in Camping / by Nick Jaynes
Author: Nick Jaynes
This post was updated June 28th, 2022
Lying in bed at night during the cold winter months, it’s soothing to think about warm summer nights next to the campfire.
The orange glow of the sun drops behind the tree line well past 9 p.m. in the summer. And as the sun disappears behind the pines, its warmth is replaced by the crackling campfire. Even in the 68-degree mountain air, the fire is a welcomed source of warmth: you’re still just wearing a t-shirt and shorts. Maybe a slight evening breeze kicks up and rustles past your Roofnest roof top tent, carrying smoke up into the night sky.
These are the mental images we tend to replay when we think about summer camping, as they’re the most delightful moments of any summertime trek. But while they’re an escape from the dreariness of winter, these memories do you a disservice: they skip over the sweltering heat of the day that comes with summer camping.
Camping in 90 degrees is no joke. It can drain your body of energy and hydration. And since we’re in peak summertime camping season right now, we put together some anecdotal tips (read: not expert) on how to stay cool while camping.
Because while summertime camping is the best, sunstroke is not.
DIY Air Conditioning
- Use a portable window AC unit. If you have access to power, this is a (cool) breeze to set up. Just plug it in; position it as you would in a window, with the fan blowing cool air inside your tent, and enclose the unit with the tent fly or doors so you have a decently snug fit to keep the cool air inside your tent.
- Solar Powered renovated cooler and fan. This is a little bit of work to set up, but if you’re thrifty and don’t mind a bit of elbow grease, it will save you hundreds on an AC unit. For details on building an inexpensive DIY AC unit from a cooler, read this.
- If you are camping in a RTT, and we hope you are, then you are probably more inclined to find a permanent, smart solution for staying cool in the sweltering summer months. Check out this impressively modified Roofnest roof top tent that features a Dometic Air conditioning unit mounted onto the shell, and built by Titan Truck.
Camp at Elevation
One way to beat the heat is to plan ahead of time to go high. For every 100 meters of altitude the temperature decreases by 1 degree Celsius, or for every 1000 feet of altitude, the temperature drops 3.5 degrees Fahrenheit. Simply planning your summer camping trips to mountainous regions will help keep you cooler than staying in the lowlands.
Camp by Water
While it might be obvious to many campers, we decided to lead with this no-brainer rather than skip it.
Camping by water is an easy way to stay cool. Be it a stream, river, pond, or lake, bodies of water offer an opportunity to take a dip and wick some of the sweat and heat off your body.
More than that, water increases airflow and creates a natural cooling effect. This is true of both moving and still water.
Through the motion of a stream or river, moving air cools the space around the water. Cooler air also settles in the lower-lying pockets of earth where ponds and rivers lie.
So not only does cool air descend into basins and canyons, but water also breeds vegetation. And trees and other leafy plants create shade — an integral respite from the heat of the sun.
Let me pause here and say I won’t necessarily recommend camping near the ocean. That’s because there’s no guarantee that it’ll be A.) accessible or B.) that cooling.
Where I live in the Pacific Northwest, beaches are chilly because they’re next to the frigid Pacific ocean. And it’s rare to find a spot where you can camp with a vehicle here.
What’s more, even if you can camp on or near the beach, with the tides and sneaker waves compounding the chances of losing a vehicle into the surf, I just don’t recommend it.
Of course, we must recommend that if you camp by water with animals or children (or heck, even certain adults), keep an eye on everyone and don’t swim without a life vest. Even gentle-looking alpine streams can have much stronger currents than you might expect.
It’s easy to get swept away in any body of moving water. So please use caution.
Canopies, awnings, and annexes are great ways to make shade no matter where you camp.
I honestly used to scoff at awnings. For years, I saw them as unnecessary camping accouterments. That is until I was on a camping trip one summer with a bunch of buddies who had awnings.
During lunch stops and dinner prep, my friends lounged in the shade of their awnings while I tried to hide underneath trees for shade (hard to do at 12 noon when the sun is right overhead). Without sufficient natural shade, I had to sit in my truck.
Alone in my truck, I missed many stories and laughs. From then on out, I was an awning convert.
Let’s not forget either that these contraptions do more than provide an escape from the sun’s sharp rays. They can be helpful in rainy and windy conditions, too. So they pay dividends as soon as you install them.
You can always buy a portable mister or a misting tent to stay cool in the summer months. A popular source for these kinds of cooling solutions is mistcooling.com.
You can spritz yourself with a handheld mister or spray bottle to stay cool while you relax around the campground — a much more affordable option than the portable misting tents.
When all else fails, park your car and sit in the A/C for a minute to cool down. Drink cold water or some other cool beverage while you lower your body temperature.
While this may seem like a bit of a “cop-out” for some hardcore campers, sometimes a long drive and setting up camp — compounded by the heat of the day — can be overwhelming. The simplest solution is to stop moving and find a cool place to collect yourself.
Crank the A/C on max, put on some music, lean back, take a deep breath and just relax a minute.
Stay Cool and Clean While Camping
There’s nothing like sweating it out on the bike or hiking trail during a summer camping trip. While sweat is part of the deal when it comes to summer camping, you can only go so many days before you start to crave a shower to clean off.
Plus, when it’s hot outside, there’s nothing like a refreshing shower to cool you down.
Here are some great camping shower options that you can hook up to your RTT rig or toss in your backpack and take on the go. Your travel-mates will thank you.
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