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How Do You Stay Cool in a Camper Van?

How Do You Stay Cool in a Camper Van?

Summer can be a great time to take your camper van out for some epic adventures that you’ll not soon forget. However, the intense summer heat can make staying cool in a camper van difficult. We want you to be as comfortable as possible during your adventures and minimize any excuses for not camping.

Today, we’re sharing a few tips for how you can stay cool in a camper van this camping season. Let’s get started!

What Is a Camper Van?

A camper van is a Class B RV. These are small motorhomes built on a van chassis. If you’re a solo traveler or a couple, this might be the perfect setup for your adventures. Many camper vans come with everything you could need to be comfortable while you travel.

Mortons on the Move laying inside their camper van.
If you’re enjoying #VanLife during the summer months, you’ll want to make sure you have a way to keep your camper cool.

Do Camper Vans Have Air Conditioners?

Not all camper vans have air conditioners. Most will have dash AC for when you are driving, but running the engine continues to stay cool will burn a lot of fuel.

Some models will come with roof-top air conditioners; however, these units will likely only work when plugged into shore power. If you’re looking to do some off-grid camping, you probably won’t be able to use this type of air conditioner unless you bring a generator on your adventures.

How Do You Stay Cool in a Camper Van?

With or without an air conditioner, you can stay cool in your camper van. Here are some tips and things to keep in mind when camping in warmer weather. 

Insulation

You want to ensure you thoroughly insulate your camper van. Have proper floor insulation to prevent exhaust heat from seeping through the floor. Insulation can keep the outside heat from penetrating your camper van and keep the cool air inside longer.

Insulation can help you control the climate inside your rig. It will be nearly impossible to keep your rig cool without it. You’ll need to put in a tremendous effort to get the same results. This is why insulation is one of the first upgrades many camper van owners make when preparing their van for adventures.

Roof Vents

One of the easiest ways to stay cool in a camper van is to keep air circulating inside your rig. When air sits in a confined space, it can heat up and quickly be overwhelming. Having a couple of Fan-Tastic or Maxxair fans can allow you to keep the air moving inside the van. The consistent airflow can help you stay cool and avoid a stuffy van.

Some camper vans will come with a vent or fan already installed. However, if your camper van doesn’t have a vent, you’ll need to cut a hole in the roof to install one. You don’t want to take any project that involves cutting a hole in your roof lightly. If you don’t know what you’re doing, don’t hesitate to reach out to a professional.

Pro Tip: Ready to join the #VanLife community? We found the 12 Best Small Camper Vans for Living the Van Life.

Woman laying upside down in hot RV.
Keep the sun and heat out of your camper van by using foam insulation on your windows.

Window Coverings

You can create some DIY window covers that will keep the sun and its heat out of your camper van. Reflectix foam insulation is very easy to cut and shape to perfectly fit your van windows. These are lightweight and easy to store when not in use.

Reflectix ST16025 Staple Tab Insulation Roll, 16...
  • The staple tab edge is manufactured by perforating the bubbles...
  • This creates a foldable tab which provides easier stapling for...
  • Inhibits or eliminates condensation

To get the best fit for your window coverings, use pieces of cardboard to create a pattern for each window. Once you cut a cardboard pattern to fit each window perfectly, you can trace the pattern onto a piece of Reflectix material.

These window coverings keep your camper van cooler and provide more privacy. You can toss them up to avoid curious eyes that walk past your van. We recommend spray painting them black if you plan to use them while stealth camping. This makes your vehicle less likely to attract attention.

Ice Chest Air Conditioner

For short overnight cooling assistance many van campers opt for an ice chest air conditioner. These can be purchased or build DIY easily. They require that you fill them with ice an provide 12V to power a fan to blow air over the ice. While this is not a long term solution it can help keep you cool on a hot stuffy night. Keep in mind that these units will not dehumidify and will make the inside of your rig more humid, but cool!

DIY Air Cooler! Ice-Chest AC! w/extra insulation! Dual Vents! 2x fan! Easy DIY (1 min QV)

12V Air Conditioner

Whether you’re planning to run it all night or cool down your camper van quickly, a 12V air conditioner is excellent. These air conditioners will run off your van’s battery and won’t require you to install an expensive inverter to run them. They’re very energy efficient and won’t require you to crank up a noisy generator while enjoying off-grid camping.

