You'd think that walking in summer would be the easiest of all the seasons. Right? Glorious sunshine on your back and not having to contend with blizzards or deluges or biting winds.
But walking in summer can actually be a bit of a challenge. Here are my top six summer walking hazards and how to deal with them.
In the UK at least, it rarely feels hot enough to worry about overheating. But a long march across a shade free field in blazing sunshine can get very hot and it's easy to get sunburnt. And if you're in a hotter country, it's easy to get heatstroke if you're not used to walking long distances in high temperatures. Always apply sunblock, take a sunhat and drink plenty of water. And I mean a lot of water. Drink little and often to stay hydrated as you go. I just carry a water bottle for a short walk, but for a longer hike, I'll fill my 2 or 3 litre hydration system to ensure I don't run out. If you are hiking long distances, make sure your backpack is well ventilated, with space between your back and the pack, to allow air to flow through. You stay much cooler and less sweaty that way. I use this one, which works great.
2. Nasty plants
One of the joys of winter walking is that you don't get nettles. Well not many. As soon as summer comes round, many of the footpaths become massively overgrown and nettles threaten to sting your legs as you brush past them. They're particularly prevalent at styles and kissing gates, where you have to squeeze past while the nettles prickle menacingly through the gaps. Wear lightweight long trousers (I swear by these Craghoppers), rather than shorts. This will give your legs some protection. Also, find a Nettle Stick* or use a walking pole. (*A large stick to hold nettles and other overzealous plants back as you squeeze along a track - they're free. Look on the ground!) This stick will come in handy for hazards 3 & 4 too. If you do get a nettle sting, look for a dock leave and rub the leaf on the sting. It helps relieve it (a bit).
Another poisonous plant to look out for is Giant Hogweed. This can grow up to 5 metres tall, and is normally found along footpaths and riverbanks. If its sap gets in contact with your skin, it can cause really nasty burns, which are made worse by sunlight.
It's not just poisonous plants that can cause problems. All the vegetation suddenly springs up and unless the keepers of the footpath or farmers are on the case, you can find yourself walking along paths with plants that are neck height. Not fun. Firstly, you can lose track of where you are as the paths are more difficult to follow. Secondly, it's much easier to go over on your ankle as you bash your way through. Thirdly, your trousers get soaked from the dew or condensation on the plants. Use your stick as a walking aid and as a weed thrasher. Even though it's hotter wearing walking boots, you may find they give better ankle support on uneven, overgrown ground. And wearing gaiters can help keep the bottom of your trouser legs dry as you bash your way through.
Cows and their calves (and often the big bulls) are out in force at this time of year. Cows can be dangerous and very protective of their young. I use my nettle stick as a form of comfort when I have to walk through a field of cows. Knowing that I have a large stick makes me feel slightly braver (even if it wouldn't really do much against a charging bull!) With cows, I tend to walk as close to a fence or wall as possible so that should I need to escape a field in a hurry, I can. Walk quietly but with purpose, around the herd if possible - they will typically get out of your way but do assess them before you head into a field. I was once held up for about 40 minutes by a field of young bullocks who were simply curious more than anything else, but it didn't feel safe going into their field. In situations like that, try to find an alternate path. Be even more careful if you have a dog with you.
The warm weather brings out bugs of all kinds, but midges, mosquitoes and horseflies are the most painful. Carry insect repellant on you and if you're going somewhere super midgey you may want to get a face protector too. It ain't sexy - but then again, neither is a face full of bug bites. Bitey bugs also don't like the smell or taste of garlic or vitamin B, so grab a handful of wild garlic you'll find growing in early summer and carry it with you. Or eat marmite sandwiches. Seriously. Apparently midges fall into the Marmite Hate It camp. Who knew!
In the UK there is only one venomous snake - the adder. It has a dark brown, reddish or black zig zag from head to tail with spots on its sides. Some (rare) are entirely black. They typically have their babies in late summer and will mostly be seen basking in sunny spots, in heathland, bogs, moorland, woodland edges or rough grassland. They are shy and will only bite when cornered, alarmed or picked up. I have never seen one in the UK (unlike in my native South Africa where I had a puff adder sidle under my sun lounger one day!) If you see discarded snake skin or winding trails in dirt tracks, be aware there may be snakes about. To scare off snakes, stomp your feet as you walk. Snakes pick up on vibrations through the ground and will disappear. They're more afraid of you than you are of them. Again, walking through long grass means gaiters, long trousers and sturdy boots gives you more protection should you stand on a snake (highly unlikely!)
Although snakes, poisonous plants and grumpy cows may seem alarming, walking in the UK really is pretty safe. These few hazards are simply worth being aware of and preparing for. If you are walking elsewhere in the world - particularly in a country you're less familiar with - take a moment to look up any local plants, animals or pests that could pose a danger. Better to be safe than sorry.
Now head out and enjoy that sunshine! And remember, one of the best things about walking in the summer is the longer days and evening, meaning you can still fit in a good length walk after work and enjoy watching the sunset.
Got any other summer walking tips? Share them below.
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