Most RVs have built-in air conditioners, but many people travel in older rigs without working AC or in self-built camper vans. Still others use camping tents or even minivans, SUVs, or cars for camping purposes. For these travelers, a portable AC for camping may be the answer to the discomfort (and danger) of camping in the summer heat.
Today we’re taking a look at portable air conditioners for camping. Let’s jump right in!
- 1) What to Look for in a Portable AC for Camping
- 2) A Note on Evaporative Coolers
- 3) Portable AC Units for Camping
- 4) What About Portable AC Units for Tent Camping?
- 5) Final Note
- 6) Free RVing Tips, Tricks, Reviews, Giveaways & More
What to Look for in a Portable AC for Camping
There are a few things you’ll want to take particular note of when you’re shopping for a portable AC unit for camping purposes.
Type of AC Unit
First, there are different types of portable air conditioners, and the type you choose will depend on the style of camping you do, the size of the space you need to cool, and the amount of power you can support with whatever power source you have.
For example, if you use a tent for your camping trips, there are portable AC units that are specifically targeted to tent campers.
But in truth, most tent air conditioners aren’t very efficient. This isn’t so much about the cooling effects of the AC units as it is about the breathability of most tents.
Evaporative coolers are sometimes used as tent ACs for serious tent campers. But it’s very difficult to efficiently cool hot air in a tent unless the tent is truly airtight and has some reasonable amount of insulation.
As a result, a camping fan (or two or three!) will be the way to go for many tent campers.
When running any appliance requiring 120V electricity, especially air conditioners, your power source is the key issue.
This won’t be an issue if you’re connected to shore power when camping. But if you boondock, you’ll need a capable power source to run an AC unit.
For example, in some Class B RVs or vans, you’ll sometimes see a window air conditioner used. But your ability to power a window AC unit (or any other type of AC unit) is key.
Do you always camp tethered to shore power? Do you intend to boondock and run your AC using a generator?
You’ll need to consider these important questions when choosing a portable AC for camping.
Weight and Space
The amount of space a portable AC unit (and accompanying power source) takes up in a small RV, van, or car is a very significant consideration. Space is at a premium in smaller camping vehicles (less so in tents, perhaps), and a large portable AC unit is unlikely to be the best choice.
And as always, weight is a significant consideration. Not only do we need to keep the weight down as much as possible to comply with the safety standards of whatever vehicle is serving as our home-on-wheels, but anything that’s portable needs to be able to be moved… by you.
So, carefully consider the weight of any portable AC unit you’re considering.
How the unit operates is a necessary consideration when shopping for a portable AC for camping. For example, some portable AC units require water to run. Whether you’ll have a water source to keep the AC running is something to consider.
Also, while many portable AC units drain through the exhaust, with others, you’ll need to empty a container that holds the water produced by the air conditioning process. How frequently it needs to be emptied is something to keep in mind. If you intend to run an AC unit at night, pay close attention to how frequently reviewers state they had to empty the reservoir (which will vary, depending on how humid it is where you camp).
Even if you’re connected to shore power and can run your AC all night, you don’t want to be forced to get up every 90 minutes to dump a container of water. You’d be better off using some of the tips in our article on how to keep an RV cool in summer.
Finally, note that most portable AC units (other than evaporative coolers) will require venting to the outdoors. That’ll also need to be a consideration as you choose a portable AC for camping, especially since many RV, van, and other vehicle windows aren’t particularly conducive to venting an exhaust tube to the outdoors, so some modifications may need to be made.
BTUs (Cooling Capacity)
Cooling power is an important consideration when you’re shopping for a portable AC unit.
A BTU (British Thermal Unit) is technically a measurement of heat. So, in the case of air conditioners, the number of BTUs reflects how much energy the air conditioner uses to remove heat from your rig within the period of one hour.
But what you really need to know about BTUs when choosing a portable AC unit for camping is that the larger the space you’re trying to cool, the higher the number of BTUs you’ll need.
For example, most portable air conditioners marketed to van campers (and tent campers) will have anywhere from 5,000-12,000 BTUs.
If you’re trying to cool a small van (or a 2-3 person tent, according to manufacturers) with a living space of maybe 10 square feet or so, a 5,000 BTU AC unit is likely to suffice.
However, if you’re trying to cool a much larger camper, you’ll need a more powerful unit that produces 10,000 BTUs or more.
