13 Ways to Stay Cool While Camping Without Electricity


No power outlets? No problem! Here are 18 ways to cool off without needing an extension cord.

  1. Shade – Cut Down Over 14° F
  2. Which Clothing is Best for Beating the Heat?
  3. Find the Campsites with Swimming Holes
  4. Make a Breeze, Lower Those Degrees With a Hand Fan!
  5. Battery-Powered Fans
  6. Find Your Body’s Cold Spots
  7. Cooling Towels: How to Stay Cool and Look like a Pirate
  8. If Tenting, Remove the Rain Fly
  9. Choosing a Tent With Great Ventilation
  10. Stay Cool, Get a Big Tent!
  11. Don’t Use a Tent, Try a Hammock
  12. Reflect the Heat Away – Catch-22!
  13. Avoid Hot Camping Surfaces

1. Shade – Cut Down Over 14° F

Sunlight dramatically increases the heat. Even though the air temperature is the same in the shade as it is in direct sunlight, our bodies absorb the sunlight making us feel much hotter.

We know that shade makes a difference, but how big of a difference?

I decided to find out. I looked at some calculators and put in all the details for an average day of full sunlight in the middle of the Summer in Texas.

Conditions:

  • 90 Degrees Fahrenheit (we regularly are over 100 degrees some summers)
  • No wind
  • Midday Sun: 1059.1 W/m2
  • 50% relative humidity

The results are shocking. According to these two measurement standards, this is what temperature would be felt:

Universal Thermal Climate Index (UTCI): 117° F

The WetBulb Globe Temperature (WBGT): 104° F

The Feels Like temperature for this day could be from 14 to 27 ° F hotter than the air temperature in direct sunlight!

WBGT is used by the military to determine whether heat conditions are too severe for training, and is also used for those working outside.

Despite a myth that shade doesn’t work as well on humid days, the truth is that moving to a well-shaded area can lessen the heat sensation by over 20 ° F (assuming 100% humidity).

This means that one of the most powerful ways to cool down while it’s hot is to stay in the shade.

(All these data were using the pveducation.org solar irradiance calculator here, and the UTCI and WBGT calculator at ClimateChip here.)

Tarp for Shade

One easy way to block the heat is by using a tarp as a shade. If you have a plain ol’ blue tarp from Home Depot or Walmart, and some twine or paracord, this can be used as a shade for your campsite or even just for your tent. Blocking sun rays will make a huge difference in the heat you feel.

The simplest way to set up a tarp for shade is to string a line from two trees as tight as you need to suspend your tarp.

  1. Create a loop at the end of your rope
  2. Wrap the loop around the tree and feed the rest of the rope through the loop so you have a loop around your tree.
  3. Use the taut-line hitch or the trucker’s hitch to tie the line to the other side. These adjustable hitches can be tightened to support your tarp.
  4. Drape the tarp over the line
  5. Use more rope to tie the corners of the tarp to rocks or camp stakes (rocks are better for Leave no Trace)
  6. You now have an A-frame tarp shelter which works great for adding some shade.

Canopy as Shade

For shelter where you are going to be hanging out at your campsite, a popular option for many is to use a folding canopy.

A folding canopy can be expanded and set up anywhere and gives you a shaded space that you can use for eating, preparing food, or whatever it is you need to do. If your campsite doesn’t have decent trees that can help with shade, a canopy makes an incredible difference.

Ozark Trails from Walmart sells a 10×10 canopy. Check it out here, for more details.

Picking a Campsite With Shade

This is a deceptively simple tip. But this one tip can make your stay comfortable or miserable in your summertime camping trip.

With many campsite reservations moving to online reservation systems, we are now able to reserve a specific campsite ourselves months in advance! The trick is to know which campsite is the shadiest.

How do you know which campsite is the shadiest? Well, there are two ways:

  1. Scout ahead of your campsite reservation… if it’s not a peak time of the year or a weekday, you might be able to get to the campground early that same day and check out the campsites before making a decision
  2. Often the campground staff know of the best-shaded campsites, as they are working out there, every day. This trick has worked for us. We simply asked, which campsites are the most shaded? And the staff is able to point us to the best available sites.

