Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Scourge of Humidity

Sleeping in the open in the desert is usually pleasant. Even in the peak of summer, nighttime temperatures are comfortable. You need an air mattress but not a tent, because there are few mosquitoes or other pests. Most importantly, there is very little rain, and when there is, you dry out quickly.

The same cannot be said for other parts of the world, which are polluted with humidity. Humidity creates lush greenery to hide in, but the penalties are severe. In places like Britain and New England, it can become difficult to camp out for extended periods because the insidious moisture permeates everything. Not only is there condensate falling from the sky, sometimes for weeks on end, but once you get wet you might never get dry again without artificial help. High humidity breeds all sorts of insects, molds, odors, discomforts and inconveniences, and it can often lead to a dull, lethargic feeling that doesn't go away.

My simple advice, whether you are homeless or not, is to move to the desert if you can, at least as your base location. Life is easier there no matter what your resources are.

Humidity is worse than cold. At least you can bundle up against the cold. With a tent and several sleeping bags, you can be comfortable in temperatures well below freezing. Add humidity in the form of rain, snow or saturated air, and sleeping outdoors becomes much more problematic. If your clothing or bedding gets wet, its thermal value collapses and will never recover unless you actively dry out.

Humidity can also make heat unbearable. In a dry environment, when you drink plenty of fluids and your body learns how to sweat, even 110°F can feel comfortable. Jack up the humidity to 98% and temperatures as low as 80° can seem unbearable. It's not just the heat but the stickiness that's hard to take. When it's humid outside, you feel like you are never clean -- like there's a perpetual layer of slime on your skin. You don't have this feeling in the dry desert no matter how hot it gets.

In the desert, dogs don't have fleas and houses don't have termites. There is no rot or mold and rarely a mosquito, because there's no place for them to breed. Unpleasant odors are minimal. Dry food stays dry and doesn't go stale. Paper goods and clothing remain crisp, and any wet clothing dries almost instantly. You don't even need a towel when you take a shower, because you dry in minutes anyway.

I just don't see why people willingly live in humid areas. London or Boston are interesting to visit during the 2 days out of 10 when the weather is benign, but after a couple of days of the usual shit, you just want out. Even Hawaii and the Caribbean, which seem like Paradise from afar, may be so cursed with wet (especially on the windward side of islands) that they're suitable only for vacations, not for real life.

You can travel and camp in humid areas--I do it all the time.--but you always have to have a backup plan. If you get rained out, bugged up or sogged in, what are you going to do? Even if you camp successfully for a few days, you will probably need some time in conventional lodging like a motel to clean up and dry out.

Sleeping in a car is probably the best way to "camp" in humid areas. At least you're protected from the worst of the rain, and you can crank the heater while driving to dry out your rig. Your only vulnerability is when you open a window for ventilation at night. Then the rain and mosquitoes can intrude, and you have to try mosquito netting or plastic sheeting to keep them out.

One the whole, though, humidity isn't wholesome and should be avoided. The Mediterranean climate that is the "cradle of civilization" (Rome, Greece, Hollywood, etc.) is dry enough. Near the Mediterranean itself, most people still live without heat or air conditioning, open to the outside air. There's hardly any distinction between "inside" and "outside" because there doesn't need to be. Humidity only became an issue when civilization started inexplicably moving north, to dreary places like England and Germany. That's when protection from the elements became a must.

If you are smart, you'll do the reverse migration: back to warm and dry climates where every day isn't a struggle. If you like shoveling snow and scraping off mold, by all means do it. If you would rather live easily, simply and cheaply, then head for the dry!

Also see: Things You Don't Need: Snow

©2009, Glenn Campbell, PO Box 30303, Las Vegas, NV 89173.
Released from suburban Boston (in the rain).
You are welcome to comment on this entry below.

1 comment:

  1. It is humid in Oklahoma but I would never move to the left coast. I lived on the high plains of New Mexico 1982-1988. I loved the climate there and know where you're coming from.