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Can You Hike With A Cold? Should You?

Knowing when you can and cannot hike is important from a safety perspective. Feeling under the weather can make a difference in your ability to finish the trail safely. However, this doesn’t mean you should cancel your hike anytime you feel a cold coming on.

You can hike with a cold, but you need to be honest with yourself as to how unwell you feel. A cold is one thing, but the flu or other sickness can be something else entirely. Your main concern should be whether you feel strong enough to complete a hike safely. If you think you are, you can hike.

But this is more of a general rule of thumb when it comes to when and when you cannot hike when you feel slightly ill. While getting out in nature is the goal of any hike, safety should always be one of your biggest concerns. Below, we’ll discuss when it’s okay to hike with a cold.

Should You Hike If You Have A Cold?

Hiking with a cold is fine if you feel up to the challenge. But if you have the flu, or a more serious respiratory issue, then you should not hike. This could affect your breathing when out on the trail, and the adverse terrain naturally means you need to be in good physical condition.

It’s Safe, But Be Sensible

People often worry about safety and whether hiking with a cold can potentially be unsafe. It’s safe, but only when you are being sensible about everything. When you have a cold, you should seek to avoid overdoing anything. Your body is fighting against a virus, so you don’t want to put your body under any undue stress thanks to hiking a tough trail that uses up a lot of energy.

At that point, your energy levels can be sapped, and that’s where it can potentially start to become dangerous. Safety should always come first, and that means keeping the hike moderate and where you are nowhere near pushing yourself to your limits.

Exercise With A Cold Isn’t Always Bad

Sometimes, the very idea of trying to exercise when you have a cold is tough. However, we tend to want to sit in a stuffy room covered in blankets until we feel better. But there are times when this can make us feel worse and a little exercise would do us good, because light exercise is known to boost our immune system.

We recommend only covering a mile or two for a hike when you have a cold. As you realize you are recovering, then you can increase the distance slightly. However, we would still recommend not increasing the elevation. That’s could push things too far and you could strain yourself while you are sick.

Weather Conditions

It’s a fallacy that the weather causes a cold. It’s a virus that has nothing to do with temperature or humidity. However, that’s not to say you should ignore the weather conditions. This goes back to the point of taking it easy when you have a cold and still want to hike. It makes sense to only hike in relatively good conditions when you have a cold.

How Sick Is Too Sick To Hike?

You’re too sick to hike if you’re struggling with regular daily activities, struggling to breathe, or have extreme fatigue. While it’s safe to hike with a cold, there are times when you may just have to admit to yourself that you’re too sick to hike safely.

Compare With Daily Activities

One of the best measuring sticks is how you are coping with your normal daily routine. If having a shower and getting dressed is a bit too tough, then trying to venture out on a hike is not going to be any easier. You know your stamina and health, and if you honestly think you are too sick, stay home.

Do You Have A Fever?

If you have a fever, no matter how slight it may be, then you are probably too sick to hike. A fever is different from a cold and can be more dangerous. Keep in mind that a fever means the core temperature of your body is elevated and exercise will only push that core temperature even higher.

Cold Medication

If your cold is bad enough that it involves taking some form of cold medication, then it may be best to avoid hiking. This is due to certain cold medications potentially raising your heart rate, which could lead to problems if you exert yourself out on the trail. If you are on any medication, check with your doctor before going on a hike.

Severe Congestion

If you feel congested and your sinuses are blocked, it may be best to hold off a day or so until that starts to ease. Blocked sinuses will lead to you having to work harder when hiking, which can drain your energy quickly. If the head cold you are suffering from is draining you and making it difficult to even think clearly, then it may not be safe enough for you to venture out.

Does Hiking Make A Cold Worse?

Hiking does not make a cold worse. In fact, there is some evidence out there that indicates some exercises, including hiking, can help with your recovery. But there is a limit to how far you should hike so you don’t wear yourself out when you have a cold.

Getting out into some fresh air, and some sunlight, if possible, can boost your immune system. Not only can this have a positive effect on your physical well-being but getting out in nature can also help ease the mental stress of your cold and make you feel much better.

But be aware that while you may feel some improvement in your symptoms, it’s going to be more of a temporary thing. Hiking doesn’t exacerbate your cold, but it doesn’t cure it either, and you’ll need rest to compliment your exercise if you want to get better as soon as possible.

Tips For Hiking With A Cold

The first tip is to avoid putting yourself under too much stress and strain. Your body is battling a virus. Putting your body through overly stressful exercise is not a good idea. Your body only has a certain amount of energy, and it would prefer to use that energy on fighting the virus. Keep things nice and simple on a flat trail for a short distance, and you will be fine.

Don’t Hike If It’s Cold

If it feels very cold outside, then it’s best not to hike. Cold and dry air increases the risk of it irritating your nasal passages. This can increase the risk of developing a runny nose, or even making it a bit harder to breathe. Check the temperature before you hike and remember to check the wind as well. A strong wind in your face will play havoc with your breathing.

Listen To Your Body

Honesty is the best policy, so listen to your body and be willing to accept you may have made the wrong decision to go on a hike. This can happen even when you are halfway through the hike. If it starts to feel too tough, then be prepared to stop. Remember, the trail will always be there. It’s not going anywhere, so you need to listen to your body and what it’s telling you.

This also applies to the idea of taking breaks. Make sure you can stop from time to time,even on a short hike. You need to be able to give your body a rest to allow it to recuperate. A five-minute rest can do wonders, and it may even make it easier for you to then finish the hike.

Hike With A Partner

This is more of a safety thing, but it’s better to hike with a partner rather than doing things on your own. There’s always the chance that you feel great when starting, but then the illness can kick in and make you feel horrible. It just feels safer knowing someone is there by your side during this time. You will then feel it’s easier to get back home when someone is helping you out.

Final Thoughts

You can hike when you have a cold. It may make the hike feel slightly more difficult than normal, but evidence shows it can help ease your symptoms. However, there is a point where hiking with a cold can become too difficult if you push yourself too hard, and this can make you feel worse.