Camping in the summer can be a lot of fun, but in extreme heat? Well, that depends.
Ross and I are more cold weather campers (including extreme cold), but we’ve definitely camped in hot weather before. As Canadians, however, our interpretation of “hot weather” might not be the same as yours.
Hot weather temperature ranges
Everyone has a different opinion of what “hot weather” means to them. For some, anything over 80 degrees is too hot to be outside, while others are happy to be out in 100-degree weather.
In general, however, weather has the potential to feel comfortably warm around the 70-degree mark. This is where we’ll start.
Camping in 70-degree weather (21°C)
Too hot? No. This is about room temperature, and for many people, it’s just right! Depending on wind, cloud cover, activity level, and how your body adjusts to temperatures, this can even be considered a little on the cool side.
Considering that temperatures typically dip at night, expect to cool down when you go to sleep. Make sure you have the right sleeping bag and extra layers or a blanket in case you get cold.
Camping in 80-degree weather (27°C)
Too hot? Maybe. This is a nice range to enjoy a variety of summer activities—but you can expect to feel hot and sweaty if you’re working hard. It’s still possible to suffer from heat-related illness if you’re not careful.
As long as you have good airflow in your tent at night, it shouldn’t be too hot to sleep in these temperatures.
Camping in 90-degree weather (32°C)
Too hot? For some people, yes. If you overexert yourself or don’t drink enough water, this Low levels of activity and swimming are about the most comfortable things you can do without overheating.
It can be difficult to sleep in a tent at night at this temperature. You may want to consider bringing along a light bedsheet to use if your sleeping bag is too warm, and opening up all the windows and vents to maximize airflow.
Camping in 100-degree weather (38°C)
Too hot? For many people, yes. This is when the heat begins to feel extremely uncomfortable and can be dangerous if you’re outdoors for long periods of time. Without a place to cool off, such as an air conditioned vehicle or a cool lake, it can be difficult to do anything in these temperatures.
If temperatures remain high at night, you might struggle to fall asleep and stay asleep. Again, bringing along a light bedsheet and opening up all the windows and vents can help maximize airflow and make it more bearable.
Camping in 110-degree weather (43°C)
Too hot? For most people, yes. This is when the heat becomes dangerous. You should avoid extended periods of time outdoors, and make sure you have a place to cool off if you do go outside.
The outlook for sleeping at night in these temperatures is similar to the 100-degree range. As long as those temperatures remain high, it’s going to be uncomfortable and potentially dangerous. In these cases, doing your best to stay cool isn’t always enough.
How humidity impacts the heat
If you’re camping in an area with high humidity, the air will feel hotter than the actual temperature. That’s because when there’s a lot of moisture in the air, your body has a harder time cooling itself off through sweating.
The “feels like” temperature takes into account both the actual temperature and the humidity level to give you a better idea of how hot it will actually feel.
For example, if the temperature is 90°F (32°C) with 60% humidity, the “feels like” temperature would be 104°F (40°C).
On the other hand, if the temperature is 90°F (32°C) with 20% humidity, the “feels like” temperature would be 93°F (34°C).
You can find the “feels like” temperature for your area by checking the weather forecast before you go camping.
What’s the difference between “too hot” and “dangerously hot”?
“Too hot” isn’t typically bad for your health or life-threatening—it just means you need to change something to help your body cool down. This might involve:
- Removing layers of clothing
- Slowing your activity level down or taking a break
- Rehydrating by drinking fluids
- Seeking shade or a cool space
On the other hand, “dangerously hot” means the heat is posing a serious threat to your health. Your body’s natural cooling mechanisms might not be enough to prevent heat-related illness, and you could become seriously dehydrated.
Keep in mind that your body’s ability to cool itself off can be impacted by a number of factors like your age, your sex, your weight, and whether you suffer from any health conditions.
- Older adults don’t adjust to heat as well as young adults because their bodies aren’t as efficient at sweating
- Men tend to run colder than women because they have lower core temperatures and higher metabolic rates
- Being overweight can make it harder to cool down because you have more tissue that needs to be cooled
- High temperatures can worsen chronic health conditions—especially heart disease, respiratory problems, and diabetes
The risks of camping in high heat
If you overexert yourself or become very dehydrated, which are both very easy to do even among healthy individuals when camping in high heat, you might develop a heat-related illness. These include:
Heat cramps: These are muscle pains or spasms that usually happen in the legs or abdomen. They’re caused by salt and fluid loss, and can be treated by rest, hydration, and light stretching.
Heat exhaustion: This is when your body temperature rises, you start to feel dizzy or lightheaded, your pulse quickens, and you might have nausea, vomiting, or fainting spells. It’s caused by dehydration and can be treated with rest, fluids, and cool temperatures.
Heat stroke: This is a life-threatening condition that happens when your body temperature rises to 104°F (40°C) or higher. You might have a throbbing headache, confusion, dizziness, nausea, hot and dry skin, or lose consciousness. This is a medical emergency.
Signs that you need to stop what you’re doing and do everything you can to cool down include:
- Heavy sweating
- Fatigue or weakness
- Dizziness or confusion
- Nausea or vomiting
- Muscle cramps
Other problems that can occur
Even if you never make it to the point of heat exhaustion or heat stroke, being mildly dehydrated or too hot can still throw off your trip and potentially lead to something very serious.
Mental and physical fatigue, decreased coordination, and increased irritability are all common side effects of being dehydrated. This could put you at a higher risk of injury.
Sunburn is common, but it can also be extremely dangerous (and also painful). Just one bad sunburn can increase your risk of skin cancer later in life.
Bites from insects like mosquitoes, ticks, horseflies, and deer flies can be anything from annoying to downright dangerous if a bite becomes infected, causes an allergic reaction, or transfers a disease (like Lyme disease).
