Last summer, I paddled on the Noatak River, a river above the Arctic Circle where the land sees sunlight 24 hours a day. There were two sides to this story.
One was waking up at 3 in the morning to see a gorgeous, perpetual sunset. The other was waking up at 3 in the morning, sweating profusely in the tent because, well, the sun wouldn’t go down.
Tents getting too hot in the summer is an all-too-common problem many experienced campers can sympathize with. During the day, everything left inside the tent roasts as the sun beats down and the heat gets trapped inside. This is sort of like the greenhouse effect, only without the dangerous atmospheric gases.
At night, the heat retreats, but the tent can still feel like an oven once you’re inside. Your body also produces heat that will also be trapped, and combining this with little airflow leads to a tent too hot to sleep in comfortably.
Knowing how to keep a tent cool is an invaluable, but sometime elusive, skill. Luckily, there are a lot of secrets to help cool down a tent in the heat. There are plenty of solutions, from setting the tent up strategically in the shade, buying the right tent, setting up a reflective sun cover above the tent, or being bold and removing the rain fly.
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How to Keep a Tent Cool While Camping
After a night spent in a tent that’s too hot, you’ll likely want to give up and never go camping again. With all the trouble sleeping, you need to start looking for solutions and learning how to keep the tent cool to get back out in the woods happier than ever.
You can make your entire summer camping experience drastically better and keep the tent cool by:
- Camping near water
- Setting up in the shade
- Buying the right tent
- Bringing a battery-powered fan
- Opening the tent doors and vents
- Removing the rainfly
- Using a tarp or a reflective sunshade
1. Camp Near the Water
Following Leave No Trace Principles, you should never camp closer than 200 feet from any water source. That being said, even a campsite 200 feet from a river can greatly affect the air temperature.
Rivers and water sources tend to bring a lot of cool air as the water absorbs the heat from the air around it. If you camp near a water source, you can benefit from these effects and sleep better with the sound of water in the background.
2. Set up Camp in the Shade or the Dark
When you arrive at your campsite, selecting the ideal location to set up your tent is a crucial moment. It can make a significant difference in your level of comfort when it’s time to rest after a long day.
One of the most effective ways to prevent discomfort is to pitch your tent in a shaded area. This will reduce the amount of sunlight that heats up the tent as you complete other camp tasks. Consequently, you’ll be able to sleep in a tent that hasn’t been sweltering in the sun all day.
However, shaded areas are not always readily available. For instance, the only available spot might be under a large dead tree, which can pose a few safety issues. Therefore, it’s essential to be aware of your surroundings and be prepared to set up camp in the absence of shade.
If you opt to wait until after sunset, you’ll avoid the greenhouse effect that can occur inside a tent that’s been exposed to the sun all day. Although pitching a tent in the dark can be challenging, with practice, it will become second nature.
3. Buy the Right Tent
To keep your tent cool, it’s important to consider its design and purpose, which should be taken into account even before purchasing it.
There are two main types of tents: single-walled and double-walled. Single-walled tents consist of only one layer between you and the outside. In contrast, double-walled tents have a mesh body that’s covered with a rainfly. The latter is considered more appropriate for summer camping.
Single-wall tents are designed for winter camping, where they are intended to trap heat. Consequently, they are not suitable for summer camping. When choosing a tent, look for one with ample mesh to provide adequate ventilation.
Recently, I purchased a new tent, and I noticed that the mesh on this model didn’t extend as far on the doors as my old tent. As a result, there was less airflow, and I felt hotter as I slept.
Small differences in design, such as reducing the amount of mesh, can significantly impact the tent’s overall performance in keeping you cool.
Consider a large, breathable canvas tent made of light-colored fabric with many windows. Even if you are only one or two people, the large size and windows will allow more airflow. Light color materials will not absorb as much daytime heat. And canvas breathes so well that it doesn’t heat up as fast as synthetic tents.
4. Bring a Battery-Powered Fan
If you’re car camping, a battery-powered fan is a great way to increase airflow throughout the tent at night. Many different models are available that don’t make much noise and are impressively powerful.
