5 Tips To Survive Heat Exhaustion

The good thing about the summer is being able to take awesome hikes. The bad thing is that you can die of heat exhaustion. The Outbound wrote an article about how to spot heat exhaustion before it's too late.

Getting soaked with sweat at the gym is one thing, but doing so on a hike with limited water and added heat could be dangerous.

5 Tips To Survive Heat Exhaustion

1) Are you sweating profusely? 

If the humidity is high, perspiration isn’t as efficient and effective at cooling our bodies. This means our core temperature is rising and we’re losing a lot of water fast. Slow down and drink cool water. Stop in the shade or use local streams to cool off if necessary.

2) Do you have any nausea? 

Your body will pull blood from the stomach and digestive track to fuel the large muscles, hence why your stomach starts to churn. This is common with endurance athletes who push themselves to the limit.

3) Is your heart rate really high, faint, and/or irregular? 

A quick rule to determine your maximum heart rate is 220 – your age. If you are working for extended periods of time at 85% of maximum or higher you are really pushing yourself. Take a break to let your heart rate recover and slow down the pace.

4) Does your skin suddenly feel cool with goose bumps? Do you feel dizzy, faint, or have tunnel vision or a headache?  

Heed these warning signs. Take a break. Sit down in the shade and cool off. Sip cool water. Electrolyte mixes can help recovery. Focus on breathing. When standing back up, do so slowly.

5) Are you thirsty? Muscles cramping? 

Your body needs fluids. Thirst is your bodies way of telling you the tank is running low. I usually hike with a hydration bladder in my backpack, so I try to sip a few ounces every 15-20 minutes. When I stop for a quick break I like to stretch the legs (calves, quadriceps, and hamstrings) to prevent cramping.

Eating greens before a heatwave is a good idea because the food is lighter and easier for your body to process.

If you can't get back to civilization

RetainYour Body’s Water

The starting point has to be in retaining your body’s water. This is even more important than finding more water to drink. If you can’t keep your body’s fluid inside your body, then it doesn’t matter how much you drink, it probably won’t be enough.

Shade, Wonderful Shade

The desert’s high temperatures can be mitigated to some extent by staying in the shade. Temperatures in the shade can actually be 10 degrees cooler than temperatures in the sun. This is an enormous difference when you consider that those ten degrees can make the ambient temperature lower than your body temperature.

The problem is finding shade that you can use. There aren’t too many things in the desert that actually provide shade unless you can find a cave. However, I wouldn’t spend the time searching out a cave, simply because of the water you’ll lose trying to do so.

You’ll probably need to build some sort of overhead cover to protect yourself from the sun. A simple sun shade, made from a tarp will be enough. You don’t need anything elaborate. Make sure that you can adjust the sun shade, and your position so that you’ll be able to stay in the shade throughout the day. Sleep as much as you can, so that you can be awake at night.

Make Use of the Night

In the desert, the night is your friend. The lack of sunlight allows temperatures to drop. In some cases, they may drop by as much as 50 degrees. This can cause hypothermia, so you want to be careful. Don’t allow your body temperature to drop, even if it does feel good.

Any work or traveling you do should be done at night when you are protected from the sun. This will help you to avoid sweating excessively and losing your body’s water. Take time to improve your shelter, so that you will have better protection from the sun the next day.

Allow yourself to spend some time at night looking for a cave. If you have any rock outcroppings nearby, that’s a good location to search out. Caves will always be cooler than the above-ground temperature, sometimes significantly so. Underground caves may also contain water, helping solve that survival problem as well.

In the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, there are underground lakes in caves, known as “cenotes.” While traveling in the Yucatan I encountered many of these. The temperature averaged about 20 degrees cooler than on the surface and the water in the cenotes was cool and clear.

Lastly, Plan and Prep

The best way to survive a heat wave is by prepping for it.

  • Hydrate
  • Eat greens and light foods
  • Bring plenty of water
  • Bring a water filter device if you run out
  • Think about how far you can carry someone
  • Setup a communication network to call for help
  • Know where the natural shade and water sources are

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