Food poisoning from spoiled food—especially meat and dairy products—can be mildly uncomfortable to potentially fatal. Failing to keep these food items cool before you can eat them puts you at a higher risk.
The benefits of camping in high heat
Now that we’ve gotten all the depressing stuff out of the way, let’s talk about how great camping in hot weather can be—if you do it right. Camping in hot weather is great because:
- It’s great for swimming or relaxing at the beach
- It’s a fantastic (and affordable) way to take advantage of your summer vacation
- There’s no need for specialized gear designed for colder weather
- There are plenty of frontcountry and backcountry locations to explore in summer
- Temperatures typically cool down at least a little bit at night
Many people decide to go camping when it’s scorching hot out because in their minds, the rewards are worth the risks. This may be especially true for those who have limited vacation time and find that the summer is far too short.
How to stay cool when camping in hot weather
If you’re set on going camping in hot weather, there are a few things you can do to stay as cool and comfortable as possible:
Get the right tent. A three-season tent that’s well-ventilated will help you stay cooler than a four-season tent that’s not. Make sure your tent has plenty of mesh panels to allow air to flow through, and consider getting a sunshade or tarp to put over the top of your tent for extra protection from the sun.
Find out where you can get water from. If you’re frontcountry camping, you’ll want to make sure there’s access to clean drinking water. If you’re backcountry camping, you’ll need a water source that you can filter and drink from.
Choose the right campsite. A campsite that’s in the shade and has a nice breeze will be cooler than one that doesn’t. Campsites that are also closer to bodies of water will also be cooler than those that are further away.
Dress for the heat. Lightweight, loose-fitting clothing made from breathable fabrics will help you stay cool. Natural fibers like cotton and linen are generally better than synthetic fibers like polyester. You’ll also want to make sure you have a hat to protect your face and head from the sun.
Stay hydrated. This one is important! Drink plenty of water, even if you’re not thirsty. Don’t drink too much alcohol, which can actually cause you to lose more water. And make sure you have enough salt and electrolytes, which can help prevent cramping and heat exhaustion.
Protect yourself from the sun. In addition to wearing a hat, you’ll want to put sunscreen on any exposed skin. Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes, and consider investing in a UV-resistant tent if you plan on spending a lot of time outdoors.
Use water too cool off. Splash some water on your face or body, or take a dip in a lake or river to help you cool down. You can also put a wet towel or cloth over your head or neck to help you stay cool.
Limit intense physical activity during the heat of the day. If you plan on going for a hike, try to do it in the early morning hours and be back at camp at noon. Likewise, if you need to process wood for the campfire, don’t do it until after five o’clock in the evening when the sun isn’t as strong.
Take breaks throughout the day. If you’re feeling hot and sweaty, stop what you’re doing and take a break. Seek shade, drink some water, and maybe even take the opportunity to go for a dip. It’s important to listen to your body and not push yourself too hard when it’s hot out.
Be careful with food safety. Heat can cause food to spoil more quickly, so make sure you’re keeping perishable items like meat and dairy cool. Don’t leave food out in the sun, and don’t let it sit in your car for too long either. If you’re not sure if something is still good to eat, err on the side of caution and throw it out.
How to sleep comfortably in your tent when it’s hot
Even the best three-season tents can be uncomfortably hot in the middle of summer. If you find yourself trying to sleep in a tent that’s too hot, there are a few things you can do to cool down.
Try opening all the vents and doors to promote airflow. If there’s a breeze, point the front of your tent towards it so the wind can help cool things down.
Remove the rainfly if it isn’t going to rain. The rainfly is the waterproof outer layer of your tent, and it can trap heat inside. Without it, you’ll be able to see the stars at night, and your tent will be cooler.
Bring a portable fan to help circulate air. This tent fan is also a lantern that you can attach to the roof of your tent for airflow and as an extra light source. It’s rechargeable and can last as long as 40 hours before needing to be recharged depending on fan speed and light use.
Bring a bedsheet to sleep with as an alternative to your sleeping bag. A bedsheet made of a lightweight fabric like cotton, silk, or bamboo will help you stay cool at night.
Sleep on top of your sleeping bag instead of inside it. If all else fails, you can always just sleep on top of your sleeping bag. You might not be as cozy, but you’ll be cooler.
Try moving your sleeping pad away from the tent walls. This will create a space for air to circulate and help keep you cooler.
Wet a bandana or cloth and putting it over your face or neck. The evaporation will help cool you down.
Try sleeping in a hammock or under a tarp instead of in a tent. Since hammocks and tarps don’t have any walls, these options will allow for more airflow and help keep you cooler while also keeping you sheltered from any rain or wind.
Final tip: Reschedule your camping trip for cooler weather if you can
It’s not always possible, but if you have the flexibility to reschedule your camping trip to a time after the heat breaks, it might just be safer—and more comfortable.
This is especially a good idea if you’d like to be physically active on your trip. Extreme heat makes it very difficult and potentially dangerous to do things like hike, backpack, bike, or even just do camp chores.
Here in the Northern Hemisphere, July and August are typically the hottest months, but you can also get heat waves as early as June or as late as September. Keep that in mind when planning your trip.
You can’t control the weather, but by being aware of the risks and taking some basic precautions, you can still have a safe and comfortable camping trip in hot weather. Enjoy the summer heat while it lasts!
Elise is an experienced backcountry canoe tripper and winter camper from Ontario, Canada. She loves cooking up a storm over the campfire, taking in all the backcountry views, and enjoying a piña colada or two while relaxing at camp. She’s also certified in Whitewater Rescue (WWR) I & II and Wilderness First Aid (WFA).