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The best tips and tech for beating the heat while car camping this summer

Here's how to keep calm (and cool) and carry on while camping in even the worst summer heat

White Jeep camping in the Australian desert.
John O'Nolan / Unsplash

Unless you live in Hawaii (don’t brag), summertime camping can be rough. Sleeping in a tent can be hot, clammy, and humid. On the worst nights, it’s some hellish blend of all three. That’s doubly true for car campers. Modern vehicles just aren’t designed for maximum ventilation, and they’re certainly not purposefully designed for sleeping in. But with clever planning and the help of a few cool gadgets, you can find your car camping chill, even in the dead of summer.

Park in the shade

Aerial shot of a white car parked on a heavily wooded forest road.
zhangliams / Pixabay

This might seem obvious. But if you’re booking a campground online with few to no photos of your actual campsite or hurrying to find a dispersed campsite at the end of a long day of driving, it’s easy to overlook. If you’re car camping in peak summer heat, parking in the shade is a free and easy way to keep your vehicle and your campsite cooler throughout the day. Just keep the treeline in mind if you also camp with solar panels or satellite internet gear, as full-shade camp spots will affect both.

Install automotive window screens

Skeeter Beeter automotive window screens installed on a RAM truck.
Skeeter Beeters

Ventilation is everything for car campers. A properly aired-out vehicle will keep you cool in the summer and stave off the inevitable rise in humidity that comes from sleeping in a small, sealed-up space. Automotive window screens are the best, easiest, and cheapest solution here. Some models (like Skeeter Beeters) are made with sewn-in magnets, so the screens simply adhere to the outside of your vehicle. Others, like , feature a stretch design similar to an oversized nylon sock that slides over the upper half of your car doors before closing. With either option, you can easily roll the windows down from inside the car to keep heat and bugs out. Bonus: Most of these also provide additional privacy, allowing you to see out while ensuring lookie-loos on the outside can’t see in.

Head to higher ground

Paved road heading up into the mountains.
dendoktoor / Pixabay

If you’re camping in the mountains or anywhere with even a modest elevation change, head to higher ground in the summer. The rule of thumb is that you can generally expect a temperature swing of between 3.5°F to 5.5°F (depending on humidity and a few other environmental factors) for every thousand feet of elevation change. So finding a campsite just 3,000 feet higher than the one you’re currently at could mean the difference between sleeping in 90-degree heat and 70-ish-degree heat. This one tip alone allowed me to survive a week of car camping in 100-plus-degree heat in Texas.

Find a river, lake, or stream

Yellow campervan on a bridge overlooking a river.
Abigail Keenan / Unsplash

If you can’t take to higher ground, parking along a body of water is your next best bet. Rivers, lakes, streams—almost any body of water, really—will do because they allow you to take advantage of the natural cooling effect of water. Plus, I mean … waterfront camping, am I right?

Insulate your water bottle

Man pouring water into a CamelBak hydration bladder/reservoir.

Having an ice-cold drink on hand makes it infinitely easier to survive the summer heat. Access to ice is only half the equation, though; the other half is keeping it frozen for as long as possible. For that, we recommend insulating your water bottle, bladder, or reservoir.  for the most common sizes of Nalgene and CamelBak bottles are readily available on Amazon. It’s also worth buying one for your current hydration bladder if you already own one or upgrading to a fully insulated bladder like

Find a rechargeable portable fan

Small white portable fan on a wooden desk.
Siniz Kim / Unsplash

Decent are available for between $10 and $20. The best models feature a clip-on design, magnets, or even bendable tripod-style legs, so you can affix them to just about anywhere inside your vehicle to direct a nice, steady stream of air on you while you sleep. Some even feature built-in batteries. Look for a fan that’s rechargeable (ideally via USB) and will run all night without a hitch. That way, you can crank it up to full blast at night, if necessary, and recharge it during the day.

Buy a portable refrigerator …

Man pulling a steak out of an EcoFlow Glacier portable refrigerator.

A fridge? For camping? Stay with me here. Coolers are great, but even the best coolers just can’t beat a portable refrigerator. Plus, for about the same price as a premium Yeti or Pelican cooler, you can score a legit go-anywhere fridge. Small to mid-sized models run easily off of a standard, 1,000-watt power bank for a weekend or longer. Add a solar panel or two, and you’ll have ice and chilled food in the backcountry almost indefinitely. They’re perfect for guaranteeing you always have access to ice-cold water. Plus, you can stash a few reusable therapeutic-style ice packs inside and place them behind your neck, on top of your head, or at the small of your back while you’re sliding into bed at night. refrigerator is a great option with a dual-zone design, a just-right 38L capacity, and even a built-in icemaker (!).

… or a good cooler

Hands reaching into an ice-filled floating cooler.
Rugged Road

We get it: Portable refrigerators aren’t in everyone’s budget. A decent cooler is the next best thing. Opt for a rugged, lightweight, well-insulated model designed to hold ice for up to a week. We like Rugged Road’s V2 series of coolers—the 45 and 65 models are well-sized for car campers. For maximum convenience, opt for a good rolling cooler like . Keep in mind that good ice management is key, especially during the summer months. So, be sure to pack your cooler properly, keep it in the shade, and only open it when you absolutely must.

Splurge on a portable air conditioner

EcoFlow Wave 2 Portable Air Conditioner in the front seat of a vehicle.

If you really, really hate the heat, splurging on a portable air conditioner is the best solution for enjoying summer car camping. It’s also the most expensive. But the trade-off is that, with even a modest portable power bank (and, ideally, a few solar panels), you can camp in relative comfort year-round. Here, too, EcoFlow saves the day, courtesy of its . It’s compact, ultra-quiet, and runs for up to eight hours (with the add-on battery), so it’ll cool your space all night long and then charge during the day. Bonus: It also works as a heater to keep you toasty warm while winter camping.

Mike Richard
Mike Richard has traveled the world since 2008. He's kayaked in Antarctica, tracked endangered African wild dogs in South…
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