Dealing with the Heat When Overlanding (from the Overland Expertise Pool)


When we left the Netherlands in 2003, a heatwave was about to hit Europe. During the summer months in Greece we were grateful for the foot vents in the BJ45. I bought a plant spray bottle, filled it with cold water from the fridge to spray our steaming skin, we soaked pieces of cloth and put them around our neck, and used the camouflage net as an extension of the awning.

Why it took 1,5 years to ‘discover’ the existence of cheap 12V fans, easy to place above our seats, I have no idea. Thank you fellow overlanders Eric and Carolien for one of the best tips we ever got.

Read More: Our Overland Journey since 2003

Gates of Hell, Turkmenistan (©Overlandsite)
The Gates of Hell, a gas crater that has been burning since 1971. Turkmenistan (©Overlandsite)

Dealing with Heat – Tips from the Overland Expertise Pool

How do other overlanders deal with heat, we wondered, as we were recently suffering in 48°C (118,4F) in Tashkent (Uzbekistan). It was too hot to sleep in the tent or car, even with fans blowing and we ended up staying in a guesthouse. Which got us wondering about fellow overlanders.

We threw the question in the Overland Expertise Pool, and here are their top tips and anecdotes, which includes tips on how to deal with heat when traveling with a cat, a great contribution by Killan and Marcia.

Don’t Forget to Bring

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Sun Lotion

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1. Deon – Kukamas Travels

Being South-African, we are used to heat, in fact, we mostly prefer warmer temperatures. We prefer not having to wear ten layers of clothing, gloves and generally looking like the Michelin man. But there are limits and when temperatures reach the forties (Celsius), even the tough South-Africans can do with a bit of cooling down. 

We were in the Kgalagadi, in February, when midday heat can reach lower to mid forty degrees Celsius (104-113F). Early morning and late afternoon drives are the preferred times to be out on game drives, and in the middle of the day one would be draped in your chair under any bit of shade one can find, hoping for the slightest bit of breeze to provide some respite from the stifling heat. 

Even the swimming pool feels like a hot tub. 

At the time we were looking to upgrade to our retirement home, an Iveco daily 4×4. To our surprise, one came in through the gate after a morning out in the park. A gentleman briefly emerged from the motorhome, hooked up the motorhome up to an electricity outlet and disappeared back inside. We heard the faint drone of the airconditioner… and were envious. 

At the time I wasn’t sold on the idea of having such power-guzzling appliance draining the batteries, but, after having paid them a visit to find out more about motorhomes, an airconditioner became a must-have. 

Deon’s top tip on dealing with heat: get air conditioning

Dealing with Heat Strategy:

  1. Obviously the first mode of relief is to open all the windows, of which the motorhome has plenty. If one remains inside and there is a bit of a breeze, excessive heat is mostly bearable. 
  2. Out in the bush, all kinds of flying things may also want to escape the heat; no problem, up come the flyscreens, which block the wind in turn. 
  3. We have installed a reversible fan, either to extract old air from the motorhome or to blow fresh air into the motorhome again. Mostly it only stirs the hot air around and does not do much to relieve excessive heat.
  4. As a last resort we switch on the Dometic airconditioner. It does a super job to cool the interior in no time at all. Connected to an external power supply, it can run all day and create arctic conditions. However, when we are dependent upon solar power to recharge the batteries again, one has to be conservative with the length of time one runs the aircon otherwise you might find yourself in a spot of bother.

The fun of course starts on those hot summer nights when you can’t leave the windows open, especially out in the bush. One can never be sure of what kind of flying, biting or crawling creatures may be looking to relocate. On comes the aircon, draining the battery even further.

I’m wondering now: do I really prefer summer?

Follow Deon & Mathilde’s trips on Kukamas Travels (Facebook & Instagram)

2. Paula Daer – Seventeen by Six

Paula’s top tip on dealing with heat: sleep naked like a starfish

Little fans and as much air circulation as possible. For our next truck we’ve invested a bit more in a powerful 24v fan used in boats.

Then it’s just a case of sleeping naked like a starfish and waiting for that blessed 4am moment when the air often cools for a couple of hours.

Until it all starts again!

Paula & Jeremy share their overland adventures on Seventeen by Six

(©Paula Dear)

3. Ferenc – Overlandsite

The extreme but dry heat of Iran or Turkmenistan didn’t really bother us. Once we covered ourselves from the burning sun-rays, we were fine. In humid Laos, however, we realized that sleeping in a rooftop tent all the way from Laos to Singapore was going to be an adventure on its own. With our 2006 Prado, traveling is a breeze (pun intended), which has an effective air conditioning that rarely lets us down.

