Cooling a tent during the intense summer heat is one of the most difficult things to do (if not impossible in some cases).
There’s no surprise that a lot of us are looking at the option of buying a tent air conditioner to cool down a tent.
But how good of an investment is it? Will it really work? And what are the best portable camping ac units out there?
In this article, we hope to guide you through all the choices that you have (and you’ll find out that a camping air conditioner is not exactly easy to get), and perhaps save you hundreds, as 90% of the units don’t work with camping tents (even if some claim they do).
In order to run inside a tent, an air conditioner has to be powerful enough (at least 5000 BTU for small size tents), has to be able to run constantly to keep up with the cooling demand and it does require some improvements to the tent (extra insulation, airtightness) to help keep the tent cool.
If this is disappointing for you, there’s no need to worry about it. We do have some amazing articles about cooling down a tent without electricity, helpful summer camping tips to keep a tent cool, and a very useful guide on how to save hundreds by building your own DIY tent air conditioner that might help you find alternative solutions to the cooling problem.
Table of contents
- Types of tent air conditioners
- Top tent air conditioner models
- Camping air conditioners – full reviews
- Why tent air conditioners are not very efficient
- The cooling capacity of tent air conditioners
- How to fit an air conditioner unit into a camping tent
- The costs of air conditioning a camping tent
- Tent AC buyer’s guide
- Accessories for tent ac units
- Frequently asked questions
- Safety advice
- Conclusion and what to look forward to
Types of tent air conditioners
You need to know from the beginning that there are no products with the specific purpose to be used as a tent air conditioner. All we can find are units designed for other purposes but which can be easily adapted to be used in some camping situations.
Large evaporative coolers
Nowadays, it seems that people call everything that provides a gentle cooling effect, an air conditioner.
These are nothing more than fans that blow tiny particles of water. The cooling effect does not come when the water hits you, but rather when it evaporates.
The process of evaporation draws an incredible amount of heat and it’s known to be the most effective cooling (when considering energy efficiency).
Evaporative coolers are the cheapest option as you can buy a decent one for no more than $50. However, don’t expect them to do wonders and always use them carefully inside a tent, the water vapors need to escape somewhere, otherwise, the tent will turn into a greenhouse.
Portable air conditioner for camping
A step forward from the basic fans described above, portable air conditioners can be used while tent camping due to the fact that most of them are lightweight enough to be easily carried around.
You can find portable units that can run on batteries (not for a long period of time) or if you have access to power, the cheaper corded version will work just as well.
The downside is that the smaller units (the ones that we are after) usually come with a BTU of no more than 3000. This cooling capacity is not exactly sufficient, therefore some improvements have to be carried out to the tent itself to make them work (navigate to the improvement list).
The price point is not that scary if you choose the corded versions, however, battery-operated air conditioners do cost a lot more money due to the huge price of the batteries themself.
Window mounted air conditioners
Due to their compact size, camping enthusiasts found that window-mounted air conditioners are the cheapest and most powerful units that can be converted to be used inside a tent.
Some units are small enough to be carried around (sometimes even smaller than the portable alternatives) and the fact that they don’t have tons of accessories to make them work turns them into a very reliable option.
Most of them, including some that we’ve top listed down below, can easily be fitted to a tent with an ac port.
The price shouldn’t scare anyone, as $150 should get you a very performant unit that can provide up to 8000 BTU, more than enough to perform well inside a 6 person tent.
The downside is that you’ll need to make some adaptations to your tent to fit it properly. Another downside is that there are no battery-operated variants, therefore you can only use this if you have access to the grid or you can bring your own camping generator.
Top tent air conditioner models
We’ll jump straight into the list containing the best tent air conditioners that you can buy right now. As will be explained further down in the article, all these units are not designed truly to work for camping purposes, but the adaptation process is much easier to do.
