How Should Rock Climbers Manage Extreme Heat?

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Heat can bring about many major obstacles for rock climbers: additional sweat, a higher risk of heat exhaustion or dehydration, and a less amicable climbing surface, just to name a few. How can you fight through the high temperatures and stay safe?

Here are five tips to beat the heat and keep on climbing.

1.     Avoid the Sun When Possible

The most straightforward way to handle the heat is to avoid direct sunlight, especially during the high-intensity hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sun combined with high temperatures makes your hands sweaty and the rocks greasy, leading to hazardous climbing conditions. Look for north-facing cliffs and walls shaded by large trees.

Of course, the best-shaded locations will shift as the sun rises and falls, so you will probably have to move to multiple climbing spots throughout the day to get maximum shade. Keep this factor in mind when planning your excursion.

2.     Dress for the Occasion

Climbers usually wear multiple layers of clothing in moderate weather conditions, but a simple athletic shirt and pants are all you need during a heat wave. Choose a lightweight and breathable material such as nylon or polyester so you can move freely and comfortably despite the heat. You could also wear a hat and some sort of neck covering. Heads and necks play huge roles in regulating body heat, so they need extra protection.

Sunglasses are nonnegotiable. They might make your face a little more sweaty, but they will also help your vision and protect your eyes from UV rays. Get a pair with a strap so they don’t fall off while you’re climbing. Lastly, apply sunscreen at least every two hours and bring a towel to dry your hands afterward.

3.     Get Creative With Hydration

You need to bring more water than usual on hot days to stay hydrated. Many climbers use water bladders that allow them to carry more liquid and take small sips on the go. Sipping is a more efficient way to stay hydrated because our bodies can absorb each mouthful and put it to good use. You should also pack a few extra water bottles for refilling.

If you encounter a clean body of water, take a break and cool yourself off with a quick swim. Soak your shirt and hat to conduct heat more effectively and maintain a stable body temperature.

4.     Take Care of Your Feet

Climbing in extreme heat makes feet swell and causes black rubber climbing shoes to get uncomfortably hot and cramped. Take them off and place them in the shade whenever you get the chance. The shoes will stay cool, and your feet will air out and reduce the swelling.

You should also bring multiple pairs of socks and dry them out when you can. Your first pair will already be full of sweat after the first climb, so you don’t want to be stuck with them for the rest of the day. Bring some moleskin for blisters as well. Your day will go much better if you take good care of your feet.

5.     Temper Your Expectations

A hot, sunny day is not an ideal climate for rock climbing. In fact, extreme heat is one of the worst conditions for climbing, along with rain, snow and other precipitation. That means you need to temper your expectations and accept that you won’t climb with the same speed and confidence as you would in moderate weather.

However, that doesn’t mean you should overcompensate with extra chalk or new climbing gear just so you can climb your favorite routes. Too much chalk can worsen your grip and impair your performance. Look for safer cliffs, don’t rush the approaches and remember the fundamentals that made you a proficient climber. If you aren’t comfortable with the conditions, take things back indoors for a more controlled environment.

Stay Cool on Your Next Climb

Heat waves aren’t kind to rock climbers, but they shouldn’t stop you from enjoying your favorite outdoor hobby. Watch your sun exposure, wear the right clothes, bring multiple sources of hydration and take care of your extremities – especially your head, neck and feet. Most importantly, manage your expectations and put your safety first.