How To Camp In the Summer In Texas (And Not Hate Yourself)


I wanted to write this post because I’ve camped several times in Texas during the summer and I definitely did hate myself. Southeast Texas summers are brutal–but I’ve learned some tips along the way that can help you make camping in 90+ Fahrenheit weather doable.

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Successfully staying cool (enough) while summer Texas camping requires the following:

  • A battery-powered fan to disturb the air while sleeping
  • Clothing that assists evaporative cooling
  • Strategic campsite placement
  • Finding parks with water
  • Maximum airflow tent preparation

How To Stay Cool While Camping In Texas Heat

I’ll be the first to say that perhaps the most important thing to change about camping in Texas is your expectations.

I grew up in the U.S. West with lots of mountains so all my camping experiences were at high elevations. I never experienced Texas heat and humidity until I got a job down here in Texas.

Expecting the same summer camping experience will only lead to disappointment. It doesn’t cool down at night significantly during the long Texas summer.

In the mountains, it’s pleasant during the summer to be outside. In Texas, it’s borderline self-hateful.

But! There are things you can do to help the experience go better. Let’s talk about them.

By the way, I talk about several hacks that can keep you cool without electricity in my post here. Some of the tips overlap but there are some extra ones over there.

Never Forget Your Battery-Powered Fan For Texas Camping

So, I’ll first talk about what you can do while camping at primitive campsites (A Texas State Park term for “campsites without electricity”)

The first time I ever went camping in Texas during the summer was at Enchanted Rock, a beautiful and impressive dome of granite in the middle of the Texas Hill Country.

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Gigantic free-standing builders on Enchanted Rock. These were about 20 feet tall (probably more)

I had never experienced a Texas night, outside, and I didn’t know an incredibly important feature about summer camping in Texas:

It doesn’t cool down at night!

I had brought a sleeping bag, and I ended up sleeping on top of it with no covering whatsoever. I didn’t sleep well, I was with a complete stranger in the tent and so we had two humans creating heat in a small tent and I then learned another incredibly important feature about Texas:

It’s not uncommon for there to be no wind at all during hot summer nights.

Unlike many parts of the world where there’s always some type of wind. Texas was the first time I experienced nights where it has been completely still–complete silence (even after the bugs go to bed).

Since then, I’ve gotten married, and I’ve realized the importance of using a battery-powered fan in Texas. It makes a tremendous difference. It’s the difference between being miserable and being “okay”. (I mean, you are still sleeping in a tent)

These are a commodity, so I’m going to link to a list of battery-powered fans on Amazon–any of these will do just fine.

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This is our battery-powered fan we got at Walmart–it uses D-sized batteries.

How To Setup a Battery-Powered Fan

You want the fan to be blowing air parallel to your body. It’s the same principle if you are trying to cool down a spoonful of hot soup. You don’t blow into the spoon, you blow over the spoon, which will cause the heat to be pulled from the soup.

Place the fan (if it’s freestanding) on the ground facing you at either side of your camp bed.

Don’t forget to remove your fan’s batteries (if they are removable) once you’re done camping. These types of electronics are notorious for sucking battery juice when they are not being used.

Make Your Own AC Unit

One interesting way to try and cool down the air a little bit more intensely is to blow the air from your fan over ice.

I’ve tried this in my living room over a small bowl of ice and I didn’t feel a difference in air temperature, personally. But many people still do it and I think if you got the angle right you might be able to knock down the temperature a couple degrees in your tent.

Use the IcyBreeze

I just heard about this on Facebook, but there is a cooler that has a blower attached with a hose that will focus the air in the cooler into your tent.

Check it out here on Amazon:

If you want to see more details of what it looks like and the results, this person made an excellent review.

You can definitely do something like this on your own, but as the review I just linked to states, part of the problem of doing it yourself is that it’s hard to manage the melting ice–while the IcyBreeze is built for it. So if you want a no-muss no-fuss solution the IcyBreeze seems pretty awesome.

