Monday, March 16, 2015

Heat Exhaustion, Heatstroke, and the Butt Bake (or Texas summers in general)

I asked Tom to write up something about Heat Exhaustion for an upcoming group trip in the Houston Area in August we call the "Texas Butt Bake".  He did such a good job, I decided to post it here so that I could find it when I need to and to make it accessible to more folks than just Hammock Forum members. This info is just as relevant for all Gulf Coast states as it is for Coastal Texas.

Heat Exhaustion, Heatstroke, and the Butt Bake (or Texas summers in general)

Texas in the summer sucks. It’s hot. It may or may not be humid. It may rain. There will be mosquitos. And we plan to hike and hang in these conditions. In this article I am going to fill you in on heat related illnesses, and how to avoid them.
Heat related illnesses are strongly related to the heat index, a measurement of how hot you feel when you combine the air temperature and relative humidity.  The formula used isn’t easy. There are a ton of variables. Below is the NOAA chart to help you figure out the Heat Index.

Heat Exhaustion

“Heat Exhaustion is a heat-related illness that can occur after you've been exposed to high temperatures, and it often is accompanied by dehydration.
There are two types of heat exhaustion:
-Water depletion. Signs include excessive thirst, weakness, headache, and loss of consciousness.
-Salt depletion. Signs include nausea and vomiting, muscle cramps, and dizziness.
Although heat exhaustion isn't as serious as heat stroke, it isn't something to be taken lightly. Without proper intervention, heat exhaustion can progress to heat stroke, which can damage the brain and other vital organs, and even cause death.” Ansorge, R. (n.d.). Heat Exhaustion. Retrieved from
Signs and Symptoms of Heat Exhaustion
Body Temp from 99.6-104
Altered mental status (anxiety, confusion)
Extreme thirst
Pale, ashen skin tone
Dark colored urine
Fast, weak heartbeat
Excessive sweating
Dizziness or fainting
Fatigue and cramping

Treatment of Heat Exhaustion
HYDRATE  ( alcohol and caffeine are NOT hydration)
Move to coolest environment available
Remove tight or restrictive clothing
Actively cool using icepacks, fans, immersion
Heat Stroke
Contrary to popular belief, Heat Stroke isn’t always a progression following Heat Exhaustion. It can be and most times it is; but if conditions are extreme enough, you can skip Heat Exhaustion and proceed directly to Heat Stroke.
“Heat stroke results from prolonged exposure to high temperatures -- usually in combination with dehydration -- which leads to failure of the body's temperature control system. The medical definition of heat stroke is a core body temperature greater than 105 degrees Fahrenheit, with complications involving the central nervous system that occur after exposure to high temperatures.” Heat Stroke. (2014, December 3). Retrieved from,
Signs and Symptoms of Heat Stroke
Body Temp above 104
You stop sweating, despite heat exposure
Red, hot, dry skin
Altered mental status (severe confusion to comatose)
Fast heart rate, usually VERY strong but sometimes weak

Treatment of Heat Stroke
Remember, Heat stroke is a life threatening problem, do not delay
Call 911
Move patient to as cool an environment as possible
Remove all clothing, place icepacks in patient’s groin, armpits, neck and back
Fan and apply wet sheets or thin cloth (evaporative cooling)
Hydrate if possible,  to include electrolytes if possible
Immerse in cool water if possible
How to avoid becoming a victim of Heat related illnesses.
Many of these will seem like common sense, but sometimes, common sense ain’t so common.
Don’t drink alcohol or caffeine when engaged in strenuous activities
Drink plenty of hydrating fluids ( water, Gatorade™, or the like)
Wear light colored, light weight, loose clothing (more on this later)
Wear a wide brimmed hat
Wear sunscreen (SPF 30 or more)
Know how your medications affect your body. Diuretics, antihistamines, stimulants and ╬▓eta blockers are just a few that can have an adverse effect
Plan strenuous activities to AVOID the hottest part of the day
Monitor your urine color. Light colored urine is a sign of adequate hydration.

