Surviving summer in Australia depends on where you are. From December to March, the Munga-Thirri-Simpson Desert National Park is closed due to extreme heat. Meanwhile, in the tropical North, Kakadu can be closed due to the flood risks brought on by the wet season. Add in the prospect of increased marine stingers in tropical waters in the warmer months, and it can start sounding a little unwelcoming.
Even in the southern states, it’s unlikely to be smooth sailing around your favourite coastal camping destination. As you hit the sand with your togs, rods and surfboards, your risk of overheating rises like an engine radiator impaled by a wicket from your game of beach cricket.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Think ahead and you’ll find ways to stay cool, even when summer conditions become challenging. And, when it comes to staying safe in the sun, prevention is always better than cure.
As overlanders, we’re a remarkably lucky group of people. Take a look at your tow-tug and camper for instance. For many, their combined cost can amount to a sizeable down payment on a home. Once acquired, we cover our rigs in all sorts of sorts of accessories. The question is whether we’ve invested wisely, particularly when it comes to staying sun smart. Let’s have a look at where our choices can make a real difference.
First of all, consider the awning. In most cases, awnings provide shade predominantly to the kitchen area. But have you thought of installing a second shade space on the opposite side? Do so and you’ll create a covered area where the whole crew can stay cool away from the meal prep area. The added benefit is it will provide more shade to the camper itself, and this makes a difference. You see, the thermal mass of the camper absorbs the sun’s heat during the day and inevitably emits it back to you while you’re trying to go to sleep — no-one likes a sweat box.
Alternatively, you could purchase a camper custom fitted with a 360-degree awning. We love this feature on the Ultimate GT 360 camper. Add to the awning a well-ventilated living space and your home on wheels can become a haven from the harsh heat of a summer’s day.
Remember, too, that it’s not just your camper that can support an awning. Many of us fit one to our tow-tug too because we don’t sit around our camper all day. There are trips to the beach, excursions to historic sites, picnics at waterfalls, not to mention a spot of beach fishing. Wherever we go, it’s nice to have some guaranteed shade.
It wasn’t long ago that vehicle awnings options were limited to a humble 2m x 2m square of fabric. But things have changed. Now there are rectangles, 180-degree and 270-degree batwing awnings and side walls. A welcome addition to the market is the massive 17 square metre Bushwakka U-Beaut awning that can cover the length of your vehicle to wrap around the tailgate too. Now, that’s what we call all-over coverage!
When selecting an awning, think about its size as well as the fabric from which it’s constructed. You may not have realised it, but shade provided by natural materials is cooler than synthetic materials unless, that is, the material has been impregnated or layered with a reflective material. So, before you pull out your wallet, spend some time talking with the retailer about what’s on offer.
GIZMOS AND DO-DADS
When your kids are restless and clamouring for access to electrical ports to power their electronic devices, consider how else you might use these plugs to keep the whole tribe happy. A still and sticky night can be turned around with a 12V fan or an evaporative cooler. Have them permanently installed or have some plug-and-play options stowed to keep the heat at bay.
And don’t dismay if your preference is to keep a more ‘back to basics’ approach to your camping experience. As we mentioned earlier, ventilation can make a huge difference to your comfort inside a camper. So open the windows and let the breeze in. This will help remove the heat from inside your camper. It will also help cool you down as the breeze blows over the sweat evaporating from your body. To increase the benefit, remember that battery-operated fans are available with reading lights, as well as hand-held options that incorporate water reservoirs that generate a cooling mist.
Staying cool in summer isn’t all about having fancy bits of kit. Believe it or not, the ancient Chinese art of metaphysic geomancy ‘feng shui’ applies to your campsite. The literal translation of feng-shui is ‘wind-water’ and it’s a practice traditionally used to orientate buildings.
While we don’t have time to unpack the relevance of ‘green dragons’ and ‘flying stars’ to your camper’s comfort levels, it’s worth keeping an open mind. For example, apply a feng shui mindset and, given half a chance, you’ll camp on a slope, facing water. It makes sense because the slope will create drainage and you won’t get swamped if it rains. Camp in a hollow or flat ground and your good vibes will deteriorate at a rate directly proportionate to the amount of damage done to your gear in the next downpour. Face the water and you’ll enjoy the peace of mind that comes with a great view. Better still, the wind coming across will help keep you cool in the process.