However, we can’t escape the heat once we stop. In short, we do not actually have a good solution against heat. I’ve even researched portable air conditioning units, but instead we ended up frantically looking for USB-powered fans through multiple markets in Laos with not much success.

Ferenc’s top tip on dealing with heat: take a quick dip in the cold water

We’ve recently purchased another vehicle for our future trips, but as it’s an old Iveco 4×4 van, it doesn’t have any air conditioning. This means we’re now even being cooked inside when we’re on the move. With this new van, however, we will be a bit more organized. I am ordering the right-sized 12-volt fans (several of them) and will install them both in the driving and living areas of the interior.

Naturally, the best solution is when we manage to find a camp spot right next to a lake or river. There isn’t anything more refreshing than a quick dip in the cold water.

Although the hot weather combined with extreme humidity tortured us for weeks, we somehow tend to be cold more often during our trips. So when we finally get to warmer areas, we don’t complain much, just sweat through it like a couple of warriors.

Follow Ferenc & Evelin’s overland travels on Overlandsite (website).

Read more: Why we Travel with a Rooftop Tent


4. Julie Tuck – Tucks Truck

We’ve recently been in a massive heat-wave here in western Canada with temps over 44°C (111°F). We don’t have a/c, only fans.

Julie’s top tip on dealing with heat: use blackout windows that are facing the sun

We try where possible to do things like:

  • Driving to the highest point we can find.
  • Finding a spot near water (even a small stream can be amazingly cooling).
  • Position the vehicle in the shade and so as to catch any small breezes.
  • Blackout any windows that are facing the sun (a side awning helps a lot to keep one side of the truck in shade).

It gets a bit uncomfortable occasionally, but even during several months in the Amazon, we have never felt it worth investing in aircon for our rig.

Follow Julie & Markus continuous overland journey on Trucks Truck (website & Instagram)

(©Tucks Truck)

5- Aldo & Vera – Alveto Expedition

Our Toto, the name of our Expedition Land Cruiser KDJ120 Prado, came with air conditioning. We rarely use it as we can get sick from the rapid switch of temperature between cold inside and hot outside. Getting in the habit of not using the A/C also makes your body get used to a hotter climate, hence suffering the heat less.

Aldo’s top tip on dealing with heat: eat fewer salty instead of fatty meals (mainly salads, veggies and legumes)

Being in a very humid area, however, can be a problem. We can cope better at +50°C (+122°F) in Australian deserts with dry heat other than +35°C (+95°F) in Miami or the Amazon forest with high levels of humidity.

Other tips:

  • We preferably stay in the shade, under some trees. When in need of charging our batteries with the solar panels, or at the beach or in open areas, we set up our awning. 
  • We drink plenty of water (up to 2-3L per person) for hydration. We noticed that in the environments where there is low humidity, hot drinks activate a sweat response which naturally will cool the body, while cold drinks have the opposite effect, cancelling out the cooling benefits of the drink.
  • We also try to eat fewer salty and not fatty meals (mainly salads, veggies and legumes). This way the body will not perspire due having to process heavy foods.
  • When parking for the evening, we position our car according to the direction of the wind to maximize the natural ventilation.
  • We have custom-made mosquito nets that fit our windows so the biting insects cannot enter inside.  
  • When there is not enough wind, here comes the help of our 12V Fan, a cheap, simple and amp friendly device that can be left on all night without draining our leisure battery. 
  • We take a quick cold shower just before going to bed. 
  • It is also important to sleep in natural material bed lining as linen or cotton and wear light and breathable pajamas or just underwear. Obviously, if you are in the middle of nowhere there is no need for clothes at all.

Follow Aldo & Vera’s overland adventures at Alveto Expedition (YouTube & Instagram)

Read More: Mosquito Battle Plan – Tips for Mosquito Netting on your Overland Vehicle

6. Dot Bekker – Going Home to Africa

Dot’s top tip on dealing with heat: wrap a soaked bandana around your neck

As I only have Africa air-conditioning (open the windows) in my van, beating the heat of West Africa was a challenge.  My best buy was a dual dash fan that I used both on the dash and over my bed. Whilst there were days that it was only blowing hot air it still felt better than not having it. 

I had a small USB fan over my bed and when it was exceptional I would also move the dash fan to the rear, this made sleep very bearable.  Another thing that very much helped was using a soaked bandana, twirling it around a bit and then placing it in my neck, especially while driving.