Please feel free to use the “table of contents” at the beginning of the article to navigate to the scientific and explanations part of the article.
|AC Unit||Image||Cooling Capacity||Tent Size||Vendor||Full review|
|10. Coleman Zephyr – tent fan||0 BTU||1 Person|
|9. Zero Breeze – mark 1 and 2||2300 BTU||1 person|
|8. Lifesmart Cooler||0 BTU||2-3 Person|
|7. Tripp Lite Portable AC for Camping||12000 – 24000 BTU||6-12 Person|
|6. Honeywell Portable AC||10000 – 18000 BTU||4-8 Person|
|5. Ontel Arctic Ultra Evaporative||0 BTU||2-3 Person|
|4. Haier HPND14XHT – large tent AC||14000 BTU||6-10 Person|
|3. SereneLife SLPAC – camping AC||10000 – 18000 BTU||4-8 Person|
|2. TaoTronics TT-AC001 – window mounted||10000 BTU||4-6 Person|
|1. Frigidaire Energy Star – best small tent AC||6000 BTU||2-3 Person|
Best camping air conditioners – full reviews
10. Coleman Zephyr ceiling mounted fan
Battery powered – low voltage batteries are required to run this unit
Ceiling mounting – can easily be hanged by the top of the tent.
Price – you can get it for a couple of dollars.
This is nothing more than a fan.
It really has no purpose in this “best of” list, but we’ve decided to perhaps inspire the Coleman division to try and release a similar product to what they offer to RV owners.
Looking at the trends, there’s a huge market for 12V units that nobody seems to dig into.
If you’re just looking for a fan, we’ve put together a list of all the fans that can be used inside a tent (link to the article). Some of them are much more performant than this specific model, and you can probably get them for half the price.
Sorry, the next product in our list tried to. Well, let you see the results.
Pro: it can be hung on the “ceiling” and provide some breeze, but nothing to be impressed of. It does what any other fan can do.
Cons: Works just for small tents and in order to feel some cooling effect you’ll need to sweet first so that evaporation can occur.
9. Zero Breeze (mark 1 and mark 2)
Battery operated: it can run on Li-Ion batteries for approximately 4 hours.
Portability: it is one of the most portable camping ac that you can find.
Design: if it would be to choose only by design, this ac would easily win the top position in our best-of list.
At the moment, the company behind Zero Breeze is the only manufacturer in the world that specifically advertises their product as being an air conditioner designed for outdoor activities, tent camping being also included. Even more, the portable ac is being advertised on their front page while used inside a wide-open tent.
I guess all those people and scientists dealing with insulation and airtightness got it wrong. And if you believe that there’s a typo in the price tag, you’re wrong. That’s the correct price, $1400 or so at the moment this article is written.
If you look carefully, you’ll find on the internet all types of articles and videos debunking this product. We’ve also written about the mark 1 long time ago. That was a joke, and a lot of people lost money either because their product never arrived, arrived with defects or they realized that they’d paid thousands for a desk fan that runs for a couple of hours.
Mark 2 claims to be much more powerful, but the numbers say something else.
We’re not going to spend much time talking about this “air conditioner”, nor advertise it in any way.
If they could sell it for a reasonable price, perhaps we could recommend it, as it does have a slick design and it’s the easiest device to carry around that you can find.
But here’s what some struggle to understand: If you’ve had a “successful” Kickstarter campaign, and raised millions, why would ever need another crowdfunding campaign for your second product? And on a different platform as well?
Feel free to draw your own conclusions.
It actually deserves to be the last one in this top, and if you don’t consider the Coleman fan, you can tell is the worst investment that you can make.
Pro: It has a unique design and this makes it very attractive to camping enthusiasts.
Cons: 2300 BTUs are not enough to efficiently cool a tent, the unit will struggle even with smaller tents. The fact that it costs $1400 and it only runs for 4 hours makes it useless for long camping trips.
8. Lifesmart Indoor/Outdoor tent cooler
Portability: it’s small enough to be carried on a camping trip without problems.
Operation: the settings are straightforward and anyone should easily adjust it to proper speeds/mist levels.
Low power usage: it demands little power to run, making it a perfect choice if you run a generator.
When it comes to evaporation coolers, all the performances that you’ll find in the data sheets don’t really apply to camping circumstances.