Leaving ancient Chinese practices to one side, it’s hard to over-state the importance of orientation as a key determinant of your comfort levels around camp. Living in the southern hemisphere, the sun is in our northern sky. So, when we arrange our main awning area to point south, we increase the amount of shade our awning will provide. Facing in a south-west direction will orientate your kitchen awning to catch the morning sunshine, but in the hottest part of the day (2–3pm) it will provide the shade you need. If you’re around trees, camp near them, but not under them where you risk falling branches. Trees should be behind your camp (north side) so you can enjoy their cool shadow.
If you’re camping with friends, consider how you set up your rig with reference to the rest of your travel party. You need to be far enough from your neighbours to enjoy a little privacy but close enough for chats and to call out when you run out of beer. Don’t camp too close because, if you circle your campers like John Wayne circled wagons, you’ll block the breeze and limit the airflow, filling your kraal with hot, still air.
Finally, it doesn’t take feng shui to remind us that toilet blocks are full of negative energy. So, give them a wide berth (minimum 20m), even if it’s a little inconvenient when nature calls. After all, in the heat of summer’s day, there’s nothing that stinks more than an over-exercised dunny — particularly if it’s a drop toilet!
BEAT THE HEAT
Regardless of the great measures you put in place to keep the temperature down, it’s inevitable that you’re going to be battling the sun’s rays now and again. It’s how you respond that makes all the difference.
The first piece of advice is to dress for success. Don’t strip down to your budgie smugglers the minute the sun comes out. By wearing long sleeve loose fitting clothing, you trap the evaporated sweat between the fabric’s layers. When the breeze blows, it cools down the damp air trapped by your clothing, enveloping you in a blanket of cool air.
If you don’t believe us, think of people draped in heavy looking layers in the middle of the desert. They’re not doing it as a fashion statement. So follow Sid the seagull’s advice — you know, the Slip, Slop, Slap guy we first saw on TVs in the 1980s. Slip on a shirt, slop on sunscreen and slap on a hat. The Cancer Council has since added Seek and Slide to its recommended practices, so seek shade and slide on some sunnies too. Not only will these steps help keep you cool, they’ll reduce your risk of skin cancer too.
Remember too that sweating is our body’s primary method for cooling down. But sweat is made up of 99 per cent water as well as small proportions of carbs, salts, protein and urea. So we need to actively replace that fluid, both the water, and the other stuff too.
Always carry oral rehydration salts in your first aid kit and mix them in your water bottle when the temperatures start to climb. For an option that’s likely to be more palatable to the kids, consider juices, jelly, and coconut water spritzed with soda water. Alternatively, buy some purpose made ice blocks, effervescing tablets, powders and solutions from companies such as Hydrolyte and Gastrolyte that add a bit of flavour to ‘help the medicine go down’.
Many people think the only reason they feel hot is because of the ambient air temperature. However, there are other factors that can cause your body temperature to rise. Here are a few common contributors to heat stress:
- Being dehydrated, as it can lower your body’s ability to sweat.
- Consuming drinks with caffeine or alcohol will contribute to dehydration. As with most things’ moderation is key.
- Spending time in direct sunlight
- Performing physical exercise. This can cause an increase in heat since active muscles and related blood circulation activity create a lot of heat.
- Eating spicy, oily, or fried food. In addition, nuts, meats, and other high-protein foods can contribute to heat stress. This is due to a process called diet-induced thermogenesis. The increase in our metabolic rate to consume these foods adds 5–15 per cent of our energy expenditure and is released as heat after consuming the meal.
- Wearing tight-fitting, synthetic clothing. These types of fabrics trap moisture and don’t breathe easily, especially if they’re tight.
- Having certain medical conditions that affect your body temperature, such as types of arthritis, leukemia, and neurological disorders.
- Having an inflammatory illness, such as an infection which can cause fever.
- Having a thyroid disorder which can cause your body to produce too much thyroid hormone, increasing your metabolic rate burning energy and producing more heat internally.
- Taking drugs that cause high body temperatures, such as certain antibiotics, opioids, and antihistamines.
- Coconut water is 94 per cent water and fairly low in calories. It is a good source of B vitamins and potassium. Coconut water contains electrolytes, various plant hormones, enzymes, and amino acids — everything you need to stay hydrated and cool.
- Up to 60 per cent of the human adult body is water. The brain and heart comprise 73 per cent water, the lungs are about 83 per cent water, and our skin contains 64 per cent water.
- Loss of over ten per cent of total body water can cause physical and mental deterioration. Death occurs at a loss of between 15 and 25 per cent of total body water.
- Your hypothalamus in your brain is your body’s thermostat. By wetting your head and neck you are tricking it into thinking you are cool. But your body core temp may still be over heated. Drink the water instead.