Camino Tip No. 15: Protect yourself from the sun

Camino Tip No. 15: Protect yourself from the sunOn the Camino, on average, people are outdoors for five or more hours a day. While walking on the Meseta, there is very little shade and pilgrims are exposed  to UV radiation which can lead to sunburn, heat exhaustion, sunstroke, heat stroke, and dehydration. (For more info on staying hydrated, see Camino Tip No. 11: Stay hydrated). In addition, overexposure to UV radiation can lead to serious medical conditions such as skin cancer (melanoma), premature aging of the skin, cataracts, and immune suppression. Damage to the immune system can aggravate dormant herpes and yeast infections. For all of these reasons, you should protect yourself from the heat and sun.

Sunburn is not only painful, it may hinder the body’s ability to cool itself. Sunburn is skin damage resulting from the sun’s UV rays. Most sunburns result in redness and mild pain. More severe sunburns are second-degree burns. The symptoms are redness, swelling, and blistering. If blisters form, do not break them and consider seeing a doctor.

Heat exhaustion can occur as a result of dehydration and can lead to heat stroke. Sun stroke is a form of heat stroke and is caused by exposure to the sun and characterized by a rise in body temperature, convulsions, and possible coma. Heat strokes occur when the body’s core temperature rises above 105° F (41.0 °C). It affects mainly people over 50 years old, but younger ones can suffer from it too. To help someone suffering from heat stroke, seek medical assistance. Move them to a cool or shady place, if possible. Elevate the feet slightly. Remove clothing. Fan them down while wetting them with cool water, especially at the armpits, groin, neck, and back. Do not rub them-them with alcohol or give them fever-reducing medication.

The best way to avoid heat stroke is to stay hydrated and not perform vigorous physical activities when the weather is hot and humid.

 Symptoms of heat stroke

  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Skin that is hot and dry (no sweating)
  • Muscles cramps
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Accelerated heartbeat
  • Mental confusion and disorientation
  • Staggering
  • Seizures
  • Unconsciousness

 Preventing heat illness on the Camino

  • If possible, acclimate to the temperature and activity. Train for up to a week to allow the body to adapt to the heat.
  • Stay hydrated. Drink before you feel thirsty. Drink at least a half a cup each kilometer.
  • Plan to take a siesta or arrive at the albergue before the heat of the day. This may mean walking in the early mornings or later in the day. The UV rays are strongest between 10 am and 4 pm.
  • Use sunscreen to prevent sunburn or wear UV protection clothing. I wore a skirt with a UV rating of 50.
  • Wear a hat that is ventilated and provides shade. While on the Camino, I used a GoLite Chrome Dome Trekking Umbrella. Using the umbrella provided more shade than the hat which I removed to cool down my head.
  • Take breaks. If you are near a river or stream, splash yourself down or go for a swim.
  • Do not drink alcoholic or caffeinated beverages because the increase the rate of dehydration.

Advantages of using a sun protection umbrella

  • Defense against skin cancer
  • Protection from sunburn
  • Removes about a thousand watts of direct heating from your body (equivalent to the heat from a toaster)
  • Let’s you take your hat off, cooling the head
  • Can also be used in the rain

Advantages of using ultraviolet clothing

  • Not greasy
  • Does not need reapplication
  • Assured UV-protection rating
  • Wearing UV protective sunglasses can help prevent cataracts. Use the sunglasses even with a hat or umbrella. Harmful UV rays can be reflected from walls, stones, pavement.

Some people claim that the UV-protection clothes make them feel warmer since it can have a tighter weave and is usually dark in color; many others find them comfortable. Most of the UV-protective clothing is moisture-wicking and breathable.

Additional resources

Buen Camino,

Jane V. Blanchard

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