Four Family-Friendly Safe Sun Practices While Hiking

Category: Hiking 101 + Safety, Trail Safety

Yeah – Summer! Will you and your family be hiking or doing other outdoor activities this summer? The Canadian Dermatological Society says that you should seek shade between the hours of 11 A.M. – 3 P.M., as that is when the sun is the strongest, but you can’t always guarantee that you will be in a shady spot during those times.

Our winters are long, and if you are like my family, you are trying to squeeze in as much summer outdoor time as possible: hiking, biking, paddling, golfing, fishing and BBQs at the beach are our activities and not always in that order.

two jack lake banff national park
Two Jack Lake, Banff National Park

Guide To Sun Safety

Hiking the Canadian Rockies can be a mix of weather and temperatures all in one day! If you can’t be in the shade between 11:00 and 3:00, try to follow these Four Safe Sun Practices:

1. Rub On The Sunscreen

Dermatologists recommend using a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30 on any parts of exposed skin, and you should only use sunscreen on infants six months and older.

I try to use natural products as much as possible, and when my boys were younger, I tried a lot of the different natural sunscreens on the market.   A few went on well, but the ingredients would separate in the tube, and I had to “kneed” the container to mix the ingredients before I could apply it.  Others went on white and sticky and stayed that way; some even left a “greasy stain” on our clothing.  Others went on smoothly, but those had a low SPF factor, and I had to remember to reapply it on a more regular basis.

In 2014 I discovered Rocky Mountain Soap Co. Sunscreen and fell in love with it! FYI: I’m in love with all of their products.

rocky mountain sunscreen
Rocky Mountain Soap Co. Sunscreen, one of their fist batches. Photo, Sedona, Arizona

rocky mountain sunscreen
Four Years later, same fantastic product, different packaging.

What I Love About The Rocky Mountain Soap Co. Sunscreen:

  • This sunscreen goes on white, but rubs in nice and easily
  • Doesn’t separate in the tube
  • It isn’t sticky
  • Doesn’t leave any oily stains on clothing
  • Rocky Mountain Soap Co. sunscreen is toxin-free
  • The sunscreen is water resistant, so if you want to take a safe dip on your hike through the mountains, feel safe! Additionally, the sunscreen is reef safe, and fine in water
  • It’s reef safe!

What I Would Love to See:

  • A family-size tube – with four of us using it, we go through it very quickly.
  • Additional scents – A refreshing citrus scent would be ideal for me.

I used my Rocky Mountain Soap Co. Sunscreen and Lip Balm during the six hours that I was on the Athabasca Glacier Icewalk and shared the sunscreen with several of my fellow participants.  None of us got burnt that day. On a side note, I would highly recommend taking an Icewalk Tour, and they will take children eight years and older, quoting Peter, the owner, “take the tour soon, before the ice all melts.”

No leftover white streaks on my face from the sunscreen – the white hair is another story.

rocky mountain sunscreen
This sunscreen goes on white but doesn’t stay white once you rub it in, better yet, it isn’t sticky. I love it!
icefalls on the glacier in banff
Near the Icefalls on the glacier, access to this point is only with one of the IceWalk certified guides.

I used Rocky Mountain’s Sunscreen and their SPF 15 Vanilla Coconut Lip Butter on this trip, and they both worked wonderfully and smelled great.  DYK – the snow reflects close to 80% of solar radiation.  Also, the sun is more dangerous in the mountains. For every 1,000 meters of elevation gain, the sun increases by 15-20%. (The Columbia Icefield is 3,000m.)Sunscreen isn’t just for the summer; I also wear it on my face all year long.

I am currently trying the Rocky Mountain Hydrating Outdoor Butter, which I apply after a day in the sun – I can’t get my teenage boys to use it, but I’m sure you moms with little ones will figure out a creative way to get it on your children.

Best of all, Rocky Mountain Sunscreen is Reef Friendly!

rocky mountain sunscreen
Thank you Rocky Mountain Soap Co. for the free products. We love them!

2. Wide Brims Are In

Keep your face safe and protected on your hike with an adequate hat. A wide-brimmed hat is a must for all family members.

Make sure the brim of the hat is broad enough to shade the face, ears, head and back of the neck.

My boys loved their Columbia hats because they could tighten them at the back, as they didn’t like a chin strap.  I liked that the peak provided more than enough sun protection for their face, and the long flap at the back covered the back of their neck and ears.  Also, the adjustable toggle allowed their little heads to grow into the hat, and that saved us some money.

vermillion lakes banff national park
“Stern Mom” wearing her Tilley hat, Vermillion Lakes, Banff National Park
sunshine meadows banff national park

Golden Mantled Squirrel looking for a handout. Sunshine Meadows, Banff

When they got older, they opted to wear baseball hats, so we “lathered” sunscreen on all of their exposed skin.  It is important to reapply sunscreen regularly when spending extended periods of time outside or after a swim.

waterton lakes national park
Bears Hump, 2012,  Waterton Lakes National Park

3. Cover Up – Even In The Sun!

When my first son was born 17 years ago, my good friend from Australia sent him a toddler sun shirt with a note that read “not just for the beach.” This shirt was one of the first UPF (UltraViolet Protection Factor) pieces of clothing that I had seen. Dianne’s note continued with, “my kids can only go out at recess if they have a hat, sunglasses and a long sleeve shirt to wear, else they need to do indoor recess activities.” Well, my son wasn’t yet ready for school, and in all honesty, my first thought was, “the sun in Canada isn’t as strong as the sun in Australia,” but being a new mom, I did my research and realized that times had changed and that gift got a lot of use.

mec outerwear
MEC photo.