Clothing for summer hiking
Cotton is cheap, in more ways than just money. When you sweat in cotton your are left in a wet cotton shirt that does a poor job of cooling you via evaporation (when compared to the other choices I list below). If you are wearing that sweaty cotton and the temperature drops, you will now be wet AND cold. Below from best to worst are my recommended materials.
1. Merino wool. Look for 150g(silk weight, ultralight, micro weight) or lighter weight and now you have a summer outer layer and you can use it for winter layering also.
Pros:  Antibacterial (stink free). Very fast wicking and drying. Very soft. Exceptional temperature regulation
Cons: price (be prepared to pay $50 or more for a t-shirt), but deals can be found (I like
 There are many brands but here are a few you can look for
a. Icebreaker. Good mix of quality and value (my personal fave )
b. Smartwool. Good quality, a little more expensive
c. Patagonia. Another decent mix of quality and value, but often they are Merino blends
2. “sport” synthetics. Whether you  like UnderArmour HeatGear, Adidas ClimaLite/ClimaCool or Nike Dri-Fit, they are all synthetic materials that work by wicking sweat away from the body to evaporate on the surface of the fabric.
Pros: inexpensive(20-$30 for a t-shirt type garment). Easy to find (any Academy or sporting good store). Wide variety of colors, styles, designs.
Cons: 30 minutes in, you will smell. When they are wet and the temp drops, you will be cold. Can be (but not always) rough on the skin when compared to merino and even cotton. Nowhere close to flame retardant, they will melt to your skin.
3. Cotton and cotton blends. Some blends aren’t terrible. For years I wore 65/35 poly/cotton blends in the military and they don’t suck, they just could be better. In the heat, sweaty cotton DOES allow for some evaporative cooling, but the moisture transfer from your skin to the surface of the fabric is poor in comparison to merino and sport synthetics. Add in humidity and it just feels even worse and performs worse.
With that being said here is what I will wear for the Butt Bake Hike.
ExOfficio synthetic or Icebreaker merino boxer briefs. (very light weight, keep my bits and pieces dry, and decreases the funk. Easy hand wash and line dry.
Merino or synthetic t-short or tank top
Lightweight poly/cotton rip-stop shorts or pants
DarnTough merino socks
A keffiyeh/shemagh (so many uses, too many to list)

What you need to bring to the Butt Bake
Comfortable clothing
Water AND the ability to filter water if needed (Sawyer mini or Squeeze are nice cheap options)
A 3x5 card filled out as follows and LAMINATED, Keep handy in an outside pocket or on a lanyard
Emergency contact w/ phone #
List of medications person is on
Allergies and medical conditions
Blood type (if known)
Bug spray
A First Aid kit if you have one.
All the rest of your hammocking gear and food.

If you are doing the Butt Bake hike plan to:

Get up early. If we can be on the trail by 7 am, we can easily be off the trail before noon, even including breaks.
Prehydrate. Everyone is going to drink at least one liter of water before we leave.
Carry a minimum of 2 liters of water and a filter device. We might have water available on the trail, we might not, and we will plan accordingly. Even my dog will be carrying at least 2 liters of water.
Have the above 3x5 card ready to go.
Remember, this hike is going to be a slack pack. Only carry what you HAVE to have with you. My gear will consist of water, first aid, filter,  and a poncho. Everything else will be in my truck or in a box someone else will bring over.


  1. This is a very good article, and thanks to Tom for taking the time to put it all together! One thing I might add, that was stressed multiple times when we were playing "Army 101" at Ft. Bliss in New Mexico, hottest part of the summer, etc., was NOT to drink energy drinks. (Monster, Red Bull, Rockstar, Etc.) I can count a couple of stupid Navy Reserve guys who thought it was silly for the Army guy to tell them this, and after a hot day in the sun, they were falling out, and were getting stuck with IV's in their feet to rapidly hydrate them.

    Of course, sometimes you can't tell people anything. But if the guy says, "drink one liter of water before we leave," I will certainly do so. (Check the second to last sentence)

    We were also told by a wise Navy Warrant to drink a ratio of three to one, one gatorade to three bottles of water. Keep that going the whole day.

    Another tidbit I would also add, as far as the medical situation goes, if you have ever had any sort of heat related condition in the past, you are more susceptible to having a repeat...

    Anyway, an ounce of preparedness is worth a pound of cure.

    Take it easy, and I am looking forward to this hike/camp/butt bake!

  2. Heat related illnesses are strongly related to the heat index, a measurement of how hot you feel when you combine the air temperature and relative humidity. The formula used isn’t easy. There are a ton of variables. Below is the NOAA chart to help you figure out the Heat Index.
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