Here in Australia, as in many parts of the world, temperatures can soar to over 40°C / 104°F in the summer months, but even temperatures north of 30°C / 86°F can prove challenging when the only thing between you and the heat is a layer or two of tent material.
Extreme heat can effect anybody and can be very serious, especially for the young and the old. Don't let that put a dampener on those wonderful summer camping trips.
Here are our tips for hot weather camping and staying cool.
1: Be prepared for low cook or no-cook meals
Cooking over a campfire or open camp stove in the heat isn't all that much fun for the chef, and will not even be permitted during days of total fire ban. Come up with a range of recipes that don't require a great deal of cooking, and for those days of total fire ban, consider eating out, taking away or using any available barbeques.
Preparing interesting meals on days of total fire ban is still possible if your camp kitchen is stocked with ingredients for no-cook meals, such as:
- Salad vegetables, tinned tuna and pita bread for wraps.
- Cheese, dips, cured meats, crackers, sour dough bread and cut up vegies for a smorgasbord.
- Fine couscous (as opposed to pearl couscous). This product can be soaked in cold water and used as a base for a salad. There are probably other similar products as well. Add any ingredients you have available (cured meats, salad vegetables, cheese), as well as your favourite salad dressing.
- Pasta, eggs and / or baked potatoes cooked in advance of the total fire ban day (if you have sufficient warning) and used in a salad per the previous suggestion. Once cooked, they should be cooled down and transferred to the camp fridge within an hour, but we don’t suggest trying this with rice as it can cause food poisoning if not stored correctly.
2: Avoid the heat of the day
When planning your activities, avoid long periods in the sun or anything strenuous during the hot part of the day, such as bush walking and bike riding.
3: Camp close to safe swimming locations
Really, swimming is the easiest way to stay cool in hot conditions, especially where kids are concerned. When deciding on your summer camping spot, make sure there are safe swimming options – local swimming holes, public swimming pools or patrolled beaches.
A nearby body of water can also help cool down your campsite, but camping too close may attract mosquitoes and other bugs and insects.
4: Monitor the weather forecasts
Monitor the weather updates, including news reports, from weather bureaus and other alerts, especially in relation to total fire bans. Forewarned is forearmed.
5: Apply sunscreen
To protect your skin from the harmful UV rays of the sun, have an adequate supply of sunscreen with you at all times, and ensure it is applied at least 20 minutes before you go out into the sun and re-applied every 2 hours.
6: Avoid hot tents
Enclosed tents can be unbearably hot in the summer heat, even if well ventilated. They might not be as dangerous as sitting in a hot car, but they can still cause heat stress, especially for the kids who might not know better.
If anyone is going to be inside the tent for any length of time, such as sleeping children, monitor the internal temperature. You can open the doors, windows and vents, but even this might not be sufficiently effective to provide a safe environment.
7: Stay hydrated
Hot days will cause us to sweat more and put us at a higher risk of dehydration, which at even low levels can cause headaches and fatigue. Add to that our limitations around water supply, access to it at the campsite and carrying it, and campers may find they are more vulnerable to dehydration than usual.
Make sure that everyone has access to adequate cool drinking water and carries a lots of water with them at all times. Encourage them to drink regularly throughout the day, even if they aren't thirsty. The general recommendation is to drink 8 glasses on a normal day, and more in the heat or during periods of exercise.
8: Monitor your icebox / camp fridge temperature
It goes without saying that a good quality camping fridge or icebox is very important in ensuring your food can be stored at the correct temperature. But even a good quality fridge will struggle if not properly located and managed on those hot days.
Here are some tips to ensure your icebox does its job on those hot days:
- Keep your fridge in a shaded position but not in a hot enclosed tent, annex or car.
- Place a wet towel over your fridge to promote evaporative cooling.
- Keep the fridge full to reduce the amount of air needed to be kept cool. Fill empty spaces with drinking water bottles, an inflated bag, snap lock bag or wine bladder.
- Monitor the fridge temperature with a fridge temperature gauge. A digital meat thermometer that reads low temperatures would also be suitable (and is what we use) and useful for other purposes as well.
- If using ice cubes, don't drain the ice water completely. Keep a couple of inches in the bottom to help keep the temperature down.
9: Be equipped with the right clothing
The right clothing for the outdoors is also important on those hot summer days as it is in the cold. Warm weather clothing should be loose fitting and of a breathable material to promote airflow to help regulate the temperature of your body. It should also be a light color to reflect the rays of the sun.
If your plans are more around relaxing than strenuous activities, cotton or linen clothing is preferable because it absorbs moisture and it allows air to circulate and pass freely through the fabric to cool you down.
If your plans involve exerting yourself, such as hiking, then the moisture absorbed into the cotton and linen can cause you to develop a chill as it does not have any wicking properties. This might be OK when the temperature remains hot, but not so if the temperature drops and your damp clothes are no longer a welcome relief. Instead, loose clothing made of nylon or polyester would be a better option during physical activities.
Clothing for hot weather should also cover you up rather than expose your skin to the UV rays of the sun, such as long-sleeved shirts and tops, long pants, dresses and skirts. Clothing that covers you up will also help keep the flies and insects at bay, and reduce the likelihood of mosquito and other insect bites.
