How To Keep Cool On The Tube (And Other Public Transport) During the Heatwave

By Tom Pritchard on at

This week is gearing up to be a very hot week. Not as bad as last year's hot summer, where just about all the plants died and air conditioners sold out, but still quite hot. Last year the weather caused outrage from the people of London who got reminded that one of the hottest and most important Underground lines (Central) won't be getting air conditioning until 2030.

Waiting 11 years doesn't really seem ideal, and even then it assumes you actually live in London to take advantage of the new cold air machines. With the heat hitting us again, here are some tips to help you stay cool when travelling through the London Underground. Some of them are even relevant for people outside London! Fancy that.

Stick to the Lines With Air Conditioning

While there are plenty of areas where Underground trains are essentially overcrowded saunas, not all of them are sweat lodges on wheels. Plenty of tube trains do have air conditioning, and Londonist has a handy map of which ones you can get on and stay cool - and immediately realising how wet you really are. But here's a rundown:

  • The London Overground, though this isn't technically air conditioning it's better than nothing.
  • 'S-Stock' trains on the Circle, Hammersmith & City, District, and Metropolitan Lines
  • TfL Rail services that use the new Crossrail trains
  • The new trams, in the few places where tram services are running

If you don't live in London I can't list every regional transport system with air con. So you'll have to do some research for yourself, and maybe avoid some of the train services that still keep the heating on all year round.

Get an Uber

No Uber driver in their right mind would have a car without air conditioning in this kind of heat, so you can help support your local drivers (and their multi-billion dollar corporate non-employers) by grabbing a car. Even if the car doesn't have air conditioning inside, you can at least open the window and try to get some breeze flowing through the car. Assuming, of course, that you're actually moving.

Water With Ice

When it's hot there are a lot of announcements about staying hydrated on the tube. That's good, because hydration is especially important when it's that hot. You could make things a little easier on yourself by adding some ice, though.

Not only does adding ice keep your water cool and topped up as it melts, you can also use it as an ice pack to help cool yourself off. On your head, face, neck, anywhere that's getting a bit too hot for you to handle, without breaking the rules of what society deems acceptable. No shoving it down your pants, basically. You can boost this effect by sticking your bottle in the fridge or freezer before you go, though that's only going to provide a small level of comfort once you get outside.

Wear Light Breathable Clothing

This should go without saying. Heavy clothes are hotter by default, and only going to get more and more uncomfortable as you sweat yourself into an early grave. Plus if they're not breathable neither they or you are going to dry off particularly well.

Avoid Peak Travel Times

That's easier said than done in a place as busy as London, with a transport system as overcrowded as it is, but avoiding the crowds can make a huge difference. People generate quite a bit of heat, so the more people there are the higher the temperature is going to be. Likewise those people are going to be sweating, which isn't going to the humidity levels any good.

The increase isn't likely to be massive, but every little bit helps and it's always better when you're not jammed into someone's sweaty armpit.

Use a Boris Bike, or Some Other Bike Hire Service

The heat has been doing wonder for the Boris Bikes, breaking new user records blast June. There's bound to be a bit of a breeze above ground, and if you're willing to dodge London traffic you can ditch the tube and cycle home instead. Assuming you can find a free bike.

Carry a Fan

It doesn't mater what kind of fan, whether it be a folding paper fan, one of those battery fans they try and flog to tourists, or a USB fan you plugged into the battery pack that's supposed to top up your phone on the journey home from work. Fans keep you cool, and while blasting warm air at your face isn't quite as nice as cold air it's far, far better than nothing.

Cooling Wrist/Neck Bands

A lot of blood flows through your neck and arms, and quite close to the surface too. That means its quite easy to cool down the blood and reduce your body temperature a little bit in the process. There are limits to how well it will work based on the ambient temperature, but it's a simple and unobtrusive way to do it. You can even buy wristbands, neck ties, and bandannas specifically designed to keep you cool over long periods of time.

There are lots of different ones out there, but the most common seem to use evaporation to help cool you off. Simply soak them in water, wring off the excess, slap them on and you're good to go.

Get a Hair Cut

You know how your grandma always tells you to wear a hat during winter because that's where all the heat is lost? The reverse is also, sort of true. Heat tends to pump out of your head because it's usually exposed, and the more exposed it is the more likely it is to waft away into the ether. Basically stop wearing hats, and shorten up your hair to lessen any insulating effect that might be going on.

Test the Hot Drink Theory

Another one of those things your grandma may have said to you, with the idea being that a hot drink helps cool you off by making you sweat more. Sweat being the body's own internal temperature regulator in this sort of weather. So you might as well put it to the test.

The bad news is that this technique only apparently works under certain circumstances, and it's naturally going to make you sweat more which isn't going to be massively comfortable.

Carry a Wet Towel

Same principle as the evaporating cooling bands really, but one designed to offer more short term comfort. If you carry around a wet towel you can just slap it against your face for a lovely cool feeling that's going to be absolute bliss in a baking hot tube carriage. Just make sure to keep it in a waterproof bag so the water doesn't get everywhere or dry off.

A similar, yet more extreme solution is also to drench yourself with a bottle of cold water before you go into the station. But that probably won't last as long.

Wear a Kilt

In weather like this half of the population will opt to wear a dress, because they're lighter and more comfortable than trousers or shorts. But some people won't, partly because it's not usually deemed socially acceptable for men to wear dresses, or because their manhood is too fragile to risk minor crossdressing for the sake of comfort.

The solution? Wear a kilt. You can't have a go at someone for wearing a kilt, and it's man clothing so you won't have to worry about sacrificing your precious masculinity to avoid heatstroke. Just try and find one that isn't made from 100% wool if you can - even if that means angering the traditionalist Scots.

Make Every Day No Trousers on the Tube Day

No Pants on the Subway Day started in New York several years ago, and has now become a regular event where people go onto the tube without trousers on for... reasons. The date varies, but it's usually sometime in January. You know when it's cold and you really need to be wearing trousers. But there's no reason why you can't make it a more regular occurrence in the summer. Trousers are a huge pain, and in hot sweaty weather they can cause chaffing - and nobody wants that. Just make sure your underwear isn't going to fall foul of whatever decency laws we still have left, and are both clean and free of compromising holes.

If you don't want to skip the trousers, you could always go commando instead. It's one less layer to worry about, and if you play your cards right nobody will know.

Just Stay at Home

The easiest way to avoid the heat and hassle of travelling? Don't do any of it. Stay at home where you can hang around in your underwear in front of a very large fan. Work from home if your job allows it, or call in sick. There's no use going anywhere if it's going to be detrimental to your health, so why bother? Plus at home you can grab things out of your freezer whenever you like.