Beginner- camping in 115 degree desert heat!

4:43 p.m. on August 8, 2012 (EDT)
0 reviewer rep
3 forum posts

I'm new to camping, but my bf recently invited me to join his group in the desert camping. I recently realized that the temps are going to be a scorching 115! I know we'll be on the river, but are there any secrets to keeping the tent cool or staying cool myself? The lows are predicted to be 91 at night so I'm hoping for a good idea to keep us cool and help us to sleep.


Ideas we've had so far:

wear thin light clothing

misters? (hope these work)


water water water to hydrate ourselves

stay in the water!



5:26 p.m. on August 8, 2012 (EDT)
102 reviewer rep
2,995 forum posts

Sounds like an ice cold beer therapy retreat. 

  1. Get a seat cushion floatation device. a 12 pack cooler, a giant cooler, and a pizza. 
  2. Fill giant cooler with ice and beer.  Place pizza in there too.
  3. Transfer some beer and ice to 12 pack cooler. 
  4. Take 12 pack cooler into river, sit on flotation cushion, consume beer.
  5. Iterate steps 3 & 4 until sunset.
  6. Haul out, find reclining beach chair, consume cold pizza and remaining beer.
  7. Repeat these steps daily, until time to go home.

Beer beer beer until the mirages and reality are one and the same.

Or a pretty viable alternative idea:  Don't go!  You know what they say about the mid day sun, mad dogs and Englishmen...


5:31 p.m. on August 8, 2012 (EDT)
0 reviewer rep
3 forum posts

Lol. I actually think that's their plan, but I don't drink beer or eat pizza- too many calories. But I like your floating idea. Any way to keep the tent cool enough to sleep?

And despite the weather, I already promised him and took off work, so I'm locked and loaded on this trip.


Thanks! I appreciate the advice!


5:32 p.m. on August 8, 2012 (EDT)
0 reviewer rep
606 forum posts

I think a hat is one of the most important parts of stauing cool. A big wide brim and a crown tall enough to be off the top of your head are the things to look for in a cooling hat. I built houses in north carolina for almost twenty yrs, a sombrero and a small wet towel to put between your head and the hat. If you keep your head and your feet cool it will help cool your whole body. I dont know what to tell you to help you sleep, I wouldnt sleep at all in those temps. Maybe several midnite swims?

6:19 p.m. on August 8, 2012 (EDT)
2,170 reviewer rep
2,143 forum posts

yeah, i don't know of any trick to staying cool except to not move but that only helps to a degree (not 115 of them though)


I traversed the Grand Canyon last August (long story) and it was 110 degrees in the inner canyon by 10AM. I tried to stay in shade and not move much during the worst of it was still wicked hot.

maybe it helps to know there will be suffering and steel your psyche

11:52 p.m. on August 8, 2012 (EDT)
0 reviewer rep
32 forum posts

wet/damp scarf around neck and head?

consume lots of watermelon? Or fruits? light meals? or a bucket of fried chicken, whatever you fancy, though I'm sure you'll feel gross with grease in 115 degrees...

12:05 a.m. on August 9, 2012 (EDT)
592 reviewer rep
1,522 forum posts

Do the wet neck rag, the hat, sun screen, beer...but as Ed would actually probably advocate...IN MODERATION (it will dehydrate you_) lots of lip protection. Loos clothing but not so thin as to get burned. Long sleeves. fruits and eggies with lots of water content. But with all that being said, nights will be hot most likely and hot is hot....even dry heat.

12:28 a.m. on August 9, 2012 (EDT)
3,760 reviewer rep
955 forum posts

Obviously pitching the tent in the shade if possible, if not, having a tarp to create some shade would help. Pitch it over top of the tent, but not so close as to restrict ain't flow between the two. 115 degrees almost nothing will help substantially, hopefully some of the advice here will help increase comfort incrementally.

10:29 a.m. on August 9, 2012 (EDT)
14 reviewer rep
318 forum posts

Stay home and go camping when it cools off. I am in the southern California desert right now. It miserable outside right now.