Water evaporation consumes an impressive amount of energy (heat), thus making it a very efficient way to cool down things.
However, inside a camping tent, it does not provide a very pleasant experience.
During high temperatures, those tiny water particles that these devices are spraying will evaporate very quickly, and all the vapors need to escape somewhere.
In general, a tent is a tiny space, and fabric breathability is not exactly a common feature for most of them.
If the water vapors can’t escape, they will create a “greenhouse effect”, nullifying all the cooling effects that the evaporative cooler initially provided.
Do we need to say that you’ll have to keep all your camping gear outside if you don’t want them to get wet?
Advice: It’s more useful if used outdoor than indoor. You can enjoy some nice cooling effect from it if you’re in a shaded area, and the wind can help the unit as the fan is not that powerful.
Pro: Light and effective as it uses the evaporation technique to carry heat away.
Cons: It is not recommended to be used indoors unless the entire space is properly ventilated and the water vapors can escape without problems.
7. Tripp Lite Portable Air Conditioner for large tents
Cooling capacity: the fact that premium models can operate at 24000 BTUs makes them ideal for party tents or very large camping tents.
Portability: it runs on wheels, therefore moving it in various positions isn’t complicated. It does not require a stand for mounting.
Cooling power choices: you are able to choose between various models that come with different cooling capacities.
If access to electricity is not a problem at your chosen campsite, you’re better of spending that thousand dollars on a dedicated high-power air conditioner unit. Tripp Lite offers three variants for this specific model, with cooling power ranging from 12000 BTUs to an impressive 24000 BTUs. This high spec device should have no problems cooling down any type of camping tent.
So why is it not on top of the list?
It’s down to the adaptability factor. Although it is a portable device, its impressive size might make it difficult to assemble it on a campsite. Perhaps you can get away with carrying it without problems if you own a big enough car, but how we doubt that it will be a smart choice for small tents.
If you’re out camping with a massive tent (10-14 person tent), the unit size won’t be a problem anymore.
It currently sits on no7 on our list since it can only be used for extra-large tents, and the majority of us usually camp in much smaller tents.
Advice: Although it comes with a maximum cooling power of 24000 BTUs, that is way too much for any camping tent. You could probably pick the 24k BTU unit only if you intend to use it inside a party tent. Our advice is to stick with the lowest BTU option as it will be more than sufficient for camping purposes. Power usage should also be taken into consideration.
Pro: Impressive cooling efficiency that uses the technology for server rack cooling. Air filtering and dehumidifying modes are included for all specs.
Cons: It is a heavy unit and its height doesn’t allow it to be installed inside a small tent. Some ducting is also required, especially if you’re trying to mount it outside.
6. Honeywell Portable Camping Air Conditioner
Compact: it has no connecting parts that can be lost or damaged.
Size: pretty small for such a powerful unit. Its height allows for mounting in low ceiling tents.
No drains: The condensation doesn’t need to be ducted outside.
Having a smaller tent means that you have more options when choosing a portable camping air conditioner. Honeywell has an impressive experience at building powerful and portable devices, and even more than that, they are using technology to make your life easier, automating a lot of the tasks that back in the day you’d have to do them manually.
The fact that it puts out an impressive 10000 BTUs for a medium-size unit gives make it the perfect choice for tents ranging from 4 to 8 person. Honeywell should have launched by now more powerful variants of this device, that could probably reach 18k BTUs.
Like all other medium-size portable AC’s, it does take quite a bit of space inside a camping tent, but its relatively small height makes it useful inside “rounded” tents that don’t have too much wall height.
You don’t need to worry about ducting and condensation draining, as this is done automatically by the unit following the principle of slow evaporation. So even though you’re keen to have an airtight tent, you should get away with this unit.
Its power-saving mode should also help with cutting down costs. But the main reason it makes it on this top list is that it’s very quiet. And for most of us, this helps a lot as camping shouldn’t be about a sleep deprivation experience.
Pro: Medium and compact, therefore very easy to set up and carry on a camping trip. The quietest of them all, perfect for all of you who have problems sleeping with white noises.
