Camping Air Conditioners

A portable air conditioner for camping is still a new idea.

Most people thinking of a vacation in a hot summer climate would look for a hotel or AirBnB with air conditioning built in.

Camping air con technology has advanced, however. There are now several different small portable camping air conditioners and cooling devices that can work with tents and campervans. As a result, many people are now looking for small camping air conditioners.

Another reason is simply to avoid summer camping crowds. Carrying your own camping AC opens up new touring possibilities, to go where few have gone before.

However, it’s easy to be disappointed with the performance of small, expensive, portable air conditioners and coolers. I am going to take you through a step-by-step guide to help you decide which is best for you

Camping air conditioner – Will I need cooling?

Will you actually need any cooling at all?  Will a fan be sufficient? With a warming climate and temperature records being broken year after year, this is no longer an amusing question. Fortunately, there are some wonderful web sites that can help you decide.

Here’s a display from https://earth.nullschool.net/. It’s the site I prefer because you can look at historical weather in the locations you’re interested in.

Click the “earth” button in the bottom left corner (not shown above) to reveal the control panel. Use the calendar and time controls to choose a similar time last year for your planned camping vacation. Set the time to around midnight local time.

Displaying the ‘misery index’, what the temperature feels like, will give you a good indication on whether you need cooling at all. Remember that a simple fan provides about 4 °F (2 °C) cooling. The black areas will be cool enough to rely on a fan. Any red and yellow areas (>80 °F, 28 °C) will show you that some additional cooling will be useful.

If you’re particularly sensitive and need 70 °F, (21 °C) to be able to sleep, click black locations on the map to see what the local temperature feels like.

Change the time to around 4 pm local time. That will tell you if you’re likely need additional cooling for your siesta. Change the dates a few days either way to check for weather variations.

https://windy.com/ is another useful tool but does not (yet) display historical data.

Both sites have lots of display options to show temperature, rain, dust, even the aurora forecast.

Which type of cooler will be useful?

There are two different kinds of cooler. A water cooler cools the air by evaporating water. A refrigeration cooler, with a compressor, does not need water but needs more electricity.

Water coolers only work well when the relative humidity is below 50%, and hardly work at all above 70%.

Check the likely relative humidity in your chosen location a night when you’re falling asleep. Both these web sites allow this, though windy.com only looks up to 10 days ahead in time.

Here’s a map of humidity around midnight for the USA in late June 2022.

The brown areas show where the humidity is low enough for evaporative cooling. It’s important to check that the humidity is likely to be consistently low if you prefer a water cooler. Also, if you are close to water like the beautiful cabin above, the humidity will be higher than elsewhere, especially on still evenings with no wind.

How much cooling will I need?

Here are two types of evaporative cooler on the market with the approximate size and cost. Water coolers are relatively inexpensive and use less electricity.

Size: 8 in x 8 in x 8 in, Power: 5 V, 5 – 10 Watts electricity; Cost: $5

Size: 12 in x 12 in x 12 in, Power: 12/24 V, 10 Watts; Cost $250, replaceable pads usually available

Both types use very little electricity which is great if you’re relying on a battery for your electricity.

The smaller less expensive model will provide some cooling inside a tent or campervan with low relative humidity. It is small and light and requires minimal electric power. The larger model is heavier and more robust and designed for people with campervans or caravans. Both only provide localised cooling: they need to be really close to your face for you to feel any significant cooling.

How much cooling does an evaporative cooler provide?

This is really important to understand.

There’s an easy way to estimate the cooling effect you will get from an evaporative cooler. The latent heat of vaporization tells you how much heat is absorbed to evaporate a given amount of water. It’s about 2200 kJ/kg or 1000 BTU/lb. Evaporating 1 lb of water every hour will give you 1000 BTU/hr of cooling. Remember than a small room in hot weather needs about 10,000 BTU/hr to keep it cool.