10:52 a.m. on August 9, 2012 (EDT)
625 reviewer rep
1,178 forum posts

Sounds like a suffer-fest to me! If enduring that extreme environment is something you will find fun:

1. A big hat with a wide brim.

2. Long sleeves and pants with a light, UV-resistant nylon.

3. A light, effective sunscreen on exposed skin (including lips and hands).

4. Lots of water.

5. Electrolyte supplements and sports drinks.

If you will have access to a cooler, keep a few frozen bottles of sports drink and enjoy them as a slush.

I went for a moderate trail run near Big Bear CA last week, hydrated well before and during, and still got a bit dehydrated.  Be careful!

12:49 p.m. on August 9, 2012 (EDT)
25 reviewer rep
3,227 forum posts


The best advice I can give you is don't go on that trip.  I have run lots of rivers and twice ended up in that kind of heat- in Utah on the Green which is not surprising and on the upper Missouri in Montana.  Wait and go at a cooler time.  Relentless heat is dangerous and people tend to get dehydrated especially when the ice runs out. 

11:32 a.m. on August 10, 2012 (EDT)
0 reviewer rep
3 forum posts

Thanks for all the help! I don't have the option of not going on this trip so your comments are helpful.


We won't be doing anything but being in the river or hanging out at the campsite it sounds like, but I will try not to over exert myself.  


That being said, I packed a hat for sure and found a bandana to wet and put under it.

Why the long sleeves? It seems counter- intuitive to me since we'll be in the heat on the river. I was thinking I'd prob want to layer on the spf 100 and stay in a bikini all weekend.

We've got cases of water and electrolyte replacement types of drinks, too. I've been power loading on the water for a week. So hopefully that helped!

I loaded up on SPF 50 and SPF 100 and lip protection with spf 45. I don't want to get all red out there.


11:45 a.m. on August 10, 2012 (EDT)
775 reviewer rep
2,162 forum posts

A thin, tight weave, wicking, light colored, long sleeve shirt will protect you from sunburn and keep you cooler than short sleeves. The light color and physical barrier reflect the hot sun, while the shirt absorbs sweat, cooling the air under the shirt as it evaporates. This is especially true if you are are active and moving around. Properly sunblocked bare skin is the next best bet. 

It sounded ubsurd to me as well when I was first advised to wear long sleeves. I find that in high heat and humidity, long pant legs aren't helpful and trap too much heat, but in dryer air they still do the trick.


12:38 p.m. on August 10, 2012 (EDT)
6,158 reviewer rep
1,625 forum posts

I wear a white dress shirt in the really bad heat here. I find it perfect for 100+ days: light, airy and reflective. 

LONG SLEEVES WORK!  Your sweat will moisten them and the wet fabric will act as a swamp cooler as your sweat evaporates. the fabric creates portable shade for your upper body keeping you cooler.  Sun directly on your skin makes you hotter.  Look at the migrant workers in the fields, they always wear long sleeves to the point of wearing hoodies.  Look at bedouins in the Mid East, they are ALWAYS covered. 

Also I use a neck cooler that contains silica beads which keep it moist for hours.  Cooling your neck really helps you regulate heat. 

I was a mountain bike cop for a while and found that, above 100 degrees, my body armor did a lot of good keeping the sun from cooking my torso and insulating my body from its affects. 

Of course drink water but don't neglect salt intake either. 

People have been living in ridiculously hot places for a long time.  Spend time acclimating and you'll probably be just fine. 

1:31 p.m. on August 10, 2012 (EDT)
102 reviewer rep
2,995 forum posts

purplechesscat said:

..I've been power loading on the water for a week. So hopefully that helped!.. 

If you mean tanking up ahead of your trip, no it is no help at all. Your body wants to maintain a certain fluid level.  Go above that and you pee out any excess in relatively short order.