So if you are reserving online, make sure and call first and get the inside scoop before you make a reservation.

2. Which Clothing is Best for Beating the Heat?

What’s more important? Short clothing or long clothing that wicks away moisture? Polyester? Wool? Cotton? Etc.

I didn’t know this before starting to write this article, but this is somewhat of a controversial subject!

The now-conventional wisdom states that it’s better to use moisture-wicking clothing to help cool you off in hot temperatures. But what’s the real scoop?

Does Outerwear Matter?

From many studies, it turns out that the fabric of the clothing does little in helping someone feel cool or hot. In other words, whether someone wore a cotton t-shirt or specialized sports clothing with a moisture-wicking design does little in how hot they felt. (source)

In another study, the only notable difference was that for those at rest, people felt that they felt like they were sweating more in their sportswear if they weren’t exercising. Otherwise, the test subjects couldn’t tell a difference while they were exercising.

It may mean that whether you wear a t-shirt or a polyester shirt camping in the heat, it may not make much of a difference.

What does seem to be important, though, is how light the clothing is. The lighter and more breathable the fabric, the more moisture can escape.

What About a Base-Layer?

A base-layer is a thin, well-fitting garment worn under your clothing which purpose in hot weather is to wick away moisture from your body to help in the sweat evaporation process.

In another study, participants said that their 2nd most comfortable option while exercise was wearing a thin (hot) base layer. The base-layer was significantly more comfortable than wearing a cotton t-shirt or a heavy base-layer.

The 1st most comfortable option was to skip the shirt entirely. Since that’s not really an option most of the time, you might want to think about some other options.

The moisture-wicking properties of a base-layer in this case made a big difference in the skin temperature (not the core temperature).

Not just any base-layer will help cool you down, though. A thick base-layer was as uncomfortable to wear as cotton (which all things considered really isn’t that bad). If you want some more comfort while camping in hot weather, try a thin-base layer!

This was a difficult topic to research since there are tons of different opinions. There are lots of studies with some conflicting data and even more opinions. What’s most important is what is comfortable to you. But, hopefully this inspires you to try and find what works best for you.

3. Find the Campsites with Swimming Holes

Living in Texas, camping in the heat is no joke. Because of this, the state parks that have water features (lakes, rivers, springs) tend to get crowded during the summer months. And for good reason! Even though you’ll be probably be hanging around more people, being able to dip your feet in the water (if not jump in entirely) cools down the evening in a big way.

Remember, wearing sunscreen is really important if you’re around water in the heat, but for some reason the heat doesn’t feel so oppressing when we’re around water.

When planning out your summer camping schedule, try to find the locations with water to cool down.

4. Make a Breeze, Lower Those Degrees With a Hand Fan!

We all know that sitting right in front of a fan cools you down. But why? The air isn’t being refrigerated at all as the air passes through the fan blades.

Our sweat cools our bodies through evaporation. When water evaporates, heat is lost. Which is why getting out of a pool can feel very cold, even on a warm day. As our sweat evaporates, the heat from our bodies is carried away.

So, a breeze helps, but how much of a difference does it make?

How Much Does a Breeze Help?

From the Universal Thermal Climate Index (UTCI) calculator available at the UTCI.org website, a small breeze can lower the temperature by a few degrees.

Real TemperaturePerceived TemperatureRelative HumidityWith 11.2 MPH wind (5/ms)
90° F112° F 100%No
78° F 86° F 100%No
90° F 90° F 50%No
78° F 78° F 50%No
90° F 88° F30%No
78° F 75° F 30%No
90° F 106° F100%Yes
78° F 77° F100%Yes
90° F 87° F 50%Yes
78° F 69° F 50%Yes
90° F 84° F30%Yes
78° F 67° F 30%Yes

As you can see, a slight breeze as a greater effect the colder the temperature and the lower the humidity.

