How to Stay Cool When Camping in the SummerPublished on 08/19/2023 · 14 min readBeat the summer heat on your camping trips with these expert tips. Stay cool, comfortable, and enjoy your outdoor adventure to the fullest no matter the temps!
Photo by Theera Disayarat
When most people think of camping, what comes to mind first is the long summer days, starry nights, and bright flowers in full summertime bloom. And while that’s all very accurate, there’s also something that doesn’t always come to mind when planning your summer camping trips: the heat. The heat can be a real buzzkill for some summer trips depending on where you like to camp. But luckily, it doesn’t have to be because, with a little planning, you can be well prepared to handle the heat so that it doesn’t impede your ability to get outside from June through September.
My name is Hunter, and ever since I was a little kid, I have loved camping, specifically in the summertime. Living in Utah for most of my life, we are lucky to get all four seasons. I love skiing in the winter and getting outside in the spring and fall. Still, summertime has always been my absolute favorite. I love the extra hours of daylight for exploring and that I don’t have to bundle up excessively before a hike. One of my favorite places to camp is the Southern Utah desert. While it’s incredibly beautiful, it can get up to 110s in the summer. Over the last several years, I’ve had to figure out how to deal with this summer heat without avoiding the desert completely in the summer. About five years ago, I rescued a border collie, which added to my need to find creative ways to keep cool on camping trips, not only for myself but so that I don’t put her in danger on camping trips.
In this article, I will review some of the key points to think about when gearing up for a summertime camping trip so that you can still get outside and take advantage of the season without putting yourself in dangerous or unpleasant heat-related situations.
Location, Location, Location
The first step in setting yourself up for success while camping in the summer heat starts before you even get in the car to drive to your camping destination. Camping at higher-elevation campgrounds is a better bet in the summer since higher elevations stay cooler throughout the day. If possible, try to find a camping area higher up in the mountains to stay a bit cooler. If there aren’t any mountains or higher-elevation campsites in the area you plan on going to, try to find a site near some form of water, such as a lake, river, or pond. (Bonus points if you can find somewhere with a higher elevation and near water!) Having a lake or river near your campsite will give you easy access to a nice cooling-off activity in the middle of the day when it’s the hottest.
When you arrive at your camping area, try to find a site that is at least partially shaded. If some shade is available, that will be a great place to set up your tent to keep it cooler. I know. More open areas are generally prettier, and you can get a better view of the sunset and sunrise. Still, the sun exposure in open campsites with no trees or rocks nearby can be pretty intense. Not only will it be hard for you to keep cool during the day, but your tent will also be out under direct sunlight, which will cause it to end up feeling like a sauna when it comes time to go to bed (not to mention more intense sun exposure will shorten your tent’s lifespan!).
A good campsite with shade, water, or at a higher elevation will set you up for success for the rest of your camping trip because even if you are out and about hiking or exploring and the temps get too high, you’ll have a home base that you can always return to and cool off a bit before temps become pleasant again in the evening.
Adjust Your Daily Routine
Take inventory of what you want to do on your camping trip, and try to plan on doing activities in the cooler parts of the day. Suppose you have an area that you are heading to for your next camping trip. In that case, there are likely some things you’re looking to do there specifically, whether that’s hiking, site seeing, biking, climbing, and so on. Adjust your day-to-day schedule to take advantage of the lower temps in the morning. For example:
- Find out what time you’ll be able to get into a national park or state park
- Plan camping breakfasts that can be quick and get you going faster in the mornings
- Calculate driving time from your campsite to the areas you want to explore and wake up at an appropriate time so that you’ll be able to get to your destination and have enough time to hike, bike, or climb before it gets too hot
Camping in the summer can lead to some early wake-up times. If you’re trying to get an early start, it’s best to plan this an early wake-up time and communicate that to the people you’re camping with for a smooth wake-up in the morning. I tend to wake up around 7:30/8 a.m. on a typical summer day at home; however, when I’m camping, I’ve woken up at the unreasonable hour of 3:30 a.m. several times to get a run or hike in with my dog before it gets too warm.
