As you think of the tent you take with you on a backpacking trip, you may consider it a portable home to keep you warm. But staying cool while camping just as important. You don’t want to catch cold, but overheating is just as good to avoid. In the heat of the day, you will probably want to get yourself some shade, and a tent is a perfect portable shade you can have. If you know how to keep a tent cool.
Traveling down South makes you take it more seriously. Here I’ll speak on the methods I have tried on making my tents, a whole lot of them, a refuge from both cold and heat. With these tricks, you can prepare yourself for living in a tent for the summer, or at least for some days. Keep your head cool, as well as the rest of your body, and don’t let the sun melt you! It can be a serious issue in your camping experience, so you better take measure to prevent it before you start off. So let’s learn how to keep your tent cool in the summer, what skills and tools you need for that, and how to apply them.
Best Way to Cool a Tent
While I’ve been traveling through cold, moderate, and hot areas, it was heat that caused me the most discomfort. It’s never been too cold that I couldn’t move; it was all the matter of determination. When you can’t breathe because of heat, no determination will rescue you at the moment. But if you’re well prepared, you will not suffer from that. So, admit that the tent itself is not the perfect protection and search for enhancements.
The best way to cool a tent is more than one way: it includes an entire collection of various tricks one has to master to avoid killing heat. It takes spilling water and using fans, selecting the right place, and taking time to take your tent down and up again, and many more. It’s easier with cold, and you just need a thick tent installed without leaks and a place for a campfire not far.
So here are the measures you can think about and take beforehand, not to be caught by intolerable heat by surprise. Now, here are detailed recommendations on how to make a tent cooler in the heat of summer.
Choose the Right Tent
Before you go to the battle, choose the right sort of tent! If you plan camping in some hot location, you better choose the right classic tent or freestanding backpacking tent. And these are the requirements it should meet:
- Lighter material. Polyester is considered the best. If you have ever tried polyester cooling sheets, you know the feeling. It’s even more important that it’s UV-resistant and will endure direct sunlight better. Nylon is also good, though, as it’s more breathable, letting the air circulate through it. As for cotton tents, they may be even better, but much heavier and harder to handle as well.
- Detachable upper layer (so called rain fly). I’ll tell you about the importance of this below.
- Rain flaps and mesh windows. They are good to have under most circumstances, but in the hea, they are the most important, as they let the air flow even better.
- Reflective surface. You can help it with extra reflective coverage, but if you can afford a special reflective tent, it’s even better. Its drawback, though, is its being well noticeable from afar; so if it gets you confused, think twice.
- The bigger, the better. If there is any extra space in the tent, it’s not excessive. It will foster the airflow inside the tent and make it all cooler after all.
If you have this option, you better opt for a double-wall tent. Its walls include the inner layer (the body) and the outer (the rainfly). The latter can be detached if necessary; I’ll write an entire section on it below. Also, a double-wall tent is way more versatile, so you can take it to a much wider range of places with various climates and biomes.
Set Up Your Tent in a Shaded Area
It’s one of the most obvious recommendations, but still it needs to be articulated. There is never too much shade in the heat of the summer! If you have found the area you want to spend your days out at, you better check if there is enough place to position your tents in shady places.
This will help you against the greenhouse effect, catching the hot air inside the tent. If it’s not warmed by direct sunlight, there will be less of it if any. In addition, you will not be exposed to sunrays when getting out of the tent. Some of us have a sort of allergic reaction to that, resulting in skin irritation or photic sneeze reflex; hope you don’t, but this sort of precaution won’t harm.
Remember, though, that shades are not static. As the sun moves, the shadows do too. So, a place that’s surrounded by shades is better than one under a big tree or even down a rock. As the shade moves away, you may be exposed to direct sunlight to either endure it or move constantly.
