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Tips for hiking through the hot desert

I was struggling to make it through the pct the desert portion anyways. I have had heat exhaustion twice in my life and wanted any tips on how I could make it through the desert portion of the pct. any little thing could help! Could I hike halfway through the night and halfway through the day? Or perhaps something else any advice would be nice!!

5 Replies

HitManDan, that sounds like a great adventure! I hope you can make it ok.

I have not hiked the PCT (it's on my bucket list), but I was born and raised in the Atacama desert, where I took my first steps hiking and backpacking. I think your idea of hiking part of the night and/or the early morning is a sound one. In general, for traveling through desert they recommend avoiding the hours between 11am and 4pm; perhaps you could take a long lunch-break between those hours? If you decide to hike at night, make sure the trail is safe (don't forget extra batteries for your headlamp!).

One key contributor to heat exhaustion is dehydration. You can't do much about the temperature, but you can do a lot to keep yourself hydrated, drinking as much water as you can at water stops, so you don't have to carry that water in your backpack (also, better to avoid sugary drinks or snacks). Head cover and loose clothes are a must; I even wear different hiking shoes in hot weather (airy sneakers or sandals), for in my case I tend to release a lot of body heat through my feet. Remember that you need to sweat profusely to keep your body temperature in check. Sweat is your friend!

I hope you update us about how your trip goes.

Farther. Higher. Longer.

Good advice from David M.  I have extensive summer hiking in S. Arizona and elsewhere in the state'  An early start really helps begin about 2 or 3 in the morning and hike until 9 AM or so.

On an archaeological dig at the bottom of Grand Canyon, we were on site at 4:30 AM, working until noon, rested through the afternoon and returned to the job after dinner for a couple of hours.

Pay attention to the weather forecast - some days are cooler than others.  And stay hydrated....

A full rim hat, preferably cotton, soaked in water, makes a big difference when it gets hot.

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Sounds like the guy who goes to the doctor and says: "It hurts when I do this", and the doctor says: "Don't do that." 

I realize I'm joining an old thread, but one thing to consider for hiking in the desert would be an umbrella to help keep the sun off.  Here in the San Diego region we seem to have high UV levels, which seems to translate to burns and making hiking more difficult. Plan on staying hydrated and take breaks at the hottest parts of the day.

If you haven't found it yet, then check out the FarOut (Guthook) app.  It's a great resource for seeing where to resupply water, plus you can get a lot of historically good information, by month and day and mile post, on how conditions are likely going to be.

I hope you enjoyed and/or will enjoy your stay on the PCT.  It has so many great experiences.

Agreed with @DavidM; hike in early mornings; siesta, then hike later in the day.
Acclimatize if you can by not moving from a cold area (Minnesota in sprintime) to a hot place (Big Bend NP) and suddenly engaging in strenuous exercise.
Seek shade, including micro-shade--I have crouched down behind a creosote bush while desert hiking to take short breaks in the shade.
Light colored, loose clothes, with long sleeves.
Limit your physical exertion overall, in hotter settings.
Be well hydrated and eat snacks/electrolytes.
Wear a sun hat.
I wore a skirt backpacking in the desert--shades the legs but cooler than pants.
Do the desert portion of the PCT in winter.
Take a wilderness first aid course to learn about your body and the outdoors.
Best wishes!