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Whether you’re camping or spending the day on the beach, a tent should provide shelter. It should shield you from the heat and provide a place to sleep. However, staying cool in a tent is not always easy.
While tents can provide shade from the sun, the thin material does not offer a lot of insulation. If I know that the weather is going to be hot, I use the following tips to keep my tent cool and beat the heat.
Choose a Tent Fabric That is Well Ventilated
Manufactures continue to improve the design and construction of tents, using materials that are more breathable, providing greater ventilation, while protecting you from the elements. The latest tents are constructed with fine mesh walls providing protection from those annoying biting insects. At the same time this material allows a breeze to pass through, providing a cooler and more comfortable sleeping situation.
If you are camping on the beach during the hotter times of the year, it is wise to choose a tent that has as much mesh as possible. Tents all have a solid and waterproof floor that often extends up the walls of the tent. This will restrict some air flow but does provide a leveling of protection when rain hits the ground and splatters against the tent.
Remove Your Tents Rain Fly
Many tents manufactured today come equipped with a rain fly, which is the waterproof outer layer of a double-wall tent. If you have a single-wall tent this is essentially your rain fly, making removing it not an option.
For those who do have a rain fly that can be removed this a good option for while you are sleeping, as long as there is no rain forecast for that evening. Removing the rain fly exposing the mesh walls of your tent allows heat and any moisture created from your body heat and breathing to escape through the walls. Removing the rain fly will provide noticeable relief.
A side note, if you are using a sunshade it will not need to be removed, due to the fact that sufficient space is created if you have installed it properly (at least one foot above the top of the tent).
Choose the Right Location for Your Tent
The best way to stay cool in a tent may require several different approaches, starting with finding a shady spot to place your tent. Before you set up your tent, scout the area, beach, or campsite.
When camping, I always look for a spot below a tree. While you shouldn’t have any trouble finding shade in a campsite, you may have trouble finding shade on the beach. If possible, look for an area near a ridge or a low hill.
If you are camping on the beach, you should also point your tent toward the ocean or lake. You may catch a breeze coming off the waters. The wind and air flow have a natural cooling effect. Even if you don’t have a significant breeze, even a slight air flow will provide some level of cooling. When it is truly hot, any amount of relief is welcomed.
The mesh tents we have recommended allow air to travel through the tent the entire day. Take advantage of this design by determining the direction the wind is blowing and fact your tent door (the largest opening) in the direction of the wind. A quick tip for determining wind direction is to pull up a weather app on your phone, they typically have wind speed and direction forecasts or just simply wet your finger and hold it above your head. The cool side of your finger will tell you the direction of the wind.
Another option for setting up your tent, to maximize the exposure to a breeze is to set up on higher ground.
Dig a Hole Big Enough to Set up Your Tent
Another way to keep your tent cool is to dig a hole. The soil is cooler than the hard ground and the air, offering an alternative method to set up and cool your tent.
I know that some campgrounds won’t let you dig a hole for your tent. However, there are plenty of locations where this is acceptable. Just check with the staff or park attendants before you start digging.
The deeper you dig, the cooler the ground will be, helping to keep your tent cool throughout the day and night. If possible, dig about two feet deep. You should also place a tarp below the tent to avoid absorbing any heat that does come from the ground.
In addition to placing a tarp under your tent, you may want to use a reflective tarp or sunshade, placing it above your tent. The reflective material helps to reflect heat away from your tent, providing a shaded area, protecting against direct sunshine.
A side benefit to using a sunshade is that it will allow you to sleep in even after sunrise. If you have ever been in a closed up tent on a hot, sunny day you know that it feels like you are in a sauna. To ensure the sunshade operates as it’s intended, leave a space of at least 12 inches between the tarp and the top of your tent. Doing so provides sufficient space for the air to flow freely, while providing the optimal cooling for your tent.
Avoid Pitching Your Tent During the Day
I don’t spend a lot of time in my tent until nighttime. Setting up the tent during the day allows more time for your tent to be exposed to the sun and begin heating the interior of the tent. Waiting until the evening ensures that the interior of your tent will be approximately the same as the cooler evening air temperature.
Along with waiting until the evening to pitch the tent, I also take the tent down and store it in a cooler, shaded area during the day when staying more than one night. It’s always a good practice to take your tent down during the day, not only for the cooling effect but it also helps to reduce your tent's exposure to the sun’s harmful UV rays increasing it’s the lifespan.
