How To Stay Cool When Camping In A Tent 

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Written By Jay Clatworthy

Off Grid Camping contributor.

How To Stay Cool When Camping In A Tent 

Why do tents get so hot?

The main reason why tents get so hot when camping during hot weather or in hot climates is the sun. The solar wavelengths emitted by our sun are absorbed by the tent fabric.

When this happens the air inside is heated like an oven. This is called solar gain. Tent fabric absorbs the heat but doesn’t allow it to go out. 

How can you keep a tent cool?

A hot tent on an even hotter day doesn’t make for the best camping experience, but how should you go about keeping your tent cool? 

Should you put a tarp over your tent?

Tarps have been used for years by campers in various ways. One of those is using tarps to provide shade from the sun or shelter from the rain. String it up above your tent and leave a little space between the tent fabric and the tarp for air to circulate. 

There are also reflective tarps that you can get at hardware or camping stores. These offer more protection from the sun’s heat as the rays bounce off its reflective surface keeping your tent away from direct light.

Are some tent styles better for staying cool?

There are tent styles specifically designed for hot weather. These tents make use of materials and features that allow for cooler tents. Summer tents are usually made of:

  • Polyester

It is not the most breathable fabric but it is UV resistant which makes it a great option for summer camping.

  • Nylon

This is also another great material for summer tents as it allows more air to circulate than polyester.

  • Cotton

Cotton (canvas) tents are cooler than those made of polyester or nylon, the fabric itself has lots of microscopic holes which allows air to circulate better. However, these are quite heavy, making them more difficult to set up and more expensive than other fabrics. This material is also more susceptible to mold and mildew.

  • Polycotton

This material is made up of a polyester and cotton blend. Tents made from this material are the coolest of all. The natural fibers provide great air circulation which means that polycotton tents are cool in the summer and they also keep heat inside during cold weather. 

Polycotton is a durable material that resists deterioration and discoloration from UV rays. It isn’t prone to mold and mildew like other materials.

However, tents like these are heavier and bulkier than polyester and nylon tents, something to consider when looking to buy tents.

Remove Tent Fly

Removing your tent fly will improve ventilation in your tent and make it cool down quicker. During hot weather, the tent fly can block the ventilation meshes that are built into your tent and make it even hotter.

Can you put a portable AC in a tent?

Yes, you can. Portable air conditioners designed for camping are available in many shapes and sizes. According to the Chicago Tribune there are a few things to consider when buying a portable AC:

  • Tent size

How big is your tent? A portable air conditioner can only do so much in a huge tent. Look at the cooling capacity of the AC in terms of square feet and compare it to the size of your tent.

  • Ventilation

If you’re bringing a large tent, chances are that your AC is a bigger model, too. These need ventilators, exit holes for the air to pass through. Make sure your tent has them.

  • Portability

How heavy or how light do you want your portable AC to be?  You may not want to lug around a heavy AC model on the way to the campsite.

  • Power source

A portable AC can be battery or electricity-powered. Consider that not all campsites do not have electrical outlets and a battery will eventually die out unless it is rechargeable or has a solar energy charger.

  • Noise

A portable AC can be quite noisy, fortunately, many new models are designed to be quiet. BE considerate of other campers and get a quiet AC.

Will an evaporative cooler work in a tent?

Evaporative coolers or swamp coolers work by passing warm air through water-soaked pads that speed up the process of evaporation and release cooler air back outside. This means that its effectiveness is reliant on the relative humidity of your camping area.

Higher humidity levels mean that the air cannot absorb a lot of air. In turn, the evaporative cooler has less water to introduce to the air in order to cool it. So before buying an evaporative cooler, look at the humidity level of your camping grounds.

How can I cool my tent without electricity?

If you want to cool down your tent but don’t have a portable AC or an evaporative cooler, here are you few things that you can do for a cooler tent without electricity:

  • Set up your tent underneath trees

Trees provide cooling shade and help keep your tent cool. Just remember that the sun moves and changes positions so try to look for an area where the trees can protect you from all angles.

  • Bring a lot of water containers

If you have space, freeze lots of water in coolers or jugs and pack them into iceboxes and use them in your sleeping bag near your feet. Use the water for drinking when it melts.

  • Open all vents

Open all the flaps, doors, and privacy curtains. This allows air to circulate and helps to cool down your tent.

  • Wait until sundown to pitch your tent

Pitching your tent during the day allows the sun’s rays to heat up the air in the tent, prevent this by setting up your tent at dusk when it is cooler.

  • Use a sheet instead of a sleeping bag

Sleeping bags can trap heat and make you even hotter. Substitute it with a sheet instead, it is thinner, breathable, and is more suited for summer camping than sleeping bags.

Do canvas tents stay cooler than other tent fabrics?

Canvas tents are made of cotton fabric which is more breathable than other fabrics like nylon and polyester. Aside from making it more breathable, it is also:

  • Durable – canvas tents can last for years, leaks can even be repaired using reproofers, and tears can be patched.
  • Heat and cold retentive – perfect for either cold or summer weather camping
  • Watertight – As canvas tents get wet, it swells which closes the tiny holes found in the fabric. 

Does the color of your tent impact how hot it gets?

 Colors have different reactions to sunlight. Dark-colored tents absorb the light and retain the heat emitted by the sun’s rays, which means that they are more suitable for cold weather camping. Bright-colored tents are suited to summer camping as they reflect light wavelengths and absorb less heat. White tents are the best for total reflection as all light wavelengths just bounce off of white.