What’s the weather like out there? To quote the late, great comedian Robin Williams in Good Morning Vietnam, “It’s hot. Damn hot! Real hot!” Regardless of where you live in Australia, if you hit the roads in the summertime, it doesn’t take long for the temperature to rise.
Most of us are familiar with the original “Slip, Slop, Slap” SunSmart Campaign which was one of the most successful health campaigns in Australian history, with the mantra still uttered today. But we’d like to contribute our own sun-smart philosophy, aimed at keeping cool at camp this summer. We call it our iHEAL approach; insulation, hydration, evaporation, aeration, location.
Preparing for nature’s extremes should start before you decide what caravan or camper trailer to purchase. Think of your age, that of your kids, and how much heat (and cold) you’re prepared to tolerate when you head outdoors.
Many caravans are constructed with double fibreglass insulated bodies and pop-top roofs. Fibreglass and other insulators will do a lot to moderate temperature variations in your van.
If you’re sleeping under canvas, consider adding a tropical roof to your camper. The additional layer of material will create an air gap, which will allow heat to be absorbed by the air underneath and escape before reaching your living space. Alternatively, suspend a high quality space blanket from the internal framework above your bed space. This lining will create a reflective barrier, deflecting the heat that is beating down on the roof of your camper.
When the weather’s hot, you start losing body fluid at a far greater rate than in cooler conditions. Children in particular don’t always respond to the early signs of thirst. If your kids are starting to get cranky, lethargic, have a headache or seem to have developed the attention span of a goldfish, you’re probably seeing signs of dehydration.
Ensuring you and your family stay cool and hydrated on the road is a lot easier these days with the advent of in-cabin fridges. Ours is a 10.5L capacity fridge that, while small, is a great back up/overflow fridge that sits on the back seat, safely seat-belted via the lap-strap. Filled with fluids and whole fruit, it’s a great way to ensure that everyone arrives at camp with a full tank.
Turn your cabin fridge onto “freezer” setting and you open up a whole new range of hydration options. Electrolyte ice blocks and jellies are the perfect way to combat dehydration and the kids will love them. The products include water, glucose and electrolytes, which are essential to rapid rehydration.
Use the same space to freeze the “ice core” that is inbuilt into some water bottles. These types of bottles are a great way to keep your drinks cool for longer once you move away from the vehicle.
There are plenty of simple water evaporation techniques that will soon bring the heat down. For example, when you’re planning for a hot day, chuck a damp sheet in the fridge or freezer in the morning. Drape the sheet over yourself like a blanket when the heat gets too much. The breeze passing through the material will help keep your body temperature down and give you excellent relief from the heat. A similar idea is to pop a hot water bottle in the fridge and create a bed-friendly “cold-sac” to help keep you cool at night.
If you want a bit more technology to help the evaporative process, you might want to think about purchasing a travel-size evaporative cooler. Ours is less than 25cm high and wide and weighs just 1.5kg, so it’s a simple fix. We took it to the Red Centre during 40°C conditions, and our then two-year old enjoyed the experience.
When you’re hot, passing air across the beads of sweat on your skin naturally cools you down. So, when you set up camp on a hot day, open the side windows of your caravan for cross ventilation.
Also consider using fans to increase aeration when the wind drops. These days, 12V electric fans are an easy and inexpensive addition to your rig. Fans will increase circulation and are most effective when they are boosting the breeze in the prevailing wind direction.
When things get really warm, you might want to consider getting the kids off the floor/mattress and into the air. Set them up on a simple stretcher or rig up a hammock. Both techniques will increase airflow and help cool them down. In the middle of the day, string a damp hammock between trees to make a cool hangout zone – pun fully intended!
Your choice of campsite may be the simplest and most effective way of keeping everybody cool and happy on a trip away. Don’t just rely on your awning for shade. Did you know natural shade is cooler than artificial shade by up to seven degrees? That’s because living material — such as trees — absorb the sun’s heat and utilise the energy for photosynthesis, transpire and thus provide a natural cooling effect. By contrast, your awning will actually absorb the sun’s energy and radiate it as heat. Obviously, the lighter the colour of the awning, the less radiant heat the material absorbs.
So invest a bit of time in choosing the right campsite. If you set yourself up in the shade of a tree with prevailing crosswinds, you can almost guarantee you’ll have a happier holiday experience from the get-go.
Also, consider options for “mobile shade”. We have camp chairs that come complete with shade via a simple, flip-up canopy that creates instant sun relief, wherever you are.