Keep the Windows and Door Open
In most cases, the inside of the tent is warmer than the air outside. The tent gets warmer because it traps heat inside. To avoid this problem, keep the door and windows open. This also allows cooler air to enter the tent.
Most tents are equipped with a mesh screen behind every door and window. The mesh screens allow you to keep the tent open without allowing bugs and critters to get inside.
Use a Portable Fan to Cool Your Tent
Along with keeping the door and windows open, portable battery-powered fans can also help circulate cool air inside your tent. When using a fan, keep at least one window open, allowing the warmer air to be forced out and cooler air to enter your tent
Some people like to place a bucket of ice in front of the fan. While this method does help create cooler air, it can also increase the humidity. If there is not a transference of air the interior of your tent may become humid, making it feel warmer rather than providing a cooling effect . The optimal conditions are to use the ice bucket on drier days or in dry regions.
Sleep on Top of Your Sleeping Bag
When the tent is hot, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to bundle up inside a sleeping bag. Instead of positioning yourself inside your sleeping bag, you should sleep on top of it. Doing so will hopefully serve to reduce the amount of sweating throughout the night and the sleeping bag material may also help to make you feel cooler.
Each night, I keep the sleeping bag zipped up, lay on top of it, and kick off my shoes and socks. You may also want to remove any extra layers of clothing. However, while it may be warm when you go to bed, remember that temperatures may drop significantly during the night.
If you have reviewed the forecast and it’s calling for hot and humid weather, a great alternative for sleeping is to bring along a cotton sheet instead of using a sleeping bag. Placed on top of a mattress pad or even over your sleeping bag will provide enough warmth as it cools during the night, while providing a more comfortable and cooler situation while you sleep.
Water, Water and More Water
One of the most often overlooked and important practices is to ensure everyone you are camping with is drinking sufficient water. Hydration is the most crucial part of staying cool in hot, humid conditions. For your safety and health and that of those you are camping with, ensure that everyone is drinking enough water. This needs to be a top priority.
Your body consists of over 60 percent water. In warm conditions you are sweating and as a result depleting your bodies water level, exposing you to the potential of overheating. Drink plenty of water, it will keep you cooler and healthier.
If you have been active and/or sweating a lot, in addition to losing water you will be losing salts. In this case, it’s wise to add some electrolyte by either using tablets, adding them to your water or by adding sugar, salt and lemon juice to your water. There are also beverages that you can purchase to provide supplemental electrolytes. This is essential if you have been very active during the hottest part of the day and have been sweating a great deal.
Know the Signs of Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke
The suggestions we have provided are intended to support keeping your tent cool. Even with the best efforts and intentions, under extreme conditions we all have the potential of becoming overheated. As a result, it’s important that you are able to recognize the signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke, so you can act accordingly and as quickly as possible. The following are a few things you should look for in individuals when you are exposed for extended periods of time to extremely hot conditions:
- Tired and weak
- Feeling dizzy or faint
- A decrease in their blood pressure
- Muscles cramping
- Urinating infrequently or dark yellow urine
- Fast pulse
- Feeling nauseous or sick
- Excessive sweating
- Extremely thirsty
If you or someone in your group begins showing any of these signs you need to immediately take measures to cool them down. If you are unable to do so and the signs persist you should seek medical advice.
Last Thoughts on Finding the Best Way to Stay Cool in a Tent
There is likely no one single solution that will serve to keep your tent cool, short of using a large fan connected to a generator. As this is not a very realistic or an efficient way to stay cool, you should attempt to use a variety of methods to reduce the heat.
Remember to choose a shady spot for your tent. You may also try digging a shallow pit to place your tent in. Other solutions include sleeping on top of your sleeping bag, using a portable fan, and placing a reflective tarp above your tent.
Along with ways to keep your tent cool, a couple of additional suggestions for keeping yourself cool include: wearing light-colored clothing to avoid reflecting heat and place a wet towel across my forehead.
If possible, another great option is a cold shower before going to bed. The shower lowers your internal body temperature, helping you feel cooler as you try to fall asleep. If the facilities don’t include a shower, consider taking a quick dip in the water.
As a final tip, check the forecast. If you know that the weather is going to be incredibly hot, consider rescheduling your trip for another day. If you have any other tips or suggestions to help stay cool in a tent while camping on the beach, let us know in the comments section.
Megan Jones is the lead author of Seaside Planet. She is an avid surfer, scuba diver, and travel enthusiast who takes any opportunity she can to spend time in the ocean. You can learn more about Meg and the rest of the editorial team here.