Even when on the trip, once you exceed your nominal hydration level you will pee off any excess.  The rule of thumb no mater where or what you are doing is drink until you pee clear, or almost clear anyway.


4:55 p.m. on August 10, 2012 (EDT)
113 reviewer rep
172 forum posts

I had to convert the f to celsius...this is hot!

alright - drink drink drink (and make sure the guys are drinking water and not only beer - it's not good for hydration) - even if you spend the whole day in the water you still need to drink - something like 5-8 liter per day - otherwise you may end up dehydrated.

and about long sleeves - it's great if you hike...but if you are sitting in one place that's not the think that will keep you cooler - but it will keep your skin and will help to protect from skin cancer way better then any sun cream. so I would go with light cotton long-sleeve tee - as you can swim with it and be happy and then when you are out of the water it will keep you nice and wet - cool!!! (again it's not the best for hiking, much better for around camp and swimming)

About a tent - I don't use one when in the desert - you want all the breeze you can get - less privacy more air - make your  choice (I go with the air).

and when you are out there - don't forget to bring your ice tools!


7:01 p.m. on August 10, 2012 (EDT)
14 reviewer rep
318 forum posts

Don't say I didn't warn you. Anyway I have done this before. You can get lucky with a breeze but you may not. I would get a tent. You can sleep with minimal cloths on inside the tent. It's hard to sleep when your sweating.

Bring a mister bottle. It will cool you off. You may consider a ground pad to smooth out the ground. If you don't have the budget for a backpacking ground pad you can get a cheep inflatable pool raft with a pillow. The inflatable should last the weekend.

Don't drink a lot of alcohol in the sun it will dehydrate you.

9:25 p.m. on August 10, 2012 (EDT)
4,419 reviewer rep
6,010 forum posts

purplechesscat said:

....I loaded up on SPF 50 and SPF 100 and lip protection with spf 45. I don't want to get all red out there.


 I grew up in the middle of the Sonora Desert (a village on the Gila River Reservation until I was 12, then in the Big City of Phoenix, 150,000 at the time). All us kids "grew up to be cowboys", and to answer your question about long sleeves and such, we wore long sleeves, bandannas, and broad brimmed hats for sun protection, not just to look like the movie cowboys.

Now, about the SPF stuff - in those days (1940s and 50s) we all believed in "healthy tans". The stuff sold for out in the sun was "suntan lotion", intended to enhance the tan that "everyone should have and get lots of vitamin D". I and my compadres are now paying the price. I make regular (3-month schedule) visits to my dermatologist who sprays me with liquid nitrogen and cuts off pieces of skin. So for a while I used "sunblock" until the the feds outlawed the term. "Sunscreen" is still an allowed term.

Now, the truth (ok, the "truth", since the story keeps changing by the month) about SPF - I had a long discussion with several of the sun protection manufacturers at the OR Show, plus have been keeping up with the literature (guess why? My dermatologist keeps buying Ferraris. Add to that the rather disturbing fact that Barb's father died from melanoma that metastasized, so we are running scared). The UV spectrum is talked about as if there are two distinct and separate kinds of UV rays. Wrong! The ultraviolet is a continuous part of the electromagnetic spectrum. For convenience in designating what part is more or less penetrating and has more or less harmful effect, it is divided into three segments - UVA (wavelength range 400-315 nm, which us Old School types think of as 4000 to 3150 Angstroms), UVB (315-280 nm), and UVC (280-100 nm). If you are interested in what wavelengths birds see, for example, there are other ways of dividing up the UV spectrum. The UVC portion is used for germicidal purposes (for example in the SteriPen and AllClear water purification systems), and is of no real concern - the segment from 200nm and shorter is virtually all absorbed by the oxygen in the atmosphere. Well, actually, UVC is now also considered to be of concern - for one thing, do not activate your Steripen, AllClear, or fancy "black-light" psychedelic light show when anyone can receive the "illumination" directly of by reflection. And stay far far away from tanning beds - the skin cancer rate, especially melanoma the super-deadly kind of skin cancer, is skyrocketing especially among young women under 25, and including teenagers.