Cooling Towels

A couple summers ago we camped at Government Canyon. A Texas state park that doesn’t score high on many people’s summer camping lists because there is nowhere to swim.

My wife is always looking for ways to make camping more enjoyable and so she sprang for those cooling towels.

You don’t need to buy special cooling towels–a thin, wet, cotton cloth will do almost as well. But, cooling towels do have the advantage of being long and thin so you can make a bandana out of them or wrap them around your neck, etc. They are also made out of a mesh-type material to be as breathable as possible.

Me and my kid sporting some cooling towels at Government canyon

How To Use Cooling Towels Effectively

Cooling towels work via evaporative cooling. Which is that phenomenon where if you get out of a swimming pool in the summer and you’re super cold even though it’s warm outside.

To make a cooling towel work you just moisten the towel and tie it to your head, neck, or wherever makes sense for you. They won’t lower your core body temperature but they are just meant to add some comfort in the heat.

It’s especially nice if you have an insulated tumbler you can fill with ice water–this is a very nice and refreshing sensation once you tie it around your neck.

Another option is to wrap ice with the cooling towel and then wrap it around yourself. This is an easy and effective way to stay cool while out and about.

One note–some parts of Texas are more humid than others. The more humid it is the less effective these cooling towels can be. You may find in 100% humidity that the only relief is from the cold water. Once the water in the towel has been warmed by your body heat its usefulness is past.

Camping Near Water

It’s no secret that the parks with rivers or other water features are packed during the summer. Beyond packed. Often people are visiting for just the day but there are some campers during the Summer months so they can have quick and easy access to the water.

The reason is that Texas rivers are one of the best parts of Texas.

It’s worth the effort of camping in the heat just to be able to be close to our beautiful rivers.

It’s beyond refreshing to go for a dip on a Texas-hot summer day. Some of my favorite outdoor memories are on Texas rivers.

Excellent Texas State Parks For Summer Camping

  • Guadalupe River State Park: The Wagon Ford walk-in campsites are a couple of stone throws from the river, perfect for camping with kids where you don’t want to be too close to the water. The Guadalupe River State Park features a beach area next to the river developed with grass and picnic tables. The beach sports an incredible view of some gorgeous cliffs on the other side of the river making the area especially striking. It can be extremely busy on weekends and during the summer. Pro-Tip: Visit the river before 10 AM before the crowds start to show up.
  • Garner State Park: Garner gets crowded. Really crowded. Even well before the days of Covid-19, we’ve been turned out of visiting Garner because the park was full. Garner is a gigantic campground, and the park was at capacity. Garner has beautiful access to the river and is a popular summer camping destination.
  • Inks Lake: Inks lake has several campsites in plain view of the lake. We have some lovely pictures of Inks Lake and we got to go paddling on the lake which was a lot of fun. The only complaint we had of Inks lake was that they had a lot of gnats flying around. The kind that doesn’t bite, but rather just hover around you taunting you and making fun of the way you dress, etc.
  • Colorado Bend State Park: This park has a wonderful section of river you can play in as well as some awesome exploring to do. There are tons of trails and even, I hear, some spring-fed swimming holes up some of the trails. We never made it to the springs but there was so much to do near the campsite that we hope to return someday. We camped here in June one year, and we had a sufficiently shady campsite and managed to not melt.
  • McKinney Falls State Park: This park has a little swimming hole that is a nice refreshing place to beat the heat. McKinney Falls State Park has famously huge trees as well and is unique in that it is in an urban city. A little island of nature in a maze of some of the worst traffic you’ll ever experience in Texas.
  • Pedernales Falls State Park: Pedernales has an amazing exploration area in one section of the river where the water fans out and splits into hundred rivulets causing impressive little waterfalls. It’s a fun area to explore–and while you can’t swim in this section of the park, they do have a beach area you can swim in.
Inks Lake at sunset. This has no filter on! It was so gorgeous that day.

