Heat Stress Degrades Hiking Performance
This study investigated the effect of environmental heat stress on physiological and performance measures during a ~4 mi time trial (TT) mountain hike in the Phoenix metropolitan area. Participants (n = 12; 7M/5F; age 21.6 ± 2.47 [SD]) climbed ‘A’ mountain (~1 mi) four times on a hot day (HOT; wet bulb globe temperature [WBGT] = 31.6°C) and again on a moderate day (MOD; WBGT = 19.0°C). Physiological and performance measures were made before and throughout the course of each hike. Mean pre-hike hydration status (urine specific gravity [USG]) indicated that participants began both HOT and MOD trials in a euhydrated state (1.016 ± 0.010 and 1.010 ± 0.008, respectively) and means did not differ significantly between trials (p = .085). Time trial performance was impaired by -11% (11.1 minutes) in the HOT trial (105 ± 21.7 min), compared to MOD (93.9 ± 13.1 min) (p = .013). Peak core temperatures were significantly higher in HOT (38.5 ± 0.36°C) versus MOD (38.0 ± 0.30°C) with progressively increasing differences between trials over time (p < .001). Peak ratings of perceived exertion were significantly higher in HOT (14.2 ± 2.38) compared to MOD (11.9 ± 2.02) (p = .007). Relative intensity (percent of age-predicted maximal heart rate [HR]), estimated absolute intensity (metabolic equivalents [METs]), and estimated energy expenditure (MET-h) were all increased in HOT, but not significantly so. The HOT condition reduced predicted maximal aerobic capacity (CRFp) by 6% (p = .026). Sweat rates differed significantly between HOT (1.38 ± 0.53 L/h) and MOD (0.84 ± 0.27 L/h) (p = .01). Percent body mass loss (PBML) did not differ significantly between HOT (1.06 ± 0.95%) and MOD (0.98 ± 0.84%) (p = .869). All repeated measures variables showed significant between-subjects effects (p < .05), indicating individual differences in response to test conditions. Heat stress was shown to negatively affect physiological and performance measures in recreational mountain hikers. However, considerable variation exists between individuals, and the degree of physiological and performance impairment is probably due, in part, to differences in aerobic fitness and acclimatization status rather than pre- or during-performance hydration status.