Since we live in Las Vegas, learning to ride ATVs in the hot summer sun is an absolute must. It can still be fun to take the ATVs out when its 115 degrees out, but there is a lot more consideration that needs to happen to avoid dehydration, keep you safe and keep your ATV running smoothly. By sharing all we have learned and researched here, we hope this becomes the most comprehensive set of tips available to keep you and your ATV safe so you can enjoy this great sport even during the hot summer months.
Heat stroke is a big risk when riding too long in the heat. This occurs when the core body temperature reaches over 105 degrees Fahrenheit. Heat stroke can cause serious illness or death. Even if it doesn’t cause serious harm, I can tell you it is not fun at all. I have spent a fun day out in the sun in southern Utah, only to spend the evening and night vomiting and suffering from the chills. I was a young and stupid kid and didn’t follow any of the tips I am sharing in this article. Hopefully, you can learn from my mistake and enjoy riding your ATV on the hot summer days.
Tips to Keep you Safe
1. You need to prepare well before you start riding. You can’t avoid dehydration by just drinking water when you get thirsty. By then, it is too late. You should start preparing early, likely the night before, depending on what kind of ATV riding you are doing. The longer the amount of time you will ride, the longer before the ride you should start hydrating. Your body uses water to keep itself cool by regulating body temperature and internal organ functions. If you don’t get enough fluids, it can cause a lot of problems, such as heavy sweating, muscle cramps, headaches, fatigue, dizziness and more if left without taking care of it.
2. One big key to staying hydrated is to sip water all day long rather than to gulp massive amounts a fewer number of times. You should try drinking at least one regular-sized water bottle per hour. Plus, as I remember from my high school sports days, gulping like crazy during a water break is a surefire way to make yourself sick.
3. If you have a hydration bladder, there is an easy way to keep your water cold for a long time. The night before you ride, fill your hydration bladder half way. Put it in the freezer that night and before you leave the next today, top it off with water and keep it in a cooler until your ride. The ice will keep your water cold and will make more cold water as it melts on the ride. Just make sure to orient the bladder so that the suction hose doesn’t get frozen shut.
4. Speaking of hydration bladders, they are a great tool to stay hydrated. Hydration bladders are also an easy way to stay hydrated as you can drink from them at any time along the ride. This is an especially effective way to follow the tip of sipping water throughout the ride rather than gulping. There are a ton of different types of hydration bladders to choose from. You can get a single pouch that stands alone or in a back pack, one that is built into a pack or, if you have a whole lot of money, you can even get a hydration bladder that is directly built in to your riding jacket.
5. Fill your cooler with foods that have a high water content, but can be eaten cold when stored in your cooler. Melons are a perfect example, but fruits like oranges & peaches are also good examples.
6. Instead of using ice or ice packs in your cooler, use frozen bottles of water. The bottles will keep the rest of your food cold, won’t fill your cooler with water as they melt down and be super useful as they melt and you can drink them later in the day.
7. Between rides when you are taking that much-needed rest, take off your boots and let your feet air out. It is also a good idea to remove other gear to help you ventilate better.
8. Keep a damp towel or specialized fabric in your cooler. When taking a break, put the towel around your neck. Because the carotid artery runs down the side of your neck, cooling the blood in your neck goes a long way toward helping your entire body cool down more quickly.
9. Don’t shock your system by going straight from the hot ATV to an air-conditioned building or RV. Your better off cooling down in some shade with a fan, if possible, to slowly acclimate your body. If you can mist yourself a little bit, that will help cool you off faster without shocking your body.
10. Spray a little water in your hair before you put your helmet on.
11. Supplement your water intake with a low sugar, quality sports drink or water additive. When you sweat, you lose electrolytes and plain water won’t replace them. In addition to restoring your electrolytes, sport drinks can replace the sodium, chloride, and potassium you lose through sweating. Everyone knows the popular sports drinks, but some really good alternatives that are popular with ATV riders include Pedialyte or Moto Fuel. Just keep in mind, the sports drink should be a small portion of your liquid intake as you should mainly be taking in water.
