Having spent many many months of my life camping when temperatures decided to slam into the mid to high 90’s, camping in hot weather is no stranger to me. Add in daily hikes in Austin Texas for two years where the mercury could climb into the triple digits pretty easily (and early) in summer and hot weather and I are no strangers. But at what point is it too hot to safely camp?
I’ve even had heat exhaustion at least twice, so being cautious in sunny hot weather is definitely an important caution that I don’t ignore.
Most outdoor enthusiasts agree that at around 90 to 95 degrees it is too hot to camp comfortably, and is bordering on unsafe depending on the heat index. According to the National Weather Service temperatures are at an unsafe heat level starting at a heat index of 105 degrees.
While there can be a 10 to 15 degree difference between what’s considered unsafe and uncomfortable, if it’s too hot to be comfortable then by most standards it’s too hot to camp.
What’s the point if you can’t enjoy yourself?
However if you are going to be summer camping there are ways you can beat all but the worst of heat and slide things a bit more in your favor to help enjoy the outdoor experience.
How Are “Too Hot for Camping” Temperatures Determined?
There are two ways of thinking about this question:
- When is it too hot to camp safely?
- When it it too hot to camp comfortably?
While it can be easy to jump right on the first one, and it’s definitely important to keep that information in mind, the second one makes more sense for answering this question.
Because if it is too hot to camp safely without risking your health, you’ve already gone past the point where it is far too hot outside to tent camp (or even RV camp) comfortably.
If you want to know what dangerous temperatures are, check out this National Weather Service site that tackles exactly how they look at and measure dangerous level temperatures.
Healthline also talks about the range of dangerous outdoor temperatures if you are exposed for an extended period of time.
The CDC Infographic on Extreme Heat is also a great graphical representation of what you need to look at.
Now when it comes to comfort:
A good rule of thumb is that once the mercury hits 90 degrees, unless it’s very low humidity, you’re starting to hit that point where it is too hot to camp.
At least too hot to camp and enjoy yourself with any consistency. Camping should be an enjoyable experience. As long as you’re hitting the ceiling at 90 degrees you’re probably good to go.
At 100 degrees it is definitely too hot to be tent camping.
For every degree the temperature rises above 90, it’s that much more important to make sure you’re in a heavily shaded area with access to water. If you have a good swimming area, even better.
That buys you a few degrees until the temperatures drop at night, though most campers agree if it’s above 80 at night – that’s rough sleeping weather.
What Does the Camping Area Look Like?
Plain air temperature doesn’t tell the full story. High 80s can seems like hell if you are in a wide open grassy plain with no trees for miles. On the other side, the low 90s during the day isn’t bad if you’re heavily in the shade and there’s a nice breeze.
When summer temperatures hit that level, shade makes a huge difference. Especially for keeping heat from building up in your tent throughout the day.
Look for areas where water is easily accessible, there’s plenty of shade throughout the day, and the areas to set up your tent aren’t too close to the fire pit or constantly out in the sun throughout the entire day.
While camping with an RV that has fans and air conditioning mitigates these concerns a lot, even when it is too hot to tent camp, but you still want as much shade as possible to stay comfortable.
Importance of Shade & Hydration
On a hot summer day the shade can feel 10-15 degrees cooler than the air around you. If the temperatures are hitting triple digits then the difference can even be slightly more pronounced than that. If you’re camping in extreme heat this is crucial to keep in mind!
The shade also gets you out of direct sunlight which is crucial when resting, avoiding sun stroke, or if you find yourself being threatened by mild heat exhaustion. Getting out of direct sunlight is crucial, and if you’re going to camp in weather that most consider too hot to camp, or bordering on it, then you need to keep this in mind.
Even when out and about, that type of weather is what a good hiking hat is for.
Hydration is another big one. This can be especially a concern when it’s hot at high altitudes. Many people report feeling fine until suddenly they don’t. But at high elevations you’re likely to get dehydrated way faster.
If you want to enjoy tent camping even when it’s hot then you need to keep these in mind.
What Are You Adjusted To?
While 90 to 95 is considered too hot for tent camping (at least safely) there are a few things that can shift that number in either direction. If you are used to living in harsh climates where 110 or 120 days are common, then chances are you could actually deal with 90 degree days fairly well, especially if the temperature drops at night.
In that situation the exact temperature for when it gets too hot to camp for you will be higher than it will be for the average person who is not used to being exposed to those extreme heat temperatures on a consistent basis.
This can make the highest decent temperature even higher. But the opposite is true, too.
When I was 28 I moved from Fairbanks, Alaska in April (still more winter than spring up there) to Austin, Texas for a job. The average temperature of my last week in Alaska? 40-47 degrees at the warmest and below freezing each night.
The temperature when the plane landed? 84 degrees and 70% humidity. Most people were kind of warm. I felt like I was dying in the desert. My body had spent four years in Alaska at that point. I was conditioned so I could wear shorts and a t-shirt when it was 40 degrees out because that was “warm.”
The environment you’re used to matters when deciding what’s too hot (or too cold) for camping.
Now with all this being said, trying to gauge “I’m used to heat” or “I like the heat” is always a bit of dicey ground, and it should never be the main focus on how you prepare, but it is a consideration that should be part of the process when deciding if it’s too hot to pitch the tent or not.
Check out this heat index calculator to determine what the actual heat index number is. This can tell you if it’s too hot to camp or not based on heat advisory numbers from the National Weather Service.
Be First Aid Prepared
While you never want to focus only on the negative, you need to be prepared for those worst case scenarios. There are a few things to look out for when dealing with the sun, high heat, and the medical problems those two things can bring.
The main issue comes down to an unsafe rise in body temperature which comes from direct exposure to sun, dehydration, and overexertion.
You must be prepared for:
- Heat exhaustion
- Heat stroke
- Sun stroke
Take a basic first aid course to learn about how these things happen, how to see the early signs of heat injury, and if you’re well prepared then you will figure out pretty quickly if it’s too hot to be out and about or if you’re good to go camping in the summer heat!
While the temperature range that is considered too hot to be comfortable or so hot as to be dangerous can shift a few degrees based on a variety of factors, by focusing on camping when it’s under 90 degrees, especially if it’s humid out, you will not only camp when it’s safer but you will likely enjoy the experience much more, as well.