Camping is an inexpensive way to get out of the city and enjoy a relaxing time with friends, family or even just on your own.
But when the local weather anchor is announcing a heat advisory, when the thermometer in your tent is creeping up toward the one-hundred-degree Fahrenheit mark, it can really take the enjoyment out of your day.
That’s where a portable camping air conditioner comes in. But you don’t want just any A/C unit, you want the best camping air conditioner.
Read on for our selection of the top 10 air conditioners you can use when camping.
The Zero Breeze is advertised to cool a 50-square-foot tent to around 20 degrees cooler than the ambient outdoor temperatures. It can also be used to cool a small room, enclosed outdoor workspace or even a parked vehicle.
It can be used out-of-doors, although the results will be less satisfactory because the air isn’t contained. The unit comes with 1 power adapter, 1 extra power cord, 1 drain tube, 1 flexible hose adapter, 1 flexible exhaust hose, a 1-year warranty, and a 30-day money-back guarantee.
It doesn’t come with a battery, but can be plugged into a variety of power sources, which include being attached to a 12-volt battery, plugged into house current or attached to a solar, gas or electric generator.
This flexibility makes it ideal for areas of your home that aren’t cooled by your central air unit, for tent or camping outdoor experiences, or for portable workshops. You can even set it on your picnic blanket or next to your hammock and gain some relief from the heat.
Anyone who has tried to sleep on a hot summer night under a box fan that just moves the heated air around will appreciate this little fan. Standing at a modest 9.5 inches, it’s easy to move around your tent with you.
Instead of expensive and environmentally suspect freon, it uses water as its coolant and will work best in hot, dry environments. Even in humid areas, the air will still feel cooler right in front of the fan. The air is cooled by water and ice placed in a container at the back of the unit.
Big pluses for this unit are that it costs far less than any air conditioning unit, and you can feel good about being kind to the air quality in your location.
It saves big on electric bills, too, costing scarcely more than the amount of energy needed to run a lightbulb. This makes it easy to plug into an inverter or portable generator for camping trips or to install in an outdoor workshop.
The order includes one air conditioner fan, a 1-year warranty, option for unconditional refund upon return, and a reply within 24 hours for any problems.
An excellent personal cooling unit for those dry, hot summer days. This sleek little unit is extremely portable, easily sitting on a desk, or near a workstation.
It’s not sufficiently large to cool a room, and can work very well to keep a seated or sleeping person moderately comfortable. As with all mist coolers, it works best in areas with low humidity, but the cooling effect can be assisted by adding ice to the tank.
This camping air conditioner fan is both economical and ecological. The initial purchase price is much lower than a standard unit that uses freon, and the power required to run it isn’t much more than you would need to power a lightbulb.
Furthermore, water cooling instead of freon, helps protect air quality and can be managed without professional assistance.
The outdoor cooling misting fan is designed to work in outdoor areas where an air conditioner might not function well. It uses a light mist to cool the air, and is perfect for use at a garden party, outdoor wedding or similar event.
It can be used inside a tent or enclosure, but it might tend to leave the contents of the space slightly damp. As the fan moves the air, it blows across the dampness on your skin to create a refreshing chill.
Like most swamp-cooler technology, it works best in areas where the ambient atmosphere is hot and dry, rather than humid. It tends to lose a major part of its effect if the air is already moist in your tent, although you can still enjoy the breeze created by the fan. It has three different speeds to help you enjoy your event or camping trip in comfort.
It has a carrying handle to make moving it easy, and a swivel base so you can aim it where you have the greatest need for cooling. The motor is sealed, so it isn’t likely to get moisture in it.
The convenient carrying handle and swivel base mean you can place this fan anywhere and still aim it where you need it.
The IcyBreeze Cooler is set up to run directly off a 12-volt battery. This means that it can be plugged directly into a car charger or 12-volt solar array. It acts as an ice chest and as an ice-assisted air cooler, as well.
Its three-speed fan circulates fresh air over the ice. If you are using the air-cooling function, your ice won’t last quite as long. But if you’re only using IcyBreeze as an ice chest, it will maintain its chill for as long as 7 days, even when exterior temperatures are as high as 90 degrees.
It’s best used with block ice, rather than bagged ice cubes, but either way you can look forward to cool drinks and the means to cool down your camping tent before sleeping.
