Select Page

What is heat exhaustion and what is heat stroke and what is the difference between them?



In order to avoid something, we must have a very clear understanding of what it is.


Heat Exhaustion


Heat exhaustion generally occurs when you are exposed to very high temperatures and high humidity. Your pulse increases rapidly and you find that you are sweating heavily.

Even what you may consider to be normal physical activity when hiking, such as carrying a backpack, when combined with dehydration, high temps and high humidity, can increase your chances of getting heat exhaustion.


Heat Stroke


Heat exhaustion and heat stroke start out similarly with the body overheating. However, heat stroke usually occurs when the body is exposed for a long period of time to the same physical activity, dehydration, high temps and humidity as noted above under heat exhaustion.

Heatstroke requires emergency treatment! Without getting emergency treatment, it can damage your heart, brain, kidneys and even your muscles.

The longer you wait to obtain emergency treatment, the more you risk having serious complications. Yes, even death can occur if there is too much of a delay in getting treatment.

Tips To Prevent Heat Illnesses


  1. Avoid hiking mid-day if the temperatures and humidity are expected to be high enough to cause any heat related illnesses. On those days, hike in the early morning and evening hours when the temps and humidity will be lower.
  1. Always keep your bottle of drinking water where you can very easily get to it while hiking. Remember, cold water not only quenches your thirst, but it cools your body, too. Be sure to insulate your bottles to keep the water cold.
  1. On days when the temperature varies greatly, you may feel the need to wear an extra layer or two of clothing. If the temperature increases later in the day, to where you begin to sweat, you should remove the extra layer(s) of clothing.


While heat exhaustion is less serious than heat stroke, it is the precursor to heat stroke.

Heat exhaustion occurs when your body is struggling to cool itself, which it primarily does through sweating.


Signs Of Heat Exhaustion

Heat Exhaustion


  1. Excessive sweating
  1. Dizziness
  1. Nausea
  1. Loss of appetite
  1. Occasional vomiting


How To Prevent Or Stop Heat Exhaustion


  1. Remove any extra layers of clothing
  1. Drink cool water
  1. Rest in the shade
  1. If there is a safe body of water nearby, splash yourself with cool water


Signs Of Heat Stroke


  1. Confusion
  1. Agitation / Altered mental state
  1. Heart rate is over 100 beats per minute
  1. Trouble breathing


If you pass the heat exhaustion stage, you will be in the heat stroke stage.

You need to stop the heat exhaustion, before it goes into the heat stroke stage, period.

80% of the people who progress to the heat stroke stage and don’t get immediate treatment, do die from it.

If left untreated the body will no longer be able to cool its internal organs. As these organs overheat, they begin to fail and the person can slip into a coma and die.

As soon as you reach the point of heat exhaustion, stop hiking. Follow the steps noted above that say: How To Prevent Or Stop Heat Exhaustion.

If you progress to the heat stroke stage, you or preferably someone nearby who can help you, should follow the steps to stop heat exhaustion, listed above under: How To Prevent Or Stop Heat Exhaustion, but they need to be more aggressive in following those steps.

Final Thoughts


Heat exhaustion is serious. Heat stroke can be fatal. Take every precaution you can to safe-guard yourself from heat exhaustion.

Remember, heat exhaustion is the precursor to heat stroke, therefore, if you don’t get heat exhaustion, you won’t get heat stroke.



To read another interesting article from The Joy of Hiking, click the link below.

How Much Water Should You Take On A Hike?