This guide will help decide what to do if you want to cool your tent without electricity on a hot day.
The best part?
Why do tents get so hot?
There are many reasons why a tent can overheat, and many times the person that set it up is to blame for this. From choosing a camping area with no shade at all, to setting up the tent too early in the day, these mistakes can lead to a horrible camping experience.
But the most common mistake that can lead to overheating issues is the lack of ventilation.
All tents will trap the heat of the sun inside. They are basically mini-greenhouses. The two most important gases that can trap the heat are water vapors and carbon dioxide. Both of them thrive in such a small and enclosed space.
In fact, from respiration and perspiration only, a human can produce up to 1.25 liters of water vapors per day. This water vapors will usually collect as droplets on your tent’s wall. What’s the other gas that results from breathing? Carbon dioxide (CO2). Add the natural air humidity plus some other stuff that you keep in your tent, like wet clothes or wet sleeping bags, and you are creating the perfect greenhouse effect.
Last time I checked we all need to breathe so the only thing we can do to prevent overheating is to have proper ventilation.
Pick a shaded area to camp
This is for all sun lovers out there. You can stay in the sun and bake all day long if you want but don’t do that to your tent. Don’t pitch your tent in direct sunlight.
Common sense right? Even though you love the sun so much and you like baking in the sun all day, imagine this: you’ve been on the beach all day, getting overheated, and then, straight after, you pop inside a sauna. Can you do this? How will this make you feel? Because that’s really what’s happening if a tent stays in the sun all day. You’ll end up having your own perfect sauna.
So, what to do? Look around for natural shades (trees, hills, vegetation, buildings if you’re not in the wilderness, etc.) and choose a place that might get shade most of the day. Keep in mind that the Sun will move across the sky and what can be a shaded area in the morning can turn into an oven in the afternoon. So, an area that’s surrounded by trees can increase the chances of getting shade all day.
Staying out of the direct sunlight will not protect your tent from the greenhouse effect completely. Always find a way to let the water vapors and carbon dioxide out. Let your tent breathe.
If you can find a spot close to a river, lake or pond, I’d say go for it. Any small breeze can make a huge difference and help you get a nice cooling effect on a hot and humid day.
Choose the best moment to set up your tent
Like I said before, when it comes to cooling a tent the best thing you can do is to prevent it from overheating in the first place. Say you arrive at your camping area early in the morning. Do you actually need your tent to be ready to go at that time? Will you even use it until you want to sleep?
I bet most of us don’t. But we like to pitch it up as soon as possible because deep in our minds we know that after a barbecue and a couple of beers we can’t be bothered with this. And it’s a fair point, but the only outcome of doing this is that you’re giving your tent the time it needs to trap as much heat as it can.
So waiting until just before the sun goes down is the perfect moment to pitch the tent. This way you’ll make sure that sleeping inside your tent will be as comfortable as it possibly can be.
Use a space blanket to reflect the heat
Sometimes you might end up camping where there’s no natural shade, and then you need to improvise.
A lot of times I see people camping on the beach with tents being pitched up in direct sunlight. They’re supposed to provide them some shade but once you get inside you can barely breathe. The air gets trapped inside, there’s no ventilation, and there’s nothing to stop the heat from turning this into an oven.
But there’s an inexpensive trick that can make a big difference. That is to cover the whole tent with a space blanket.
These blankets were built with one purpose only: to reflect the incoming heat – remember, tent insulation works both ways. If you can’t find one that’s big enough to cover the whole tent you can get the same results by combining 2-4 of them. They are not that expensive, and you are looking to pay around $10-$15 for each. Note that for a small tent, 2 of them should be enough.
Make sure you use some sturdy ones, not the thin ones that can get ripped by the wind. Here’s a good one, but you’ll most likely want to get two of them.
The process of assembling them is straightforward, but if you want this explained in detail, I’ve included this link where you can see how exactly you can cover a tent with space blankets.
How does it work?
You want to build a “window” out of some empty bottles (you need to cut out the bottom part) and a piece of cardboard.
What does physics say?
In theory, the air should get in from the bottom of the bottle. As it flows in and space gets constricted it should catch speed and act like a fan blowing cool air.
You’ll want to set this panel up where the entrance is. For this to work, you’ll also need to face the tent towards the breeze. Otherwise, it’s pointless. If can find some ice, you can put some inside the bottle, therefore, increasing the chances of getting some cold air. Alternatively, if you can check my DIY guide on air conditioning.
There aren’t too many alternatives to electric fans. I recommend that you get yourself a small battery-operated fan. They will help you a lot during the night, but nothing can cool a tent on a scorching day. Once again, focus more on preventing it from going hot, and you’ll be better off this way.
If you have a better idea on how you can cool a tent without electricity, please leave a comment below. I would like to include this in my post.