Picking The Perfect Campsite

Campsite selection is hugely important. The sun’s thermal radiation can increase the temperature 10-15 (or more) degrees past the air temperature. In other words, when it’s 100 degrees outside, full sunlight can make it feel like 120 degrees!

Furthermore, your tent can absorb this radiation and trap it. So… would you rather camp in 100 degrees or 120 degrees? Not much of a choice, I know… but work with me here.

Therefore, it’s massively important to pick a campsite with shade, especially over your tent and the picnic area.

Furthermore, if you pick a campsite near water, you’ll also get a cooling bonus.

What if you have never been to the campground? Well, you can try and look at pictures online at the campsite if they are available but those aren’t always easy to use because it’s hard to see the lay of the land.

Your best option is to call the park and ask a park ranger. They are going to know where there are shade trees and they will know the campsites where the angle of the sun and the tree create the most shade throughout the day. This is the single-most important thing you can learn from this article–call ahead and ask for some tips from the ranger–they know their stuff.

How To Perfectly Prepare Your Tent For Hot Weather

Tents are beautiful things. They shelter us from wind, rain, sunlight, and bugs. Thank you tent!

Tents also trap your body heat, amazingly well. There’s a couple things you can do to mitigate this.

  • Sleep without a rainfly: The rainfly is the tarp that goes over the tent and protects the tent from rain (and offers a bit more privacy). The rainfly believe it or not affects airflow and can help trap in the heat. If it’s going to be hot and dry, then you can remove the rainfly. (Note: I’ve experienced a middle-of-the-night rain with the rainfly off, before. It’s not a bad idea to have your rainfly ready in case it does rain and you can quickly throw it over your tent.)
  • Open all vents: Many tents have vents along the side of the tent for the express purpose of allowing air in and out. Sometimes when you’re camping you’re at a temperature where it doesn’t really matter whether you pull out the vents or not, but when it’s hot, you must use stakes and rope to make the airflow vents taut so as much air can get in as possible.
  • Unzip all windows: Some tents have mesh windows that you can cover/uncover. These will allow more air in and make your sleep more comfortable
  • Use a cot: A cot, by design, raises you off the ground and causes an air gap. This air gap can help cool you down, especially if you introduce more airflow with a fan. If you have the fan facing you you will have air blowing over and under you and that will feel very nice in hot weather. Check out our post about cots in tents for more details on how to use them without damaging your tent.

Work Out In the Yard

This may seem a little weird, but I remember a ways back in 2018 that I was working in the backyard repairing our fence. It was mega hot during the day and I remember my neighbor chastised me for picking the summer months to work in rather than waiting for the cooler months.

Besides the fact that I’m the type of person that when I start to do a project, time doesn’t matter, because I might not ever get to it at any other time. I actually learned an important secret that year.

When you are outside in the heat more, it doesn’t feel as hot. I worked out in the yard every day that month during one of the hottest months of the year, and by the end of the month, the heat didn’t feel so bad.

This may seem like a lame tip but think about it for a second. If you have your AC set to 78 (if you’re trying to conserve electricity), then going camping in 100-degree weather is too big of a jump for your body to really adjust. If you are consistently outside then your body will know what to do and it won’t be as hot.

Use A Hammock

Hammocks are fantastic because they allow for airflow on all sides. If you want to stay cool, hammocks are a great option–and they are so wonderful to sleep in. (Some people do have trouble with their backs with hammocks so it’d be good to try this out in your backyard before committing)

Me hammocking in the Hill Country Natural Area State Park. I didn’t end up sleeping in this hammock this night because there was a downpour a few minutes after this picture

Staying Cool With “Cheating” (Electric Campsites) – AC Units

So, this is a controversial topic. I actually asked about portable AC units to a group of campers and as you might expect, I got some great responses, and then I got some responses saying that camping with AC isn’t really camping and that I should feel bad about myself (or something to that effect. ?).

This website is all about non-judgmental camping. I’ll say that if you are getting outside and enjoying this beautiful planet then it’s a success.