Another factor to consider is that the soil should be dry and flat. In shady places, there may be puddles and even swampy areas you better avoid. Rocky ground is easier to clear unless there are rocks too heavy to move. Make sure you have a decent sleeping pad or two (maybe this reminder is superfluous, but nevertheless).
Find an Area with Good Air Circulation
Oh, there is little to explain, but nevertheless. If you can’t feel even the slightest airflow around, it’s not the best place for setting up the tent. Vice versa, if the wind is noticeable, it will cool the tent in the night and maybe in the daytime. That’s how conditioning works: the air you warm (with fire, electric devices, or your own body) is brought away and replaced by colder air from around, which eventually warms up and gets away.
So, a cave or an isolated space between the hills where the winds don’t blow can be not the best place for staying cool in a tent. Avoid funnels and natural pits (though, as I explain in the next part, an artificial trench can be of some use). If the air you warm can’t easily flow, it can end up overheating you.
It doesn’t work alone, though, if it’s too hot around. Then the wind will just bring the air even hotter than that it blows away. Then you’ll need to combine it with other methods.
Other recommendations apply here as well. Position your tent on the flat dry ground, at some distance from trees and bushes (if there are any around), but let them protect you from dust and wind.
Dig a Tent Pit
One of the ways how to stay cool while camping in a tent includes digging a special tent pit. Yeah, that’s right: you need to dig some soil out to lower its level. There are several reasons for it. First, the lower you dig, the more stable the temperature gets – that’s how basements work. Second, the less you expose your tent to the sun, the less it gets warmed by it.
Of course, you don’t need to bring all of your zeal to it. Digging the pit about two feet deep will be enough. Make sure its size is about the size of your tent or a bit larger. Install the tent the way you usually do, but deep in the ground.
It makes sense to make it stationary in the place you frequent. Even if its borders get eroded in the spring, there’ll still be much less work to do the next summer. So, when packing your things, don’t forget the shovel.
Use a Reflective Sunshade
Have you ever touched a mirror under direct sunrays? Despite heat, its surface remains cold, as it reflects most of the radiation instead of absorbing it. This is how a reflective sunshade works. It may be not as spectacular as the famous space blankets, but it doesn’t have to be. You need just a reflective shade over your tent, that’s it. Some even use regular aluminum foil that is sold in special rolls for that.
Covering the tent with it after installation is quite a piece of work. In addition, this foil can’t be rolled back without being severely damaged, making it a single-use solution. You may opt for a specialized reflective tent that can easily be told by its glamorous outside. And let the sun kiss its shiny metal surface! But separate sunshades have an important advantage: if you hang them above the tent, at some distance, they will form an isolating layer under them that will make this sort of cooling even more efficient.
If you’re not sure about the weather to expect, or the temperature tends to change dramatically from night to day, a reflective tarp for tent can be of more purposes. For example, if you protect your campfire with it, it will save the heat, so precious in the cold of the night. Like the aforementioned space blankets, any reflective surfaces can keep the heat either in or out, depending on what side you turn it.
Check the Weather and Remove Your Rain Fly
The ways to stay cool while camping depend on the expected weather. That’s so basic that I only articulate it to highlight that not all of the methods I use require extra equipment. If the weather allows for that, it makes more sense to get rid of some.
A rain fly is the outer layer of the tent, meant to protect you from water. If there is no rain expected, you won’t need that waterproof layer above you. Instead, you’ll want a better airflow. So you can detach and hide it.
The tent body, the tent’s inner layer, is usually full of mesh fragments that provide better airflow. If there is no rain expected, you’ll be good with just this layer. It will protect you from the insects and provide an even deeper dark to let your eyes rest. At the same time, it will prevent the greenhouse effect in the day and in the night equally.
Bring Your Cooler of Ice into the Tent
When you calculate the overall weight you’re taking with you, dedicate three or four pounds to ice. Not only will it be of use if you need to cool your head with a wet towel. It will also foster the airflow in your tent.