Cons: The only mounting option is inside the tent, which can be a problem for small tents as it takes quite a lot of space. At higher fan speed it loses the advantage of being so quiet.
5. Ontel Arctic Ultra Evaporative
Size: the smallest evaporative cooler that you can buy. Portability shouldn’t really be an issue if you go for this device.
Price: Most of the times it’s on sale and you should get it for cheap.
Moisture: the fact that the heat exchange happens inside the unit makes it less likely to damp objects inside the tent.
Another evaporative cooler, but this one seems to be much enjoyed by people. It currently has the “best seller” tag on Amazon, therefore it must be doing something good.
It works a little bit differently than the Lifesmart device does: the Ontel Arctic pulls in hot air and cools it inside the unit rather than spraying water all over the place. The air is still being cooled via evaporation, but this process will take place inside the unit, not on your skin.
This feature makes it much more usable indoors. The process is not 100% perfect, and the device will still humidify the air, but nothing compared to other devices.
Whenever you see the term “personal cooler”, it’s fair to say that all those devices are to be used in tiny spaces. Well, that’s just the case for Arctic Ultra, it works great in 2 person tents. Any bigger than that and you won’t feel any cooling effect.
As a pleasant surprise, the manufacturer also managed to add some filters to this very small unit, giving you a nice purified breeze, much appreciated in the dusty environment of a campsite. They don’t really say how often you need to change them, or even where you can buy replacements from.
Pro: You won’t any smaller unit than this impressive cooler. For those who hate water cooling fans, the fact that this one doesn’t spray the water will probably make them think twice. No 1 pro? It’s on sale most of the time, and you can usually get it for under $50. How can you go wrong at this price?
Cons: As mentioned previously, you can enjoy the cooled air only if used inside small tents, no bigger than a 2 person tent. The extra humidity can be a pleasant surprise where the climate is very dry, but in humid places, this works against you.
4. Haier HPND14XHT
Heating mode: the fact that it comes with the option to heat makes it very desirable.
Cooling power: 14000 BTUs for a reasonable price is another great feature of this tent air conditioner.
Noise: noise levels are pretty low compared to other devices that do the same thing.
Impressive power but way too heavy.
This tent ac is an excellent choice for large tents. For most of us who are camping in a 4-6 person tent, it might be too much.
But I can see where the Haier really shines: not only that it will cool at around 14000 BTU, but it has a heating mode as well, and it’s quite powerful (10000 BTU heating capacity).
So if you’re a four-season camper, I don’t see a reason not to check the price and buy one (Amazon link).
You’ll have to make sure you can transport it though.
It doesn’t look like something you would want inside your tent if you have a small one. So only pick this one if space is bigger than 200 square feet.
Sadly, when it comes to taking it on a camping trip, it has the same problem as the Honeywell: it’s too cumbersome, weighing 82 pounds and being 30 inches tall.
You’ll need some space to run those two exhaust hoses that come with it.
Although the manufacturer claims it’s a quiet unit, I had the opportunity to see a demo running in a store. It feels like you need to raise the voice so others can hear you. I’m not sure how comfortable this can be for you.
Four-season campers will be happy to hear that it has a heating mode with a heating capacity of 10,000 BTU. All other ACs at this price range will come with a cool-only mode.
Pro: You’ll get the heating mode for no extra money.
Cons: The unit is quite bulky and heavy, and very uncomfortable to move around. It cannot be used inside small tents and low ceiling tents.
3. SereneLife SLPAC Camping Portable AC
Remote operation: having the remote control is surely a benefit as you can operate without going inside the tent.
Other operating modes: the unit can be switched to fan-only, ideal for some people that can’t stay near air conditioning units.
Power choices: you have the ability to choose between models with different cooling capacities.
This portable ac unit can definitely improve your camping experience during very hot summer days.
It goes a little bit higher on the list because it has a unique feature, that most are likely to enjoy: fan-only mode. This is perfect for people that like to run the ac when the tent is empty and shut it off or run a fan when they’re inside.