The OPOLAR Battery Operated Fan is a handy little appliance that can make summer a lot more bearable for you. Whether you’re dealing with an office that’s not air-conditioned, or stuffy midday temperatures in a tent, this little fan will move the air around is the area most important to you.
No breeze at your picnic? Don’t despair. The mini travel fan can be placed at the edge of your picnic blanket and provide air circulation. You can set it to one of its three adjustable speeds so that you have just the amount of air movement that you require.
This battery-operated fan can be run by attaching it to a USB cable, or it can be operated using the upgraded 2200Ah battery. It will run for up to thirteen hours when the battery is fully charged.
While it doesn’t cool the air, the fan is small enough to fit in a backpack or picnic hamper. At 7.8 ounces, it weighs scarcely more than a cell phone or tablet.
The Pioneer air conditioner isn’t exactly a tent AC unit. It’s a mini-split air conditioning unit with a small, semi-portable heat pump. You might be able to run it on a D/C system with an inverter to convert the battery power to 110 or 120, but you’ll need a large capacity battery to run it.
It’s a good unit to use in a small shop or office since it’s calibrated to cool 200 to 350 square feet. It’s also an option for a back bedroom that isn’t used often or an enclosed porch. It comes in units ranging from 9,000 to 36,000 BTUs. The unit will both heat and cool.
While not 100% easy to install, it’s still far easier to set up than a full-sized heat pump system. It’s a two-part system. The heat pump needs a platform of cinder blocks or a pad of concrete to set on outside.
The inside unit is small, light and easy to hang on your wall. They connect using plastic tubing. Accessories for hanging the unit and to protect the air conditioner line are available. While not completely essential, the use of the extras creates a more aesthetically pleasing appearance.
Some users reported a great experience, but a few reported problems with the unit and difficulty with the manufacturer’s warranty. Not all units work precisely as advertised.
The Koldfront is a standard window air conditioner that will both heat and cool. However, it requires a special 230v electrical outlet; it can’t be used with a standard 110.
It’s intended to cool or heat around 450 to 550 square feet of area, which makes it a good choice for a large room or even a workshop. It has a remote control that can be used in 4 operational modes.
Customers report that it does very well as an air conditioner, and that the heat pump works great. However, there’s one small problem: the insulation around the AC unit is very thin, and will allow a lot of cold air inside your camping tent, causing it to run continuously in winter.
The MightyKool is a 12-volt air mister that uses water, only. Since it doesn’t use ice or any sort of refrigerant, its best use is to provide a damp breeze on dry, dusty hot days. It’s about the size of a toaster, so it’s moderately portable.
Inside an enclosure, such as a tent, it can be positioned to blow toward the people or pets who need the cool air. However, it needs to be plugged into a standard 12-volt outlet. The ten-foot power cord allows options for positioning.
If the air is too humid to make swamp cooler technology pleasant, the MightyKool has a setting that simply uses the fan to circulate the air.
The EdgeStar Ultra Compact Portable Air Conditioner is the perfect selection for that hot spot in your home where the central air never seems to keep it quite cool enough. If an electrical outlet is handy, it can also be set up to cool a medium-sized family tent.
It has a digital thermostat control, an extendable hose for drainage, a directional air discharge, and a window air vent. It doesn’t need to be mounted or set up in a window. It sits on the floor and has handy castors for moving it about. There’s a window kit if you want a slightly more permanent installation.
It uses 115v input, and can cool an enclosed area of around a150-250 square feet. It’s an excellent choice for a small bedroom, an office or that paid camping area tent. Users report that it’s a bit noisy, and that it might not reduce temperatures more than ten or fifteen degrees.
This makes it a good companion to a central air unit or a way to reduce the heat in a tent that has been pitched in the shade.
What is a Camping Air Conditioner?
A camping or tent air conditioner is the modern human’s answer to daytime comfort when camping. It’s any type of mechanical device that can be used to cool down a tent. They range from personal fans to personal or room size models that blow out a fine mist.
There are also portable motorized models that use ice or a refrigerant to cool the air that’s pulled through them. Some can be run using battery power or solar collectors, while others require that your tent be adjacent to an electrical outlet.
The efficiency of the units depends, in large part, on how airtight your tent might be. If you have a standard, family-sized summer camping tent, your best choice is going to be a unit that pulls fresh air through the tent and exhausts the hot air rather than a unit that chills the air.
However, you can sit directly in front of the breeze from your water or coolant chilled unit to gain some relief from the heat.