As I have described above, the cold air around you absorbs the heat and rises above to be replaced by the air around; rinse, repeat. The ice cooler in your tent will impact the temperature in it, and thus the airflow that keeps the tent cooler inside.
The trouble is, your ice will also warm up during that process, so it may melt sooner than expected. So you can use it part by part. Hardly your camping plans include taking a portable refrigerator and its power source with you. So maybe you just should take more ice than you initially plan to. There will never be too much ice in summer camping.
Use a battery-operated fan to circulate the air
All the recommendations above told how to cool a tent without electricity. If you don’t want to leave the XXI century behind when going camping, there is another way: you can use a portable fan like you use a stationary one at home or in the office. A tent with AC is not a place to install and run a full-fledged AC, but a fan is fine too.
It’s not a problem to find a portable fan now. These small devices don’t consume much power, despite a lot of mechanical movement involved. Most of them are under $15, and it takes a regular power bank or a couple of batteries to put them in motion. If your power bank has a solar battery on its back, it makes your fan an almost inexhaustible resource.
There are also models with built-in rechargeable or utilizing AA or 18650 replaceable batteries. Both sorts are great, but neither is flawless. I’d recommend getting one with rechargeable 18650’s and take a couple more with you. If suddenly your solar power bank is broken or lost, these extra batteries will keep the device alive, making your camping way more enjoyable.
When selecting a fan for the hike, search for the most compact one that doesn’t require a super flat surface to stand on. Some of them look like a sort of transformers: they can be handheld or table-top, depending on how you turn the handle. This sort of fan can be useful inside the tent or outside as you’re walking. Just don’t expect magic: if the air around you is hot enough, forced circulation will not do any good.
Take Down the Tent During the Day If It’s Very Hot
It’s not the advice you need if you’re changing locations constantly, only stopping for the night. But if you’re staying in the same place for several days, you don’t have to think how to stay cool in a tent in the daytime, because the correct answer is stay outside the tent.
The greenhouse effect I’ve already mentioned may spoil your stay in. No, it won’t do any harm if during the daytime, you pitch your tent for an hour or two to get some shade that’s nowhere else to be found. But if you leave your tent pitched for all day long, the greenhouse effect will keep the warmed air in, heating up everything under the tent. No wonder there’ll be little pleasure to stay there for the night.
On the contrary, if the tent is pitched at sunset, the air inside will not be warmed by the sun, and thus will not transfer the heat around. If the primary mission of the tent is to keep you cool, that’s how it’s achieved. The night will do the work on keeping tent cool. Just don’t forget to take it down in the morning, no matter if you intend to go further or to stay for another night.
Get an Extra Towel or Two
It’s one of the most efficient measures to avoid heatstroke: a towel with cold water pit to one’s forehead or around the head. Not is it only efficient for humans: I had the same experience with rabbits to save them from overheating and dying, and this worked – my rabbits survived the heat.
In the night these towels pout around your sleeping pad (or under your body) will make it cooler. Don’t be afraid of vapor: in the night, it won’t cause much discomfort, especially if you leave your vents open (and you should).
You’ll need a source of cold water to soak these towels, of course. It’s great to find a location near a creek or a river, so there is always flowing water. It’s cold and relatively clean (though for drinking it will still require extra filtering). But it can be taken the way it is for soaking towels.
Remember: not all of these tips are of equal necessity, and one can go without some of them. For example, if your mobile fan suddenly dies, you don’t have to follow. Recompense it by opening your vents wider or taking showers more often.
Other Summer Camping Tips
Here are some more camping hacks to stay cool. Not necessarily concerning tents, they may help you in keeping cool (in all senses).
If it’s cooler outside than under the tent, try sleeping in a hammock. It doesn’t take much space, so give it the benefit of a doubt. You never know exactly the weather where you intend to stop.
Take a special towel to prevent heatstroke. You will need to soak it in cold water and put it to your (or someone else’s) head if any symptoms show.
