When you’re living in a camper van, there are some things that you can’t control. The weather is one of them. But luckily for you, we’ve gathered the best air conditioners for your camper van so that you don’t have to worry about how hot it gets!
The best camper van air conditioners will be able to cool down your living area on hot days. You’ll find various types of camper A/C units. What’s important is that you choose an air conditioning unit based on your needs (like whether or not it can run off of battery power) and how much you’re willing to spend.
When shopping for an A/C, make sure to look for one that is the right size and will work with your camper van (and lifestyle).
What Types of Air Conditioners are Best for a Camper Van?
There are five types of air conditioners that may be suitable for your van:
- Shore Powered
- Battery Powered
- Swamp Cooler
- Window Unit
1. Shore Powered
The most popular option for a rooftop air conditioner is the compressor camper van air conditioner type. This type of A/C needs to be plugged into an external power source (commonly called “shore power”).
A compressor van A/C unit works by sucking out hot air and cooling it using refrigerant. The cold air is then blown back in while hot air is expelled outside. Options for these units include ducted or non-ducted.
While a shore power A/C is best for quickly cooling off the inside, they use a lot of power. Unless you have a generator or are hooked up to an external power source (like at a campground), you’re going to have a tough time running one. A battery bank or solar panel will only run this type of campervan A/C for so long.
Also, keep in mind that these units are mounted to your roof. So you need to ensure your van’s roof has space and can handle the additional weight.
2. Battery Powered
This type of air conditioner runs off of a battery and doesn’t need to be plugged into external power. These are perfect for camper vans because they can be plugged in and out as needed.
3. Portable Unit
The camper air conditioning needs no permanent installation and is movable, making it perfect for small rooms like in your camper van!
Having a portable unit also means that you can easily remove and store it while you’re in cooler areas. Being able to remove the unit from your tiny space can free up more space for other things – like maybe a heater?
The downside of a portable unit is that they typically need to be vented outside. In some cases, you might have to get creative in where you put the unit and how you vent the hot air out.
4. Swamp Cooler
A swamp cool or evaporative cooler is a unique cooling system. This type of A/C can range from do-it-yourself methods to purchased products.
Essentially, this method uses evaporation to cool the air. It’s really only an option for those who are living in dry, low-humidity climates though.
This is a great, inexpensive option but it might not be the best option for people with asthma or allergies. This method also creates a rather humid environment and can lead to mold or mildew (an absolute no-no in a van).
In addition, you need quite a bit of water to keep your dwelling cool. So consider how you’ll pack and store the additional required water.
5. Window Unit
As the name suggests, this is a window-mounted cooling system. Window units work well in camper vans with large windows because they can be installed outside your vehicle without taking up any valuable space. Due to their nature, they are rather big and bulky – hence the need for bigger windows.
Besides space, window A/C units are not meant to be portable. So you can’t (shouldn’t) take off down the road with one hanging out your window.
Can a Camper Van A/C Unit Run on Battery Power?
Sure, camper van air conditioners can run on battery power – but the question you should really be asking is for how long?
In general, most air conditioners for vans run on 120-volts or AC (alternating current) power. This is the same as in a house or RV. In order to run a 120-volt A/C unit, you’ll need to be hooked up to shore power or a generator.
Unless you have a super robust system, your battery bank or solar panels may struggle to adequately power your A/C. If you are able to run the A/C, you may not be able to do so for very long. This depletion could also mean you need to take time to recharge your batteries.
However, like listed above, technology has advanced and there are battery-powered A/C units available. Battery-powered camper van A/C units use a battery that can be charged from an external power source, but they take much longer to cool down the camper than a shore-powered unit.
How Do I Keep My Camper Van Cool in the Summer?
It’s easy to keep your camper van cool if you have an air conditioner (no kidding, right?). Cool air pumping out of an A/C unit will keep your tiny home nice and refreshing.
For those who aren’t able to install an A/C in their van, fret not. There are some other ways to cool your van off in the summer heat.
Park or store your van in the shade if possible. Avoiding the heat or direct sunlight is the first step in keeping your van interior space cool and livable in the summer (or hot) months.
Contrary to what you might believe being in the shade doesn’t actually make the temperature cooler. In actuality, being in the direct sunshine makes the air feel 10 to 15 degrees warmer than it actually is. Regardless, avoid direct sunshine.
2. Window Coverings & Insulation
Get an insulated camper shell or insulation kit for your windows and rear doors so they don’t attract heat like a magnet. Insulation or drapes on your windows helps reflect that hot air out (away from you inside) and keep cool air in.
3. Window Tint
That thin layer of plastic (actually polyester) can make a difference in the internal temperature of your rig. In a 2012 study, researchers found that the internal temperature of a vehicle with tinted front and rear windows was cooler by up to 46 degrees F.
4. Travel With The Seasons
Camp in cooler locations such as shady forests or areas with water for maximum cooling effects – read: cooling breezes!
Traveling to match the seasons is another way to keep your tiny home cool. Take advantage of science. In general, you can expect the air temperature to decrease by 3.6 degrees F for every 1000 feet you climb. This is called the standard or average lapse rate.
5. Move The Air
If you’re running low on power, turn off the camper air conditioner and use fans to circulate air instead. Moving air is better than no moving air.
If your van battery is running low, and you don’t have a backup, use battery-operated fans to keep air circulating. A great device to include in your van build is a rooftop vent fan.
Opening your windows or rooftop vents is another method to get air moving. Keep this in mind when you are building out your van. Installing vented windows is a great long-term investment for van life.