It also has a heating function that similar to other tent air-cons, which means it should be able to provide heat when camping during cold seasons.
The manufacturer is selling 4 variants of this product, with cooling/heating capacity running from 10000BTUs all the way up to 18000BTUs, more than enough to handle the cooling of any type of camping tent.
It is not too cumbersome, therefore it can be adapted for small spaces, but it really shines when used inside medium to large tents.
Although it has the fan mode, it’s important to take notice that it runs on the same principle as all other air conditioners out there: a small fan constantly sucks in hot air and blows it into a heat exchanger that is filled with a certain type of refrigerant. This refrigerant has a very low boiling point, and will quickly remove the heat from the air. The cooled air is then evenly distributed in the entire room.
The fan-only mode operates by diverting the air not to run into the heat exchanger, therefore the unit will consume less power and provide you with a cool breeze.
Pro: It is a lot more affordable than most hybrid air conditioners that can be switched to heating mode as well. The fact that it can be used on the fan-only mode will please all the people who can’t stand cold air being blown into their faces.
Cons: All models require an exhaust hose to be run outside. This means that you’ll need to do some modifications to your tent if you want to keep the integrity of the airtightness. It also requires a connection to the grid, especially for more powerful models that require a lot of power to run.
2. TaoTronics TT-AC001 – window ac adapted for medium size tents
Mounting type: being a window-mounted ac unit means that it can easily be adapted to any type of tent. It also stays on the outside of the tent, therefore not taking up any usable space.
Multifunctional: it can serve the roles of a fan, ac unit, and a dehumidifier if needed.
Cooling power: impressive cooling capacity for such a compact ac unit.
Window mounted ac units are the most elegant solution for the problem of how to cool down a tent in the summer.
Their clever design means that they can easily be adapted to any type of tent and, most important, they can be fitted on the outside. This is a massive safety and experience improvement, as you no longer need to worry about kicking the air conditioner when you sleep, and now it doesn’t take up any tent space at all.
The TT-AC001 is a very powerful tent ac, that can cool down medium size tents extremely fast, due to its impressive 10000BTUs cooling power. Even more, with the help of some extra insulation, it can handle cooling large and extra-large tents without any problems.
What makes it rank so high up on this list, besides it being a window type ac?
It can serve three important roles, with very quick operation: not only that it is a powerful ac, but it can run on fan-only mode, and on top of all, it has a dehumidifier function. This is very helpful when camping in high humidity areas. No need to spend extra money on a tent dehumidifier and it can also help a lot with reducing condensation inside a tent (read more about this).
If you’re worried about the noise that these units make, TaoTronics has this covered. This specific model comes with a very handy Sleep mode, that reduces the fan speed to the minimum without reducing too much the cooling efficiency.
Pro: The 3-in-1 function (ac, fan, and dehumidifier) is unique in the world of camping air conditioners. That means that you can get all 3 for half the price that you would usually pay if bought separately. But the best function that this unit has is the Sleep mode – this feature will help a lot if you’re the type of person that can’t fall asleep with white noise in the background.
Cons: It has to be fitted on the outside, and the disadvantage is that your tent will require some drastic modifications unless you choose to purchase a tent with an ac port.
1. Frigidaire Energy Star 6,000 BTU Window-Mounted Compact Air Conditioner
Affordable: for the money, it’s the most affordable unit on the market, taking into consideration the cooling capacity.
Adaptability: its small and compact size means that you don’t need to modify the tent too much in order to install this ac unit for camping purposes.
Cooling power: its 6000 BTUs makes it ideal for small tents, 2-3 person in size, that most of the people are using when camping. It can also be used on larger tents if they are properly insulated and airtight.
Since most of us are camping in small tents, this is the no1 solution for cooling a tent if we have access to power.
This tent air conditioner is the best on the market, as it provides exactly the required amount of BTU to efficiently cool a small size tent. In fact, this new model comes with 6000 British Thermal Units.
You should be able to easily adapt it to a camping tent with external mounting (this type of mounting should be the only option for small tents, as is space is always a problem). Always use a sturdy stand to set it up – placing it directly on the ground could damage it.