There are many UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) clothes on the market, and dermatologists recommend a UPF label of 50. My youngest son wasn’t always a fan of sunscreen, so he would cover up using one of my UPF shirts and his MEC pants. Yes, those are crocs…don’t judge; this is our negotiator. He managed to get us to agree that he could wear the crocs to the first bridge. ( I have learned to pick my battles with this one)

heart creek trail kananaskis
Heart Creek Trail, Kananaskis. 2008, five years before the 2013 flood.

I have several Columbia, Mountain Hardware and Arcteryx UPF shirts that I regularly wear in the summer.  I love them, and to date, they have not shown any signs of wear from the straps on my backpack.

columbia upf shirt
from the Columbia website

We went to Australia in 2011, and I was very impressed with all of the extra effort put into keeping people sun-safe in Australia, which is understandable, considering the frightening statistic that two in three Australians will be diagnosed with skin cancer by the time they are 70. (Cancer Council Australia)

kakadu national park australia
Sun Shelter at our campground, near Kakadu National Park, Australia

While boogie boarding at Bondi Beach, a very well-meaning gentleman approached me and strongly suggested that my boys put on their hats and sunglasses.  I explained that these items kept falling off every time one of my sons was flipped over by the “gnarly waves.” He made me promise that I would have the boys put on their hats and sunglasses when they finished. I think he watched from afar to make sure that I kept my promise.

Wearing a hat, sunglasses, sun shirt, and sunscreen is advisable for all watersports, not just boogie boarding.

bondi beach australia
Boogie Boarding, Bondi Beach, Australia

If you don’t want to wear long sleeves, make sure you apply sunscreen or have your brother cover you up with sand to avoid getting a burn.  Always reapply sunscreen after swimming and towelling off. 

trinity beach australia
Trinity Beach, Australia

It was easier to get them to wear these full-bodied bathing suits when they were younger.

When hiking in the Rockies and in the sun, wear your long-sleeved shirts to protect yourself from the sun. At higher altitudes you may not realize the power of the sun’s rays through the cold. Trust me! Layer yourself accordingly for hiking.

bala ontario snorkeling
At the family cottage, Bala, Ontario.

4. Protect Your Eyes

Wear wraparound sunglasses all year long!

Growing up, I spent summers on the water in Muskoka: paddling, swimming, sailing, and I rarely wore sunglasses. I didn’t make that mistake with my boys; I had them wearing sunglasses as soon as I could find a pair that fit them.

Our ophthalmologist advised that “When choosing sunglasses, buy a pair with a label saying it blocks 99 to 100 percent of both UVA and UVB rays. They don’t need to be expensive, but they should be close-fitting wraparound sunglasses.”

sun safety when hiking

Getting my boys to wear sunscreen, hats, and sunglasses was less challenging when they were younger and easier to bribe (oops, did I say that), and as you can see from the pictures, sometimes they wore a baseball hat, with just a broad peak, or they didn’t always want to wear their sunglasses. However, I must have set a good example (my youngest says nagged) because as teenagers, more often than not, they do wear their hats, sunglasses, UPF shirts and apply their sunscreen (one son more so than the other, yup, the one wearing the crocs in an earlier picture).

sun safety when hiking in banff
Castle Mountain Lookout, Banff National Park , 2016

Whether you’re hiking in the sun or the snow, wear your wraparound sunglasses! It’s important to protect your eyes and their health out in the mountains.

A Special Precaution About Infants and Sun

Sunscreen is only recommended for babies six months or older, and then I would use a natural, chemical-free sunscreen, like Rocky Mountain Soap Co. Sunscreen., they also have a great collection of Infants and Kids products as well. My youngest was a May baby, so I did my best to keep him out of the direct sun, used a sun cover on the stroller and tried my best to do outdoor activities early morning or late evening, but it was challenging as my oldest was almost two, loved being outside and was a very active toddler.

sun safety when hiking
sun safety when hiking

Make sure your stroller offers protection from the sun. Our Chariot also provided a lot of sun protection.

Enjoy your summer, and be sure to practice these sun safety tips when you’re hiking.

Pick Up A Copy Of Take A Hike With Your Children

My sold out book, Take A Hike With Your Children, is now available on Amazon as an eBook. Pick up your copy today, and begin exploring the Rockies!

Copyright Three Mountain Family Hikes®

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