Mark Newman

Heat and Hiking and Ariel’s Checklist

This is an essay about life. Your life. My life. And my son’s legacy. I need you to help make his death from exertional heat stroke a legacy of life for others, a legacy perpetuated in part by Ariel’s Checklist, the world’s only comprehensive scientific document on the prevention of exertional heat stroke, in easy-to-read English and Hebrew, focusing on that danger during hiking. There is a short one page hiker’s version (in English and Hebrew) and a longer hike leader’s version (in English and Hebrew), all of which can be found at
The world in many places is getting hotter, especially in areas such as Israel’s Negev region and America’s Southwest but it is happening all over. With increasing heat, there is increasing danger of heat stroke, especially exertional heat stroke during activities that can push the body’s outer limits, if the proper precautions are not taken. Pre-season training for American football players is one example of potential danger. Hiking in the summer Judean desert is another. There are many others.
My 18 year old son and only child, Ariel Yitzchak a”h died due to exertional heat stroke while on an organized two-day hike with Mechinat Yeud, a gap year program (now out of business), in the Judean desert on September 10, 2014/Elul 15, 5774. According to the Jerusalem District Court, finalized on May 22, 2023, Joshua Ettinger and Yaakov Shapira were both found liable for Ariel Yitzchak’s wrongful death due to heat stroke. Their names are permanently on Israel’s public legal record and it is important to know that a set of wrong decisions by specific individuals can literally kill you and/or your child if you do not proactively ensure that heat-safety violations are precluded or significantly mitigated.
For the first five years after our son’s death, my wife and I went to Israel once a year to promote heat safety in Israel, using Ariel’s Checklist and its ten points, as our leverage. To our dismay, no one in Israel wanted to institutionalize heat-safety, with the common feeling being that there are too many rules already in Israel. I tried explaining to no avail that there are bureaucratic rules which often serve little purpose and there are rules that can make the difference between life and death.  Our words fell on deaf ears. Between 2015 and 2018, we spoke extensively face to face in Israel with the Director General of the Ministry of Tourism (which sets the criteria and training for the licensing of tour guides), with the head of safety and security of the Ministry of Education, with the head of safety and security of Taglit/Birthright Israel, with the head of Masa, etc. Not a one was willing to incorporate Ariel’s Checklist as a mandatory protocol, failing which the violator would be held accountable. None of them.
I am raising this point so you understand you are mainly on your own to ensure your own safety when hiking in environments of elevated temperatures. We failed in our quest to institutionalize improved heat-safety protocols in Israel. For sure, everyone in the business is aware that you must “wear a hat” and “bring lots of water” and “drink water” throughout the hike. That’s all well and good but entirely insufficient to protect people in particularly challenging conditions. As you read Ariel’s Checklist (and the summary below), you’ll understand very quickly what I mean. The hike leader’s version is the one you should read. Read it slowly.
I’ve been asked many times over the years how the creation of Ariel’s Checklist came to be. I would like to say that my only child’s death inspired me to great spiritual heights and, in an epiphany, I realized how to transform, so to speak, his death into life for others through a heat-safety checklist. Unfortunately, that inspiring story would be anything but the truth. I work for the US Federal government and have worked for decades in law enforcement, with extensive training in how to conduct an investigation. After some cursory investigatory work, I realized very quickly that my son’s death was negligent homicide. I gathered more and more data and then made a list of ten clear points for a criminal negligent homicide prosecution. In other words, I wrote a prosecutorial blueprint for Israel’s prosecutors. One day, a friend asked how I was doing and I talked about what I was going to present to the police on my next trip to Israel. She feigned fascination with my project but then suggested I expand the utility of my work. She was a medical doctor and explained that checklists have been known to prevent problems in hospitals and perhaps I could make my ten points for the Israeli prosecution into Ariel’s Checklist (she coined the phrase). Unfortunately, we found out the hard way that Israel’s legal system is not willing to prosecute a negligent homicide case if the victim is a non-Israeli but my doctor friend’s suggestion indeed gave me increased motivation to expand the purpose of my investigation and research from my original intent.
No matter how authoritative my research and writing could be I knew that if only my name is on the document, no one would take it very seriously. After all, who in a position of authority would change safety protocols just because a grieving parent says so? I therefore engaged the help of Professor Yoram Epstein, Israel’s leading scientist at the time on exertional heat stroke. He co-wrote the IDF’s heat safety protocols. I engaged also Dr. Robert Huggins who works with Professor Douglas Casa of the Korey Stringer Institute (KSI) at the University of Connecticut. Professor Casa, America’s leading scientist on exertional heat stroke at the time, and Dr. Huggins, another scientific expert on the subject, were critical in making Ariel’s Checklist credible. I worked with these three giants in the field for around fourteen months before it was perfected in the way I had envisioned, my wife working assiduously by my side helping with editing and with the graphics.
I have had other scientists from around the world request permission to use material from Ariel’s Checklist in their research publications they would like to disseminate, and other writings that relate to the topic of exertional heat stroke, e.g., an Outside magazine article by Peter Stark titled, “How to Prevent and Treat Heat Stroke,” have a link to the Ariel’s Checklist website. We have heard numerous individual stories of people whose lives were definitely saved or potentially saved because they absorbed the material in Ariel’s Checklist and refused to go along with dangerous hikes or other dangerous activities in extreme heat.
Most people do not know the “secrets” of Ariel’s Checklist. Some think they know the important elements of heat-safety, but sadly it’s usually only a superficial understanding. Let me give you a quick summary; I hope it is of the kind that motivates you to become an expert on Ariel’s Checklist so that you can extend the critical protection needed today where heat is most definitely an issue.
