If you’re planning a camping trip this summer, you’ll no doubt be praying for warm weather. But if it gets too hot, you’ll need to know how to keep your kids cool and safe from the heat while you’re camping.
Below, we share our advice for what to do when the temperatures soar and you need to keep your kids (and yourself) cool and comfortable.
The 5 basics for keeping kids cool and safe from the sun when camping
To begin with, we’re kind of stating the obvious, but only because it’s so important to protect children from the sun. Sunburn and heat exhaustion are real dangers for children and the best way to avoid them is to cover up and stay hydrated throughout the day.
- Slap on the suncream
Apply lots of suncream 30 minutes before your toddlers steps out of the shade. The best way to do this is to put it on when you get your toddler dressed for the day, then try to keep them in the shade, for example having breakfast under an awning or helping with the pots in the camp kitchen, while the cream takes effect.
Choose a suncream with an SPF of at least 30 (we always put factor 50 on our kids) and a UVA rating of at least 4 stars. This will mean your kids are protected against UVA and UVB rays.
- UVB rays are responsible for producing sunburn and many skin cancers including malignant melanoma.
- UVA rays also play a role in skin cancer formation and plays a major part in premature skin ageing.
If you’re not sure which suncream to go for, look for one that’s marketed as ‘broad spectrum’, as this will help protect against UVA and UVB rays.
Reapply suncream every 2-3 hours, or after your toddler has been swimming or if they’ve been sweating a lot.
2. Pop a sun hat on them
Choose a hat with a wide brim or a cap with material at the back to cover their neck. It can be hit and miss whether our youngest wears a hat so we tried the following to encourage him to keep his hat on:
- Choose a har a size too big as they’re less likely to notice it.
- Choose a hat with a strap, or sew a strap onto their hat.
- Let your toddler choose a hat themselves as they’ll be more likely to wear it if they like the design.
- Take them out of the sun every time they take their hat off – they’ll soon realise it’s more fun to keep their hat on and play than sit in the shade.
What eventually got Evan to keep is hat on was when he realised that it kept the sun out of his eyes. Now, he’s happy to wear a cap, even when it’s not sunny or we’re inside!
We always make sure we keep spare sun hats for the kids in the car. This way, if we forget to put one on them before we leave camp for the day, we have a backup in the car.
3. Dress your toddler in cool clothing
Keep them cool in lightweight, cotton clothing that’s tightly woven to help protect your toddler’s skin from the sun. To check how tightly woven an item of clothing is, try holding the clothes up to the sun, if you can’t see much light shining through then that’s a good sign it’ll offer some protection.
The more skin your toddler has exposed, the more at risk they are from the sun, so choose lightweight long trousers and tops to cover them up as much as possible.
Light colours are better at reflecting the heat, so although they won’t stay clean for long, white and pale coloured clothing will be best.
We always dress Evan in a vest with poppers on the bottom, even when it’s warm, as the heat makes him very itchy. His go-to outfit in warm weather is a long or short sleeve vest with long shorts over the top (and a hat, of course!).
4. Take regular breaks for water
Even in hot weather it’s difficult for kids to remember to drink when they’re busy playing and exploring the camp. To avoid them dehydrating, set a timer for every 30 minutes to an hour so you can remind them to drink.
Keep their regular drinking bottles in the shade, fridge or a bucket of ice water so they don’t have to drink warm water.
Our children love juice boxes, so we take some of these with us so they can hydrate whilst having a treat.
Another way to keep your kids hydrated is to pack fruit with a high water content such as watermelon, pineapple and oranges for them to snack on throughout the day. and of course, ice lollies always go down a treat in there’s a shop on your campsite!
5. Stay in the shade
It’s best to avoid being in direct sunlight between 11am and 3pm, but if you’re camping, this can be particularly tricky as you can’t just take your kids inside to play or watch a movie when it gets too hot outside.
Before you go, look for campsites with nearby activities that’ll keep your kids out of the sun. Museums, soft play centres, play cafes, indoor swimming pools, even libraries, will be ideal places to retreat to in the hot weather.
If you’re not camping near a town though, you can spend time exploring shady woods and waterways to keep cool. Though be sure to apply bug spray as there’ll be plenty of insects checking out the water too!
Some campsites have indoor games rooms or play barns, so if you know it’s going to be hot, book your pitch on a campsite that has these.
If there’s limited shade nearby or on-site and if you can’t get a prime spot under some trees, there are a few things you can try to keep out of the direct sunlight:
- Pack an awning or tarp to provide shade outside the tent. Make sure you put lots of toys under it, or maybe even a paddling pool, to encourage your kids to stay in the shade.
- If you’re taking a wind break, you can peg a towel over the top of this to make a more enclosed play for your kids to play. This is even better if you have wet towels that need drying!
- Pack a parasol if you’re only going away for a couple of nights and don’t want to bother putting up an awning or tarp.
- Pop-up shelters can provide instant shade wherever you are and as they’re so lightweight and easy to put up, you can relocate to a shady spot for the afternoon to keep even cooler. Pick one with heat reduction fabric to lower heat levels even more.
- Gazebos are another option, but these tend to be more prone to blowing away so if it’s breezy it might not be the best idea. Some campsites don’t let campers use gazebos for this very reasons so check with the campsite before you go.