This means if you are camping in 78 to 85-degree Fahrenheit weather that a slight breeze can make a big difference. Sometimes just a few degrees is all it takes to make you much less miserable.

How Do You Make a Breeze?

Back in the olden days before air conditioning, the best people had was shade and a handheld fan.

Cool off with a Hand Fan

Even though air-conditioning has arrived in these times, there are still many circumstances where a hand fan works well. Sitting in church is one of these circumstances when the temperature can’t be tweaked for everybody and it’d be considered a faux pax to bring an electric fan that could be clearly heard throughout the entire congregation.

Or! camping! A small hand fan can be just the thing if you need to cool off slightly as you hang around the campsite.

Don’t worry about bringing along the heirloom folding fan that’s passed from grandmother to granddaughter for generations–use one of these tiny folding fans that unfold to a decent size (see on Amazon). This is the exact set that we use and they’ve served us well. You could even pack this with your tent because they fold so small.

How Fast Does a Hand Fan Blow?

Unfortunately, I do not have the means to find out how fast a hand fan blows, but what I did find was that a small electric fan a foot and a half away from you creates 7mph wind. (source)

If I had to guess, a hand fan used with moderate flapping power I’d say 3-5 MPH. I’ll try to find this out if I ever get my hands on a wind meter.

5. Battery-Powered Fans

So… picture this… You’re in your tent with your significant other, and the rain fly is off the tent, and you are sleeping on top of your blankets because of how it is. Your tent is small so the heat is trapped really well, and it’s feeling really stuffy.

What do you do?

Well, this isn’t a hypothetical situation, this happened to us the last time we went camping. In our case we used our battery-powered fan:

We owe this fan many hours of sleep

This portable fan we found at Walmart for around $30, and it fits 8 D batteries. We’ve used it for several nights camping, and it makes an incredible difference. Remember those wind speed calculations above?

Because of water evaporating from our skin and a well-ventilated tent, this fan can easily drop the temperature by 5 or more degrees Fahrenheit (according to the chart above). If your tent is 80 degrees Fahrenheit, bringing the perceived temperature down to 75 is a big difference.

We owe a lot to this fan, but there are better options that we probably would have sprung for if we knew what we did now.

Using a Rechargeable Fan While Camping

For our new son, we recently bought a small rechargeable fan. This fan is fantastic since it allows us to cool him off during the summer in the stroller (or while we are camping).

The best part about this fan is that doesn’t require batteries. Instead, it has a built-in battery, which you charge just like you would charge a phone. This is very convenient, especially because our bigger fan that requires D batteries needs to have its batteries taken out when we are not using it. Leaving batteries inside your fan will slowly drain those expensive D batteries.

The one problem with our small rechargeable fan is that we got an inexpensive one, and its battery life is only so-so. It works great for a few hours, but dies soon after that. This is fine for the small fan, because it was mostly to be used during the day. (you can see it here on Amazon if you’d like)

If we knew then what we do now, we would have gotten a large rechargeable fan instead of the fan we have now.

Not having to worry about batteries and being able to recharge the fan with our car using a regular phone charger is a huge plus. Geek Aire makes a well-rated fan (see on Amazon) that I’d highly consider if we were in the outdoor fan market, again. What’s most exciting about it is that its battery life is rated to 24 hours on low speed, which would definitely last you through a too-warm night camping.

If you would like more info on using a fan while camping as well as tips to make it more effective, check out our article on this exact subject here.

6. Find Your Body’s Cold Spots

Our bodies are actually more sensitive to cold or hot in certain parts of our body than in others. In addition, if some parts of our body are cold or hot, our general comfort can be more impacted.

This means that instead of cooling (or warming) your entire body, you can be more comfortable by focusing on the most impactful parts of your body.

This is exactly what you want to think about if you are trying to stay cool while you’re camping in the hot summer. You may not be able to cool down your entire body since you aren’t in an air-conditioned building, but you may be able to cool down a part of your body instead.

Which Parts of the Body Are the Most Cold-Sensitive?