Our Top 8 Picks for Camper Van Air Conditioners
Whether you’re deep in the trenches of your own van build or have realized that the summer heat is no match and you desperately need an A/C unit, we’ve got you covered. Here are some great camper van A/C options to keep you cool and refreshed.
1. Dometic Penguin II
Do you have a super tall Sprinter van? If your van is already touching the skies, then you may want to consider a low profile rooftop A/C unit.
The Dometic Penguin II only adds 9.5 inches to your height. Dometic is a popular and well-trusted RV and campervan brand. The Penguin II pumps out 13,500 BTU/hr. The R410 refrigerant makes this a real air conditioner and allows for heat to be released more efficiently.
You’ll need to be hooked up to power or a generator to operate this rooftop unit as it pulls 3,000 watts.
What is a BTU? This stands for British Thermal Unit and is a unit of heat. It’s defined as:
…the amount of heat required to raise the temperature of one pound of water by one degree Fahrenheit.
2. Coleman Mach 15
Meet the world’s most powerful RV (van) air conditioner: the Coleman Mach 15.
Dare to drive into the hottest climates with this A/C unit onboard with a cooling capacity of 15,000 BTU/hr and a 1/3 horsepower fan that blows cool air at an amazing 325 cubic feet per minute.
3. Zero Breeze Mark II
Meet the little A/C that could. This awesome little unit checks all the boxes:
- Lightweight and compact
When space is at a premium, the Zero Breeze Mark II will keep you cool. At just under 17 pounds, this A/C pumps out 2,300 BTU/hour and blows at 120 cubic feet per minute – ideal for up to 40 square feet. They even claim that it can cool an area 30 degrees F below the ambient temperature in just 10 minutes!
On the flip side, this powerful micro compressor unit requires the exhaust hose to be vented to the outside. And on one charge, the battery lasts only 5 hours – so use the cool air wisely.
4. Fresair S6
Looking for an eco-friendly option? The Fresair S6 is a unit that runs on water and uses very little power (10 amp max/hour).
As mentioned above, swamp coolers or evaporative water coolers can create a lot of humidity. To lower the risk of water issues, this camper van A/C uses a filter that’s anti-bacterial, anti-fungal. This allows the Fresair to produce cool, dry air.
5. The MightyKool K2
There are limited options on the market for swamp coolers. However, the MightyKool K2 might work for some (but don’t expect drastic temperature drops).
Even if it’s not the highest-performer, the MightyKool has some great merits worth mentioning. This A/C uses 1 gallon of water to keep your van cool all night. It’s powered by a 12-volt outlet or a 110-volt converter giving you options.
The manufacturer claims it can cool up to 25 degrees in dry climates but is limited to 10 degrees in humid areas.
6. Dometic Brisk II
Another great option by the popular brand is the Dometic Brisk II. This sturdy and lightweight unit uses aircraft-grade parts – so you know it’s built to last.
Weighing in at 77 pounds, this unit is 22 pounds lighter than the Penguin. Plus, it features 3 fan speeds, a washable filter (no more allergens), and remote control. Enjoy cooling your camper van from the comfort of your bed.
Oh yea, this is also a very quiet unit thanks to vibration-reducing technology.
7. Frigidaire Window-Mounted Air Conditioner
There’s a reason you don’t see a ton of vans with an A/C unit dangling out the back window. Nevertheless, it can totally be done. In fact, a lot of ProMaster van conversion fanatics have cleverly figured out a way to install a residential window A/C unit in their rigs.
So if you need to install a window-mounted unit (for whatever reason), here’s our pick: the Frigidaire Window-Mounted Air Conditioner.
This unit has a lot of cool features: wifi connectivity, multi-direction air flow, and a washable filter. Plus, it has an energy-saving mode and uses less power than other models (saving you money).
8. Dometic RTX 2000
Dometic recently introduced their new A/C, the Dometic RTX 2000. This self-contained roof cooler is battery-powered with up to 12 hours of running time – so it’s going to keep you cool all night!
In its eco-mode, this highly efficient device only consumes 19-amps. With the capability to pump out 6824 BTUs and a turbo cooling option, this A/C can cool your living space down quickly.
This rooftop unit is suitable for ambient temperatures of 41 degrees F to 126 degrees F.
How Much is an Air Conditioner for a Camper?
Air conditioners for camper vans range in price from DIY (the 5-gallon bucket cooler) to well over $4000. There are options out there for every budget though.
For a true 12-volt van air conditioner – that is, an A/C meant to run off your van’s house battery – you’re looking at over $4000. These types of units use much less power so they are best for off-grid van life.
Most of the units on our list will run you less than or near $1000.
When you’re in the midst of your van build-out, you absolutely do not want to breeze past your heating and cooling needs. Being too hot can be stifling – not to mention unhealthy. Ensure you put a chunk of change into your A/C and/or heater needs.
What is the Quietest Air Conditioner for my Camper Van?
When selecting an A/C for your van build, loudness is going to be a factor. There is nothing worse than trying to sleep with the annoying whining, spinning, vibrating, or any other noise an A/C can make.
The 4 quietest air conditioners on our list are:
- Coleman Mach 15
- Dometic Brisk II
- Fresair S6
- Dometic RTX 2000
While it may seem daunting to find the best air conditioner for your van, we’ve done the research and have compiled a list of our recommendations. From battery-powered units to swamp coolers, there is an A/C option out there for you!
The last thing you want in hot weather is to be stifling hot while you’re experiencing the adventure of van life. Which type do you think would be best suited for your lifestyle? Or what type of A/C do you have installed?