1—Acclimate, acclimate, acclimate to the heat. It takes fourteen days for the typical person to acclimate to the heat if he is not already so acclimated. Fourteen days. That doesn’t mean you go to Israel, the American Southwest, or anywhere hot and spend most of your time in air-conditioned buildings, thinking those days count. They don’t. Fourteen days in the hotter climate is what your body needs to acclimate. Ariel Yitzchak got off the airplane on September 3rd and went on the two-day hike beginning September 9th. Birthright/Taglit Israel’s programs are all ten days in their entirety, including their summer desert hiking program. Ten days is not fourteen days.
2—Ensure the hike is appropriate to the skill and level of the hikers. If you’re a novice and have a low fitness level don’t go or make others go on a demanding hike.  Extra care and planning is mandatory for multiple-day hikes. Hiking on rough terrain is considered an intense physical activity.
3—Ensure hydration. This cannot be emphasized enough. Ensure you are hydrated before, during, and after each hike. Bringing enough liquid is NOT enough. The person responsible for safety must SEE how much the hiker has drunk. Electrolytes from salty snacks and fruits/vegetables or other means is essential. In the dry, arid desert, a good rule of thumb is to drink 1⁄2 of one quart/liter to one quart/liter of liquid per hour to avoid severe dehydration. The hike leader’s version has the details you need to read. Going to the hospital for intravenous fluids is an indication of inadequate planning or supervision that must be avoided. Understand that if the water gets too hot, the hiker won’t drink it. Have insulated water containers and/or bring a lot of ice, depending on the circumstances. We have heard stories of women, concerned with modesty, that didn’t want to go to the bathroom out in the open during a summer desert hike. Thus, they didn’t drink any water so they wouldn’t need to go to the bathroom outdoors and appear immodest. Instead, they went to the hospital for dehydration.
4—Wear loose-fitting, absorbent or moisture-wicking clothing. Hikers MUST wear clothing made of a fabric that “breathes.” Ariel Yitzchak was the only participant on his hike that wore long black nylon pants, the kind that doesn’t breathe. Joshua Ettinger, the hike leader, was interested only in whether Ariel Yitzchak was wearing a hat. Because of that lack of responsibility, the nylon pants trapped half my son’s body heat and contributed mightily to his exertional heat stroke.
5—Ensure adequate sleep. This is a critical point! Sleep loss has been shown to impair the body’s ability to regulate body temperature adequately. Failure to be aware of this factor can be hazardous. The night between September 9th and September 10th, few people on Ariel Yitzchak’s hike got more than 3-4 hours sleep due to the excitement and due to a lot of buzzing insects.
6—Make sure the Wet Bulb Globe Temperature (WBGT) Index is below 89 degrees Fahrenheit (31.7 degrees Celsius). Read Ariel’s Checklist for more details. This is not something to be taken lightly as it can easily mean the difference between life and death. Chart A in Ariel’s Checklist, the hike leader’s version, is what you need to understand intimately.
7—Ensure adequate work/rest cycles. This is a key factor against overheating. The more rest, the better/safer the experience is for everyone. Again, read Ariel’s Checklist to understand what this really means. It’s not as simple as you might think. Chart B in Ariel’s Checklist, the hike leader’s version, is what you need to understand intimately.
8—Avoid hiking in the desert at the hottest part of the day or, at a minimum, greatly extend the length and frequency of the rest periods.
9—Bring a variety of resources to help anyone suffering from the heat. There should be at least one person who is trained in medical assistance, particularly in the treatment and care of heat-related illness. Bring a portable tent or bed sheet to create shelter from the sun when there isn’t any other shelter.
10–Emphasize repeatedly to everyone before and during the hike that it is perfectly fine, and actually mandatory, to speak out at any time if they are not feeling well. Men in particular like to “prove” themselves and can either force themselves past what is healthy for them or can be easily bullied by a macho hike leader who is not interested in hearing from anyone any sign of weakness. This is a particularly pernicious situation and the hiker must have sufficient self-esteem and confidence to speak out, forcefully if necessary, that hiking in the current heat environment is no longer safe for him and he needs an immediate change to safety.
When a hiker collapses from exertional heat stroke, chas v’chalilah, this indicates his body is already in acute distress. To prevent organ failure, his body temperature needs to be lowered to under 104 degrees Fahrenheit/40 degrees Celsius within thirty minutes. Evidence indicates a high probability of survival and complete recovery if this is done immediately.
The violation of any one or two of the above ten points will not automatically place you in imminent danger of exertional heat stroke but it depends on the extent of the violation and how many violations are present.  It should not surprise you to learn that every single one of the ten points on Ariel Yitzchak’s hike was violated. Badly.
Heat-safety while hiking should not be a secret but for the most part for most people, it is. Do not delude yourself into thinking everything is fine as long as you have a hat and water as so many believe. There is no institutionalization of heat-safety (yet) in Israel but I daven all the time that it should be so. Until then, YOU are responsible for your own heat-safety and should talk to your hike leader to ensure he has a solid knowledge of the details of heat-safety and has prepared appropriately. Hiking is fun and it always will be but it must also be safe and it too often is not.
I have heard horror stories of organized hikes that resulted in disaster due to heat-illness. Please be that person who is knowledgeable on the details of Ariel’s Checklist and insist that its precepts are upheld at all times. My life, your life, and my son’s legacy are all dependent on it.
If you have any questions or comments and/or would like to renew a campaign to institutionalize Ariel’s Checklist in Israel and help eliminate the scourge of unnecessary heat-illness, especially exertional heat stroke, please reach out to me at
About the Author
Mark Newman is married to Ellen Newman and together were blessed with raising Ariel Yitzchak a”h for 18 years in Great Neck, NY to love Judaism and Israel. Mark has worked professionally for over three decades in the US Federal government as a civil law enforcement officer.
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