It’s summertime in Ansteorra again! That often means a triple-digit heat index during the day and into our evening fighter practice hours. Let’s talk about heat safety and combat!
Everyone must balance their body’s ability to cool itself with their heat exposure. Heat stress or injury results from not being able to maintain a safe core temperature. Fighters have a particularly higher risk of heat stress due to our armor requirements and activity levels. Heat stress affects both your mental judgement and physical ability to fight, besides being unpleasant and bad for your health.
We naturally lose heat through sweat evaporation from our skin. This evaporation takes heat from our skin and underlying blood vessels, thereby cooling our bodily fluids and core temperature. For this to work, it is vital that 1) moisture on the skin can evaporate, and 2) cooled-down blood can circulate throughout your body.
Sweating works best with dry, moving, air. You also have to maintain enough bodily fluids that you are able to sweat. Therefor, if you are dehydrated or in a still or humid environment where evaporation is not happening — you are at a higher risk of heat stress or injury!
Additionally, previous heat injury increases the chance of future heat injury. Other risk factors include medications or illnesses that affect your cardiovascular (heart and blood vessel) function. This can include medications such as for blood pressure or nasal congestion, and illnesses such as diabetes and respiratory infections.
If it is hot enough to sweat, it’s hot enough for heat stress.
Excessive heat, such as from the sun and exertion, combined with having a harder time cooling off can result in a heat injury — heat stress that prevents you from fighting.
So what can we do to best avoid heat stress or injury? Everything goes back to either enabling our natural cooling processes or mimicking them.
Take frequent breaks! This is the most important action that people need reminding of. The OSHA Heat phone application can provide guidance based on local weather. Breaks should be more frequent at higher temperatures, higher humidity, or higher activity level.
During your breaks: loosen or open your outer clothing; sip cold water; stretch; place cool wet rags on your head, neck, and arms; and keep an eye on other fighters.
Wear loose, breathable clothing. Yes, your leather jerkin does look extremely awesome, but it’s also stewing you during the summer. Same thing with most synthetic fabrics (that aren’t designed for wicking). Your sweat needs to be able to evaporate from your skin in order to work! If possible, have a summer or outdoor fighting kit that is not as restrictive as your usual garb.
Wet your wicking layers in dry environments. If your skin clothing layer is wicking (natural fibers or sport clothing), you can wet down areas with lots of surface bloodflow to cool off. Do NOT do this when humid! Doing so will only give you a makeshift wetsuit, which will insulate you. This is not what we want.
Acclimate. Spend several days or weeks gradually increasing the amount of activity you do in the heat, before going to a fighting event. This allows your body to change and work better in the heat. You can start with 10 minutes a day in the mid-afternoon and gradually increase to an hour or more. Try doing some short, simple, drills or going for a walk during lunch or an afternoon break.
Note: The benefits of acclimating start the decrease after a week away from heat activity, and are lost about a month.
Stay in the shade when not fighting. The sun is the biggest external source of heat for fighters that we can mitigate. Rest under a pavilion or wear a hat when not fighting.
Prehydrate and stay hydrated. Drink extra water the two days before a fighting event. Avoid caffeine and alcohol the day before. Expect to drink 8 fluid ounces of water every 20 minutes or so when fighting in the heat. If humid, slowly sip COLD water to cool yourself down. If it’s a dry heat, drink large amounts of cool water with electrolytes or watered-down sports drinks to replace your fluids. Plan for at least half a gallon of water for long melees or tournaments in the heat.
Drink before you are thirsty! You may need up to 2 extra gallons of water per day under heavy sweating conditions!
Eat enough before and replenish during long fighting. Have a good meal several hours or the night before fighting. Snacking during fighting is most important if you are active for over two hours. Good fighting snacks will provide you with calories (energy) and electrolytes (eg potassium, magnesium, calcium, sodium). Salted nuts, hard boiled eggs, fresh fruit, and pickles are all popular tournament snacks for a reason! Sports nutrition companies also make specific foods that are designed to be palatable and provide the necessary ingredients for mid-activity recovery.
Find something that you like and pack it with your fighting bag. If you can, find something that you can keep in your fighting bag all the time, like candy or energy bars that don’t melt.
Watch your buddies. Talk with your fellow fighters and see how they are feeling. Have they peed today? Are they staying extremely flushed? Moving slowly? Sounding funny? Any other signs of heat stress? Help them take a break in a cool, dry area and alert their companions.
Aftercare snack and drinks. After fighting, do all of your breaktime activities but moreso! Drink a goodly amount of water or sport drink at the end of a fighting event. Have a snack, ideally within 30 minutes. Stretch and loosen your boots and belts.
Bonus: Try weighing yourself before and after fighting to see how much you sweat out! Aim to drink 1.5 ounces for every ounce you lost.
It’s not just on fighters and lyst marshals to reduce heat injuries. Event stewards and the Marshal In Charge can make a big difference in injury risk by how they plan and execute their events! This also makes our events more accessible for fighters and their companions.