This one might be a bit difficult to get away from because most portable AC units will make some noise. But keep an eye on user reviews to get an idea of how “quiet” portable AC units advertised as “quiet” really are. Some can be very loud.
Some portable AC units combine the cooling unit with a dehumidifier. This can be important to the cooling process and air quality, especially if you camp in high-humidity areas.
Note that while a dehumidifier is a nice feature to have in a portable AC for camping, it’s also likely to make the unit even more power-hungry… AND more user UNfriendly due to the fact that you’ll likely need empty the collection reservoir more frequently.
So here again, if you’re usually tethered to shore power when you camp, the power issue may not concern you. If you need to conserve power, be sure to check the power requirements carefully if you’re looking at units that include a dehumidifier and check user reviews for how frequently the unit shuts down because the reservoir needs to be emptied.
Note that some AC/dehumidifier combination units can be used only in fan or AC mode, not requiring the use of the dehumidifier.
A Note on Evaporative Coolers
Note that we’ll be staying away from highlighting evaporative coolers in this post. For one thing, our research indicated that most people were sorely disappointed in the performance of commercial evaporative coolers, having expected more air cooling than they were getting.
However, an evaporative cooler is really best for use in very low-humidity environments.
That’s because they work by using a fan to pull in hot air and circulate it over cold water, ice cubes, or a wet cooling pad. The idea here is that the now-cooled mist is dispensed into the air, making the air cooler and more comfortable. But also more humid.
We’re not sure how well these would work in a tent environment, but moisture is a real enemy in an RV or van.
Moisture tends to build up in a small, closed-in space like an RV or vehicle, and the more moisture there is (in addition to the moisture from breathing, cooking, showering, and the ambient humidity), the more likely the development of mold and mildew which can eventually cause serious issues.
For these reasons, rather than investing in an evaporative cooler, you can try a personal mister, check YouTube for how to DIY a “swamp cooler” (but you’ll still have the moisture issue!), or you can check out our article on how to stay cool in an RV without air conditioning.
Portable AC Units for Camping
We’ll note right from the start that portable AC units for camping often get lots of negative reviews. Of course, we’ll avoid highlighting any of those with a majority of negative reviews.
But it’s important to note that there are many issues that people can have with portable ACs for camping, including non-airtight tents, moisture or venting issues, and the fact that air conditioners tend to be power-hungry appliances.
This post will highlight only portable AC units with 80% or more 4- and 5-star reviews. Even so, all of these units tend to have 5% to 8% of very negative (1-star) reviews. A portable AC unit is just one product that performs well or poorly, depending on the application.
We recommend reading reviews carefully with your particular application in mind.
With all that said, let’s take a look at some of the best-reviewed portable AC units currently on the market.
COSTWAY Portable Air Conditioner
This portable AC features four different modes of operation (ventilating, drying, air cooling, and sleep mode) and two fan speeds.
It’s available in either an 8,000 BTU or 10,000 BTU model. Both offer a 24-hr timer and come with a window venting kit (which, again, may need to be modified for an RV, van, or other vehicle).
According to the manufacturer, the 8,000 BTU portable air conditioner is a 920-watt unit and should cool a floor area of 230 sq ft. The 10,000 BTU air conditioner is a 960-watt unit and should cover a floor area of 350 sq ft.
Both Costway AC units come with remote controls and have dimensions of around 12 x 12 x 27.5 inches.
- ❄️【Powerful Air Conditioner: 】This 4-in-1 air conditioning machine features four modes, including ventilating, drying, air cooling and sleep...
- ❄️【Smart Operation & Huge Coverage: 】Operation panel and remote control both offer great convenience to operate. The remote control supports...
Frigidaire Portable 8,000 BTU Air Conditioner
This 8,000 BTU portable AC unit offers a multi-speed fan, a dehumidifier mode, a washable filter, and a remote control.
The manufacturer suggests that this unit will cool an area of 350 sq ft. It weighs 52 pounds and has dimensions of 12.17″D x 13.78″W x 26.8″H.
The use of the dehumidification feature exhausts condensate to the outdoors, which is a plus for those in humid environments.
- 3-in-1 with Multi-Speed Fan plus Dehumidifying Dry Mode: Enjoy more cooling flexibility with two different fan speeds plus dehumidifying Dry Mode to...