How to keep your tent cool for toddlers
Tents act like greenhouses in the sunshine – they trap in heat from the sun and slowly get warmer throughout the day. This means that when you’re trying to get your toddler to sleep at night, it’s going to feel like a sauna and everyone is going to get very hot and bothered.
Below are some simple ways to keep your tent cool enough so your toddler can sleep.
Erect an awning
One option is to dismantle your tent in the morning and put it up again at night. This isn’t going to be the best choice if you’re camping with toddlers though. Just getting the tent up and down once with toddlers ‘helping’ (or running off) can feel like a miracle!
One way to keep temperatures down in your tent is to erect an awning over your tent. If you can find one with a reflective backing that reflects the heat from the sun before it reacher your tent, that’s even better.
Just make sure you position the awning at least 25cm above the top of your tent as this will allow air to flow between your tent and your awning and create a cooling effect.
Swap their sleeping bag for a sheet
Sleeping under a lightweight cot or toddler bed sheet will keep your kids more comfortable at night than being cooped up in a sleeping bag.
You’ll need to check the temperature before trying this one as depending on where you camp, nights can be cool in a tent, even if the heat is blistering in the day.
Remove the rainfly from your tent
You can do this night or during the day to help moisture and heat circulate and escape your tent.
Choose a tent with lots of mesh
These tents stay cooler as you can keep them open for longer, without the worry of bugs getting in. Position your tent towards the prevailing wind and you and your kids can benefit from a nice breeze blowing through your tent.
Buy a camping fan
These battery powered fans have foam blades (ideal when toddlers are about!), are quiet, lightweight and highly portable. Position one securely in your tent at night, or even in the day, to circulate and cool the air.
You could even put a bowl of ice water (if there are freezers on-site) in front of the fan for a mini, homemade air-conditioning system. Just make sure the kids are already asleep before you do this and remove the bowl before you go to sleep to avoid any accidents.
Hand fans are great for keeping adults cool but we’ve found they’re a bad idea for toddlers. Our oldest tried one and got her hair caught in it and then accidentally hit her brother in the face with it so they were quickly banned!
Best hot weather camping games and activities for toddlers
If it’s really hot, the best advice is to limit your toddler’s activities so they’re not running around in the heat. If you’re a parent of toddlers you’ll know this is virtually impossible though!
A bit of forward planning can ensure your kids still have a great time without being confined to an awning or indoor games room all day.
The advice above on suncream, hats, drinking water, wearing cool clothes and staying in the shade as much as possible applies to all these activities!
- Go on a nature trail in the woods – pack a picnic, apply some bug spray and spend the morning exploring the wildlife and plants in the woods. You might even spot some rabbits and squirrels also hiding from the sun.
- Find a space to play away from your tent (and other campers) and let your kids go wild with water guns and eco-friendly water balloons. Crochet water balloons are an eco-friendly alternative to plastic balloons which small animals could mistake for food or get caught in.
- Make a mud kitchen in a shady spot. Let your kids make a mess with a bottle of water, spoons and bowls from the kitchen as they cook up some muddy delights for you. When they’ve finished, clean them up in a nearby steam, like or just give them a cool shower in the shower block.
- Pack a small wicker basket and help your toddler fill it with feathers, leaves and grass to create a bird’s nest. This is a great activity to do whilst on a nature hunt.
- Set up a ‘cave’ or ‘den’ in a day tent. Position a portable, heat resistant play tent in the shade and fill it full of toys and books for a quiet, hideaway for your kids to relax and play in out of the sun.
What to do if your toddlers get too hot when camping
Obviously it’s better to prevent your toddler from getting too hot by keeping them hydrated and protected from the sun, but sometimes, the worst can happen and your toddler may become dehydrated or overheat.
Look for signs of dehydration
Keep an eye on how wet their nappies are, or how often they ask to go to the toilet. You should be able to tell from the colour of their wee whether they need to drink more. If their wee is orange of they’re not going to the toilet very often then encourage them to drink more water.
Other signs to look out for include dry lips and a dry tongue, crying without tears and a lack of energy. You can find out more about dehydration here.
Be extra cautious if your child has been ill recently
If you’re camping and your child has just got over a gastrointestinal illness or fever then be extra vigilant as they maybe more susceptible to the effects of the heat. To ensure they don’t dehydrate, encourage them to rest more, drink more and stay out of the sun. You can find out more here.
Listen to your toddler if they complain about the heat
kids are usually happy to play in the sunshine, but if you find your toddler is complaining about being hot it’s time to get them into the shade to cool down. If they complain about being thirsty, having cramps or headache, or seem particularly irritable, these could all be signs of heat exhaustion so cool them down immediately.
Get medical attention if you think your child may have heat-exhaustion or heat-stroke
There is detailed advice about what to do if your child experiences heat-exhaustion or a heat-stroke on the Kids Health website but if you think your toddler has either heat-exhaustion or a heat-stoke get medical attention or call an ambulance.
Most families dream of a camping trip with lots of sunshine and if you follow the basic rules of wearing suncream and a hat, staying in the shade in the hottest part of the day, wearing light clothing and drinking lots of water, the whole family can enjoy your camping trip in the sun.
Pack some handy extra such as an awning, a day tent and a fan and some fun games to play in the shade and your toddlers will have an enjoyable, and cool, camping trip to remember!