From one very comprehensive study, the cold sensation was felt strongest at the lower back and upper arms and upper legs. Not what you thought, right? (source 1)

This means that for you, personally, there may be an area of your body that will be the most important to cool down that will impact your comfort for the rest of your body. This study and others find that everyone is different and that the results of the study only apply to those who are similar to the studied participants.

In another part of this same research paper, they cite other studies, one showing that the face is another important area where if you can keep cool, will help your whole perception of staying cool. A cool face is a happy body.

Interestingly, your hands and feet have intense cold and warm sensitivity, but only locally. Meaning, for example, if you cool down your hands, only your hands feel cold and not your whole body.

Try finding your cold-sensitive spots so you don’t have to work as hard to cool your entire body. Try your lower back, upper arms, and upper thighs first, and then try other locations until you find the spot that helps cool you off the fastest.

7. Cooling Towels: How to Stay Cool and Look like a Pirate

Cooling towels are essentially breathable towels that are designed for retaining water.

I kind of scoffed at these when I first saw them, but after we bought some for the whole family, and after trying them, they definitely give some relief in hot weather. I only have tried them around my neck and my head, and they feel particularly nice around the face.

I found, personally, that in order for the cooling towel to stay effective, I had to move around the towel so that my brain didn’t get used to the cold sensation. My brain would forget that the cooling towel was there and I didn’t feel the cooling effect as much as time went on.

Anyway, while you don’t have to have a specialized cooling towel for this to work, these are long and narrow strips of water-absorbent cloth (see on Amazon) that are convenient for wrapping around your head and face.

It made for hiking around in 90+ degree Texas more bearable. 🙂

Try using a cooling towel in your body’s “cold spots”. Check out the above section to see more details about what a cold spot is.

8. If Tenting, Remove the Rain Fly

One of the easiest ways to make your tent cooler is to make sure and not sleep with the rain fly. The purpose of the rain fly is not so much for privacy but for keeping water out, and because of this it also keeps the heat in.

Camping without the rain fly

Another benefit of not using a rain fly is that you get a chance to sleep under the stars.

One of my favorite camping memories was several years ago camping in the hot summer off beach near Corpus Christi, TX. It was really hot during the day, and the nights were still pretty warm, so we slept with the tent fly off. We got to look at the stars and feel the wind from the beach (slightly dampened from the mesh of the tent). It was incredible.

Anyway, multiple benefits of sleeping with the rain fly off if you can.

9. Choosing a Tent With Great Ventilation

Tents come in different sizes and shapes, but what is not as commonly known is that different tents have different focuses on ventilation. Ventilation is one of the sharpest double-edged swords because the more ventilation the more susceptible a tent is to cold weather.

More breathable tent = colder tent

If you’re camping in a hot climate as we do, then choosing a tent with more ventilation than others is a good start. If you want to see the price ranges for tents then check out our tent prices guide, here.

Which Tents Should I Avoid for Hot Weather?

Single-Wall Tents

When you’re looking at smaller tents, such as those that are 6-person or smaller, you should never get a single-wall tent. A single-wall tent is generally made from nylon or polyester for the walls and ceiling of the tent. Single-wall tents are not always made for rainy weather, but some ware, and this means that the tent will not be breathable.

Instead, make sure your tent is a double-wall tent that can be used with or without the rain fly (the waterproof covering that is placed on top of the tent to block the rain). Though, even with a rain fly attached a double-wall tent will have better ventilation than a single-wall tent. This is because the prevailing trend for double-wall tents is that the inner wall is made from a breathable mesh.

4-Season Tents

A 4-season tent is specifically made for camping in the winter. Because of this, the fabric of the tent is often thicker providing better wind protection, and sometimes the ventilation is not as strong to prevent cold air from coming into the tent. You’ll save a lot of money by only choosing 3-season tents, anyway.

10. Stay Cool, Get a Big Tent!

The shape and design of your tent make a difference in how hot your tent will get.

It makes sense that a larger double-wall tent will have more ventilation (because of greater surface area), although of course with some tent designs this won’t be the case. Anyway, with more ventilation, and more air to heat, a large tent will not retain heat as much as a small tent with less ventilation.