Each person should also have a pair of open breathable sandals as well as good quality but breathable hiking or walking shoes.
10: Don't forget the hats
Choose a good quality hat that protects your face and neck from the sun. While not the most visually appealing, the legionnaire style of hat or cap with the flap at the back to protect the neck and ears is the most effective option, especially during the latter part of the day when the sun is lower in the sky.
Wide brim hats would be the second most effective option, followed by the baseball style cap. While more popular style-wise, baseball caps are the least effective because of the lack of sun protection they provide for the neck, ears and the side of the face.
11: Remember the sunglasses
Sun exposure can also damage your eyes as well as your skin. Don’t forget your sunglasses and ensure they meet minimum required levels of UV protection.
Your campsite and camping setup
12: Choose hot weather friendly tent and shelter
Ensure your campsite has adequate open-air shelter from the sun and hot temperatures. This could be in the form of natural shade trees, a large external awning attached to your tent, a separate marquee or gazebo, or extra shade provided by a simple tarp constructed over your tent.
To protect your living area and fridge from the hot morning or afternoon sun, shade the area with side wall accessories or even a simple cotton sheet attached to an awning with clothes pegs.
Certain tent fabrics are also cooler than others, such as cotton canvas or polycotton canvas. By comparison, those made of standard polyester will retain the heat more in warmer weather.
13: Pitch and pack up during the cooler parts of the day
Pitching and packing up a campsite can be a pretty strenuous exercise. Add to that the hot sun and high temperatures and it really is one of our least favourite things about camping. If you find you arrive at camp at the hottest part of the day, set up what you can in the shade, but consider delaying anything else until later when the temperature is (hopefully) cooler and the shadows longer.
14: Take advantage of any available natural shade
Campsites that are set up in direct sun and devoid of natural shade on hot days are pretty uncomfortable places to be, no matter how good your awning or marquee is. They just never seem to live up to the quality of shade provided by a mature tree.
When configuring your campsite, give consideration to where the afternoon shade will be provided by nearby trees, awnings, marquees and other shade structures, and as much as possible, designate this area as a sitting area.
15: Vent your tent
Keep the inside of your tent cooler with plenty of ventilation and air flow, especially during the warmer nights when everyone is trying to sleep. To achieve this, create a through breeze by opening the tent doors and all windows to allow cool air to enter and the hot air to leave, especially those facing the breeze and on the adjacent wall.
How to cool down your body temperature
16: Play water-based games
There are plenty of water-based games and activities to cool the kids and adults down (which you can read online) but the best games involve:
- water pistols (in some form of battle)
- wet sponges (last dry person standing wins)
- a bucket (useful for the wet sponge or water pistol games)
- plastic cups (for duck duck sploosh instead of duck duck goose)
17: Apply cold water
Immerse yourself in water by having a cool shower, going for a swim or simply fill a spray bottle with water. This can be especially helpful especially before bed.
18: Apply a damp cloth
Cool down your body temperature by applying a wet cloth to the areas of your body in close proximity to the surface veins (wrists, chest, temples, neck, armpits and groin). This will have a cooling effect on that area and will also pump the cooled blood to other parts of your body.
As body heat is lost more quickly through your extremities, cool your feet with a damp cloth and wet your hair. This is particularly beneficial before you go to bed, but we wouldn't suggest allowing your sleepwear and bedding to become damp in case the temperature drops during the night.
19: Escape to air-conditioning
Sometimes all you can do is schedule your activities around wherever you can find air-conditioning - the movies, shopping centres, the library, or maybe you've just realised you should pay a visit to your long lost relative. You could even just head out for a sight-seeing drive in the air-conditioned comfort of your car.
20: Move to higher ground
Hot conditions might be unbearable at lower levels but if there is higher ground around you may be surprised at how much cooler and more pleasant it is for a hike, a picnic or a sight-seeing trip.
How to sleep well
In addition to venting your tent (point 15 above) and applying a damp cloth (point 18 above) here are some other tips for getting a good night sleep:
Going commando on a hot night is the coolest option for sleeping because it exposes the most amount of skin to any available breeze. If your tent buddies will get more of an eye full than they would prefer, then loose, lightweight and breathable cotton sleepwear is the next best option.
22: Sleep under the stars
If safe to do so, sleeping under the stars gives you an uninhibited cross breeze. If this is not safe and the weather conditions are mild with no wind or rain expected, if it has one, remove the rain fly from your tent and sleep in just the inner tent.
23: Forget the sleeping bag
Even though sleeping bags have varying temperature ratings, they are mostly made with cold weather in mind. Rather than a warm rated sleeping bag, consider a doona or quilt from your bed, a cotton sheet and a thin woollen blanket. In particular hot or humid weather, the sheet is all you may need, but if the temperatures really drop you can layer right up to the doona as well as the blanket and your thermal underwear.
24: Use a smaller pillow
Large, plump pillows that wrap around your head will trap the heat in and should be left at home in favour of smaller pillows which will allow more air circulation. Smaller pillows are easier to pack as well if you have limited car space.
25: Consider a portable fan
If you have access to power, a portable fan or air conditioner could make a huge difference to the quality of your sleep, as well as comfort levels during the day.