A trick that I’ve learned that seems to work well is to wake up early enough that you’ll be able to see the sunrise on whatever hike or at whatever area you’re planning on going. Suppose you can find some pictures of the sunrise at the specific location (on either Google or Instagram) where you plan on going and show those photos to your camping partners. In that case, it'll generally be easier to convince them to wake up at an unreasonable hour while still maintaining your friendship.
Come the middle of the day, you’ll all be a bit tired from the early wake-up and can either head back to camp for a quick nap or find some river or lake nearby and hang out there to read a book or relax. It’s the best of both worlds because you’ll have already gotten in some activity and views for the day, and come the afternoon heat, you’ll already be tired and can have some chill time. Then in the evening, you will likely get a second wind and be excited to do more sightseeing or hiking just in time for it to cool off again.
Choosing the Right Gear
Not all camping gear is made equally, and if you plan on camping in the summer, you’ll want to have a tent, clothing, and other gear specifically made for summer camping.
Your tent is not only your bed for the evening when camping, but it can also be a shady and cool place to escape the sun's heat in the summer. Make sure the tent you plan on using for summer camping trips has mesh windows, a mesh ceiling, and a removable rainfly that you can take off when sleeping if you need more cool air flowing through your tent.
Most summer-specific tents come with a UV-resistant coating on the fabric. This is helpful for the longevity of your tent, and it helps reflect some of the heat instead of absorbing it and making your tent feel like the inside of a greenhouse. A lighter-colored tent such as a grey, light green, or tan tent will also stay cooler inside compared to a black, navy, or darker-colored tent since the lighter colors will reflect more sun than the darker colors.
If you plan on hanging around camp in the middle of the day, or if you have a pup or kids with you, it would be worth looking for a tent with an extended rainfly. An extended rainfly offers some shelter outside the tent, still protected by a roof. This can be a great spot to put your chair or your dog's bed in during the day for some shade without needing to be fully inside your tent. If you’re not dead set on tent camping, sleeping in a hammock can be another great way to stay cool while sleeping because you get airflow under and over you.
The next consideration is your sleeping bag. It’s nice to have a warm, cozy sleeping bag for cold nights, especially in the spring or fall, but many warmer sleeping bags can be a bit too hot for summer camping nights. A lightweight bag such as a 50° bag or a down blanket is usually enough to keep you warm but not too hot at night.
Once you’ve figured out your sleeping bag, it’s time to move on to your sleeping pad. Sleeping pads are great for making your nights sleeping on the ground more comfortable and keeping you warm on chilly summer evenings. But when it comes to summer camping, you don’t want something that will keep you too warm!
Sleeping pads are rated on R-values. The R-value is a measurement of how well-insulated the pad is. A higher R-value, such as 4 or 5, will keep you very well-insulated and is a great option for winter or cold-weather camping. A 4 or 5 in the summer will probably leave you waking up a few times sweating throughout the night due to a lack of breathability. An R-value of 1 or 2 is ideal for summer camping.
The right clothing for camping in the summer is equally important as the right sleeping gear. Leave the cotton clothing at home and pack synthetic and moisture-wicking materials for your summer camping trip. Synthetic materials dry quickly, are lightweight, and typically have built-in odor resistance.
Whether you plan to wear your socks around camp or hiking boots for a long hike, make sure you get socks made out of a Merino wool synthetic blend or a full synthetic sock. Cotton socks will keep your feet sweaty and lead to blisters. My favorite socks are the Smartwool Hike Light ankle socks or the Smartwool Run Targeted cushion socks, but if you want to learn more about hiking socks, check out An Expert Guide to Hiking Socks!
Pants and Shorts
Bring some lightweight pants to keep the pesky bugs away while camping near water. I personally like the Patagonia Happy Hike Studio pants because they have an elastic cuff at the bottom to protect my ankles from bug bites, and they are baggy enough that mosquitos can’t bite me through my pants. They are super lightweight and dry really quickly if they get wet. The Prana Halle II joggers and Prana Stretch Zion pants for men are also great choices. These pants are made of synthetic materials, stretchy, comfortable enough to wear on a morning hike, and offer protection from ticks, mosquitos, or poison oak or ivy that you may encounter on the trails.