In a way, a tent acts like a sleeping bag, trapping the heat energy that is radiated from the human occupants. A smaller tent will retain that heat energy more (although probably not dramatically) than a larger tent.

11. Don’t Use a Tent, Try a Hammock

We went camping as a family, recently, in the hot Texas Summer.

Texas has the funny habit of not cooling down until 4 AM. We slept with the tent fly off, and with two portable fans going in the tent at the same time. We slept on top of our blankets, and it was still a little uncomfortably warm.

Because of our small tent, our tent was much hotter on the inside than on the outside. Even with the tent fly off and the mesh exposed (as much ventilation as possible aside from the tent doors open), the tent retained a lot of heat.

There are a lot of valid ways to cool down a tent, but one option is to not use a tent at all. The protection a tent provides from danger is mostly mental. In fact, I did some research on whether animals attack humans in tents and found some data on the subject. I wrote what I found here in this article.

Tents are effective at keeping out insects, so if you are staying in a location with a ton of mosquitoes, this may not be an option for you.

If insect repellent keeps away the bugs, you should consider the most awesome way to spend your time camping: Hammocking. I absolutely love how the relaxing sensation of laying in a hammock, and I try to experience it any time I can when I go camping.

Hammocks and CBS

Hammocks have an interesting problem that is only a problem in cold weather conditions: CBS, or Cold Butt Syndrome (no I am not making this up). CBS happens because wind scoops underneath the hammock and blows away with your freshly stolen body heat.

If you are camping in sub-65 or sub-60-degree Fahrenheit weather, you might run into this issue. If you are planning on hammocking in colder weather, we have an article comparing sleeping pads and underquilts for hammock insulation, and another article comparing underquilts and topquilts.

CBS can definitely work in your favor in hot weather. If you’re having trouble staying cool, a hammock with a little bit of a breeze is just the thing to keep you staying comfortably cool as you sleep.

12. Reflect the Heat Away – Catch-22!

One interesting technique to beat the heat is to go the opposite way of shade and instead reflect the heat away.

Even the t-shirt you decide to wear can make an impact on how much heat your clothes absorb.

This is a classic catch-22 situation because white fabrics are often more transparent and allow more sun energy than dark fabrics.

Therefore, just because a fabric color is dark or light does not mean automatically that one will be hotter than the other.

There is evidence that light-colored clothing will reflect more heat away and keep you cooler, although there is some disputing evidence in various studies. It appears that looser outer-clothing will make more of a difference than what color the clothing is.

Light Tents or Dark Tents?

This same catch-22 applies to what tent you are looking for.

On the one hand, a dark tent will block more of the suns rays than a light-colored tent.

A trend these days is tinted tents. These tents block more of the sun, keeping the inside of the tent darker.

One glaring issue with these tinted tents is that most of the sun that is blocked is blocked from the rain fly. That means that removing the rain fly will remove will let in all that light you were trying to keep out. For this reason, the expectation of these tents is to keep out light, and not necessarily to stay cooler. There is a point where ventilation will win over blocking the light in its effectiveness at cooling the tent.

There’s not really any solid data about the color of the tent and its internal temperature… but I will try and report back if I ever find anything.

13. Avoid Hot Camping Surfaces

It turns out that the place where you pitch your tent can actually impact how hot your tent will be!

In a study on different heat retentions for different surfaces, it was found that at midday, the temperature above grass was by far the coolest out of Asphalt Concrete and Soil.

  • The air above Asphalt Concrete at noon: 113° F
  • The air above Soil at noon: 93° F
  • The air above Grass at noon: 73° F

In many campgrounds, there isn’t always much of an option where you can set up your tent, some requiring you to stay on a concrete pad. So you might have to make due with what you have.

When you’re camping in the wilderness, it’s better to camp on durable surfaces (flat rock) than soil or grass, to reduce impact. In any case, if it’s hot, you can still try and find a durable area with good green space around.

Sources

Regional thermal sensitivity to cold at rest and during exercise (source 1)

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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