How to Keep Cool Outdoors? Find the Best Outdoor Cooling Solutions

The best outdoor cooling solutions balance technology with your resources, area, activities, and preferences.

They work with your climate and access to water and electricity. They also work with whatever area you need to cool, whatever activities you do, and whatever your personal preferences are. All of these combine to help you keep cool outdoors, in your unique outdoor setting.

The Challenge with Finding Ways to Keep Cool Outdoors

A product description simply cannot take all of those things into account to tell you if that product will keep you cool outdoors.

Even most of the product websites, who may have loads of information on their products, can’t tell you if another product or cooling method would better for you.

You need a simple way to line up what you need with what’s available. I’ll walk you through that, here.

Types of Outdoor Cooling Methods

Here’s a very brief overview of the six methods used to keep cool outdoors:

  • Shade, outdoor fans, and portable air conditioners work in most any climate. But each works best under different conditions.
  • Evaporation methods: misting systems, misting fans, and evaporative coolers (“swamp” coolers”) work best in dry, arid climates. They are not recommended at all in climates where humidity level are high (above 80%) in the hottest part of the day.

The Steps to Find Your Best Outdoor Cooling Solution

The best solutions to keep you cool outdoors target these areas:

  1. What do you have?
    Your climate
    Your resources
    Your area that needs to be cooled
  2. Your activities
  3. Your preferences

Below, we’ll walk through each of these.

1. What Do You Have?

To start zeroing in on this, consider your climate and resources.

What is your climate like?

Get a sense of the average humidity levels where you live. Why?

The humidity level tells you if you can use evaporative cooling – a major group of outdoor cooling methods that are most effective in climates under 60% humidity, which is when water and sweat can easily evaporate.

Some cooling methods are very particular about the conditions in which they work. Portable air conditioners work best under 60% humidity. They are particular in a lot of other ways, too, but I’ll get into that, later.

Outdoor fans and shades work great in all humidity levels and temperatures. Outdoor fans can even make you feel even cooler in humid climates than in arid climates.

  • ARID CLIMATES – can use all cooling methods.
  • HUMID CLIMATES – can use shade, outdoor fans, and portable air conditioning.

Get a sense of the average temperature levels where you live. Why? For Portable ACs.

If portable air conditioners are starting to look like a solution for you, find out what the average temperatures are when and where you’ll need to be cool outdoors. Most portable ACs work best between 115°F (45°C) and 65°F (18°C). Some kinds sit INside the area to be cooled, so working temperatures are not much concern if the area that needs cooling is enclosed. (The more enclosed, the more efficient the AC unit). Other kinds sit OUTside the area to be cooled. Putting them in the shade helps them withstand high temperatures. Or, you can look for [EXPAND].

What Resources Do You Have? (water and electricity)

Do you have a source of electricity?

Almost every cooling method except shade needs a source of electricity. Exceptions are based on ancient cooling methods, like water features, hanging wet cloths outdoors or filling clay pots with water. Come to think of it, motorized shades, like awnings that shift with the sun use electricity, too.

If you have electrical outlets near the area you want to cool, your options are wide open. If not, you can either get a power station or generator, or focus on shade options.

Do you have a source of water?

If you live in a lower humidity climate that can use evaporative cooling, you’ll need a source of water.

Swamp coolers, misting fans, and misting systems with pumps either have a water tank, can draw from a water tank, or can attach to a source of running water.

There are low pressure misting systems that rely on running water, typically from a garden hose. These will get the things around them a bit wet (including people nearby), and are less effective than misting systems with pumps. But they are typically the simplest and least expensive of all evaporative cooling methods.

What is the Area Like That You Want to Cool Outdoors?

There is SO much more variation among outdoor areas than there is among indoor areas. This can make cooling your area challenging because there is so much more to consider to cool outdoors areas. One way we can look at these areas is by how open or enclosed they are.

Wide Open Areas

Wide open areas are perfect for adding shade solutions. From plants to pergolas, portable to temporary to permanent, the dizzying variety of shade options can really capitalize on these kind of spaces.

Since shade shifts with the time of day and time of year, you can use wide open spaces to adjust where you put your shade. This way you can put shade exactly where you need it when you need it. Shade planning and a shade assessment are helpful in deciding where to put your shade, but they are critical with expensive and permanent shade structures.