End fighting by hottest part of the day. 3 to 7 PM is the hottest part of the day in summer. If a tournament must continue through the afternoon, announce timed breaks between each round of fighting. This is a good time for water-bearers to get pushy! Be sure that fighters and other attendees are using the available cooling resources. People will probably complain about the added length of time. but we would rather annoy our friends than let them be injured.
Announce timed breaks in fighting activity. By announcing a timed break, people will be able to hydrate, cool off, have a snack, or rest in a cool area without the risk of arriving late to the next round.
Provide COLD water and sports drinks. Ice down your drink coolers! Keep extra ice bags nearby for refilling drink coolers as needed. Mixed powdered sports drinks at no more than half-strength. If you can’t dedicate a drink cooler to sports drinks, provide electrolyte tabs for individual use.
Set up water bearing in the shade. Having drink coolers in the shade not only keeps them cold longer (don’t waste your ice!), but provides an area for getting fighters out of the sun. Make sure there is always enough space to use for urgent treatment of heat-stressed fighters or attendees.
Prepare “dunk tank” coolers. Dedicate a cooler to be filled with water and ice, and set it up with water bearing. Include some washcloths or other rags in the water. Tell the lyst stewards and marshals where it is and what it’s for. When someone is showing signs of heat stress (or at each timed break if conditions are dangerous), have them submerge their arms up to their armpits into the cold water for 15 seconds.
Prepare an A/C area for recovery. Expect that someone will get heat stress and plan for it. This area can be a building, an RV, or even a car. Pick a location that is easy to reach (eg, nearby, downhill, no stairs) and can comfortably fit at least two people — a heat stressed person and a caretaker.
Signs of Heat Stress/Injury
Overall, if you are feeling tired, rest! If anything feels wrong, address it! The difference between heat stress and heat injury or heat injury and hospitalization can be timely treatment.
Heat exhaustion shares many signs with basic dehydration, but also may include:
Pale, clammy skin
Heavy sweating — keep the local humidity or dryness in mind
Light-headed or dizziness
Decreased urine output
Fast, shallow breathing
These symptoms indicate a serious medical event! CALL EMS IF THERE IS A CONCERN OF HEAT STROKE.
Heat stroke has two main versions:
Classic: central nervous system changes (confusion, etc), sweating stops
Exertional: physically active but continue sweating; muscle starts breaking down and may result in rhabdomyolysis (a serious condition affecting the kidneys).
Hot, red skin OR excessive sweating
Abnormal speech or behavior
Loss of coordination
Addressing Heat Injury
For serious medical events, always start by calling for emergency medical services. Address the person and/or their companions, and tell them what you are going to do and why. Then proceed with first aid:
Stop fighting. Call it for the day for that person. A tournament is not worth anyone’s health! They should avoid other strenuous activity for the rest of the day.
Move to a cooler and dryer area. If A/C is available, use it. Otherwise, move the person to shade — the cooler, the better.
Remove restrictive or tight clothing and accessories. Take off their boots. Unbutton and remove their doublet or other outer clothing layer. Loosen their belt or any other clothing ties.
Use the Dunk Tank. Be careful if they are nauseous. Keep their head above their heart. Have them submerge their arms for 15 seconds, up to their armpits, in a cooler filled with ice water. Apply the cold water to their head and body.
Apply cold packs to areas of high surface bloodflow. Theses areas include the side of neck, armpits, and inner thighs/groin. You can use wet rags, but you must replace the rags once they are warm!
Other heat-related occurrences
Heat rash: Redness and pricking sensation, often at joints or areas of skin overlap. This can be from injured skin (sunburned, scabs) blocking sweat glands, tight clothing, or simply a personal propensity. Rash subsides once you leave the heat.
Heat cramps: Cramps, spasms, or pain in leg, arm, or abdomen muscles. Treat similar to heat exhaustion — rest, stop fighting for the day, and recover with fluids and snacks. Seek medical attention if cramps last an hour or more.
Fighters should take extra care when fighting in the heat. Enable or mimic your body’s cooling processes by staying fed, hydrated, out of the sun, and applying cool things to high-bloodflow areas. If you are thirsty, you are already dehydrated!
Event stewards and marshals should plan to enable fighters to care for themselves, and keep an eye out for fighters who may need assistance. If heat stress prevents someone from continuing to fight, file a report.
Remember: Toughing it out is NOT WORTH IT and can result in serious injury. Call 911 or other emergency medical care if heat stroke is suspected.
Stay safe, and we’ll see you on the lyst!
In Sweaty Service,
Honorable Lady Nadja, BG Rapier Marshal
Information adapted from:
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) report “Occupational Exposure to Heat and Hot Environments” (2016) and resources on heat stress.
“The Influence of Hydration on Intense Exercise in the Heat” (2015), Korey Stringer Institute, University of Connecticut.
And personal experience as an SCA fighter in Southern Ansteorra.