Trail Tip – How to spot and begin treatment of heat stroke

Categories:Backpacking Advice | Camping Advice | First Aid | Health and Hygene | Hiking Advice | Pro Tips | Tips Tricks DIY

In my last Trail Tip post I discussed heat exhaustion. I went over how to spot the symptoms and how to treat someone with heat exhaustion. In this final Trail Tip about heat related ailments and injuries we will discuss how to spot and begin treatment of heat stroke.

Heat stroke is the most serious of heat related illnesses / injuries. Heat stroke is considered to be a medical emergency and emergency medical help should be contacted immediately. Heat stroke is typically a progression from heat exhaustion, but it can strike without previous symptoms. When the body temperature reaches 105 Fahrenheit causing complications with the central nervous system.

One who spends an extended amount of time in the direct sunlight and warm temperatures doing any kind of activity can be susceptible to dehydration, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke. Those who preform rigorous activities can be more susceptible if they do not keep an eye on they hydration levels and body temperatures.

Disclaimer:  The Hiking The Trail staff are not medical professionals however they have had training in wilderness first aid. If you or anyone in your party have signs of severe dehydration, severe heat exhaustion, heat stroke or you do not feel comfortable with a situation seek medical help immediately.

Symptoms of Heat Stroke

The main symptom of heat stroke is when the core body temperature rises above 105 degrees Fahrenheit. Fainting may be the first visible and noticeable sign to others.

Other symptoms may include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Dizziness and light-headedness
  • Throbbing headache
  • Lack of sweating despite the heat
  • Behavioral changes such as confusion, disorientation, or staggering
  • Red, hot, and dry skin
  • Muscle weakness or cramps
  • Rapid heartbeat, which may be either strong or weak
  • Rapid, shallow breathing
  • Seizures
  • Unconsciousness

First Aid for Heat Stroke

Because of the severity of a persons temperature raising above 102 degrees Fahrenheit and the complications that can happen it is recommended to contact emergency first responders immediately. Dial 911 on your cell phone or push your SOS button on your satellite personal tracking device.  While you are waiting for help here are some ways you can help cool the person down.

  • Move the person into the shade or an air conditioned building or vehicle
  • Have the person take off their pack and unnecessary clothing.
  • Make sure the person is laying in a shaded place.
  • Create shade if none is available by hanging up coats, clothing, or a tarp to create shade.
  • Remove any unnecessary clothing.
  • Wet clothing, hats, and bandannas, placing on the person to help lower body temperature. Remove clothing and pour cool water on clothing. (do this only if there is enough water for drinking as well)
  • Have the person drink cool water but do not let them guzzle it. Small sips.
  • Keep the patient comfortable as possible.

What NOT TO DO!

  • Do NOT give the person anything by mouth if the person is vomiting or unconscious.
  • Do NOT give the person medications that are used to treat fever (such as aspirin or acetaminophen).
  • Do NOT give the person salt tablets without mixing the salt with water.
  • Do NOT give the person drinks that contain alcohol or caffeine. They will make it harder for the body to control its internal temperature.
  • Do NOT use alcohol rubs on the person’s skin.

Have you ever had to treat heat stroke on the trail? How did you treat them?


Adam Nutting relishes being an avid backpacker, hiker, and all-around adventure junkie. While he currently spends his time hiking in the backcountry of southern Arizona, he grew up in Missouri, where he was naturally inclined to spend as much time as he could outdoors. Adam’s passion for the outdoors grew as he climbed the ranks of the Cub Scouts and the Boy Scouts, eventually attaining the rank of Eagle Scout.

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