Dot Bekker shared her overland journey on Going Home to Africa (website & Facebook)

If we’re talking hot and sweaty, this one is after chimpanzee trekking in dense Guinea jungle for 2 hours! (©Dot Bekker)

7. Kilian & Marcia – Gato Goes Global

We travel in a converted camper van, a Mitsubishi L300 4WD, without air-conditioning. I’m still trying to convince Kilian to get one installed, no luck so far.

We have an additional worry when travelling in hot weather because we travel with our cat, Binkie. Like dogs, cats can’t sweat. Contrary to dogs, most cats don’t like to go for a swim or have a shower to cool down. Binkie is no exception so it’s all about preventing heat exhaustion.

The van has a standard ventilation system for circulating (outside) air while driving, but this is not enough. We can’t completely roll down the windows because of Binkie.

Marcia’s top tip on dealing with heat: bring a cooling mat & get cooling vest for your cat

Tips in dealing with heat when overlanding with a cat:

  • Kilian put metal screens in the back window frames. They work well when driving, especially in the back, where Binkie usually lies on the bed. 
  • We have a cooling mat for Binkie to lie on.
  • We have a gel cooling vest for Binkie to wear. 

If we stop for lunch or shopping, we make sure it is in the shade. We have learned to avoid cities when it is warm because of the traffic jams. Roads usually don’t offer any shade.

Our wild camps have be in the shade. Of course our van provides shade, but if the ground has been in the sun all day it is still too hot for Binkie to lie on (keep in mind that grass is coolest and sand cools down quicker than solid rocks). Sometimes finding shades takes a lot of extra time, but so be it. 

When camping we take it really easy and stay up late until the temperature in the van has gone down. We sleep in the van and the pop-top helps a bit with the temperature as well.

We prefer a place that has some water and if there isn’t any, we can always have an extra shower. I will never forget the bliss we felt when we were in Marrakesh, Moroco (without Binkie back then). We were ‘camping’ in a concrete parking behind Koutoubia Mosque. It was 45°C (113°F) and no shade, only stone and asphalt around us. We’d put up the shower tent and sat in it, enjoying the cool water and the now cool ground as well. It was one of the best moments when visiting Marrakesh.

Follow Marcia & Kilian’s overland travels on Gato Goes Global (website)

8. Ashley Giordano – Desk to Glory

Ashley’s top tip on dealing with heat: buy a peppermint essential oil roller to use on the back of the neck

We try to incorporate cooling and hydrating foods into our diet: mint, watermelon, cucumber, lettuces, leafy veggies, melon, cilantro.

We also stock up on ice in our insulated mugs from gas stations (in the area where they dispense water and soda).

A peppermint essential oil roller works nicely on the back of the neck.

Ashley & Richard share their overland adventures on Desk to Glory (website & Instagram)

(@Ashley Giordano)

10. Marzena Bartkowiak – Mango 4×4

Marzena’s top tip on dealing with heat: splurge on an aircon hotel room

Aircon hotel rooms. In 2019 we had a new room with aircon and with breakfast for 2 for 15 euros. 🙂

Marzena shares her overland travels on Mango 4×4 (website)

Summers in Uzbekistan can be brutal, this is Samarkand (©Mango4x4)

11. Coen Wubbels – Landcruising Adventure

When driving in warm weather we open the windows and foot vents. The latter is a great asset of our Land Cruiser. However, when stuck in traffic in cities there is no escaping the heat. Over the years we tried several things: 

  • wet towels on our head or in our neck,
  • handheld fans,
  • plant spray bottles,
  • Prickly Heat Powder (commonly used by locals in Pakistan and India, we found)
  • until we finally bought some cheap fans in Pakistan and placed them above our seats, hanging from the ceiling.

When driving, my right foot is being slowly cooked as the accelerator is placed on the edge of the footwell, where the gearbox tunnel meets the firewall. If outside temperatures are high, this place gets extremely hot. Karin-Marijke may franticly spay water on my feet with the plant spray bottle every so often. I suspect her adding some herbal mixture to it to get rid the bland taste of my tender foot once it is fully cooked.

Coen’s top tip on dealing with heat: use a beaded seat cushion

Other tip: We drink hot tea during lunch, like locals do a lot in Central Asia, and instead of giving in to the craving for a cold sugary drink.

In the beginning of our trip we still carried camouflage netting, thinking it would come in handy while ninja camping. We found another use for it instead: extending the awning in such a way that the netting protected us from the afternoon sun yet, still let air flow undisturbed. Especially during the Greek heatwave of 2003 this worked very well. Cheap greenhouse netting should work as well.

Follow Coen & Karin-Marijke’s continuous overland journey on this website or on Instagram & Facebook.

Read more: Overland Stories in Central Asia

Check it out: the Landcruising Adventure A-dress Collection

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