If you aren’t sure you’ll run into any cold water in your way, you can take some ice in a thermal bag. Not the best advice if you’re a pound counting type. But if you’re setting off for a hot place, there will be nowhere to get it from.
Get yourself a solar power bank or two. There will be no problems with charging it if your destination is a sunny place (assuming it is). With it, you can always power your mobile fan, a cooler, or even a phone. That’s how sun will provide you with cool.
If there is a river or a lake nearby, use it for bathing. Its water may be not suitable for drinking, so taking a purifier with you is a wise step. If not, try to find creeks: water in them should be drinkable if there’s no other around, but you still better use a purifier. As for still water, avoid drinking it at any cost. But if in spite of that it looks and smells good and you want to pour some on your body – why not?
Drink as much as you can. As you’re sweating under the sun, you lose water in your body that evaporates and takes away the excessive heat. To recompense for that, you’ll need to drink much water – way more than you usually do, about 3-4 liters a day at least. Of course, it’s possible when you have enough clear water near.
Use the same effect for your tent. Try cooling tent by pouring some water on its surface. As it evaporates, it takes away the heat. It’s better to use clear water for this purpose, but it doesn’t have to be drinkable. The water from the nearby river will usually do. But if you’re thinking of using the same effect inside, you better don’t. The vapors will stay inside, and the consequences are easy to imagine.
Take your sleeping bag, just in case. But prepare that you may never find it useful in your camping time. It’ll be necessary only if it gets colder than you expected.
There are other ways I could miss or forget (or have never used). The comments section below is here for adding these. I’d be grateful if you do.
There are some questions the instruction above may provoke. Well, I collected some of them in this section. If you can’t find yours, again, you can ask it in the comments section below. Maybe I will later answer the most common of them and update this part when I do.
Does reflective sunshade work?
Yes, it does. It’s the most basic of physics: the more heat gets reflected, the less of it is absorbed. You have probably felt how cold a glass window feels despite the heat outside and inside in sunny weather. If you try the same with a mirror, you’ll get a similar picture. Reflecting works almost as efficiently as transparency.
What to wear camping in the summer?
It depends on the area. You’ll need some protection anyway, as there are always dangers, including insects, poisonous or spiny plants, and – it doesn’t have to be snakes, but why not. But what we care about the most is obviously the sun.
So don’t expose too much of your skin as if you’re on the beach. Your underwear and socks should be breathable, as well as your footwear. Don’t forget a visor or a lightweight hat. Whatever else you wear – a T-shirt, sweatshirt, sweatpants, and so on – it should be breathable and not tight.
What are the most important things for summer backpacking?
Besides those I have mentioned, there is always high calorie food and fresh water, carpets and fresh underwear (and ropes to dry that you wash), and if not your mobiles then walkie-talkies if you’re going somewhere with no coverage.
This question deserves a separate long read article I’m to write once.
When is the best time to pitch tent?
The best time to pitch tent is before you need one. In fact, there is no exact recommendation on the best time. But if you’re going through a really hot place, you should do it at least twice a day: before the midday with its maximum heat, and in the evening when it’s too dark to keep advancing, and it won’t be as hot inside.
In the daytime, the temperature inside the tent will be higher than in the night. Nevertheless, it may make sense if you follow other recommendations on reducing the heat inside. Another reason to pitch tents in the evening is that, as the night falls, it won’t be exposed when the sun moves (remember that?) and the shadows do too. If you have already found your location, you better keep your tents folded throughout the day, as I’ve described above.
I hope these summer camping tips turn out useful for you. If you have anything to add or to express your opinion, feel free to. Here’s a comment section below, just for that. Hope you have something to tell. Or you will after you spend some summer days and nights camping.
I especially would appreciate your stories based on experience. As for mentioning certain brands and models, I wouldn’t mind if it’s necessary in order to highlight some difference that matters. But the story itself is way more interesting.