Heat – Dealing with July and August

Your body

The human body is capable of withstanding a great deal of heat – but if you’re going to survive this heat undamaged, you’ll need help.

First, you’ll need protection from the sun. Your skin, lips, and eyes will need direct protection from the sun, and particularly from the UV A, B, and C radiation, or else you will get sunburned.

Second, you will need protection from the actual air temperature. Since this is not possible in the marching band setting, you’ll need to create yourself some shade, and introduce some kind of skin contact with cool surfaces.

Third, you’ll need to hydrate, regularly. Sitting in the shade, doing nothing, at 100 degrees F, you will sweat out about 1 quart of water per hour. When your body’s water content drops just a few percent, you will start to show symptoms of heat stroke, a potentially dangerous condition. Some of the symptoms are:

WebMD recommends the following procedures:

“If you suspect that someone has a heat stroke, immediately call 911 or transport the person to a hospital. Any delay seeking medical help can be fatal.

While waiting for the paramedics to arrive, initiate first aid. Move the person to an air-conditioned environment — or at least a cool, shady area — and remove any unnecessary clothing.

If possible, take the person’s core body temperature and initiate first aid to cool it to 101 to 102 degrees Fahrenheit. (If no thermometers are available, don’t hesitate to initiate first aid.)

Try these cooling strategies:

  • Fan air over the patient while wetting his or her skin with water from a sponge or garden hose.
  • Apply ice packs to the patient’s armpits, groin, neck, and back. Because these areas are rich with blood vessels close to the skin, cooling them may reduce body temperature.
  • Immerse the patient in a shower or tub of cool water.
  • If the person is young and healthy and suffered heat stroke while exercising vigorously — what’s known as exertional heat stroke — you can use an ice bath to help cool the body.”

– thanks, WebMD!

Suiting up for performances can be made more comfortable with a coating of baby powder for large surfaces of the body (back, arms, legs), which will also help with sliding material over sweaty skin.

Be sure to break in your uniform shoes BEFORE the first performance, or you might end up with painful blisters on your feet.

Once the human body is well-protected,  the next step in surviving hot temperatures is to protect your instrument.


Your equipment

Woodwind instruments are sensitive to extreme temperatures as well, so think about ways to keep them operational.

In situations where the instrument must be left on the ground for a time, turn them carefully so that the pads and pad cups are in their own shade. For instance, leave flutes and piccolos grounded so that the pads are touching the grass – this keeps the hot sun from melting the glue that holds the pads in.

Saxes, clarinets (soprano and bass) need that same treatment  – pads down, so that the body of the instrument shades as many pads as possible.

Wooden instruments (some piccolos, clarinets, bass clarinets, oboes, bassoons {oboes, bassoons, in marching band? really?} ) first of all should not be outside, but if they must be marched with, take extra care not to subject them to sudden changes in temperature or humidity, or else the wood may crack, requiring repair or replacement of the joint or maybe the entire instrument.

As a wind instrument technician for 35 years, I’d rather they not be on the ground at all, but we do what we must – the show must go on!

Brass instruments (mouthpieces!), cymbals, metal flag poles, sabers, drum carriers, and metal parts on props are all going to be very hot if they’re left in the summer sun for any time at all, be very careful with them if they can’t be in the shade.





Solutions for your body


Get – and wear –  a hat. It will produce some shade for your head – because there’s a lot of blood flow around your skull, and the skin there is quite thin.  Covering your head blocks the sun and helps keep you cooler. Some kind of bill or brim will help keep the sun out of your eyes. Avoiding direct sun in this way will help you avoid skin cancer later.

Even more cool will be some kind of covering for the back of your neck, either an extension off the hat (ala the French Foreign Legion model) or maybe a bandana.

For style tips, ask your sax players, they are naturally drawn to cool hats!

Sunglasses will protect your eyes from harmful UV radiation – your older self will look back and thank you someday. Trust me on this.

Lip balm, especially the kind with a SPF of at least 15.  Wind players, be careful of using balm that has oil of camphor, or menthol, or phenol  in it.  For waterskiing and such, this stuff is great because those ingredients are mild pain-killers, but that same lack of sensation will likely lead to bad playing on your part.  Read the contents on the tube and  act accordingly. I checked out this link for recommendations, you can read all about it there, and I came to the same conclusions as them, and here’s the link to winning product:

During those long rehearsal segments in the heat, especially during band camp, it will be of great help if you have something like this:

Of the several varieties of cold wraps available, this one from Ergodyne is the easiest to use, just run under cool water for 1 minute, and it’s ready to use, cool for about 4 hours. Many others require freezing, or being in cold water for 30 minutes. This one you can recharge from a drinking fountain, or in a pinch, from your own water jug (take a big drink from your jug first!).

