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337 Hiking Skills - The Ten Essentials - Sun Protection 2011-01-24

Near the Summit of Mount Baker

Mount Baker in the Sunny Morning

We were covered from head to toe in order to trap our body's heat. High on Mount Rainer it was, as usual, very cold and windy. The wind quickly chapped our lips so we applied lip balm liberally and often but no other skin was exposed to the sun. As the day wore on and the temperature rose, more and more skin was exposed, though we never stopped to apply sun protection.

Back in civilization in a convenience store, the clerk commented about our skin color. It was dark brown. She was envious and wanted to know where we had been. We were embarrassed.

Soon, slabs of skin an eighth of an inch thick began to peel from our faces. Our lips were swollen and cracked. We knew the errors of our ways. We were not inexperienced but we had been too focused on moving to stop and apply cream.

In Seattle we visited the REI to search for better sun protection products. Looking like we had leprosy, knowledgeable eyes would do a double take and we could hear them snickering, 'they forgot sunscreen.' We did forget to apply the protection. We were guilty. Our skin told on us.

Sun Protection is one of the Ten Essentials to always carry in your pack; but it is one of the hardest things for me to use. I don't like to take the time to stop and apply and re-apply sunscreen. I guess it is a bit like a child at the beach. They only want to play.

A few tips on sun protection ...

  • Skin should always be protected.
  • Clouds do not filter out dangerous UV rays.
  • Sunscreen should offer at least 15 SPF, but 30 SPF is often easier to find.
  • Don't forget the sunglasses that block UV rays also.
  • If you are going to the mountains or on the water, find frames that wrap around your eyes blocking the sun from entering on the sides.
  • I carry a bandana to catch the sweaty sunscreen before it drips into my eyes. And yes, you have to re-apply.
  • At every rest break, check yourself for sun protection and re-apply.
  • If you have a fair skinned person in the group, they will need to apply protection even more often. Their efforts should make everyone in the group more aware of sun protection.
  • Clothing can also protect you from the sun. The bandana can protect your neck or head. There is also special sun protection clothing, but I have never tried it. A hat and regular clothing work well to shield the sun for me - as long as I wear it!
  • I have trouble keeping my sunglasses from fogging on climbs. I sweat a lot and it fogs up my glasses. I have tried "CatCrap", a defogger; but with only marginal results. A friend recently suggested allowing air to circulate on the inside of the frames. I have not really consciously tried this technique; but it might work as a compromise. You would be inviting the sun to sneak around the frames; but it would be more protection than not wearing glasses at all.

Gear we use ...

Oakley and Smith sunglasses (any glasses that block the UV rays will work.)

Sun Screen - I currently use "Dermatone SPF 36 Z-Cote"; but I don't think it is really any better than any other. The product is fragrance free, which is important to me.

Lip Balm - I use Banana Boat Sport Sunscreen Lip Balm - SPF 50 for normal use. It is fragrant free and not waxy.

Extra Lip Medication - When your lips are cracked and swollen, there is only one medication that I use - Labiosan. It works. It also makes you look like a real mountaineer!

There are many sun protection products on the market. Following the above mentioned guidelines, any of the products will work - just as long as you do your part and use the products.

Happy sun protected trails.



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