If you have a winter-weight tent that allows retention of heated or chilled air, and you have a power source, then you can make use of the air conditioners that use ice or a refrigerant for cooling because your chilled air will be trapped inside the tent.
How to Choose the Best Camping Air Conditioner
What you need in a tent AC unit will vary greatly with the type of camping you enjoy. If you usually set up your tent on a prepared space at a commercial campground, then there’s a good chance that you’ll be able to bring along a moderately large air conditioner that uses ordinary house current.
On the other hand, if you’re backpacking, your choice is more likely to gravitate toward a handheld fan that runs off small batteries that can be recharged using a portable solar charger.
Recharging will need to be a consideration, as well, especially if you have other small electronics such as your cell phone that will also need to be recharged.
Unless you have something that uses a hand crank or foot pedal, you’ll need a power source for your A/C unit or fan. Even those little handheld fans require recharging. Think about your route, the type of camping you’ll do, and plan for a power source that will adequately support your comfort.
How much power does it take to run your air conditioning unit for even one hour? What kind of power does it require? Will you need to pack auxiliary equipment, such as solar chargers or a charging bike stand to keep everything going? (The latter can easily be used if you’re traveling by bicycle, but it’s one more thing to pack.)
Your AC unit needs to be sized to your space. If the unit is too large, it will keep your tent too cold. If not large enough, you’ll need to sit directly in front of it to benefit from the breeze. 5000 BTU capacity is commonly used for a good-sized family tent.
Additional sizes are 6000 BTU and 8000 BTU. As a rule of thumb, the greater the BTU the more electricity it will require.
Unless you have a 4×4 or a pack animal, if you’re going very far off the beaten track, portability is a must. Keep in mind that even if you go less than a half-mile into a mini-wilderness, everything you pack in, you must pack back out.
So, plan the weight of everything, including the A/C unit and tent carefully. Convenience can weigh pretty heavily on your backpack straps.
Window AC vs Room VC
A window AC can be easily placed on a stand, folding chair or a pallet that’s set near a door or in an area where the edge of the tent can be lifted (if you have a tent that doesn’t have a floor). They are relatively easy to set up and function in ways with which you are familiar.
A room or portable AC unit can be cumbersome or bulky, but has the advantage of being placed on castors, which makes it easy to move around as long as the various hoses and cords reach far enough to properly vent the unit.
If you’re living on a budget, and these days, who doesn’t, price is going to be a factor in what you purchase. The key is to balance quality and durability with cost. In addition, you want something that meets all the above requirements, yet is still within your purchase range.
What Are the Types of Camping Air Conditioners?
Here are the main types of camping ACs:
Portable Air Conditioners
Portable air conditioners are a standard AC unit that requires alternating current to run. They can be plugged into ordinary house current or attached to a strong inverter/battery or generator system. You should be aware that most AC units are energy hogs, so you’ll need a good electrical source.
Powered AC Units
A powered AC unit is any of the units above that require some sort of electrical input. If you plan to use one, you might need to make use of a rental campground where electrical outlets are part of the utilities provided. Or you can use a solar array to continually top up a battery.
Units that need alternating current (standard house current) instead of direct current (like a 12-volt battery) can be plugged into a battery-type source by using an inverter. Although inverters used to be clumsy, they are now often available as an item that’s not much larger than a cell phone.
Window-Mounted Air Conditioners
That’s right. You can use a standard, wall-mounted AC unit to cool your tent. You can place it in the door of the tent, near the ground or you can place the unit on a sturdy folding chair by a tent window and use the zippered window flaps to help control airflow.
A good fan can create a breeze where one didn’t previously exist. If you’re perspiring or if you have a lake or other water source handy where you can jump in and get completely wet, a fan can be a very effective way to cool off.
Ice Cooler Fans
Essentially, these are fans that either blow out a fine mist of water or they blow across ice, chilling the air rather than just moving it around. They are excellent in hot, dry areas but don’t work quite as well in regions where the air is already saturated with moisture.
What Are the Advantages of a Camping Air Conditioner?
A tent air conditioner can make camping a more pleasant experience for nearly everyone. It allows you and your family to hang out in your tent during the hours when the sun is too intense for outdoor activities to be fun or safe.
It’s almost a must if you have family members with medical conditions, such as asthma, and it might make it possible to coax that person who truly hates bugs, heat, and the general discomfort of the outdoors to accompany the rest of your tribe on low-cost camping vacations.