- Easy-to-Clean Washable Filter: Capture dust from the air and keep your dehumidifier working efficiently with our easy-to-clean washable filter
Airo Comfort Portable Air Conditioner
The Airo Comfort portable AC units come in several cooling capacities, including this 8,000 BTU unit as well as 10,000, 12,000, and 14,000 BTU units.
This 8,000 BTU (860-watt) model is noted as efficiently cooling up to a 200 sq ft area.
With dimensions of 15″D x 17.8″W x 30.5″H and a weight of 52 pounds, it has an LED display and can be used as an AC unit, fan, and dehumidifier.
This is the smallest of the Airo Comfort portable ACs.
- Powerful & Efficient Air Conditioner - Keep your room, home, bedroom, apartment, or office cool during the hottest summer days with Airo Comfort's...
- Simple and Easy to Use - Our innovative Air Conditioning Unit's many functions are intuitive and easy to use; Its clear and elegant LED display can be...
Pro Breeze Smart Air Conditioner
Note first that this is a 1,130-watt unit, so it may work best for those who camp with shore power.
This is a 10,000 BTU portable air conditioner that works with WiFi and a provided app for your convenience (although a separated remote control is just as convenient in small spaces like a tent or RV). It also works with Amazon Alexa and Google Home.
The manufacturer states that this unit will cool a 300-sq-ft space down to 61°F.
It offers air cooling, dehumidifying, fan-only, and 24-hr sleep modes and comes with a window venting kit.
The dimensions of this unit are 12.6″ x 11.4″ x 27.6″.
Reviewers note that this unit tends to be relatively noisy though it cools the air well.
- ULTRA POWERFULL COOLING: Our portable ac air conditioner for room and bedroom has a mighty 10,000 BTU cooling down to 61°F across 450 sq ft, ideal...
- SMART CONTROL HOME & AWAY: Our smart air conditioner portable is compatible with Alexa and Google Home! Connect to your room air conditioners and set...
SereneLife SLPAC8 Portable Air Conditioner
This is another 8,000 BTU cooling unit with built-in dehumidifier and fan modes. It includes a remote control and a window installation kit.
This unit is also available as a 10,000 and 12,000 BTU AC unit and as a 10,000 and 12,000 BTU AC + heating unit (for those of you camping in cold weather, too!).
The 8,000 BTU (900-watt) AC unit is noted by the manufacturer to cool a space of 215 sq ft effectively. With dimensions of 14.6’’ x 13.8’’ x 27.2″, it weighs in at around 46 pounds and is on wheels for added portability.
- HANDY AND PORTABLE: The SereneLife Portable Air Conditioner System features a lightweight, handy, sleek body design intended to be used in the...
- 3 OPERATING MODES: The compact floor AC indoor cooler conditioning unit features a simple electric plug in operation and has 3 modes - cooling,...
What About Portable AC Units for Tent Camping?
The reason you’re not seeing a list of AC units that are dedicated for tent camping is that our research yields overwhelmingly poor reviews for them in general. We looked at many of them, and they all had high percentages of 1-star reviews from users who said they were mostly a waste of money.
Many tent campers said they’d tried several different products heralded as ACs for tent camping, and in fact, they felt they were better off with a good fan.
Many products advertised as portable AC units for tent camping basically amount to personal misters at best… evaporative coolers that mist cool water.
Once again, some decent camping fans, along with a self-spray mist of water or a cool cloth rubbed on the body, are likely to do just as good a job of cooling you off in a tent.
For RVers or van & car campers, there are many portable AC units on the market in addition to the five we’ve highlighted above.
The key is really how much space you have to accommodate a portable AC unit (they’re fairly large for a van, for example), and the amount of power you have to run it.
Meanwhile, here’s a tip: Consider boondocking whenever the weather is conducive to camping without AC, to save your money for a campsite with full hookups, including shore power that’ll support your portable AC unit when the weather is uncomfortably hot.
In that vein, here are our 11 best ways to find RV boondocking spots!
Never leave your pet in your RV or van with a portable AC unit running, assuming your pet will be safe.
These units shut down for all sorts of reasons (including a full reservoir from dehumidification), and we know you wouldn’t want to endanger a beloved pet who is helpless if the AC shuts down and the living space heats up quickly.
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Monday 2nd of January 2023
I have seen several travel trailers that use a window mount air conditioner . It looks like they take a window out and frame the unit in and then remove ac and put window back in when they travel.