You should also pack some shorts for any hikes or sightseeing. My three favorites are the Prana Railay shorts, the Patagonia Baggies shorts, and the Patagonia Strider shorts. The Strider and Railay shorts have zippered pockets for your key, phone, or any valuables to stay secure. All three shorts are lightweight and breathable to keep you cool and are quick dry fabric, so they won't stay wet if you have a misstep in a river crossing or take a quick dunk to cool off.
Similar to shorts, looking for lightweight and quick dry materials is important. I generally like to wear tank tops or short sleeves during the day, but no matter how hot it will be, I always bring a long sleeve shirt for sun protection. I never go on a summer camping trip without my Patagonia Capilene Cool hoody. It is lightweight, has a light color (to stay cool), has a hood to protect my neck from the sun, and has built-in UV protection. Most brands have some variety of this product, but make sure it’s lightweight enough that it won’t be too hot to throw on during a sweaty trek up a peak.
I also typically bring a second lightweight, long sleeve shirt for protection from insects around camp. Bringing two long sleeves allows me to keep one for sun protection during the day and one less sweaty shirt for bug protection at night. (Remember to bring a breathable rain jacket, even if there is no rain in the weather forecast!)
Once you’ve sorted your clothing, it’s time to move on to shoes. For summertime hikes, look for a breathable, lightweight hiking shoe, or if you’re planning on doing shorter hikes that might involve some water crossings, even a pair of hiking sandals would be a good option. If you wear your leather GORE-TEX hiking boots during hot summer hikes, you’ll have sweaty feet and be more prone to blisters! I personally bring my Altra Lone Peaks for longer hikes since they are light, quick to dry, and breathable, and my Chaco Z/2s for shorter hikes. It’s also nice to change into comfy shoes when I return to camp, so I bring a pair of Teva Original sandals or Birkenstock Eva sandals (both are fully rubber and can easily be washed off if they get dirty!).
Food and Water
Lastly, ensure you are well prepared for your summertime camp trip with enough food and water. Bring at least two gallons per person daily, plus any water you’ll need for cooking or cleaning dishes. Even if you don’t feel like you need to drink two gallons of water daily, do it anyways. Two gallons is the recommended daily intake for adults; dehydration can happen quickly when it’s hot out and even more rapidly if you’re hiking or exerting energy. Always bring more water on hikes or outings than you expect to need, and if you are drinking coffee or alcohol, make sure to drink extra water, as these two things can dehydrate you.
I typically bring water in a secure jug like the NRS Scepter Water Container. I have used several types of water containers over my years of camping, and this is my favorite. Some cheaper options, such as the SOL Packable Water Cube, seem appealing because of the low price and the fact that they are collapsible. Still, I’ve had this break when I accidentally dropped it, and when it gets warm in the summer, the water always tastes like plastic. Not only is it harder to drink water that tastes like plastic, but if your jug breaks in the backcountry when you’re away from facilities, this could be a real safety issue. A sturdier, more reliable water jug is worth the investment because you will get years of use out of it and don’t have to worry about losing your water if your cheaper jug breaks. I always like to have a backup stash of purification tablets if I’m camping by water in case I run out of my own and need to purify water.
In terms of food, it’s important to ensure that you are eating enough, getting enough calories to have enough energy throughout the day for your adventures. If you’re car camping, bring along a cooler to have cold snacks and drinks in the heat of the day. Foods like watermelon, cucumbers, or salads are always refreshing, easy options to eat on a hot day. Bring some energy bars or snacks if you’re heading on a long hike or outing!
Want More Tips on Staying Cool? Chat With an Expert!
Summertime is one of the best times of the year to camp. The heat may be intimidating, but with a little planning, you can be well prepared to stay cool and enjoy the nice weather and long days of summer! If you’re still unsure what gear you need or want to talk things over before your camping trip, feel free to reach out to me or a Camping and Hiking Expert here on Curated. We are always more than happy to offer free, personalized advice to ensure you’re well-prepared to set yourself up for success on your next summer camping trip!