How to Cool Down when Hiking with Kids
How to cool down when hiking is a real question when you take your kids out in nature. Recent heatwaves are a stark reminder that trail safety is essential when it’s warm and dry.
What Happens When You Overheat?
Even if you don’t hike in warm weather, it’s normal that the body starts heating up with body movement within the first 15 minutes or so and if you don’t watch out, this can lead to overheating. Overheating can ruin a hike and put off a child from a great day out.
For most people, it means sweating, getting dehydrated fast and maybe having cramps. For some, overheating can lead to tingly extremities, headaches, weakness and faintness, as if one is about to pass out. In extreme cases, overheating can lead to a heatstroke and loss of consciousness, a medical emergency.
Now, it rarely comes to that but when you are hiking, but kids can’t always tell that they need to cool down. They may say, “I’m tired,” or “I want to stop” or start getting cranky. Unfortunately, this can be misunderstood as “softness” but it’s a sign to stop and do something. Here are five fun ways to cool down when hiking that will keep everybody happy.
#1 Hydration 101: Stop to Drink Frequently
Drinking water replaces the fluids lost when being active outdoors. Over the years, I’ve noticed that kids need to drink more frequently than adults. While kid water bottles are fine and cute, they contain very little of the water needed to fully keep hydrated outside.
On long hikes, young children may want to drink every 20 or 10 minutes which, with regular drinking bottles, is a nightmare because the hike becomes a slow stop-and-go affair.
Rather than telling them to wait for another half hour, I invested in a drinking pouch for my girls and it made a huge difference. They love it and request it for hiking!
Mine is the Camelbak 70oz/2L reservoir (below) and with this system, they can drink on the go whenever they want. The main pouch fits in the back pocket of their backpack, the tube goes through an opening in the pack and they can just grab the nozzle and slightly squeeze on it with their teeth to suck and drink.
Since drinking recommendations for hiking are roughly one liter per hour in warm weather and half that in cooler conditions, it means that they have enough water for half a day and that we can save stops for photo opps or snacks. If you already have water bottles with twist tops, you can also turn them into drinking bladders with a Platypus drink tube kit.
To refill on the trail, the Lifestraw personal water filter is a great lightweight solution but for large groups, a gravity filter system such as the Katadyn Gravity Camp is a dream.
Just fill it with water at lunch time, hang it from a tree and sit down for picnic. It’ll drip through a filter into your water bottles or pouches directly. By the time you’re ready to go, you’ll have filtered clean water for everybody.
It’s a classic for morning hikers. Since mornings are cooler, we tend to dress warmly after breakfast before hitting the trail. It’s especially true if we hike in the mountains where mornings can be downright chilly and require heavy fleece tops to keep warm before starting any activity. Within 15 to 20 minutes of steady hiking, we always have to stop to remove one layer. It goes like this.
“Stop!” Everybody stops, removes their backpack, takes off one or two layers and starts again, feeling better and adapting to the outside temperature.
Peeling down layers is a very effective way to cool down but there’s a catch. Assumingly, the layers close to your body will be damp with sweat and if you wear cotton, they will stay damp when you cool down and not dry. Not so comfortable!
You want your body to breathe so that it can regulate your body temperature. The best clothes for hiking are lightweight, made of quick-drying material (synthetic works best) and are loose-fitting. My girls always wear quick-drying tops when hiking, preferably with UV ratings.
# 3 Go Bananas for Bandanas
Embrace the old cowboy or 1970s scout look! There are many ways to wear a bandana but on your head or around your neck are definitely the best options to cool off in the heat. Simply soak your bandanas in cold water in a river or a lake, squeeze out the excess water and wear them around your head. You should feel better immediately. Repeat when necessary.
If you’re feeling crafty, Sew 4 Home shares instructions on how to sew your own cooling off neck wrap (with notes for children sizes), another great way to keep cool during the summer. It’s fun and cheap way to keep cool on hot days.
#3 Find Shade
Under a tree or under a hat, it always feels cooler than in full sun on the trail. Spectators at a county fair have recorded sun to shade temperature differences equal to
- 14F/7.8C on a lawn area,
- 35F/19.4C on a parking lot,
- 27.5F/15.2C average difference between shaded and unshaded surfaces, and a whopping
- 55F/30.5C on a picnic table.
Imagine the difference between a dirt trail and a tree. To find shade, you can–obviously– find a rock or a tree where to take shelter, but more portable solutions include wide-brimmed hats with ventilation mesh sides (Sunday Afternoon and Outdoor Research are two great hat brands for the outdoors) or, if hats can your kids too warm, umbrellas. You can have fun with umbrellas by visiting your local Chinatown and selecting colorful waxed paper or coton bamboo umbrellas.
#4 Do Cool Down Stretches
Stretching after a hike allows your body to cool down while also breaking down some of the lactic acid that has built up during the workout. This helps to prevent stiffness and muscle soreness that can occur after a workout. The following post-workout stretches can be practiced using a tree, a rock or a fence as prop. Print the workout, bring it on the trail and have the kids do the whole routine to cool down. Yoga and stretching usually makes everybody happy.
#5 Go for a Swim
Last but not at all least, go for a swim! If by luck you happen to be hiking near a river, a lake, a stream or the sea, don’t forget to pack your swim suit. A full-on splash is hands down the best way to refresh anybody who’s overheating, as long as you do it cautiously. We’ve all read stories of river dips gone wrong. Start by entering the water where you can stand (and get out) and if you feel confident, venture further. For athletic types, dives and jumps are a must.
Swimming is an activity that complements hiking very well as it uses different muscle groups and relieves pressure on legs and feet. If you don’t have time for a swim, even dipping your toes in fresh water is pure bliss on a hot day. Now, that’s a stop that kids will love.
What are your favorite ways to cool down when hiking? Share your tips in the comments.