How long you can run a 12V air conditioner will depend on your battery bank. The larger it is, the longer you can run it. However, camper vans don’t typically have tremendous amounts of space for battery banks. You’ll likely want to keep your air conditioner usage to a minimum while enjoying off-grid camping.

What Goes Into an Off-Grid Power System? Overland RV Solar Power System With 12V Air Conditioning
We installed a 12V air conditioner in our truck camper and it works great!

120V AC Air Conditioner

A 120V AC air conditioner will require a tremendous amount of power. Some of these air conditioners can require 1500 to 3000 watts. While these may be power hogs, they can create a tremendous amount of cool air. A high-quality 120V AC air conditioner can cool down most camper vans in no time.

If you’re planning to use one of these air conditioners, you’re likely to need to plug your camper van into shore power at a campground. If you want to enjoy off-grid camping, you’ll need to carry a generator to create enough power when a power source is not available. Running this air conditioner off batteries can be challenging due to the lack of space for a large battery bank and the massive amount of power required.

Camper van with door open to ventilate air.
There are different types of air conditioners you can install in your camper van to keep you cool all summer long.

12V Fans

If you want to stay cool in your camper van, you must keep the air moving. Using 12V fans can be a very efficient way to do this. These fans can plug into 12V or even USB ports inside your camper van. Because they use such little power, there’s no need to worry about letting them run all night while you sleep. If you want to stay cool while sleeping in your camper van, a 12V fan is a must-have item!

Go To Where Its Cool!

One of the best things about a camper van is that its portable. Heading to cooler destinations in the summer and parking in shady areas is guaranteed to keep you cool. Park by a lake and take a dip or drive to higher elevations. This is our favorite way to cool off in the summer.

trip to alaska
A trip north will keep you cool!

How Hot Do Camper Vans Get?

If you’ve ever climbed into a car that has been baking in the intense summer sun, you know how hot a vehicle can get. A camper van sitting in the sun with the windows closed can easily reach over 130 degrees.

Many who enjoy camping in their camper vans will travel with the weather to make it easier to stay cool. If you’re planning to stay in your camper van, summer might not be the best time to visit the desert.

Pro Tip: We uncovered What Your Friends Really Think of Your RV Lifestyle to help you prepare for what life on the road will be like!

Woman driving camper van with dog
If you’re traveling with your pets, make sure not to leave them in your van if temperatures are too high.

Can You Leave Your Pet in Your Van Camper?

If you travel with a pet in your camper van, you might not be able to take them on all of your adventures. However, leaving your pet in your vehicle can be dangerous, especially on warm days. Temperatures can quickly reach dangerous levels, especially during intense temperatures.

Using technology like MarCELL can allow you to monitor the temperature of your vehicle while you’re away. You’ll get an alert if there is an unexpected power outage or the temperatures are approaching an unsafe temperature. However, some locations have legal restrictions on leaving pets in a vehicle unattended.

Traveling with a pet can be difficult, especially during warmer weather. However, many responsible pet owners can ensure their pet has a safe and comfortable environment during their adventures.

10 Tips For Keeping Cool In A Campervan | How to Beat The Heat Summer 2019

Is It Worth Investing in Products to Stay Cool in Your Camper Van?

For some adventurers, investing in products to stay cool in their camper van is essential. If not, you’re missing out on some of the best opportunities to get out and make memories. Having products that keep you cool allows you to expand the time and places you can use your van. The more opportunities you have to use it, the more memories you can make. We’re huge fans of any gear that makes it easier for us to get out and adventure.

What tips do you have for staying cool while camping in a camper van? Share your insider secrets in the comments!

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About Mortons on the Move

Tom & Caitlin Morton of Mortons on the Move gave up the stationary life for one where they are constantly on the move. They are full-time travelers, television hosts, and digital media producers.
They left their jobs, sold their house and possessions, and hit the road in September 2015 in their full-time “home on wheels”. Since then they have traveled the US, Canada, and even internationally by RV.
Now, they are Discovery Channel & PBS TV Co-stars of The RVers, producers of “Go North” on Amazon Prime, co-founders and instructors of RV Masterclass, and contributing authors for Hwy.co and an Arizona travel guide.

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Dale Jag

Thursday 19th of May 2022

They do have 12v swamp coolers (evaporative water coolers) for motorhomes but I never hear you guys talk about them. Even in humid areas, it does help a bit better than just a fan.

Mortons on the Move

Tuesday 24th of May 2022

Great suggestion! We'll look into these swamp coolers a bit more. Thanks!

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