UVA mostly just activates the melanin in our skins, producing that wonderful suntan, though when you get too much (as us blonde blue-eyed types get in just a few minutes a day at sea level, and in seconds at high altitudes), you can get several forms of skin cancer, or at least, like real cowboys (and even movie cowboys like Clint Eastwood), LOTS of skin wrinkles. UVA causes indirect damage to the DNA of the skin surface layers, which can end up with skin cancers. The melanin is activated by the UVA, not produced. So while some protection is provided by the activated melanin, there is a limit, especially in fair-skinned people. UVB is much more effective at producing skin cancers, especially melanoma (and if you believe the canard that black folk do not get skin cancer, I had a good friend and colleague when I was a university professor in Mississippi who got melanoma, despite being a very dark-skinned African-American - luckily it got caught in time). UVB causes direct breakage of DNA strands.

And, by the way, exposure to UV helps promote glaucoma - wear your sunglasses (and at altitude, your glacier glasses and/or ski goggles with sufficient blockage, including side shields).

So, SPF is not the full story. You need to read the label carefully to see that the sun cream is "wide spectrum". SPF is based on the UVA reduction only on most of the sunscreens available in the US. There has been a move toward a modified SPF and several other designations that would reflect the whole UV spectrum. The formal definition of SPF is the following formula:

However, I am sure no one here is going to bother (or be able) to gather the data on their favorite sunscreen to feed into the formula. So, a few rules of thumb:

SPF30 blocks over 99% of the UV. Going to higher SPF gets a little closer to 100%, but SPF100 is still a half percentage point from complete blockage.

Since SPF is non-linear, applying a double coat does not double, nor does it even multiply. For example, two layers of SPF 10, does not give SPF 20, nor as you might expect, does it give 10x10 or SPF100. This is because of the variation of the sunscreens across the UV spectrum.

You should always renew the sunscreen every 2-3 hours, especially at high altitudes or where you get lots of reflection (off water, light-colored sand, or snow or ice on a glacier).

Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are very broad spectrum and good ingredients to have in your sunscreen. However, there is some evidence that TiO2 and ZnO in nanoparticle form can enter skin cells - it is not clear what risk is associated with this.

When I first started going to high altitudes (above 5000 ft), I had old-timers (yes there were lots of old-timers even before me) tell me to use
Clown-White grease-paint. Mostly we used it on our noses. That looked weird, but not as weird as covering the whole face. Clown-White is zinc oxide in a grease-paint makeup base. It does work, but it is really messy.

Wear long sleeves and long pants, and in hot areas, use microfiber or other wicking materials. It seems non-intuitive, but have you noticed what the desert people of the Middle East wear? Most wear long white or light-colored robes, which do a good job of blocking the UV and reflecting the infrared (heat rays) as well. Watch Lawrence of Arabia on the TV re-runs sometime.

The Arab robes are loose to allow lots of air circulation. Modern wicking materials will wick away your sweat, providing a cooling effect (growing up in the desert, we had "swamp coolers" before refrigerated air conditioners became inexpensively available - they use the evaporation of water for cooling - hmmm, that was before all the people moving to Phoenix and Tucson from the East had to have "English lawns" which boosted the summertime humidity from 5 or 10% to the 30% range - only remedy now is air conditioners that use greenhouse gases for their cooling fluid).

One thing, though, about SPF - at low altitudes, anything above SPF 30 is pretty much a waste of money, as long as you apply the right amount (a shot-glassful) and renew every 2-3 hours, more frequently if you go in the water, since no sunscreen on the market now is truly "waterproof". When you go above, say 15,000 ft as I frequently do, then SPF 80 or 100 does make a difference. That's because the air above you is thinner and does not reduce the UV as much as the 15,000 ft of air below you (18,000 ft is the half-way point is air mass above and below you). Still, you must wear clothing that filters the UV, sunglasses, and a hat (especially for us follicularly challenged folks.