Therefore, a small water cooling that evaporates half a litre (about one pound) of water in six hours will be providing less than 200 BTU/hr of cooling, 50 times less than what’s needed to cool a small room. That means you need the water cooler really close to you to feel anything at all.

There are much larger water coolers on the market, but they are awkward to take with you unless you have lots of space in your campervan or trailer.

Portable camping air conditioner 

Small air conditioners provide limited cooling. Therefore it’s important to understand this limitation and how to use these devices.

Don’t imagine that a small air conditioner can cool a whole room or even a tent. A small room needs at least 10,000 BTU/hr cooling capacity. If you want to cool even a small tent, with no insulation and loose flaps allowing air to circulate, will need at least that much cooling capacity. A large campervan, again with little or no insulation, will need 18,000 BTU/hr to cool the whole space, more in extremely hot conditions. For that you will need a large built-in air conditioner running off a medium size generator or mains power.

There are two types of mini camping air conditioners on the market.

Zero Breeze, Eenour: Size: 25 in x 12 in x 12 in, cost $1,000 – $2,000, 12/24 Volt power (220 Watts), 2000 – 3000 BTU/hr

These machines usually come with a pipe to bring in outside air which is heated and discharged through a second pipe to the outside.

The cooling effect from these machines is only perceptible if you are close to the outlet. Some come with a third pipe to direct the cool air where you need it.

These machines usually run on 12 or 24 Volt power from a battery. More expensive models have built-batteries. Expect the weight to be around 15 lbs (7 kg) without batteries.

Coolzy: Size: 11 in x 15 in x 22 in high (closed flaps); cost $499; 115 V power, 3,000 – 4,000 BTU/hr

A focused stream of cool air emerges from the flap on the right side enabling cooling to be felt up to 6 feet away or more. The focused cooling effect is much stronger than the Zero Breeze or Eenour model above.

Coolzy requires 115 V power from an inverter or small generator (340 Watts). It weighs 34 lbs so you need a campervan or caravan to take it with you.

Arrange this machine in a tent opening such that warm air from the back flows outside the tent.

In a campervan, you can arrange the machine with a curtain across the front seats so the warm air flows out of the front windows, as shown in these photos sent in by customers.

Camping air con -Built-In Air Conditioner

A built-in air conditioner seems the luxury choice for campervans and caravans, providing you with cooling throughout the internal space.

However, you might want to think about some of the disadvantages.

With a built-in air conditioner, the one thing you cannot afford is an open window or doorway. Campervans and caravans come with minimal insulation so you won’t get the kind of cooling you might be expecting with your split aircon at home. Any opening to the outside will significantly reduce the cooling.

You sacrifice air quality because of this requirement. Carbon dioxide and volatile organic compounds seeping out of furnishings accumulate over time.

With the small camping air conditioners, you experience fresh air circulation all the time, with a great improvement in air quality. They work with the tent flap or caravan windows open because their cooling is localized. They cool people, not whole indoor spaces.

This means the mini camping ACs can be used outside in sheltered places, providing much more flexibility for you. And with Coolzy you can use it at home through the rest of the summer months.

Camping air con – Which one to choose?

Unless you’re confident that you will have low humidity weather on your vacation, choose a refrigerating air conditioner over a water cooler. Also the small water coolers provide very little cooling, typically only 200 BTU/hr, so they are only effective very close to you.

Power availability may dictate your choice. The Zero Breeze and Eenour models run on 12 Volt or 24 Volt power from batteries. Coolzy requires 115 Volt power from an inverter or small generator. Of course, the cooling effect is much more powerful at up to six feet from Coolzy.

The big advantage of Coolzy is that it is really useful at home after you return from your vacation. The lighter Zero Breeze and Eenour machines are really only suitable to provide some cooling relief on vacation and when you only have 12V or 24V DC power available.

Coolzy is an ideal camping air conditioner provided you have space to take it with you. Coolzy is one of the smallest portable air conditioners on the market, weighing only 15 kg (34 lbs). It is easy to pack in your campervan, car or caravan for your dream road trip.