12. Avoid drinking alcohol, caffeine and sugary drinks like soda. Besides the obvious dangers of drinking alcohol while riding ATVs, all these drinks are diuretics. Diuretics are dangerous because they pull more water out of you body by causing you to sweat and urinate more than usual. Thus, even though you are drinking more, your are actually becoming less hydrated.
This can become especially dangerous when trying to use caffeine to stave off drowsiness. Because fatigue is one of the first signs of heat exhaustion, you don’t want to caffeinate yourself to try and overcome it because then you are just going to make your situation a lot worse as you push through the exhaustion while further dehydrating yourself. It is a recipe for disaster.
13. It may sound great to throw on shorts and t-shirt to ride in the warm weather, but covering up while you are out riding in the heat will actually help keep your body cooler because it keeps the sun’s rays off of your skin and allows your sweat to do its job. Four wheeling without covering up your skin doesn’t just give you a nice sunburn, it exposes your skin to the wind as you ride. This causes your sweat to evaporate more quickly than it otherwise would. Instead of letting your sweat do its job by expelling heat from your body, the hot air will act like a giant blow dryer and prematurely cause your sweat to evaporate, which ends up raising your core temperature instead of lowering it.
14. Invest in vented gear. The gear you wear has a huge impact on how cool you can stay. Many of the top apparel manufacturers make vented gear that helps keep you cool. Klim Mojave makes a fantastic set of vented gear that is available on Amazon. If you don’t have the money for expensive vented gear, you can still keep cool by wearing lightweight, loose-fitting clothing made of breathable fabric that promotes sweat evaporation and cooling by letting more air pass. Your clothing should offer decent protection while ventilating the air around your body at the same time. Textile and mesh riding gear provides more ventilation (but less protection) than the vents in leather gear. And remember, the lighter the color, the less sun it will absorb, which well also help keep you cool.
15. Wear a wicking base layer. A good base layer worn under your gear next to your skin is designed to wick the moisture away from your skin, helping to expel heat from your body. These are great to wear at any temperature and on any ride, but are life savers on a hot day.
16. A cooling vest is an inexpensive way to stay cool longer. The cooling vest is designed to mimic your body’s cooling system. It retains water and slowly releases it to help keep you cool. Cooling vests usually just require that you soak them in cold water for at least a couple of minutes before you put them on. Most are damp but not wet enough to soak you. These do a great job of helping to keep your core cool by aiding in the regulation of your body temperature. Adding this to some decent vented gear will do wonders to keep you cool on a hot day. Just keep in mind the hotter the temperature you’re riding in is, the more often you’ll have to re-hydrate your vest. While it is best to stop and soak the vest, you can get most of the benefit by just dumping a cold bottle of water on the vest.
If you do not have a cooling vest, there are some cheap, but less effective tricks you can try. The easiest thing you can do is just soak your t-shirt before you throw it on under your gear. This will again help cool off your body for a while as the air circulates through your jacket. Another brilliant trick to try is throwing some freezer packs in pockets under your gear.
17. Invest in a well vented helmet. The Klim F4 helmet is a very high-end helmet that is vented super well to focus on heat reduction. For about a third of the price, check out the helmet in my recommended gear. It may not be as good, but it is vented and fits the budget for more people. If you are lucky enough to have a vented fan, be sure to open the vents before you ride or they won’t do you much good.
18. Don’t forget the sunscreen. While you want most of your skin covered, anywhere that is exposed should be covered by sunscreen. The back of your neck is especially vulnerable. There is something you need to understand in how sunscreen works. The key ingredient of many sunscreens is PABA, or para-aminobenzoic acid. PABA has to bind to the skin to be fully effective, and that process takes about half an hour after it has been applied. Make sure to use a high SPF sunscreen, at least 30 SPF, and reapply about every hour while you are out riding. The sunscreen will not only help you avoid a painful sunburn, it helps keep you body temperature down.
