Nothing spoils a camping trip like a tent that transforms into a sauna, leaving you drowning in sweat and unable to fall asleep at night. That’s why you need to know how to cool a tent if you’re planning a camping trip soon. From natural techniques to using air conditioners, the options are many – you just need to know where to look for them!
Understanding Tent Heat Retention
Much like a greenhouse, tents are prone to trapping hot air and sunlight, leading to an uncomfortably warm interior. This happens because of the synthetic fabrics & materials commonly used on tents. Materials like nylon and polyester are less breathable than natural fibers such as cotton or canvas.
As sunlight passes through the tent’s fabric, it warms up the air inside:
Tents act as greenhouses, retaining heat inside
Synthetic tent materials like nylon/polyester absorb and trap heat energy
As opposed to natural fibers like cotton/canvas (these are more breathable and reflect heat better)
Limited airflow and ventilation cause hot air to stay inside
Combining this with the additional body heat from people who are sleeping and staying there makes it easier to understand how some tents can look like a sauna.
Finally, remember that just one hour of direct sunlight exposure is enough to cause a dramatic increase in the temperature of the air inside the tent, so ensure good ventilation at least!
Preparation and Location
Doing proper preparation and spending some time choosing a tent location are key factors that can help you stay cooler when camping in hot weather.
Check the Weather Forecast
Before embarking on your summer camping trip, always check the weather forecast, and note down (or mentally remember) any exceptionally hot days that are forecasted during your trip. This will allow you to bring adequate equipment to be able to stay cool even on the hottest days.
If extreme heat is forecasted, consider changing your itinerary to spend more time near water (a river or a sea) or in shaded forest areas.
Prioritize Shady Locations
One of the easiest ways to prevent your tent from becoming a sauna is to set it up in a shaded location.
Avoid open areas that receive direct sunlight for a great part of the day and instead look for sites that will be shaded, especially in the afternoon when the sun’s rays are strongest. Spots that are under trees or sheltered by hills or rock formations are the best, so keep an eye out there for those.
Camp Near Cold Water
Spots next to fresh water sources, such as lakes, rivers, or streams, tend to be cooler than other sites (like grass in the open air). The chilling effect of the water helps lower the temperature of the surrounding landscape, and so tents that are pitched near cold water can benefit from these cooler conditions.
However, be careful and make sure that you don’t set up your tent too close to the water’s edge in case of flooding from rain or high tides.
Using Ventilation to Your Advantage
Remove the tent’s rainfly
The rainfly is an outer waterproof shell layer that goes over your tent and although it protects your tent from rain, it also blocks airflow
Removing the rainfly allows the breeze to pass directly through the tent’s mesh walls and roof, increasing air circulation
With the rainfly removed, hot air easily leaves the tent, resulting in a cooler interior
Open all tent openings
Most tents are designed with mesh-covered vents, doors, and windows specifically to allow ventilation
Opening them fully optimizes the available airflow and allows hot air to leave while cool air can enter
Ventilation is maximized when all possible mesh openings are fully opened up
Optimize Mesh Ventilation
Seek tents with ample mesh panels
Mesh is an exceptionally breathable woven material that does not retain heat
The more mesh surface area on a tent, the better the airflow and circulation
Abundant mesh allows constant air passage
Mesh windows, doors, ceilings, and panels are ideal
Mesh panels integrated throughout the tent provide excellent ventilation from all directions
Air can freely flow in and out while keeping insects out when closed
Strategically placed mesh openings improve ventilation and cooling
Consider a mesh inner tent
A full mesh inner tent underneath the rainfly increases airflow when the rainfly is removed
Mesh inner tents provide excellent 360-degree ventilation and circulation with the rain fly-off
Pitch your tent in the shade
Shaded areas prevent excessive sun exposure on the tent material, resulting in less radiant heat
Less direct sunlight keeps the tent significantly cooler, so seek trees, rock formations, or structures that provide shade
Angle your tent to take advantage of wind
Orienting the tent to face the prevailing wind direction improves ventilation
It also allows any available breeze to blow into the tent and carry hot air out
Cooling Gadgets and Equipment
Besides these structural adjustments and strategic setups, you can also use some technological gadgets and equipment to keep your tent cool.
While some of these items are not always practical for backcountry camping (where you are prioritizing being lightweight and not carrying a lot), they can significantly lower temperatures for car & festival camping.
Portable Air Conditioners
Portable air conditioners can be great to cool your tent by removing heat from the air inside. The way they work is by taking in hot air, passing it over a refrigerant evaporator coil to remove heat, and then expelling the now-cooled air into the interior of the tent.