If you have an electric campsite you can use a portable AC unit–and I know this is not an uncommon thing for Texas summer campers. Especially those using an RV.

You can find different AC Units floating around, but this one on Amazon was recommended by some campers and this one at Walmart.

These AC Units require plug-in electricity. So you have to make sure your campsite has electric outlets, which most Texas State Parks do.

Pro Tips For Successful Summer Texas Camping

Texas is an interesting place for camping. I’ve found that summer camping has many challenges besides the oppressive heat. You might not know it but all the Texas State Parks have a thriving night life. Just not the kind you really want.

Critters.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve woken up because the incredibly noisy armadillos are wandering around. They sound like a troop of boy scouts rolling around in the leaves. Furthermore, there are wild hogs, wild turkeys, bold and obnoxious raccoons, and a hundred other things. If you’re used to the stillness of your own room then you may find this disconcerting.

So. Tip #1:

Bring Earplugs

There are several reasons why you want to bring ear plugs.

If you do bring earplugs, I would make sure and get tapered earplugs, like these on Amazon–as you can sleep on your side and your earplugs won’t jab into your skull.

Let’s walk you through a few reasons why you want to bring ear plugs in the first place.

Crawling Critters

As I just mentioned, there are so many nocturnal animals that aren’t truly aware that sound travels. Armadillos are the worst offender so far from what I’ve experienced. They’re harmless outside the tent but they sure are noisy. Not being able to see the animals outside your tent from the darkness adds to the mental upset and makes it hard to sleep. You’ll do much better by just ignoring the sound. Earplugs really can help here.

So Many Scouts

Scout groups often make their summer camping plans at Texas State Parks (there aren’t really that many options besides the State parks). It’s happened to me several times where I’ve gone to bed around 9:00 or 9:30 and a group of scouts arrive late and set up their tents while I’m trying to sleep. This happened at Lost Maples one year and there were 6 or so vehicles that arrived, packed with 8-11-year-old scouts, at 10 PM. I’m glad I had earplugs that day.

Close Neighbors

Texas is a wonderful state and has so many wonderful aspects to it. One struggle is the camping situation. Texas State Parks are an amazing reprieve from our busy lives but they are limited in supply. Consequently, many parks are full during the peak camping months. Several of the campgrounds are not planned with neighbor distance in mind so you may find yourself camping near many more people than you might have imagined. Most neighbors I’ve camped next to have been courteous but not all have. Earplugs help in some of those situations.

Noiseless Nights

Now, animal noises wouldn’t be so bad if there was some wind to help mask the inevitable night sounds. But one time, while camping in the Hill Country Natural Area during the summertime, I decided to sleep in a hammock and experienced the noiseless summer Texas night phenomenon.

It was about 3 AM in the morning and there wasn’t a sound. No wind. No insects, just silence. That silence unnerved me far more than anything else. To make it worse occasionally in the dead silence I heard the sound of wild hog and even a turkey in the distance. In the silence, those sounds were really hard to ignore without any wind.

Earplugs help to mitigate this situation because you can hear the sound of your own ears with earplugs and it provides a sort of white noise that can help you sleep.

Plan 2 Months Ahead

One thing you might not think about is that all the campsites might be taken, already!

Texas State Parks, especially during and after certain pandemics that shall remain nameless, are chock full–all the time.

In order to even camp at many state parks, you have to plan way in advance. Two months is a good amount of time where you’re likely to be able to find a spot. Weekends are notoriously packed so taking off work for a weekday is a good option.

Conclusion

I hope this guide has been helpful for you. The bulk of it was about staying cool but there are a lot of other summer-related camping stuff to know about. Be safe and enjoy this beautiful part of the country!

Peter

Peter is a software developer who loves to take every opportunity to go outside that he can get. Peter grew up going on long backpacking excursions with his family every Summer and now enjoys staying at the beautiful Texas State Parks and swimming in the amazing Texas Rivers.

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