19. Stop and take a break about every 45 minutes to 1 hour. This will help keep you from doing too much. It also gets you off that hot ATV. Recognize that you are basically sitting on a hot engine while riding, which can often increase the temperature of the air around you by 15-20 degrees. That means if you are riding somewhere that is 100 degrees out, it is going to feel like its 115 while you are on the ATV. If you are riding with me in Vegas, it could easily be 130 degrees on your ATV. You can’t sustain those temperatures for too long without getting sick. Try to rest somewhere out of the sun where you can take off some gear and hydrate.
20. While resting, put ice packs or cold bottles of water on places rich with blood vessels. This will help to cool the blood and more quickly lower your body temperature. Some of the best places include your neck, armpits, groin and back.
21. Plan the route you are going to be riding ahead of time. By planning the route, you can schedule your rest stops, just be sure that you schedule enough time to take adequate rests. Planning should help avoid the situation where you are short on time and have to push your body beyond what you should to get where you are headed on time.
22. If possible, avoid riding during the hot times of the day. It is much better to ride early in the morning or later toward the evening. This will keep the sun from beating down on you and the temperatures won’t be as hot.
23. Avoid riding on asphalt. Not only is it more dangerous generally, asphalt roads collect and radiate heat, making the air above the asphalt even hotter than ambient temperatures.
24. Pay attention to your body and watch for the signs of heat exhaustion. Signs and symptoms include the following:
- cool, clammy, and pale skin
- muscle or abdominal cramping
- a weak pulse
- nausea, vomiting or diarrhea
- disorientation or confusion
- rapid heartbeat
- pale skin
- dark urine
- profuse sweating
25. Stop riding immediately if you experience the above described signs and symptoms of heat-related problems. If the symptoms are severe, call 911 and get immediate help. Even if you follow all the tips above, and especially if you do not, you could suffer the ill effects of heat. Don’t try to be a tough-guy and push through fatigue, dizziness, blurred vision or nausea. Not only do you risk getting seriously ill, you are not in driving condition and are more likely to suffer a serious ATV accident.
Tips for your ATV when Riding in the Heat
ATV engines can overheat just like you. In these situations, you may experience a loss of power or something else, but the actual danger to your ATV can be much worse than is evident. The materials that the engine is made of are designed to operate within certain temperature tolerances. When you go beyond these temperatures, the materials can warp, bow, expand or push against each other, leading to serious engine damage.
26. You need to make sure you know your engine’s temperature. Unlike your car, your ATV likely doesn’t have a gauge that tells you the operating temperature of your engine. If you commonly ride in hot conditions, you should invest in a stick-on thermometer that will tell you the current temperature of your engine.
27. The number one cause of engine problems in liquid-cooled engines is operating the ATV with insufficient coolant in the radiator. Before riding in the heat, make sure you check your fluid level and top it off with coolant, following the manufacturer’s recommendation for mixing the coolant of course. If you have to put water in with your coolant, it is best to use distilled water to avoid plugging up the cooling system with minerals that are found in non-distilled water.
28. Don’t let your engine idle for long periods of time. Many ATVs come equipped with air-cooled engines, which basically rely upon fins on the cylinder to channel airflow across the engine’s surface, dissipating heat in the process. Since moving air is a critical component of the system (they lack thermostats) long periods idling in intense heat can be detrimental. Remember that if you have an air-cooled design, shut down when you plan to stop for anything over a minute or two in particularly hot conditions.
29. Make sure your ATV has oil cooling. Oil coolingworks very similar to a standard water-cooled radiator design except it lacks fluid for the specific purpose of carrying off engine heat. Rather the engine’s oil itself is carried away from the block, across a radiator for cooling then back into the engine.
Many models (both air and liquid cooled) come equipped with oil cooling for additional protection against heat. Don’t worry if your ATV doesn’t have oil cooling as aftermarket oil cooling kits are available for most ATVs. They are typically affordable, easy to install, and provide a noticeable difference in temperature immediately.
30. Make sure your ATV has a fan. Many ATVs come equipped with thermostatically controlled fans. These are important because an ATV’s radiator depends upon the flow of air to dissipate heat collected by the coolant, a fan assists an ATV that has been left idling by providing that moving air to a motionless vehicle. If your ATV does not already have a fan, an aftermarket fans can be purchased and installed.