How to Stay Cool While Camping

Don't let the heat get you down! Camping & Hiking expert Hannah K. shares everything you need to know for staying cool this summer.

Photo by Joshua Woroniecki

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I love hot weather. I love laying in the sun. I love a strong afternoon sun warming up my bones and muscles. I love summer camping: beautiful night skies, s’mores, swimming in the nearby river or creek, and of course—a strong sun and warm temperatures. If summer is your favorite season, like me, and you love to enjoy a nice sun-soaking afternoon but have a hard time sleeping when it is 90 degrees outside, this is the article for you. I also recommend reading this article on how to safely hike in the summer, as there will be some overlap in tips and suggestions.

This may be obvious, but if you don’t like being hot, don’t go camping in the summer. However, if you don’t want the weather to interrupt your vacation, here are some camping tips that will help you stay cool when the sun is shining and the temperatures rise.

Where to Go

Avoid traveling to deserts. I grew up near Joshua Tree and Death Valley in California, but the latest into the season I would ever camp there is in May—and even that can be too hot. Instead, travel to higher altitudes that will be cooler in the summer months. For instance, if you live in Southern California, head to the forests in Northern California and use the shade to stay cool.

If you are flying, head to the opposite side of the world where our summer means their winter (places like Australia or New Zealand). If you’re staying local, try to camp near a water source that you can swim in. Being able to take a dip in the river when you start to overheat is a great and fun way to stay cool while enjoying the natural scenery around your campsite.

Quick PSA: More water means more bugs and mosquitos—don’t forget the bug spray.

A red tent sits in a field with wildflowers in front of a water source. A lighthouse sits in the far background.

Photo by Hasse Lossius

Gear and What to Bring

Water reservoir

You will want to bring a water reservoir to carry more water. The Platypus Big Zip 2.0 Liter reservoir is a great way to have easy access to drinking water. I also suggest bringing the Katadyn BeFree 1.0 Liter Water Filter bottle. This way, you can grab water along the trail and save some weight in your pack, ultimately keeping you cooler. Using an insulated water bottle with ice-cold water doesn’t hurt either.

Sleeping bag

For a sleeping bag, opt for one with a higher temperature rating. This Marmot Nanowave Bag is rated for 55 degrees, which still may be too warm depending on when and where you are going. You can also ditch the sleeping bag altogether and bring a lightweight blanket from home or use a sleeping bag liner. This CoolMax Bag Liner is specifically designed for warm-weather camping, is made with wicking fabric that is soft to the touch, and shares the goal of helping you sleep well. If nothing else, a cotton sheet will surely do the trick.

Sleeping pad

Your sleeping pad should have no insulation or as little insulation as possible. This Thermarest Sleeping Pad has an R-value of 1.8 and is better for warmer conditions than other products with an R-value of 4.4.

Tent

Choose a tent with lots of mesh to allow as much breathability and ventilation as possible at night. The Marmot Catalyst Tent has walls made completely of mesh and a rain fly that you can use for cooler nights or if rain starts to fall. Or you can lose the tent and cowboy camp under the stars. If you do want a tent, placing a tarp a few feet above it will act as a sun barrier and can keep temperatures lower.

Hammock

Hammock camping is another way to stay cool, depending on the fabrics you choose to sleep in. Just don’t forget a bug net so the mosquitos can’t get you.

Fan

A portable fan is a tiny but fierce invention that allows you to take a cool breeze with you wherever you go. Whether you stop for a snack and need to cool down or want some air flow in your tent, a portable fan is a worthy addition to your camping gear. I’ve seen people put a frozen t-shirt on the front of the fan at night to create an even cooler breeze.

Shoes

Bring sandals along with you! If your hiking boots aren’t breathable enough or you want to swim in some water, sandals that you can hike in are amazing to bring. I personally am a huge fan of Chacos. The Chaco Cloud Sandals are what I wear for summer hiking, water activities, and for daily use.

Someone sits by a fire and a tent with tall trees around them. A star shoots across the night sky above.

Photo by Keenan Barber

Other Tips

This article offers great tips on different fabrics to wear and how they will affect your body temperature. I would choose to wear an ultralight merino wool t-shirt that is sweat-wicking and quick-drying. You want to remember to cover up your skin in as light a fabric as possible.

Don’t wear black—pack lots of light colors and whites. They’ll get dirty, but they will help keep you cool and reflect some of the harsh UV rays away. Some fabrics are built with UV protection in them.

Sleep in a wet t-shirt or with a wet, cool towel. This will help your skin pick up on any cool breeze and will lower your body temperature.

Set up your tent in the shade and don’t assemble your tent until later in the day. Your tent acts as a greenhouse and will only get warmer the longer the sun hits it.

Speaking of tents, use a reflective sunshade or check to see if your tent has reflective material. Remove your rainfly to allow more of the breeze to flow through your tent.

Use a wet bandana around your neck to lower your body temperature. This also works great for my dog, but please don’t bring your dog camping in extreme heat. You might not be able to catch their symptoms for heat strokes, which can cause serious health issues.

Sleep naked.

Drink extra water. In fact, pack frozen water that can melt throughout the day. Drink what melts and use the frozen bottle as an ice pack on your forehead or the back of your neck to cool you down. Buy some huge water jugs from the grocery store, freeze them, and then let them thaw near your campsite while you enjoy the ice-cold water.

Wear a good sun hat. Ideally, pick a hat that casts shade around your neck, face, and ears to help prevent any sunburns or bad blisters. Direct sunlight is dangerous for your body temperature and skin and can result in heat strokes or heat exhaustion. Fun story: I went to Zion National Park for two days in August and our campsite was 109 degrees at 9 p.m. Heat exhaustion is no joke and definitely leads to grumpy attitudes among myriad serious symptoms like headaches, muscle cramps, nausea, and more.

Hide under the shade of trees.

Wear lots of sunscreen.

If you are beach camping, dig down under the sand. The top layer will be hot, but the further you dig, the cooler the sand or dirt will become. Sleep on cooler surfaces.

Take a cold shower before bed if your campsite offers bathroom facilities.

Camping is an amazing experience that’s perfect for the entire family. But before you go, you will want to be very prepared to be safe and have fun. If you are summer camping, use these tips to stay healthy and enjoy your time under the sun. Don’t be like my friend who likes to “send it and regret it.” Send it and don’t regret it by being prepared!

Have any other tips for staying cool when the temperatures rise? Hit me up through my profile and let’s chat about all things outdoors.

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Written By
Although I've been hiking for most of my life, I didn't start backpacking and camping until college when I joined the University Outdoors Club at my school. My first backpacking trip was ambitious, the Batona Trail in the Pinelands in New Jersey done in two days. To do that, we had to walk a maratho...

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