As your dinner cooks on a crackling beach fire, you watch a set roll in through the fading twilight. Among the coral, the sand is your floor and the stars are your ceiling.
It’s cheap. It’s simple. It’s back to nature. You’re buying local fish, hanging your hammock between two palms, and cracking open your own coconuts. Camping in the tropics … Is there anything more adventurous?
It sounds great. And it certainly can be. But living equatorial al fresco, or even seasonal spots that get scorching, can challenge the best of outdoors folk. Just when you think you’ve beaten the bugs, the heat sneaks up and gets you. And suddenly you’re lying awake for eight straight hours in a sweaty huff as mosquitoes feast on your ripe red skin.
With those horribly uncomfortable situations in mind, here are a few tips for hot-weather camping.
Know the Region
If you're planning a trip without a hotel, hostel, Airbnb, or some other level of climate control, you absolutely have to know the region.
In the tropics, the rainy season may not just mean an afternoon shower. It may mean a river through your campsite. Conversely, if you’re headed to the arid desert, the temps will drop with the sun and a 90-degree night won’t be an issue.
Find out if you’re camping on a black sand beach. Understand when the rainy season is – will a million new mosquitoes be born every night?
Do. Your. Research.
Don’t Get Too Much Sun During the Day
Don’t expect a good night’s sleep if you spent the whole day in the sun. When we travel anywhere, we obviously want to make the most of our time there. We want to hike that cliff, surf that reef and pedal those miles.
And by all means, go for it, but try to stay out of the sun in the middle of the day.
Plan around early mornings and late afternoons, and definitely try some UV protection apparel.
Sunburn works like any other burn. Your body sends blood to the affected area to heal it, creating heat, hence you may feel like you’re on fire. If you’re tossing and turning in a stuffy tent all night, you certainly don’t need those extra few degrees.
One thing you'll quickly realize is how difficult it is to keep your food cold. If you think a cooler of warm Imperials is a drag, try food-borne bacteria.
The keys to maintaining cold storage over long periods is block ice. It lasts far longer than cubes. If you have a solid outpost, you can actually make your own by freezing jugs of water. If not, it may require a little work to find an ice factory in larger towns when you’re getting supplies for a few days in the bush.
Also, better coolers retain ice longer and are a solid investment. Good ones will keep ice for almost five days.
Don’t Bug Out
Nothing ruins a good outdoor time like bugs – mozzies, no-see-ums, sand fleas … whatever. When the wind dies on a stretch of Central American coast, those little suckers can crush you.
That awesome hammock you bought from the Guatemalan family won’t do anything when the swarms come. And there’s also the chance of getting Dengue Fever, which is absolutely horrible in the tropics. The natural inclination is to cover yourself up, but the lightest of clothing and even bug spray retains body heat.
Be sure to get a tent with options, so when the rain fly is removed, you still get air flow. Spray down your tent with insect repellent. If you’re hammock camping, make sure you have some form of bug netting.
Smoke also tends to be a great way to ward off the buzzers. You don’t have to go so far as burning tires like they often do in the third world, but keeping a fire going, or just embers, works wonders.
Mosquito coils are also clutch. Every camper should have these stocked with his or her camping gear in pretty much any climate. Another trick is to light a few sticks in the fire and place them upwind of your camp. (Just be careful not to create a forest inferno.)
This one may get a little tricky for your relationship, but your partner will thank you: Consider separate tents.
Don’t try cuddling in a hammock. Sleeping next to a warm body is awesome in Maine … not so much in Nicaragua.
Flip the Script
The one thing you’re constantly battling is the heat of the sun. Why not use it to your advantage? There are dozens of great solar gadgets out there for when you’re off the grid … And these includes fans. Charge it by day and enjoy it by night.
Camping by some kind of cool water source is a good idea for many reasons, but a simple cold shower or swim before bed can bring your body temperature down enough to get you to sleep. Hopefully, once your body relaxes, you stay cool enough to make it to morning.
Also, no one should be camping in any climate without Dr. Bronner’s Soap, but in case you’ve yet to be tuned in to this little fact, the Peppermint has a cooling effect on your skin. (It’s a must have for rashes as well.)
This is usually the last option, but when all else fails, wrap yourself in a damp towel.
It sounds awful … It is awful. But if you’re backpacking through Thailand in June, eventually you have to get some shut eye.
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