These portable ACs are very effective in cooling your tent and lowering temperatures inside, but you’ll need access to electricity to use them, which normally limits their use to powered campsites. They can also be noisy, so keeping the volume moderate is recommended if you want to have a great night of sleep.
Battery Powered Fans
Battery-powered fans cool tents by optimizing airflow and circulation.
Fan models that run on replaceable or rechargeable batteries provide targeted airflow without restricting power cables. Also, passive solar recharging replenishes batteries via solar panels exposed to the sun, providing a source of renewable power for a continued fan operation off-grid.
Using multiple portable fans for large tents is normally a good idea since one small fan may not be enough to circulate air throughout all areas.
Small personal fans are lightweight, portable, and can be pointed directly at people sleeping for a cooling breeze.
Though less powerful than air conditioners, these mini fans help circulate air and are better than nothing. Plus, they are typically USB rechargeable, making them super convenient to operate in tents.
Larger floor fans move much more air and help keep it circulating in multiple directions inside the tent. Given their size & the air they can move, floor fans are more effective for large tents and groups. Some may need a battery pack or inverter if no electrical access is available.
Natural Cooling Solutions
Besides equipment and gadgets, you can also use some natural cooling techniques while camping to cool your tent without using electricity or technology.
Using Cool Airflow and Breezes
Orienting your tent’s entrance so that it is perpendicular to prevailing winds allows the air breeze to blow directly into the interior, making the tent cool a bit. On top of this, you should also use reflectors or ducts to channel wind into openings and consider installing flaps above the doors to catch passing winds.
Leaving a gap along the ground rather than completely sealing the tent is also a great idea, as it allows cooler ground air to ventilate the tent’s interior. Finally, hanging wet towels in breezes creates an evaporative cooling effect as the air passage causes the moisture to evaporate, lowering the temperature.
Leveraging the Tendency of Hot Air to Rise
The natural tendency of hot air to rise while cool air remains near the ground can be used to flush out hot tent air. Unclear? We explain.
Opening lower and upper vents together helps cool air enter lower vents as hot air escapes via the upper ones, using natural convection currents.
Routing cooler ground-level air inside through landscaping or tubes displaces hotter air up and out. Vents near the top allow hot air to readily escape as it rises, creating a suction effect for cool air to enter lower areas. Suspended panels induce rising motion in warm air, which passively circulates it.
Staying Cool While You Sleep
Getting a good night’s sleep is essential to enjoy any camping trip to the fullest. However, we’re well aware that trying to fall sleep when you are feeling hot, sticky, and uncomfortable is mission impossible.
Thankfully, you can make some adjustments at bedtime that help you stay cooler and better rested throughout all night.
Using Sheets Instead of Sleeping Bags
One of the easiest things you can do is to use only a sheet instead of getting into your full sleeping bag.
Sleeping bags are designed to insulate and retain your body heat. While this is helpful in cold weather, it can quickly become a nightmare when temperatures rise. The insulation of the sleeping bag liner and filling traps the heat radiating from your body, becoming impossible to deal with in the summer.
Choosing to sleep with a sheet covering yourself permits a lot more airflow to carry away excess warmth. The sheet provides basic covering while remaining breathable and lightweight. Switching to solely using a sheet for sleep can result in a dramatically cooler night’s sleep during hot weather. Bring a light blanket if you need additional insulation, but avoiding your sleeping bag is one of the quickest ways to sleep cooler.
You can also try to just use your sleeping bag liner on its own, since many sleeping bags nowadays allow you to zip out the insulating inner layer. Just using the thin liner keeps your body shielded while reducing insulation.
Similarly, you can unzip your sleeping bag and lay it flat atop the tent floor to sleep on top rather than inside of it (similar to when you sleep on top of your bed sheets instead of inside them).
Sleeping on a Cot for Air Circulation
Another way to stay cooler while sleeping is to get off the tent floor by using a cot or air mattress.
Most tents are only loosely staked to the ground, resulting in minimal airflow underneath. The ground itself can radiate absorbed heat, adding to the stuffiness inside your tent. Creating a separation between your sleeping area and the ground has several benefits.
A cot, air mattress, or sleeping pad elevates your body into cooler air rather than directly on warm earth. Even a few inches of separation will make a difference. Underneath the cot, air can circulate rather than being compressed. Also, a sleeping cot or an air mattress will reduce uncomfortable pressure points for better sleep quality.
Making Smart Material Choices
The types of materials used for your tent and clothing can also significantly impact temperature regulation.
