How do you work in this heat?

Looks like the start of another HOT day!

 How do you work in this heat? The short answer is that it’s not easy! However, it is possible.

We rely on a number of things to help us survive working outside in the summer here in the Sonoran Desert. In this article, I plan to give you all the tips and tricks that I know to help you “take the heat!”

The first thing I need to mention is that this stuff is dangerous. Heat stroke, heat exhaustion, and dehydration can kill you! If you decide to try any of the techniques I suggest in this article and things don’t go well – you are on your own! Pay attention to your body! When your body says that it has had enough, get into a cool place and recover. If you get dizzy, nauseous, get a headache, or stop sweating – GET OUT OF THE HEAT FAST!

First (and this may not be an option for some of you), it is important that you get used to the heat of summer as gradually as possible. We are outside almost every day working, winter and summer. When it feels hot at 80 degrees in March, IT IS! But, we get used to it. Then 90 degrees, then 100 degrees… and more. We ease into the hottest part of the year by working and letting our bodies adjust as the season progresses. Jumping into it in the hottest part of the year without acclimation would be brutal and possibly deadly!

Second, we “dress for success.” Starting at the top, hats are mandatory – preferably with shade all the way around instead of just a bill. Our helmets don’t provide as much shade as we’d like (but an added visor helps!), so we switch out to ventilated broad-brimmed hats as soon as we can. If you have to wear a helmet (and regulations allow it) ventilated ones will help a lot. We use terrycloth sweatbands inside our helmets to try to catch some of the sweat before it goes into our eyes (only partly effective).

Most of us work in long-sleeved shirts. Lighter colors reflect the sun’s heat. Thin material doesn’t wear as long, but is cooler and more comfortable. I chose a light gray color for our uniforms that reflects sunlight but doesn’t show as much dirt as white. If you’re caught out in a black shirt in the summer in the Sonoran Desert, I pity you!

Long pants protect our legs from direct sun as well as thorns on the trees we work with (just like the long-sleeves). We mostly use a navy blue color (lighter might be better from a heat standpoint, but your upper body shades your lower body somewhat, so color is not as critical for pants as for shirts.)

I use good quality unlined leather gloves most of the time. They provide some protection from all those thorns and stickers that we are constantly dealing with, as well as insulate us from the hot metal on tools, the trailer, etc. Metal objects laid out in the sun in the summer here in the Sonoran Desert can get hot enough to burn your unprotected skin!

I like thin wool hiking socks but others wear cotton. It depends on how sensitive your feet are, and personal preference. Wool wicks away moisture which helps prevent blisters!

For boots, I prefer something WITHOUT a “waterproof but breathable” liner such as Gore-Tex. We are not working in a swamp! The more your feet can breathe out here, the better! The one advantage of a liner is that fine sand can’t get to your feet like it can with a mesh boot. I have tried both and have decided that I will put up with the fine dust on the few days we are doing a lot of digging. If your work includes lots of situations where shovelfuls of soil are dumped on your feet, you might like the boots with a liner better!

A cloth bandana to wipe the salt out of your eyes is really nice to have! I don’t know why this doesn’t catch on with more people… I also use mine for cleaning the salt-spray off my glasses at regular intervals!

To summarize the clothing thing – cover up! The sun is your enemy and you don’t want it shining on your skin! Bathing suits are for the beach, and the Sonoran Desert in the summer is no beach, believe me!

Sunscreens are mandatory for most people (depending on your skin type) for the hottest parts of the year when the sun is the brightest. In the winter many people can skip them for a time. Skin cancer is real, and there are a lot of cases here in Arizona, so the best thing to do is use sunscreens regularly! Use a type that is water proof, it may be necessary to re-apply if you’re out a long time and are wiping sweat off your face.

Next, is scheduling. We try to work as early as possible, and finish the day as soon as possible to beat the heat! If you can work by the job instead of by the hour, you might be able to get your work done early by really hustling and heading into a cool place rather than plodding along all day in the heat. We try to do “bid” jobs in the summer as much as possible. In any case, the peak temperatures here in the Sonoran Desert are usually in the late afternoon/early evening – be out of the heat before the peak! If it gets too hot, just quit!

The final item is personal preparation. This begins as soon as you get into the cool indoors at the end of your work day. DRINK A LOT OF WATER! KEEP DRINKING ALL EVENING! You need to get rehydrated. Caffeine is your enemy – use it sparingly. It will dry you out! Alcohol is your enemy – I would suggest not using it at all. It will dry you out too!

Get plenty of rest. It is important to start the day with energy! The heat will zap you, so sleep is important!

We take an electrolyte supplement “Electrolyte Stamina” by Trace Minerals Research. I am not sure helps, but it doesn’t seem to hurt! Anything for an edge in this heat… I don’t take the full dose, but vary the amount depending on the predicted heat and our anticipated exposure to it.

Eat lightly before you get out in the heat, and while you are exposed. Your stomach needs to be able to absorb a lot of water, so it can’t be filled up with food or things won’t go so well! If you have a long day planned, you will need to eat something so you can keep working, but try eating a little bit at a time instead of a full load at one shot.

During your time out in the heat, there are a few simple things you can do to help your body cope. First, DRINK A LOT OF WATER! Drink before you get thirsty, by then it is too late. Have water handy and take a swallow every little bit. Gatorade and other hydration beverages are ok, but WATER IS THE BEST! We have had a couple workers who liked “hydration packs” like Camelbacks, but I find them too hot to wear and the hose is always getting dirty… But, to each his own, as long as there is enough water involved!

One simple way to cool down in the heat is to drench yourself with water (if it is available). Wetting your clothes and allowing evaporation to do its work can be almost shockingly cold when the humidity is low – during the monsoons it is less effective. This method seems to be favored more by those who do not need to wear eyeglasses for some reason!

Another trick that seems simple enough, but is not always possible, is to stay in the shade as much as you can! Remember, when the temperature is given as 118 degrees, that is a reading in the shade! IT IS HOTTER IN THE SUN! We thank the Lord every time a cloud covers the sun this time of year!

I hope some of these tips will be of personal help to you, and will enable you to “beat the heat!”