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Primitive camping staying cool and dry

By By Otha Barham / outdoors editr
May 10, 2002
Successful camping requires staying warm and dry in winter and cool and dry when the weather is hot. The current season dictates that we'll address the latter here.
A lot of folks camp these days. And most arrange to stay comfortable by camping in motor homes, fifth wheelers, or pull trailers with air conditioners as standard equipment. Shelter and staying cool are assured. Camp life is as comfortable as home life simply by flipping a switch and setting the desired temperature.
These campers often gather in groups that cover enormous acreages and enjoy the company of other campers. The campgrounds are not that far removed, I suppose, from the westbound wagon trains of yesteryear that circled at sundown, providing an evening setting for appropriate social life.
Camping, this is rightly called. I distinguish it from primitive tent camping by referring to the latter as camping out. Many of us, perhaps a higher percentage of old timers, still enjoy camping out. It puts us more in touch with the land and is essential for backpacking trips and hunting and fishing in wild country. It presents different challenges. And staying cool and dry in the heat of summer is a challenge. Herewith are some strategies.
Cooling it
Pitch your tent where it will be shaded all day long by trees or a combination of trees and nearby land features such as a mountain or large boulder. But don't camp too close to a boulder that is exposed to the sun because rock absorbs heat and stays warm at night.
Choose a camp site that is breezy, especially one that is in the path of nighttime downslope air movements. Align the tent so that its air vents catch this cool air drift.
Remove clothing damp with perspiration and sleep in something loose-fitting and dry. Sleeping on top of your sleeping bag with a cotton sheet for cover can be comfortable on warm nights.
Don't overeat before bedtime. Eating light in the evenings will keep down the amount of heat generated by your body. Drink plenty of cold liquids, even keeping an iced drink nearby to sip after lights out.
A battery operated fan might be useful for some. But usually the temperature drops enough at night to allow comfortable sleep if the above measures are taken.
Keeping dry
A breathable tent and a waterproof rain fly are standard equipment for staying dry. Try to keep the fly from touching the tent material. Leaving space between the two makes the interior cooler and prevents friction that could lead to leaks.
Site selection is essential here. I once pitched my backpack tent after dark in a beautiful aspen thicket without noticing that my spot was slightly lower than surrounding ground. I spent much of the night managing water flow in a downpour. Choose the high ground.
And for heaven's sake ditch your tent. Even if the sunset is red in the west, signaling clear weather ahead, ditch the tent. Shovel out a 3 or 4 inch deep ditch encircling the tent with an outlet ditch at the lowest point for rain runoff. Of course fill the ditch when you break camp and leave the site as you found it.
On rainy days, leave wet clothes and shoes outside the tent, perhaps stored in a plastic bag. Dry them by hanging them from limbs when the sun comes out.
When it rains, don't panic. There is a certain stirring feeling I and many others get as rain pounds the tent canvas inches from your head and thunder shakes the ground underneath. Panic disrupts this pleasure.
On an early tent camping adventure, a springtime Mississippi deluge overwhelmed our old surplus pup tent to the extent that it collapsed and fell, covering my partner and me as we lay side by side on cots. The tough canvas was not leaking, so I just stayed in place on the cot and let the raindrops pound me. The result was a free "all over" massage that felt rather good.
My partner could not mentally adjust to these circumstances, and declared that he was "getting out of here," and so he did. By leaving the scene and dashing through the dark to "safety," he got wetter than the fish in the nearby lake. I, on the other hand, stayed dry through the storm by simply staying in place feeling the rain and enjoying the lightning flashes and thunderclaps.
Keeping your cool can sometimes help you stay both cool and dry.