finally comes after a long, brutal anticipation, and for others it holds a little bit of dread. Summer remains the most popular season to hit the trail, but sometimes it can be challenging to enjoy your hike with sweaty sunscreen dripping into your eyes, mosquitos whining in your ears and the ever-present fear of skin cancer lingering in the back of your mind.
For that person who can make even wool socks smell bad, and for that hiker who manages to drink 5 liters of water and still be thirsty: here is your guide on how to hike happy for the whole summer.
The most obvious consideration for hiking in summer is sun exposure. Hiking keeps you out in the sun for long periods of time, sometimes gaining elevation. To keep your skin protected in the sun, first take a look at your sunscreen.
Though SPF ratings over 50 do not offer more protection than about SPF 30, anything under 15 is not suitable for hiking. Ideally, find a “broad spectrum” sunscreen in the SPF 15-50 range. The label “broad spectrum” refers to the sunscreen’s ability to block both UVA and UVB rays, which are both dangerous. While high SPF sunscreens block more UVB rays, typically these are less able to protect from UVA rays. Remember to be generous when applying, and to re-apply sunscreen around every two hours. These guidelines are equally true for lip balm- don’t forget to care for your lips, too! For the sweatier hiker, look for the FDA’s “Water Resistant 80 Minutes” label on your sunscreen.
Accessories to keep you protected from the sun should be in your bag through every season (check off the 10 Essentials of items to never hike without), but in summer it is especially important to bring along a sun hat, sunglasses, and a UV protective gaiter (like a Buff).
Though some people are sweatier than others, any healthy person out hiking in the sun encounters sweat. It soaks through your shirt and leaves the imprint of your backpack for all to see, and it lingers in funky stenches on polyester and nylon. Luckily, there are a few easy ways to reduce the “gross factor” of your summer hiking gear!
First, start with the right materials. Low-quality polyester and nylon begin to smell bad quickly, but wool, bamboo, and linen are great options because of their antibacterial properties. While these materials quickly wick away sweat, others allow it to linger and microbes build up as a result. These are the real culprits when it comes to BO and foul gear odors because sweat itself has no scent. Try some light-weight wool hiking socks, and try out shirts made of an antibacterial material to keep the stench at bay.
As backpackers know, there is a point when even wool socks begin to smell a little bit off. Typically this is because of buildup on the material itself, which can be prevented with a few quick fixes. When you find yourself with down time, let your gear air out. Keeping your gear dry will be a significant help, and fortunately, UV rays are bacteria killers. Hang your gear out to dry in the sunlight throughout your trip, and once home, wash it immediately. Look for special detergents to protect from odors, like NikWax’s Basewash, or try all organic detergents to keep buildup low. Some hikers also use plain vinegar in each laundry load to help clear away buildup, and the vinegar smell does not come through after washing.
Dealing with Bugs
When heading into the outdoors, remember that bugs are attracted to strong, sweet smells. My favorite deodorant smells like roses, and I have noticed recently that bugs seem to love it just as much as I do. Try to use unscented or mild soaps, detergents and body care products while hiking and backpacking.
Blocking bugs is simplest when you cover yourself physically. Look for easy places for bugs to sneak in and close off the entrance- maybe tucking your pants into your socks, or wearing a Buff to cover your neckline.
People have strong opinions about natural vs chemical bug repellents, with hikers favoring everything from DEET to essential oils. Whatever option you go for, pay special attention to your neck and ear areas. Though these areas are easy to overlook, they are a favorite hangout for little insect friends to come along for the journey. Check yourself and friends for ticks, which carry diseases and love wet, hot areas. Some hiking clothing is pre-treated to keep bugs away, like InsectShield. Your local gear shop is a good place to begin checking into pre-treated clothing or sprays to temporarily treat the gear you already have.
For backpackers, bugs can become even more bothersome at night. With lights on, the smell of food in the air, and little movement after you go to bed, your campsite should be protected. Try to select a camping spot that is dry and higher in elevation. Burn citronella candles, or put sage in your campfire to ward off bugs from the general area. Depending on the area where you will be sleeping, consider a set-up that includes a bug net. These can be added easily to almost any camp, and make a huge difference in your summer backpacking experience.
Staying Hydrated on the Trail
Between the heat, sweat and physical activity, summer hiking can zap your energy quickly. Be vigilant about staying hydrated, keeping extra water or a filtration system with you at all times.
If you still feel thirsty after drinking more than enough water, consider using a little lemon juice in your water to prolong the hydrating effects. Replacing your electrolytes is also crucial for hikers and backpackers in the summer, and is easy to do. “Electrolytes” is a technical term that basically means sugar and salt, which can be consumed in powdered drink additives (there is no need to buy a workout-specific variety if you are concerned about money: just bring along a little lemonade mix), electrolyte pills, or quick snacks.
Armed with the right gear and tools, you can beat the sluggishness, sweaty scents and nasty burns of underprepared summer hiking. Enjoy your adventures, and happy summer!