Protect yourself against the sun

Top Tips - 08/03/2024

Posted by William, 8th March 2024


The weather is often the major cause of accidents and illness both in the UK and mainland Europe. Rule number one is always check the weather forecast before you set out, especially in the mountains. Storms, blizzards, snow conditions, high winds and extreme cold can all be dangerous phenomena, especially if you're not well prepared. To this list we cab add the effects of the sun. European countries, such as France, have a higher sun index than the UK and other northern latitudes, and therefore the effect of the sun is much stronger and its effects felt much more rapidly. As we head towards the equator, the effects are more pronounced.

The sun is important for our everyday health. Our bodies produce Vitamin D when exposed to the sun and the mood enhancing hormone serotonin is also produced, making you feel good. However the sun is also ageing your skin and can obviously burn it if you don't take precautions. If it's a hot day, lack of water can add to problems and lead to sun stroke and heat exhaustion. 

A real concern resulting from repetitive exposure to the sun, something which can be common for walkers, is skin cancer. Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the UK and 80% of it is caused by the sun. 

So how can we make sure that we enjoy our walking holidays for years to come. 

Head for the shade: Where possible stay in the shade. For example, on really hot and sunny days in the height of summer, choose walks in woodlands, or start your hike earlier in the morning. When you stop for a rest or for lunch, try and find a shady spot. 

Cover your skin: Wear clothing that covers as much of your skin as possible. Choose long-sleeve tops and walking trousers. Modern wicking materials mean that such clothing is no longer as uncomfortable in the heat as it once was. 

Wear a hat: Wearing a sun hat on your walks is essential. Make sure it covers not only the top of your head but also your face and your neck. Broad-rimmed hats are best for this. If you are worried that your neck is exposed you can always use a lightweight scarf. 

Use sunscreen: This is essential, even on bright days when it doesn't seem to be that sunny. Many of us have been caught out on cloudy days. It only takes excessive exposure, especially when it's added to reflection from snow, to end up with red skin. Choose a product that has sun protection of Factor 15 or more. More than this is often best, especially when on a walking holiday in the high mountains where there are fewer impurities in the air or for those with more sensitive skin. 

It's best if you get into the habit of slapping the first lot of cream on before you go out. Make sure you cover every bit of your skin that needs protection, including those easily missed areas such as the ears. And then make sure you reapply regularly, especially if you're sweating alot. Get into the habit of reapplying each time you stop for a longer rest every hour or two. 

Protect your eyes: Your eyes can be damaged by repeated exposure to UV radiation as well. Short-term irritation can lead onto snow blindness which is actually sunburn of the cornea. It's incredibly painful and can lead to long-term damage so must be taken seriously. If you do hurt your eyes in this way, cover them up immediately and limit the amount of light entering the eye to what is tolerable and feasible. Aspirin will help reduce the inflammation as will dripping cold tea into the eye. 

Best to avoid this in the first place and get some serious eye protection. Sunglasses should be close-fitting and wrap around and cover the eye area as much as possible. Make sure they have adequate UVA and UVB protection. 

So, to stay safe and healthy on your walking holidays protect yourself from the sun.