Can Women Take the (Israeli) Heat?

Can Women Take the (Israeli) Heat?

You’re at school or the office and a funny thing happens. A man gets up and turns the A/C on. Five minutes later a woman walks over and turns it off. This little pantomime routine will likely repeat a few times throughout the day. Although most of us are nodding in recognition, I was never willing to take it as fact that women run colder than men. Maybe it’s just people playing out stereotypes of weak women needing to borrow a sweater from their big, strong man? But now we have proof. Your wife’s feet really are freezing.

cold feet with socks and coffee

“I told you we needed an electric blanket!”

And Then, Science

A great article at io9 from a couple of years ago did a survey of the scientific evidence on the subject. It turns out, while women’s core temperatures are a tiny bit higher than men’s, the temperature of their extremities is colder and gets much colder much quicker in cold weather. There are also studies of sleeping bags that show women require more warmth than men to be comfortable under the same conditions. In other words, their subjective experience is of feeling colder, likely because their hands and feet are colder.

But these studies, or at least the popular write-ups about them, generally focus on women feeling cold faster than men. What about life in Israel where the summer heat is more punishing than the winter cold? While you may have felt you were suffering going up the snake path at Massada in July, I guarantee you that’s nothing compared to what IDF soldiers go through in training and on duty. In 2009-2010 a team of Israeli researchers did a study on female and male soldiers recovering from Exertional Heat Stroke (EHS). Though there isn’t enough data to know whether women or men are more prone to heat stroke under the same conditions, their study did tentatively show that women are more likely than men to remain heat intolerant 6-8 weeks after experiencing EHS. That is, more likely to have difficulty regulating their body temperature in the heat, including 67% of women and only 26% of men.

Recent graduates of IDF Command school. Flickr - Israel Defense Forces - Officer Course for Infantry Command" by Israel Defense Forces from Israel - Officer Course for Infantry Command. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Women about to take on the desert in an IDF commanders course
(Flickr  Israel Defense Forces  CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

Also, and more importantly for most of us, women take longer to start sweating than men. Then once they do start sweating they do so ‘less efficiently’ than men, that is to say, less. This may be a big advantage on date night, but not on an all day hike in the desert. It turns out this means a woman’s body temperature is going to rise a lot more than a man’s before she starts to cool off from the sweat evaporating off her skin. Thus it would seem women would be more prone to over-heating outdoors on a hot day, but I couldn’t find any studies that confirm this.

"Hey baby. Don't hate on my superior thermal regulation."

“Hey baby. Don’t hate on my superior thermal regulation.”

All these studies show that, on average, women are at a disadvantage regulating their body temperature in extreme heat or cold. Some of that is just a function of body size. A larger thermal mass heats or cools slower than a small one. Think about how long it takes a pot of boiling water to cool down, versus a cup of coffee. Since women tend to be smaller than men, it follows that women need more energy to maintain their body temperature. In cold weather, the female body has evolved a way to counter this disadvantage by moving heat to the core of the body faster and thus maintaining a healthy core temperature, though resulting in more subjective feeling of cold in the extremities. On the other hand, in hot weather, the difference in how long it takes women to sweat and their less efficient sweating may make them more likely to overheat.

What does all this mean? Well, for one thing, she really does need a sweater in the movie theater. For another, when visiting Israel everyone needs to be careful about good hot-weather hygiene. While it seems guys have the biological advantage in maintaining body temperature, I can tell you as a tour guide that who ends up with heat-stroke has a lot to do with how well you follow directions. My wife claims that women have the advantage on this point, and I’m inclined to grudgingly agree.

What to Do About it

Here are a few simple tips to keep cool and safe outdoors in the Israeli, summer heat:

1. Drink Water

Before 1967, all the armies in the Middle East (and the world) had their foot soldiers take as little water with them as they thought they would need. In the 1950s and 1960s the IDF did experiments showing that forcing soldiers to carry large amounts of water and drink heavily during a hike in hot weather increased their performance dramatically. This despite the extra weight. This ended up being one of Israel’s advantages in the 1967 Six Day War. On a hot day, one should try to drink 16 ounces (2 cups, half a liter) of water every hour that they’re outside.

drink water

Look how healthy and non heat-stroke-y these attractive people look while drinking water? Don’t you want to be as attractive and not collapsed on the ground from heat-stroke as they are? Three words: drink more water.

2. Cover Up

It seems counter intuitive, but the more skin you cover, especially with light weight, breathable fabric, the cooler you’ll be. So get a large brimmed hat that will protect your head from 360 degrees and invest in a set of lightweight hiking gear like this. If you can’t afford the fancy stuff, any lightweight cotton clothing will do. Synthetic fabric not specially made for the purpose tends to breathe less and thus trap the heat in more.

3. Rest in the Shade

This seems obvious, but really, look for shady spots to stop and rest. Don’t stand there in the sun heating up for no reason like a moron. Better to push yourself another few minutes and rest in a place where you can cool off than to stand in the sun getting hotter and hotter.

Go Forth and Be Cool

That’s it! Just do those three things and be aware of your body and how you’re feeling and you’ll be fine. No matter whether you’re a man, a woman, or a bonobo.


What? They're Cute. (Flickr Tambaco The Jaguar CC BY-ND 2.0)

What? They’re Cute.
(Flickr Tambaco The Jaguar CC BY-ND 2.0)

Of course, if you come to Israel with InSite Israel Tours, our expert guides will take good care of you and make sure to keep you safe. If you’re thinking of traveling to Israel please write to us at or fill out this form to be in touch.