Positioning the fan near an open door is an effective way to swiftly alter the temperature inside your tent by drawing in the refreshing outdoor breeze.
5. Level Up and Bring a Mini Evaporative Cooler
Using an evaporative cooler to cool down your tent is a cost-effective and eco-friendly way to beat the heat during hot weather camping trips. By simply filling the cooler’s water reservoir and turning it on, the fan will pull in warm air and pass it through a moistened pad, resulting in a cooling effect as the air is released.
With the convenience of a battery-operated mini swamp cooler, you can glamp up your camping experience and enjoy a comfortable and refreshing night’s sleep while surrounded by nature.
Add a couple of handfuls of ice from the ice chest and some water, and you have a personal AC. This one is small and compact enough for camping and is USB rechargeable. There are larger options that could run off a generator or external battery for larger tents.
These are always helpful but not as effective in humid areas like the Southern US. They work incredibly well in arid environments like out West.
How to Keep a Tent Cool Without Electricity
Most of the methods we recommend in this list for how to keep a tent cool don’t require power, but here are a few more ideas of how to keep a tent cool without electricity.
6. Open the Tent Doors and Vents
Most tents are designed to allow for a certain amount of airflow to help you out when the tent is too hot. These vents are often small but can be incredibly effective in the summer. Unzipping the doors and rolling them back to keep them open when the weather is right can help dramatically. Opening both doors allows air to flow through the tent and keeps air from getting trapped inside and heating up quickly.
This applies only to double-walled tents with a mesh layer and a waterproof rain fly that can be taken off separately. You want to keep the mesh layer fully secured, without gaps that could let the summer bugs in, but the rainfly is where you can create spaces for ventilation.
7. Remove the Rain Fly
When the weather is on your side, you can remove the entire rain fly. This requires checking the forecast or observing the weather conditions around you before deciding to take the rain protection away.
Whenever I take the rain fly off, I often leave one corner connected to the tent poles and fold it neatly underneath that corner of the tent, weighted with some gear or a rock to keep it in place. This allows me to get the rain fly thrown over the tent and put up quickly in case some unexpected rainstorms come through at night. There’s nothing much worse than waking up to a storm coming down inside your tent.
8. Cuddle Frozen Water Bottles
This is the opposite of the classic winter camping hack of putting a hot rock or water bottle in your sleeping bag at night to stay warm. If your tent’s too hot and you’re trying to keep cool without electricity, use a frozen water bottle instead.
Day or night, carry this thing around like a newborn baby, and it’ll take the edge off. You can hold it to your head or neck, or wrap it in a t-shirt and snuggle it at night to stay cool.
Cooler ice packs, a bag of ice, or even a wet towel could also be used in this way. It may not cool the whole tent, but it can help individuals feel cooler.
Staying Cool in Your Tent at Night
Nighttime can be one of the most critical times to keep the tent cool. With a tent that’s too hot, you’ll end up tossing and turning the entire night, losing every bit of energy that you may need for a big hike or adventure the next day. Therefore, these extra tips to stay cool at night in your tent are incredibly important to note.
9. Bring an Extra Cooler of Ice and a Fan
Put the previously listed suggestion on steroids and bring an extra cooler full of ice with you in addition to an electric or battery-powered fan.
Open the cooler lid inside your tent at night and set up the fan to blow over the top of the ice and toward you. It’s like a DIY air conditioner that will take the edge off the heat and allow you to fall asleep.
10. Sleep Alone
Sleeping in a tent with fewer people can significantly aid in keeping the tent cooler at night. The human body naturally generates heat, and with multiple people occupying a small tent, the temperature inside can quickly rise.
By reducing the number of individuals in the tent, you decrease the amount of body heat and breathing that contributes to the heat buildup. This simple adjustment can make a big difference in ensuring a comfortable and cooler camping experience.
No one likes sleeping next to another sweaty body. Sometimes it’s well worth bringing the extra tent just to avoid the discomfort and potential bitterness between tent mates.
11. Sleep on Top of the Sleeping Bag and Use a Sheet Instead
For many, myself included, sleeping inside a sleeping bag can help you fall asleep. While it can be a weird shift, sleeping on top of your sleeping bag rather than inside it will help keep you cool while sleeping.
