If you have ever stayed in a camper during the hot summer heat, you know that having an air conditioner can be a very welcoming amenity. It can be brutal during the summer months without a way to cool your camper and it can be downright miserable, making enjoying it nearly impossible.
An air conditioner can certainly come in handy and most RVs are equipped with them. Does this also include camper vans?
Camper vans may or may not have air conditioning units installed. Oftentimes, camper vans come equipped with ceiling air conditioners that will only run when plugged up using shore power. An air conditioner consumes a lot of electrical energy and minimalistic camper vans may be missing this feature.
Even if the camper van is not equipped with an AC unit, it is not a dealbreaker. One can easily survive the summer months and enjoy it if you are well prepared and take advantage of other means of cooling.
I do not currently have an AC in my camper van but I manage to get along just fine by making use of other cooling methods that keep me nice and comfortable.
Keep reading for ways that you can cool down a camper van, whether it’s with an air conditioner or another type of cooling system.
How Do You Keep a Camper Van Cool?
Keeping a camper van cool begins with making sure it is insulated properly. This includes also insulating or covering any windows as well.
If your camper van is equipped with windows you will have to do extra work so as not to let any heat from the sun penetrate the van. This is simple by using window covers generally made from Reflectix or other reflective or insulating material.
There are other obvious things that you can do that many people don’t think of such as parking in shaded areas.
Of course, many times you do not have the option to park in the shade and you just have to do the best you can. In the heat of the summer when the sun is beaming down at it’s hottest, a nice shade tree can certainly make a huge difference.
One of the absolute must-have’s that I consider on a camper van are windows that open up for airflow. These, along with a fan of some type will help to circulate air throughout the van making it much more pleasant during hot summer months.
Learn how I installed a rooftop fan to my camper van. This fan has been excellent for keeping me cool in the heat.
Keep in mind that you are in a camper van and can travel wherever you want to. Many camper van travelers prefer to follow the weather and travel to a more pleasant area to escape the scorching heat.
If you need more than just a fan and airflow, an AC unit is an option and there are a few different ways that you can include one in your van. Let’s talk about a few of them below.
Cargo Van Roof Air Conditioner
The primary option for an air conditioner on a camper van is a rooftop unit similar to what you would find in any other type of RV or camper.
These rooftop units sit on top of the roof and function as any air conditioner unit would by blowing cold air out of the vent coming from the ceiling.
They are typically installed in manufactured class B motorhomes. These almost always require you to be plugged into electrical service to use them. Solar energy is usually not enough to power an AC unit like this.
Another problem with these types of air conditioners is that they are big and unsightly. If you are into stealth camping, you will not want to add one of these to the top of your roof because they stick out like a sore thumb.
These also take up a lot of valuable real estate in your van roof.
They are great for people who absolutely cannot live without their air conditioner. If you live in a warm climate where it is humid and hot most of the summer, this AC will do wonders to cool your van down to a livable temperature and humidity level.
As long as you know you will be staying in RV parks most of the time or in a place that offers electrical hookups.
If you Boondock or will be off-grid most of the time, this type of AC unit will probably never get used and you might want to consider other options.
Installing an AC Unit In a Van
Installing one of these types of roof AC units in your van is similar to installing a Maxxair roof fan, which I installed in my custom-built van.
Both require you to cut a large hole in your roof and then mount the unit into the hole. This can be a scary task but in the case of the Maxxair fan that I installed, it wasn’t too bad.
One of the differences is that the AC unit is much heavier and will likely require two people to lift the unit and install it.
You will need more substantial framing to hold the AC unit tight and secure and to give it a little more support than just the metal roof.
If you purchase a manufactured class B motorhome, this will already be installed for you as done by the manufacturer so you will not need to worry about this.
If you have a custom-built van that you are converting, this may be a bit too much and you may consider going with another solution.
There are other ways to keep cool and other types of air-conditioning units that you can use in your van besides the rooftop type.
DIY Van Air Conditioner
For you to have air-conditioning in your van, it doesn’t necessarily have to be one made for that purpose. Many people have built their own cooling units and have found them to work quite well.
One of the best-known ways to create a cooling box is to use an ice cooler and some simple ductwork along with some ice and a fan that blows cold air out.
Although not an air conditioner, a unit like this can definitely make you cooler and help you enjoy your camping experience more.
Ice Cooler Air Conditioner
You can find numerous videos on YouTube about making your own cool air blowing system out of a cooler. The only problem with these is that you have to be sure you are not blowing out wet air that will make your van more humid.
The air needs to be dry to be effective.
These types of systems will probably not cool the entire van in the middle of summer but they do provide a nice cool area if you are sitting close by where the air is coming out.
With one of these, you are essentially cooling the air that is already in the van rather than pulling air from the outside and conditioning it into dry, cool air.
I prefer the air conditioner cooler from Icybreeze. These air conditioning coolers may be a little pricey but they are pre-built to function and produce dry, cool air.
Window Air Conditioner
Some people build their van in such a way that they can install a window unit air conditioner. Whether it’s in a wall or hanging out the back window, a trusty ole window air conditioner will definitely cool your van when you are plugged up.
It won’t look great, but who cares when you’re burning up in the hot summer heat?
Portable Air Conditioners For Campers
Another easy option is to purchase a portable air conditioner unit. These come in different sizes and can easily cool a camper van space or just about any other size camper. You will need to have some way to plug it up as they do use a lot of energy.
One problem with these is that they have to be vented to the outside and there isn’t an easy way to do this in a van. If you can figure out how to vent it to the outside, it could work great for you.
There are many different options for portable air conditioners that you can easily find at your local hardware store or the internet.
The SereneLife 8,000 BTU is a great option for those who want a small unit that could cool down something the size of a camper van very quickly.
One option for a portable air conditioner designed for outdoor use is the Zero Breeze. This air conditioner uses minimal energy and produces truly air-conditioned cool air designed to cool a small space such as a camper van or a tent.
Although I haven’t used this specific product, it seems like it would work great for a van. It is very pricey and it may be worth checking out if you are not concerned with price but want something that will produce cold air.
The Mark 1 uses 12 V or the optional battery that will last up to 5 hours of normal use.
The new Mark 2 has a 24 V battery that is capable of delivering cold air for up to 5 hours as well.
This product seems perfect for campers but there aren’t a lot of reviews on the market just yet so it may be risky to spend over $1000 for it.
Camper vans are available with AC and can provide you with a cool space to enjoy your camping experience. However, if you are like me and do not typically have a place to plug-in, you may find yourself without the needed electrical energy to power an air-conditioning unit.
My suggestion is to make sure that your van is properly insulated, and that you always try to find a shady spot. Use windows and fans to move air throughout your van and you will notice the difference.
Beyond that, I suggest an ice cooler type of unit such as the Icybreeze since something like this does not use very much electrical power and can easily be run on a solar battery bank.
It can also double as a cooler to keep food or drinks in if you do not have a fridge or just need the extra space.
It isn’t all the time that you will need an AC unless you are just spoiled with it and have to have it running every waking hour.