Your water jug is your friend. Keep it friendly by filling with as cold a water as you can get, ice would be better. It must be insulated, it must have a handle, and it would be cool it all your section mates had ones that match! Here’s some choices:




Solutions for your equipment

Shade is really the best thing for trying to keep your gear in usable shape during long exposures to the sun. When it’s impossible to get in into the shade, you’ll have to improvise and make your own shade.  Perhaps there’s an old pillowcase or bed sheet at home (light colored) that can be donated to the cause. Cut it up to cover your gear, and because it’s thin and has very little bulk, it will fit in your pocket, or your case (don’t lay it in there in such a way that it puts pressure on the instrument), so it will be available when you need it.

Marching band can be pretty rough on instruments, so now would be a very good time to brush up on your regular maintenance skills. One of the best ways to do this is to invest in a care kit for your instrument. Most of these will have some basic instructions on how to use the stuff in the kit to maintain your horn. They’re fairly inexpensive, and well worth it if you can use them to avoid expensive repairs. Here’s links to kits for some of the more common instruments:

flute/piccolo         plastic clarinet

wood clarinet       alto, tenor sax

oboe     bassoon   trumpet

French horn   trombone

baritone horn/tuba drums


End of page, dealing with heat. There are yet a couple of pages you might be interested in, one for rain, and another for cold.


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10 Replies to “Heat – Dealing with July and August”

  1. Marching bands were my thing in middle school and high school so I know where you are coming from. The heat is a serious thing to be concerned about. As an adult, I work in the sun on a constant basis, so even though I’m not marching, I have found your advice to be very helpful, thank you.

    1. Hi, Nathan, and thanks for stopping by! The experience gained from my many years as both a marcher and a teacher lead me to present these ideas. Preparation is truly the key to avoiding trouble!

  2. During summer, we have to deal with sun strokes, all kinds of stuff. Last week, I spent a lot of time in the heat. Obviously I had migraine and couldn’t see anything as everything looks blurred. I had to wait outside for 2 hours during afternoon. I felt dehydrated and wished I had a bottle of water with me.

    I liked those water jugs and might come in handy next time. Since Amazon has NFL tailgate keg, and being a Packers fan, I’ll definitely buy one. Thanks for the article 🙂

    1. Hi, Sethu, and thanks for your interest! As you point out, heat exposure can be dangerous, so glad you got out of it in time to avoid damage. We can’t always be prepared for everything, but it surely helps to  know some ideas, just in case. Thanks for the good words!

  3. Oh man, i loved marching band in high school but I remember those awful summer practices. I played flute and french horn so i dealt with melting pads and hot mouthpieces. I didn’t know to put the pads to the ground. Now it seems like a simple concept but I remember in high school needing to get a few pads replaced. oops! Those water bottles look clutch and useful for more than just band. I may need to invest in one!

    1. Hi, Stephanie! So glad you stopped by! Those of us who were ‘band nerds’ had very diverse kinds of fun, and the weather changes through a marching band season were the reason for these posts. I tried not to be the kind of instrument technician that thought my customers were ignorant; after all , it’s the customers who were paying my bills! Best wishes for you!

  4. Hey Barry:

    I enjoyed your post about surviving the heat. I’ve noticed that as I’ve grown older, I am more prone to being affected adversely by heat. This has been a bit of a disappointment for sun-loving me, but it’s become an unfortunate fact of life. (Sigh!)

    Sun-protection, finding shade and coolness and re-hydrating your body are all great ways to help with that…even if you are not marching around with band instruments in the sun.

    Thanks, too, for the tips about helping someone with heat-stroke. Good to know!

    1. Hi, Netta, and thanks for your comments! I, too, am on the aging train and noticing my environment affecting me more than it used to. The ways to help with heat presented here are a result of many years of experience. Thanks for your good words!

  5. Hi Barry!

    Everyone needs a big bottle of water to keep the body hydrate. And thats a nice suggestion you have. I always find it difficult to find a bottle that not too heavy (even before fill it with water) and since i live in a country where the heat is seriously strong in the daytime, its great to find your articles! Thanks Barry!

    1. Hi, Piscesian Lady, and thanks for stopping by!  Serious heat is always an issue, and can really affect your long-term health in addition to the short-term reactions. Thanks for your good words!

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