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‘Dress Up, Get Covered, Stay Wet.’ Tips to Beat Extreme Heat Outside this Summer

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It was mid-July, humid and hot, and I was halfway through a day-long event that had brought several participants to their knees. The venue was a muggy valley along the St. Croix River in Wisconsin. The challenge was an adventure race, the annual MNOC Adventure-O, an eight-hour team endurance event with biking, paddling, and trekking through forests so thick they could’ve been mistaken for jungle.

The equatorial heat — 95 degrees and hard-to-breathe humidity — was oppressing to walk in, let alone bushwhack, mountain bike and run. But along with three teammates I pushed through the haze for more than six hours, eventually taking second place among 30+ teams.

Here are a few quick tips I use to beat the heat and (mostly) enjoy my time outside in the summer, no matter how hard I push as the temperatures continue to rise. —Stephen Regenold

The author dressed up for hot weather during adventure race

Keep Covered. Sunscreen and lip balm with an SPF rating are obvious steps. But brimmed caps, lightweight long-sleeve shirts, breathable pants or tights, and good sunglasses also all serve to keep the sun at bay. I can stay cooler all “dressed up” like this because the sun is off of me and not burning my skin or making me squint in the bright heat of the day.

Get Wet. It might sound uncomfortable, but I started the adventure race pretty much soaked head to toe. This was courtesy of a few water bottles dumped over my head. Immediately as we ran, even though the temp was 95 degrees, I could feel air moving and a subtle cooling via an evaporative effect while all the other racers needed to wait for sweat to soak through clothing and do the same trick.

Cotton Cap. The water-absorbing effect of cotton makes the material a no-no for many activities outside. But in the heat of the summer a wet cotton cap can sit on your head cool and moist for a couple hours. It’s an easy trick that can cool the body by a noticeable degree. A related option (which I have not tried) some hot-weather athletes wear cotton T-shirts outside in the heat. (See “Hot Weather Running Tips,” where we interview ultra-runner Pam Reed on this topic.) The clammy cotton shirt wet against their skin purportedly keeps them cooler than a breathable top.

Cooling Gear. A few companies now sell apparel and equipment made to help cool the body, including tights that have pockets for ice packs and menthol body gel from BenGay. On the adventure race, I used one “cooling” piece, a set of to-be-released arm sleeves from Mountain Hardwear with the company’s new Cool.Q ZERO technology. I outline the properties of Cool.Q in this article, but essentially Mountain Hardwear (and its partner brand Columbia) have created a fabric that when wetted from sweat goes through a reaction that’s touted to “pull heat from your skin.” On the race, my arms were cool the whole day wearing the Mountain Hardwear magic sleeves. There is also cooling via evaporative effect through the thin, wet fabric whenever wind hits your arms, plus the sleeves are sun-blocking, which relieved me from applying sunscreen on my arms (a nice bonus feature to the sleeves).

Eat. Hydration is a no brainer. But many people forget to eat when it’s hot. This is bad news, as physical exertion will deplete nutritional stores and electrolytes, zapping energy and exacerbating a chain on which dehydration feeds. Take electrolyte-enhanced energy foods or drink mixes to help keep the balance. I also eat salty snacks — nuts, meat sticks, crackers — while on the move in temps hot or cold.

Drink. Most people have sense enough to bring water on a hot outing. But in addition to just having water, be sure it’s accessible. I use a hydration pack and have a hose with a bite-valve positioned next to my mouth. The setup keeps me drinking more often than a water bottle stashed in a pack, as the hose offers a drink in an instant, hands-free, anywhere on the trail.

—Stephen Regenold is founder of GearJunkie. See his full report on the MNOC Adventure-O race here.

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