Inexperienced campers usually believe that sleeping in a tent is cold, but very often the opposite is true. Trying to sleep in a tent that feels more like an oven is no fun and usually leads to a lack of sleep and irritable people in the morning!
In this article, we hope to explain why tents get overheated and offer some simple guidance on how to cool a tent without electricity. Follow some or all of these tips, and you’ll be far more comfortable when out camping in warm conditions.
Why do tents get so hot?
During the day
Several factors combine to make your tent hot, but the biggest cause is the sun, simple as that. Removing just one of the factors can make a significant difference to the internal temperature of your tent, and protecting your tent from the sun is one of the easiest.
The inside of your tent heats up because of solar gain. The sun’s solar radiation easily passes through the tent’s outer surface and warms the air inside your tent. In effect, it acts like a greenhouse, trapping the warm air.
Other factors adding to the problem include poor ventilation, the color of your tent, and even the time you pitch your tent.
During the night
Overheating inside your tent at night is caused by body heat. Surprisingly enough, even when the outside temperature is low, the inside of a tent can quickly heat up.
Human bodies are normally at a temperature of around 98 degrees F, and so radiate a lot of heat into the tent. Plus, we are constantly exhaling warm air as we breathe. These two factors combined will quickly warm the air inside your tent.
Although it seems counter-intuitive, the solution is to allow plenty of ventilation, even if it is cold outside. Without ventilation, your tent soon becomes warm and stuffy. That’s not a climate for a good night’s sleep!
How to Cool Down Your Tent
Pitch the tent correctly
It’s important to pitch your tent carefully for the prevailing conditions. To avoid overheating your tent, the best option is to find some shade, such as overhanging trees. Bear in mind that if you are planning on lighting a campfire, the branches need to be high enough so they don’t catch fire.
If you’re in an area with little or no natural shade, then consider putting a cover over your tent. Having a tarp with you when camping is always useful, anyway.
The flip side to camping under trees is that it may shield your tent from any prevailing breeze that could keep your tent cool. If the sun isn’t too hot, and there is a cooling wind, finding a location to take advantage of this may be the better option.
Each time you pitch your tent, it’s crucial to assess the prevailing conditions and plan accordingly.
Ensure there’s plenty of ventilation
Ventilation is extremely important in a tent. Generating a natural airflow allows warm air to escape. It also brings in cooler, less humid air, preventing condensation from forming on the inside of the tent material.
Make sure all the vents are secured open, and if the weather allows, remove the rain fly completely. Many tents are designed with a mesh inner tent and separate rain fly over the top for rain protection. If you are not expecting rain, then the fly is not needed.
If you are using the rain fly, make sure there is plenty of room between it and the inner tent. If they’re too close together, it will prevent air from flowing freely, thus increasing heat and condensation.
Good quality tents will also offer mesh screens across the entrances, allowing you to leave the door open without inviting all the biting bugs into your tent!
Choose the Right Tent
A larger style tent, with plenty of ventilation, is the preferred option for camping in warm weather. Smaller tents heat up more quickly and can become very stuffy.
Open the Vents
It sounds obvious, but people forget or think they’ll be cold. Air flowing through the tent keeps it cool and helps you breathe. Remember to keep the mesh closed over doors and windows to keep the bugs out.
Tent Material is Important
Modern tent materials have improved continually. The three most popular tent materials are nylon, polyester, and cotton. Add to this that many now include a UV barrier and waterproofing as standard, and material design becomes complex.
Cotton tents use thicker material than synthetic alternatives, and this adds to the material’s heat retention properties. Of course, cotton has advantages such as tear resistance, but it is also heavier. Overall, a synthetic material will be much better in helping to keep the tent cool.
Tent Color Matters
We are back to the sun again. A light-colored tent absorbs much less UV radiation than a dark-colored tent. As the tent material heats up, it transfers some of that heat to the air inside, so a light-colored tent will be cooler.
The disadvantage of a light-colored tent is that it will allow in more light. This could be an issue when you are trying to sleep, so again, using a tarp over your tent can alleviate these problems.
Size of the Tent
As we mentioned earlier, the size of your tent will make a difference. Learning from nomadic desert people, they use large, open tents that are well ventilated. Obviously, you don’t want to carry a tent larger than your needs, but just increasing the size by a small amount will make a difference.
Pitch the Tent in a Pit
If you are setting up camp for a few days, it may make sense to dig a shallow pit, about two feet deep, and pitch the tent in it. The soil around the base of the tent will be much cooler than the surrounding ground.
Pitch your Tent Later in the Day
Leaving your tent out in the blazing sun is simply going to heat it up. If you are moving camp each day, then wait as long as possible before pitching your tent.
If you are staying in camp for an extended period, and can’t find a shady spot, consider taking your tent down during the day.
It’s Simply Too Hot for Camping
In some countries, it really is too hot for camping. At least in small tents. Of course, people have lived in desert areas in tents for centuries, but they have adapted. Larger tents, excellent ventilation, and insulation all contribute to making camping bearable. A standard hiking tent will soon become unbearable in the baking desert heat.
Extra Tips to Keep Cool in your Tent Without Electricity
- If there is a river or lake nearby, you will normally benefit from a cooling breeze and definitely cooler air on the water’s edge
- If you are hiking, try to camp at higher altitudes where the air is cooler
- Laying foil survival blankets on the sides of the tent will reflect a great deal of the sun’s heat
- If possible, take a cold shower or a dip in the river to cool you down, just before going to bed
- Use cold towels around your neck or forehead to keep yourself cool
Ice Cooler in the Tent
Okay, so this solution uses electricity, but only in battery form, so it is possible to take with you when camping. If you are traveling with your vehicle, and have space, you could bring a battery-powered cooler.
There are products available to buy, but you can also make one with a cool box and a battery fan. These are quite effective at lowering the temperature in your tent. These types of coolers are designed to run from the 12v lighter socket in your vehicle.
A word of caution, though! Don’t run the cooler for long periods, otherwise you’ll flatten your car battery. The best solution is to carry a battery purely for the cooler.
Camping can be great fun, particularly for families, with the kids loving the outdoor space and freedom. But in warm weather, sleeping in a tent that feels like an oven can quickly sour the experience!
There are many ways to help keep you and your tent cool, and using the tips above will help you get a good night’s sleep in a cool tent, ready for the next day.
This article was last updated on February 15, 2021 .
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