With overall climate warming, an air conditioner for your tent creates a portable cave to which you, and anyone else who’s along for the trip, can retreat from the midday sun.
Not only will it provide a haven for children who aren’t used to outdoor heat, or pets whose shaggy coats are better suited to winter or northern climates, it makes a pleasant place to rest, play games, and generally relax when the out-of-doors is showing its less attractive side.
Our bodies have a hard time adjusting to the changing temperatures. These changes can create condensation in your camping tent even when nobody is inside.
An AC unit will help you with this issue. It keeps fresh air flowing and helps maintain a stable temperature.
Helps Improve Health
There are a variety of health conditions that people can have that really benefit from having a cool place to rest.
From those who have extremely fair skin that burns after as little as 10 minutes in the sun to people with respiratory conditions or even some people with diabetes, an air-cooled tent can be the difference between lasting out the whole trip or needing to go home early.
Do You Need a Lot of Cooling?
The need for cooling when camping will vary not only with the time of the day, but also with the time of the year. Spring and autumn camping can provide wild temperature swings, especially in the temperate zones of both hemispheres.
In many cases, you might only need your tent cooled during the day when the sun is at its highest temperature in the sky.
Conversely, if you’re camping in an area where the temperatures dip dramatically at night, you might want to reconsider swamp coolers or misters because of the amount of moisture they introduce to your tent.
While the chill air might feel good around 2:00 in the afternoon, by 7:00 PM the damp chill in your tent might be unwelcome.
How to Maintain Your Camping Air Conditioner
Air conditioners are mechanical; and all mechanical items work best if their maintenance needs are met.
Here are a few things you can do to get the best out of your camping air conditioning unit:
- Even if you have a non-standard power supply, make sure that it’s the right size for your unit and that the power doesn’t fluctuate.
- Read the manual carefully upon unpacking your unit, and refresh your memory from time to time. Follow the maintenance directions for the best results.
- Clean the filters according to the manufacturer’s recommended schedule and replace them as needed.
- Keep the water topped up in swamp coolers and misters. Add ice to machines that use ice.
- Don’t overfill the tanks, however. If over-filling occurs, siphon out some of the water before operating.
- At least once a year, get your unit serviced by a qualified technician.
- Keep it clean. Dirt, dust, dried leaves and pet hair can cause real problems.
- Avoid strong chemicals when cleaning air conditioners. Again, read that manual carefully and follow the instructions.
- All units work best when placed on a firm, level surface.
- If you have a water overflow, empty the unit, wipe it dry and let it air in the sun.
- Humid or wet weather will adversely affect the efficiency of water-based coolers. When the weather is damp, you’re best off to use the unit on fan.
Are camping air conditioners energy-efficient?
If you’re cooling a leaky tent, energy efficiency is going to go right out the cracks along with your chilled air.
With that said, the energy efficiency of these air conditioners and fans is going to be variable. Most will give efficiency ratings and set parameters for best-operating practices.
Can the best camping air conditioners work with solar panels?
You can use solar panels to charge batteries to run some air conditioning units. However, you might need several collectors and a strong, heavy battery.
Is it better if I rent or buy it?
If rentals are available, renting could save money. But watch out for add-on costs, such as for accessories, and penalties for not bringing everything back in good condition.
Do portable air conditioners underperform?
It really depends on the AC unit and your tent. A porous tent tends to allow the chilled air to escape. If the exhaust hose is too small or poorly set up, that can also be a problem.
Should my tent come with an AC hole?
The premade hole is convenient, but you can create economical workarounds with standard tent windows and doors. The pre-made hole tends to increase the cost of the tent.
You’ll want to look for the best camping air conditioner that will cool your tent and that has more than one way to do it. Ideally, it should be able to cool the air, can be run as a fan and should have a dehumidifier.
Your air conditioner selection needs to be lightweight and sufficiently portable for your style of camping. The AC units displayed above show the variety of air-cooling units that are available. They have the features needed to be taken along on a camping trip.
Once you have assessed the cooling that you’ll need and the amount that’s in your budget for a tent AC unit, you’re ready to shop.
Our top recommendation from this list is the OPOLAR Mini Portable Travel Fan which is very powerful and quiet. If features three adjustable speeds and it’s very portable. It also comes with a 1-year warranty.
With this unit, you can make everyone, from the querulous grandparent down to the littlest baby and your pets besides comfortable with a good cooling unit that will turn your tent into a little corner of paradise on those hot afternoons.