Camping in the heat: tips and tricks to stay cool

Camping in summer is a double-edged sword — on one hand, summer is the season to get outside, go exploring, enjoy the long hot days and the warm pleasant nights. On the other hand, waking up in a hot tent on a blistering day can put anyone off camping in summer. Here are a few tips for staying cool while camping. 

Camping in the heat: choosing the right spot

Whether you’re pitching a tent, sleeping in a campervan or have the full caravan set up — shade is going to be your best friend when camping this summer.

Your tent will be like a greenhouse, or even a sauna, if it’s in direct sunlight. Even if you do have air conditioning in your camper or caravan — you’re camping! Nobody wants to be cooped up inside when the purpose of camping is being outside in nature, while your neighbours might not appreciate you idling the van for an hour.

To keep your tent cool in summer, choose a spot that will be in the shade from midday onwards. In the morning, it doesn't matter so much and it is easier to keep a tent cool in the softer morning light. Come midday, however, and the heat is on. A strategic camping spot for the afternoon heat will help in staying cool while camping. 

If you do camp underneath a tree, be aware of the health of the tree. If it is an old or rotten tree, there is a greater chance of branches falling on your tent. Opt for a camping spot that reduces this risk, or at least be fully confident that any branches above are large branches that are unlikely to fall.

Consider the weather forecast

If it is a blistering hot day ahead but there is potential for some wind, adjust your tent so that the wind can stream through your windows to keep the tent cool. 

Set up next to a water source.

Another great tip is to camp near water if possible. Not only will the breeze coming off the water cool down your area, but a refreshing dip is just a few feet away! If you don’t score a waterside spot, take a cold shower from the camp amenities if possible, or even consider bringing an inflatable pool for yourself, the kids and even the dog to splash in.

Set up next to a water source.

How to keep a tent cool in summer

Windows. Your eyes are the window to your soul and your tent windows are the window to your sanity in summer. Use those windows as much as possible to survive camping in the heat. 

Materials. Place groundcover between the tent and the ground when you set up. This will help reduce how much heat carries through from the ground into your tent. 

One of the best ways to keep a tent cool in summer is to get rid of that rain fly, but what if it rains? Set up a tarp above the tent for two reasons: 

1. It will act as better shade than your fly, as any heat it conducts will not directly transfer to the interior of your tent, which a fly may do. 

2. It will protect your tent from any rain but allow any breeze to flow freely through your entire tent. 

Sleeping systems. Camping in the heat can put people off because of the potential for some seriously hot nights without the airconditioning. 

Make sure you choose a sleeping bag that is made for camping in the heat (i.e. the TComfort, Red rating for Kathmandu sleeping bags). 

While including a second sleeping mat when camping in winter can keep you warm, the same can be said for camping in the heat. The greater your separation from the ground, the easier it will be to stay cool. Consider raised sleeping beds to increase air ventilation. 

Tip: if you have a big esky full of ice that you have been using for drinks, bring it into the tent with you. It will make a real difference in keeping your tent cool at night, especially if a breeze picks up and pushes that cold air through the tent. 

Strip down

Packing hacks

Taking along a few key items could mean the difference between sweltering in misery and soaking up the warmth and sunlight of summer in comfort.

One of the most important things is to keep your food and water cold. Of course, you’ll need an esky for that but on a hot day, ice cubes will melt in a heartbeat. One excellent hack is before you leave, fill up empty juice or milk containers with water and then freeze them. They will stay frozen for longer in your esky and the melted ice will stay contained, meaning your food won’t get waterlogged.

Another idea is to pack a hammock and an insect net. On those hot nights where the thought of crawling into a confined space makes you literally sweat, sleeping outside in a hammock might just be the answer. Of course, sleeping outside does mean you’re more likely to become a mosquito’s snack, so this is where the net will come in handy.

Boy lying in hammock

Your choice of clothes when camping in the heat is just as important as your sleeping gear and tent. 

Contrary to seemingly common sense, shorts may not be your best friend when camping in summer. While they may keep you cool, if you're out on a hike during the day you are more likely to get scrapes, cuts and abrasions with itchy results that will plague you for the rest of your trip. Lightweight pants will protect your legs while remaining breathable in the heat. 

Rather than heavier materials in your clothes, opt for merino t-shirts. There are a number of benefits to wearing merino, but essentially it is a highly breathable material that helps to regulate your body temperature, keeping you cool when camping. 

Nailing the itinerary

Be smart with not only what you do on your camping trip but when you do it. For example, if you desperately want to climb to the top of a nearby mountain, wake up early to catch the sunrise or wait until later afternoon once the sun is low (don’t forget your headtorch for getting back down again!). Water-based activities are always good for keeping cool and exploring underground caves will likely be a few degrees cooler than being up above.

Take care of yourself and others

If you spend too long in the sun or don’t drink enough water, your body will get too hot and it will be difficult to get your temperature back down.

The best thing to do if someone gets heatstroke is to try to cool them down as quickly as possible by placing ice packs (or the frozen bottles previously mentioned) and wet towels on their head, neck, groin and armpits. Remove any warm clothes and fan the person. If their temperature doesn’t cool down, you should call emergency services.

The good thing is that heatstroke is preventable and wearing the right clothes can help. There are certain materials that are more breathable than others and of course, light colours will always be better in reflecting the heat.

Wide-brimmed hats should always be worn in the sun and sunscreen with an SPF of 50+ is a must. Pack dissolvable electrolytes and drink them whenever you’re feeling dehydrated. It may make all the difference.

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