Day hiking can be safe in hot weather

Water, footwear key to comfortable summer trails

Just because it's summertime in Arizona doesn't mean you have to put away your hiking boots until fall. With careful attention to planning and the right equipment, day hiking is a viable pastime even in the hottest season.

Gary Stedman of Sedona has owned Canyon Outfitters with his wife, Holly, for 13 years. Their store outfits many hikers and backpackers who hit the trails all summer long.

For day hikes, Gary says the time of day in important. "We recommend going early in the morning," he said. "Plan to be headed back by noon."

He said that as the temperature goes up, so does the need for water.

"Evening is OK," Gary said. "But it gets dark." He said that is where some hikers run into trouble. "You may go farther than you thought you would." For that reason, he suggests hikers carry a light source, such as a flashlight or headlamp.

Perhaps water is the most important consideration for hiking in hot weather. Nothing will put a hiker at risk quicker than dehydration.

"Hydrate or die," is the slogan of one company that sells water containers for hikers. Gary says that slogan is no joke.

There is a wide selection of water carriers. But there are basically two styles. One system is a belt, or fanny pack, for carrying multiple bottles of water. Another system is either a fanny pack or small backpack designed to carry a two- or three-liter reservoir of water. With a reservoir, the hiker drinks water through a tube without having to fool with bottles. Gary said daypacks also come with sleeves designed to hold reservoirs that can be purchased separately.

The point is, carry more water than you think you'll need. You'll need it.

He said the choice of systems is a matter of personal preference. "Some are specifically designed for women and even for kids," Gary said.

Gary likes the reservoir system because people tend to drink more water. "The water is right there," he said.

Proper clothing is also important to safe hot weather hiking. "A hat is always good," Gary said. "The sun is intense." He strongly recommends clothing that is light in color and designed to keep you cool.

Clothes that are designed for hiking actually help wick perspiration away from your body. Some styles of clothes and hats even have a SPF (sun block) rating.

The importance of proper footwear cannot be overestimated, according to Gary. He strongly recommends lugged shoes or boots that are specifically designed for hiking. "It doesn't have to be high tops," he said. "A mid to high top does give you more ankle support," he said. But he also says that low-cut shoes work very well.

Today's hiking boots are made with high-tech materials and are generally much lighter than the heavy boots of a few years ago.

Socks may be almost as important as boots are. Experienced hikers no longer recommend the old style of thick socks. Newer material that wicks moisture away is more comfortable and reduces the chances of developing blisters.

Whatever your choice is in socks, Gary does not recommend wearing cotton socks while hiking. "We do not sell cotton socks," he said. "Cotton absorbs moisture and holds it." He said that increases discomfort and the likelihood of blisters.

Gary and his sales staff also recommend a good map and guidebook as essential equipment. A guidebook will give information about the length and difficulty of a trail. That becomes important, Gary said, because trails should be selected based on the capability of the weakest person in the group.

"Know what the people in your group are capable of," he said.

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