Instead of a sleeping bag, you can pack a thin sheet to sleep under during the hot summer. This has always helped me still sleep comfortably without overheating.
Keeping Your Tent Cool During the Day and Without Shade
If you’re backpacking and have a layover day, managing the tent throughout the day is essential to keep the temperature down. Often, this is easily solved by setting the tent up in the shade, but many areas are without shade. There are two effective ways to keep your tent cool during the day when shade isn’t available.
12. Take the tent down during the day
It might be obvious, but taking the tent down when the sun comes up is probably the most effective way to avoid the tent getting too hot. Depending on your tent, the take-down time can be incredibly brief, causing only a minor nuisance. Simply wait until the temperature drops at night and set the tent back up.
A tent that isn’t set up won’t get everything inside it to a boiling temperature. However, some tents have a more involved process with setup and take-down. In that case, you need to look for other solutions.
13. Use a Tarp or Reflective Sun Shade
A tarp or a reflective sun shade are great ways to build your own shade when natural shade isn’t around. This can be trickier, but with the right materials, you can create a highly effective shade shelter that can actually be more useful than natural shade.
Reflective sun shades are designed to bounce the sun away, meaning the shelter isn’t absorbing much heat. This allows the breeze to take away any heat in the tent without combatting the sun constantly adding heat to the system.
If it fits, one of those pop-up canopies over top of your tent would allow for plenty of airflow and do a lot to keep the direct sunlight off your tent.
Tent Considerations for Staying Cool
Selecting the right tent is crucial to staying cool while camping in warm weather. You’ll need to take into consideration factors such as ventilation, size, and color to ensure a comfortable camping experience.
As mentioned before, buying the right tent can dramatically affect your ability to keep your tent from getting too hot. The best backpacking tent will have a balance of features that fits your needs exactly. The design of each tent comes from long planning with intentional uses, so it’s necessary to understand the differences between each tent you choose from.
Proper ventilation is one of the best ways to help cool down your tent when the temperature rises. Many tents utilize small air vents that can be propped open or velcroed shut when not in use.
These are often located on the top of the tent, allowing the hot air to rise and escape when it reaches the vents. The difficulty here is designing the vents to allow air to escape without allowing rain to enter.
Another feature to look for is a door that can be rolled back and pinned open. This can be used as a massive vent for when you have great weather but don’t want to risk taking the rainfly off completely.
Some tents won’t have any ventilation designed into the system, which should be a total red flag if you plan to do any summer camping. These are for winter, intentionally designed to trap as much heat as possible.
Some tents are made up of different materials that want to breathe and allow airflow to happen naturally, while others will trap heat and have very little movement of air.
Canvas, nylon, and polyester are the three most commonly used materials in building tents. Each material has its pros and cons, but when you’re focused on not allowing your tent to get too hot, it comes down to breathability.
Canvas can be a great choice when you want to stay cool. Cotton duck canvas is more breathable than synthetic materials like nylon and polyester, so canvas tents tend to heat up more slowly. But they also take longer to cool down.
They still get hot, so make sure you choose one with plenty of windows for good ventilation. Some, like the Kodiak Flex-Bow Deluxe, even have vents near the roof to help release rising hot air.
The amount of mesh used on a tent depends on how much ventilation you want and how lightweight the tent aims to be. Extremely lightweight tents incorporate more mesh, which packs down small and weighs practically nothing.
With a lot of mesh, you’ll feel every breeze that makes its way to the tent. This can be great for the summer months since it is significantly more breathable than any other material.
What color tent is best to stay cool?
While many people don’t put a lot of thought into the color of their tent, it can be essential for staying cool. Tan or other lighter-colored tents can help to keep the sun from being entirely soaked up. Darker colors absorb the sun and heat everything much quicker than their lighter counterparts.
What can I put on my tent to keep it cool?
Some tents can be covered in a reflective material that will bounce the sun away. These tent covers are great for super sunny days but won’t do much more than help trap the heat when night falls. For that reason, these are great during the day but can be a hindrance in the nighttime.