Making smart choices here helps limit heat absorption during the day and keep you cooler at night so you can more easily fall asleep. We recommend you
Wear only light-colored clothing
Light colors reflect more sunlight, while dark colors absorb heat
Stick to whites, tans, and pastels
Use a light-colored tent
Like clothing, light tent colors reflect more sunlight and absorb less morning sun heat– we wrote an article on this if you’re curious
White tents will be the coolest, while dark tents will become hotter greenhouse ovens
Choose a canvas tent
Canvas tends to be a cooler material than nylon in hot weather
It has greater breathability, keeping air circulating through better
Nylon tents trap heat more, while canvas doesn’t retain warmth as much
Cotton tents also offer cooling properties
Like canvas, cotton is a more breathable fabric that doesn’t get as stuffy
The natural fibers don’t absorb and retain heat like synthetic nylon
Excellent choice for maximizing ventilation and cooling
Hydration and Sun Protection
Although knowing how to cool a tent is important, it should not be your only concern. You should also be aware of other ways to help your body stay cool and comfortable during hot weather.
Drinking Plenty of Water
Drinking plenty of cold water is one of the best ways to stay cool when tent camping in the summer heat. Having cool water bottles handy in your tent makes it easy to rehydrate at night and avoid waking up overheating. While cold beverages like juice or iced tea can boost hydration levels during the day, no drink beats water.
Drinking cold water before going to bed is important to regulate your body temperature overnight. Staying hydrated allows sweat to evaporate and cool you down during physical activities like hiking or swimming. Just make sure you control the amount of alcohol you consume, as it normally dehydrates your body.
Some other tips to stay hydrated and cool include:
Fill a hot water bottle with ice for a cooling effect in your tent at night
Choose lightweight, breathable clothing to allow sweat to evaporate
Have hydrating fruits like watermelon, grapes, or oranges to snack on
Drink hydrating beverages like coconut water and electrolyte drinks to replenish
Using Sunscreen to Protect from the Sun’s UV Rays
Water-resistant sunscreen with 30+ SPF is crucial to protect your skin from the sun’s UV rays which can burn and overheat skin quickly. Make sure you reapply sunscreen every 2 hours when doing activities outdoors to replenish protection, as it wears off over time. Immediately reapplying sunscreen after swimming is also important.
You should also wear sun-protective clothing with UV-blocking features, as these shield your skin and reduce the need for frequent sunscreen reapplication. Wide-brimmed hats, breathable long-sleeve shirts, and UV-blocking sunglasses are useful for sun protection. Another good idea is to seek shade breaks during peak sun hours, as this will let your skin cool off and absorb sunscreen properly.
Some other tips for sun protection:
Use a wide-brimmed sun hat or bandana soaked in water to keep your head cool
Take a cooling dip or swim whenever you are near water to regulate body temperature
Properly protecting yourself from the sun and staying hydrated makes a huge difference in staying cool and enjoying your camping experience – ignore them at your own peril!
Innovative Ways to Beat the Heat
Soaking a Towel and Laying it Across Your Forehead or Neck
Soaking a towel or bandana in cold water and laying it across your forehead, neck, or chest is a simple but refreshing way to cool down your body temperature. As the water evaporates, it provides an instant cooling sensation. Use the coldest clean water available for maximum effect.
If you’re still feeling hot, re-soak the towel whenever it becomes dry. The key areas to target are where your blood flows closest to the surface, like your head, neck and wrists. Cooling these spots effectively lowers your overall body temperature. A wet towel on the back of the neck can be especially refreshing.
Take a Cool Shower Before Bedtime
The cold water lowers your core body temperature so you don’t have to try to sleep while overheating. Even standing under the cold water for a few minutes can make a significant difference.
When camping, look for campgrounds or parks with shower facilities if possible. If you’re backcountry camping, taking a quick dip in a lake or stream is also great and provides a similar cooling relief before going to bed. Just 5-10 minutes in cool water before going to bed helps regulate your body temperature.
Optimizing airflow, using sunshade when possible, trying innovative cooling hacks, and choosing gear and materials wisely will enable you to beat the heat in your next camping trip.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Can I Keep a Tent Cool in Hot Weather Camping or Camping in the Summer?
Some great ways to keep your tent cool during hot weather camping include using mesh panels, opening vents and tent doors, removing the rainfly, using a portable fan, and camping in shaded areas.
What Food is Best for Camping in Hot Temperatures?
Prioritize non-perishable foods, fruits and vegetables, hydrating dishes with high water content, and items that can be kept cool, like sandwiches. Avoid heavy, hot foods that require cooking near a hot campfire.
How Can I Keep my Tent Cool With no Electricity?
To keep a tent cool without using electricity, remove the rainfly, orient your tent to maximize the air breeze, and open all tent doors/windows. Use a sunshade to block sunlight during the day and choose a shaded site. Battery-powered fans also work great if you don’t have access to electricity.