Oh, and as DrReaper noted, keep your alcohol consumption way down on very hot days. Although a small amount of beer does speed up the hydration, more than a little tends to start blocking rehydration. I will leave the discussion of how that works to others.

12:51 p.m. on August 11, 2012 (EDT)
1,711 reviewer rep
3,962 forum posts

I had an idea awhile back to possibly use emergency space blanket material to cover a tent for instance to deflect heat away from a shelter. It does reflect body heat back to the body(intended purpose) so I am wondering if it could be utilized to deflect heat away from an object. 


1:45 p.m. on August 11, 2012 (EDT)
4,419 reviewer rep
6,010 forum posts


A tip I got from Ansel Adams back in the day when I was using a 4x5 view camera a lot was to cover the view camera on the tripod with a space blanket to keep it cooler when you were going to be at a given location for a while out in the sun. So yes, it would work to keep you or your tent cooler in hot desert summer sunlight, as long as you pitch it in a way that allowed airflow for ventilation. Since the space blanket is impermeable to air flow, just don't wrap it tightly around you or your tent. Using it as a "sun fly" with the tent's venting system open would work. "Cooler" is the operative word - it isn't a refrigeration sysem.

2:04 p.m. on August 11, 2012 (EDT)
2,590 reviewer rep
1,630 forum posts

A small battery operated clip on fan from Walmart etc can make a big difference in a tent. I clip one on above me so that it blows down on my face. They use 2 aa batteries and will run like 8-10hrs or so, so basically plan on a set of batteries per night. Worth it's weight in gold on those super hot and stifling nights.

3:55 p.m. on August 11, 2012 (EDT)
136 reviewer rep
623 forum posts

misting is a good idea. you will help to cool your body by the same process that sweating does. As the water you mist onto yourself evaporates, the heat is used as energy to transfer the water into water vapor. The result is a cooling of the surface of your skin, thus your body.

5:17 p.m. on August 11, 2012 (EDT)
102 reviewer rep
2,995 forum posts

Rick-Pittsburgh said:

I had an idea awhile back to possibly use emergency space blanket material to cover a tent for instance to deflect heat away from a shelter...

Draping your sleeping bags over your tent will DRAMATICALLY lower the interior temperature.  Granted 90 degrees in a tent may not seem cooler, but considering it’s 115 outside the door...


1:38 p.m. on August 12, 2012 (EDT)
25 reviewer rep
3,227 forum posts


Respectfully, you always have the option to decline a trip.  There is some good advice on this thread.

People often get into trouble in outdoors when they "have to get home by Monday."  Or not going is "not an option."  I would challenge that type of thinking.  If you are a newbie, you want to agree to go with your eyes wide open about the possible dangers and challenges of any trip in the outdoors.

8:04 p.m. on August 13, 2012 (EDT)
0 reviewer rep
14 forum posts


I was about to post some stuff but I think you may already be on your trip...

4:19 p.m. on October 8, 2012 (EDT)
25 reviewer rep
35 forum posts

yes! but the flip side must not be reflective! blue or orange is ok!

most effective is the frame and tarp system! heavy , bulky, but effective!

another option is the parachute shade, semi effective....but it still needs a frame work...

freeze almost all of your water bottles! 

above all PROTECT YOUR feet and eyes.... from reflected rays from the water and sand...

cider vinegar  works miracles after the inevitable burn.....stinks but removes the heat and burn!!!!

rubbing alcohol in a spray bottle may help cool somewhat?

also most casinos have some really really cheap weekday room rates!!!!

local RIVER RATS seek shade during the entire day! and only come out to enjoy the sunsets! 


22 years on the river!

June 25, 2018
Quick Reply

Please sign in to reply

More Topics
This forum: Older: Shoes for high temperature hikes Newer: Winter - Tarp vs Tent
All forums: Older: Easton and Brooks-Range Offer Light Shelters Newer: Meet Jim Doss, Trailspace's Reviewer of the Month