Misting fans and low pressure misting systems are also great to cool open outdoor areas. Some systems can get things wet, which is usually less of a problem with open areas. And breezes can make low pressure systems work more like misting fans, helping disperse and evaporate the heavier water droplets.

Drawbacks

Be cautious of winds because they can knock over lightweight shade solutions. There are many ways available to anchor the different kinds of shade.

You need access to electricity for every other cooling method, and evaporation cooling needs water, as well. Portable power stations / generators and water tanks can help you overcome this.

The openness of these spaces allows cooled air to dissipate – to just float away from the very area you want to cool. This is true with evaporative cooling, but is especially true with portable air conditioners.

Partially Enclosed Areas

Partially enclosed areas have one or more walls, and / or some kind of overhead shade. The enclosure, itself, provides some cooling – the more it blocks the sun. This enclosure helps contain the coolness you are trying to create. It often provides access to resources like water faucets and electrical outlets. It provides places to mount various cooling solutions, like fans on the ceiling or walls, or pipes overhead for misting systems.

Drawbacks

While containing cool air is a major plus, the more enclosed an area, the more airflow becomes an issue. For example, swamp coolers and misting systems are great for partially enclosed areas. But they also need access to fresh air so the area doesn’t become too humid. Adding an outdoor fan to one or more corners of your area can help move that cool air to reach as far as possible.

Totally Enclosed Areas

Enclosed areas are fantastic for portable air conditioners – the more enclosed and better insulated, the better!

These areas are also great for outdoor fans. Outdoor fans make you feel cooler as their breezes touch your skin, so the amount of enclosure doesn’t matter as much as how close you are to the fan.

Drawbacks

Evaporative cooling is not suited for enclosed areas. Without fresh, circulating air, evaporation can make an enclosed area feel hot and humid – the opposite of what you want to feel.

2. Your Activities

Where and when will you need the most effective cooling? For how many people? Will they be mostly in one focused area or in several areas?

Cool Zones

It can cost more to cool outdoors areas, simply because they are typically larger than indoor areas. You can work around this by creating one or more cool zones in the areas you want to use. Focusing on a smaller area allows you to optimize its cooling.

This might be an area where most of the activity takes place, like a seating area or table. Or, it can be a resting place away from the activity, like a dedicated canopied cooling area at a festival or other large event.

Combine cooling methods to make it a true cool retreat – shade plus any other method, a misting system with a ceiling fan or other fan you can move as needed.

You could set up vertical panels to contain the luscious cool air of a portable air conditioner. This chilled air can be a critical component of a cool zone, especially at a large outdoor event. Health and safety can come into play in the outdoor heat, and cool zones can prevent heat related illnesses. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends air conditioning for this very purpose. So, despite how finicky portable air conditioners can be, they can be an important tool to keep cool outdoors.

3. Your Preferences

Keeping cool outdoors is not only about technology and science. There is a personal element, too. What works for someone might not work for someone else. Balance aesthetics, budget, and effectiveness. Choose methods that suit your style and needs.

  • Aesthetics versus function – how something looks. Maybe a misting fan suits your resources, area, and activities, but there’s something about them that you just don’t like. Maybe you’d rather not see the cooling unit. Then you could consider a misting system plus a fan. Or maybe you like the functionality of a misting fan over a misting system.
  • Benefits versus budget – maybe you don’t want to feel confined to a cool zone but don’t want to take on the cost of cooling a huge area. Consider multiple cooling zones. You might be willing to be hot for a few moments while you move between zones. Or maybe the benefits of comfort, engagement, and health are worth the extra expense.
  • Effectiveness versus efficiency – maybe the thought of using a certain cooling method, like a portable air conditioner outdoor seems wasteful to you. But to someone else, that kind of cooling, even in a less than perfectly enclosed area can be a vital help with health or other issues.

Find Your Best Solution to Keep Cool Outdoors

Browse my In-Depth Cooling Methods pages to learn more.

Visit My CoolFinder where you can find the best solutions for your unique needs. Or go straight to shopping page to shop curated outdoor cooling solutions.

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