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by Mountain House June 29, 2022

How to Keep a Camper Van Cool in the Summer With & Without AC

The summer months are upon us, which means both positives and negatives for the van dweller. Summertime offers long daylight hours for exploration and R&R, and many vanlifers appreciate that those snowstorms and bone-chilling cold snaps are now in the rear-view mirror (so to speak).

But, of course, summer days (and, often enough, summer nights) can also bring sweltering temperatures and egregious humidity. A poorly outfitted camper van during such hot weather can feel more like a torture chamber than a comfortable and liberating home-on-wheels.

Fortunately, there are many van-life summer heat strategies and tools available: from DIY setups to pricey-but-maybe-worth-it equipment. If you’re wondering how to keep your camper cool in summer, read on for some tips!

Add Vents & Fans

How to cool a van without AC? Vents and fans (and vent fans) are go-to solutions. From simple unpowered fans to battery-operated or 12V electrical options, these can keep your living space actually livable during hot summer stretches.

Air Conditioning for Van Life

If you’re a full-time van dweller, and/or spending a lot of time doing your digital-nomad thing in hot climates, you might want to make the investment in an air-conditioning unit for your camper van. This might be a portable AC unit or some permanently installed roof air conditioner powered by solar panels. No question this is a more expensive route, but it could be worth it over the long haul.

(When contending with dry heat, you can whip up some low-cost DIY air-conditioning by placing a wet cloth over a fan.)

Insulate Your Van

Insulation doesn’t just keep you warmer in cold weather: It keeps you cooler when the mercury’s skyrocketing, too. Make proper insulation part of your van conversion from the start.

Maximize Air Circulation

Installing a pair of powered fans with dual intake/exhaust capacities, so that you’ve got inflow and outflow going on concurrently, maximizes air circulation inside your camper van. More basically, opening doors and windows at night—if it’s safe and otherwise feasible to do so—can draw some refreshingly cool air in after a sealed-up day in torrid weather. (You may well need to install netting or screens to keep those summer bloodsuckers out, though…)

Use Window Coverings

Window coverings are a great way to reflect sunlight and heat energy, keeping you shady and relatively cool within the van.

Find Cool Parking Spots

It’s stating the obvious to note that steering clear of parking spaces in direct sunlight will keep your camper van cooler. This could mean hopping from shade spot to shade spot as the day proceeds.

Coastal settings often enjoy natural air-conditioning courtesy of daily lake/sea breezes. Seashores and the shorelines of large lakes are therefore coveted parking areas during the summer months. Higher elevations or more wind-exposed locations also generally provide cooler conditions. Boondocking near rivers also often lets you take advantage of some of the natural cool airflow down these corridors or off the water, though depending on location and prevailing conditions, these can also be unpleasantly humid zones.

Electronics

Laptops and other power-hungry devices give off heat when in use and when charging. So plan to use or plug them in during the cool of night or early morning, or—better yet—charge them in libraries, coffee shops, and other air-conditioned places during hot weather, not inside your van.

Get Outside

During major heatwaves—or, in many places in North America for example, typical high-summer weather—you’ll likely stay most comfortable by spending as much time as possible outside your van. Most vanlifers do so anyway when conditions allow, of course, but in the face of hot temperatures, this becomes a safety measure.

If it’s allowed at a given location—and if it’s safe to do so—sleeping outdoors in summer is often much more enjoyable than bunking it inside the camper.

(And let’s note that in really hot weather, dangerously hot weather, it’s often best to get out of the van in another way: by tracking down indoor air-conditioning.)

Add an Awning

Buying (or making) an awning for your camper van helps in the above regard—all the more so when you’re boondocking in deserts, open woodlands, and other sun-blasted drylands where natural shade is scanty or non-existent. Cooking, napping, and otherwise chilling in the shade of your awning can be heavenly when the van interior is on the roasting side of things.

Migrate, Migrate, Migrate

As humans have done since time immemorial, many vanlifers, of course, opt to migrate with the seasons. As summer bears down, this may take the form of a journey northward or to the seacoast, or a vertical migration into the mountains—all in the name of keeping cool as well as, of course, indulging in classic summertime R&R and recreation.

Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate

Inside or outside your van, you need to drink plenty of water on those scorching summer days. That should be another no-brainer, but too many of us fail to hydrate adequately during hot weather, risking dehydration and heatstroke.

Stay Cool on the Road This Summer With Mountain House

We’ve got plenty of our tips and tricks for van life here on the Mountain House blog. Check out, for instance, Michelle Craig’s Van Life Essentials for Life on the Road, plus our overview of van-dweller pantry must-haves. And if you keep track of our social-media feeds—you do, don't you?—you'll find that we regularly share fabulous vanlife hacks courtesy of our many savvy and creative road-warrior followers.

And, hey, speaking of camper-van pantry must-haves: Mountain House meals are as vanlife-friendly as they come! Not only are they nutritious and delicious, but they’re also incredibly convenient thanks to their just-add-hot-water preparation. (They also boast a heck of a shelf life and Taste Guarantee.) When you’re aiming to minimize use of that stovetop inside, or looking for a quick and easy campstove dinner while hanging in the cooling breeze outdoors, look no further than one of our freeze-dried delicacies.

Here’s to staying cool—and thrilling your taste buds with Mountain House—on road trips (and full-time vanlife journeys) this summer!


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