How Hot Is Too Hot for Camping?
There's more to consider than just the baseline temperature.
In late summer, many eager campers are still hitting the trails. However, this time of year can also bring extreme heat waves, making camping uncomfortable or even unsafe. But how hot is too hot for camping?
While this question may seem intuitive, there are many factors to consider beyond the strict number on the thermometer. Here are a few metrics to use when considering the safety of camping, as well as methods to keep cool while camping in hotter weather.
Which Temperatures Are Too Dangerous?
According to the National Weather Service, outdoor temperatures become dangerous for humans at 103 degrees. However, most outdoor experts agree that even experienced campers should reconsider their trip before temperatures reach triple digits.
Other Factors to Consider Before Camping
While the temperature will give you a decent idea of what your camping experience will be like, it doesn’t tell the whole picture. Campers also need to consider the humidity, as well as the site’s exposure and water access.
We’ve all heard people justify a high temperature by calling it a “dry heat.” According to the National Weather Service, there’s some truth to that. To best judge the safety of weather for camping, it’s best to combine the heat and humidity into one number, known as a “heat index,” or “wet-bulb temperature” according to The Camping Air Conditioner.
To find your heat index, turn to this chart from the National Weather Service, or reputable weather apps like Weather Bug. Beware of any heat indices above 103, and note these are for shaded conditions. According to the National Weather Service, “If you are exposed to direct sunlight, the heat index value can be increased by up to 15 degrees.”
Additionally, consider a site’s exposure to the sun. Ninety-degree heat will feel different in an open, dry meadow than a shaded grove with a breeze. If you’re anticipating high heat, check out photos of the camping site online and locate any shaded areas. Weather apps can tell you about the expected wind conditions.
The type of camping you’re planning will also affect your exposure to the sun. If you’re in an RV or camper, exposure will be less of an issue than in a camping tent.
Access to water will greatly impact a camping experience. If it’s 95 degrees outside but you camped next to a swimmable lake or near cool showers, your experience will be much more comfortable.
To stay safe in high heat, medical experts including Healthline suggest quick plunges in cool water, whether that’s baths, showers or even lakes. These differ from ice baths, which can be at temperatures as low as 50 degrees.
Ice baths should not be performed without the guidance of a physical therapist or athletic trainer, because they can be dangerous for those not accustomed to them.
How to Stay Cool While Camping in Heat
If you still decide to go camping in high heat, pack carefully and take proper precautions. Follow these camping tips to keep yourself and your party comfortable and avoid serious health concerns, like heatstroke.
- Pack wisely: Make sure you include a proper first aid kit in your camping gear, as well as plenty of food and water. You could even bring a portable fan. However, if you need to hike into your site, pack lightly to avoid extra stress on your body.
- Hydrate consistently: One camper needs one gallon of drinking water per day. Sipping your water consistently throughout the day will hydrate you far better than chugging the gallon all at once.
- Dress appropriately: Opt for light layers with plenty of sun coverage. Wear plenty of sunscreen, reapply often, and wear a hat.
- Seek out shade: When you set up camp, place your tent, chairs and dining area in the shade, if possible. Note the movement of the sun throughout the day to optimize your coverage.
- Prepare your tent: Ventilate your tent as much as possible, using the mesh windows. The rain-trap will lock in heat, according to Decide Outside. So if you can, sleep without it.
- Avoid strenuous activity: Now is not the time to go on that pro-level hike! Instead, try to keep sweating to a minimum and replace any water lost quickly. Add electrolytes, if possible.
- Know the signs of heat sickness: Read up on the signs of dehydration, heat exhaustion, heat stroke and sunstroke before you leave. Watch for them in yourself and others in your party. Know how to get emergency help and always remain in range of cell service.