The airflow can be easily directed where needed with the help of the 6-way comfort control. Much more helpful than other units that can’t control this, with air either blowing up or straight forward.
With the help of the remote control, you can access the timer function, a very useful feature that will allow people to set it and forget it.
It’s the mini-compact unit you should probably get if you have a tent that’s no bigger than 100 square feet.
It’s widely available, and the price is more than fair.
Because it weighs only 47 pounds and it’s so compact, you’ll have no problem transporting inside any car’s boot.
Compared to other ACs at this price, this only uses 450 watts to operate, and it requires around double that to start.
Being an outside fitted unit, the remote control that comes in the kit is handy.
And as for the controls themselves, they are easy to use, with adjustable timers for both start and stop.
It doesn’t require running any duct, it’s easy to install, and you can control the airflow by adjusting the blades.
There’s one thing about this one that might be annoying for light sleepers. On max settings, it produces around 67 dB, which can be a bit too much for some. I have no problem as I consider it to make a “white noise” that helps me fall asleep.
Pro: Being so small and compact it makes it the perfect choice for cooling small camping tents. The low power usage means that even a cheap camping generator should be able to run it. This is perfect if you need to invest in both but want to reduce the costs as much as you can.
Cons: As with all other window mounted ac units, modifications are required to the tents to make it. The noise that it makes is not something to be scared about, but it can create discomfort, especially for those who can’t sleep with white noise in the background.
Why tent air conditioners are not very efficient during hot wheater
What happened with the classic camping experience when nobody was complaining about being too hot outside?
Nowadays, the search for tent air conditioners exploded. The newly mass adopted “glamping” idea must have something to do with this.
There’s nothing wrong if you want to cool down your tent a little bit. There’s only one “small problem”: nobody builds air conditioners specifically to be used inside a camping tent (Zero Breeze doesn’t count as one, you can read the full guide about it here).
So why is it? Why does nobody want to make an AC unit that can work with your usual camping tent?
These 3 main problems are making it a very difficult product to release:
- High power consumption – ac units, even portable ones, require quite a bit of power to run. Most of the time, you’ll be out camping in the wilderness with no access to the grid. Therefore, a battery is required. Now, this problem becomes very clear – there are no batteries at the moment that can cope with the power demand to run for a prolonged period of time. Yes, you can have it running for 2-3 hours, but that’s all they can do. For now.
- The space that needs to be cooled – for an air conditioner to work, you need to have some sort of insulation to keep the cold air inside. In the case of a camping tent, there is a little more than 0 insulation value for its fabric. The cooled air will be heated again in less than a minute if you’re camping in direct sunlight.
- The size of the unit – Look at your ac unit. It doesn’t look to be that big, isn’t it? Well, the one that you have in your room is about the smallest unit you can find today. Not exactly the right size to be carried around on a camping trip.
How to increase the efficiency of a tent air conditioner
You can work around these problems and find genius solutions to make a tent ac work better. Let’s explore a couple of them.
Extra insulation – Having 0 insulation values, your tent will lose the cooled air very quickly. Even if you add one layer of an insulated space blanket (½ inch thick), you are increasing the insulation value 100 times. This will probably help keep the cool air inside for a much longer period of time. There is no difference between insulating for summer or for winter, so if you need extra help, please feel free to check our article that will explain how exactly you can insulate a tent.
Campsite selection – Pitching the tent in a shaded area also works great in addition to having a portable air con. Do this and add the extra insulation, and you’re pretty much safe from the sun heat.
Camping generators – The power demand problem can easily be solved by having a portable camping generator. You might think they’re too noisy and bulky units, but have a look at our guide about the new camping generators (link to the full guide). Brand new models are much quieter than you could imagine.
Window mounted ac units – These types of units don’t solve the size problem entirely, but at least they are a little bit easier to carry around. Plus, with the right unit, you don’t really need extra ducts, pipes, and outside parts. Their compact size helps a lot when it comes to camping tents.
You can try other ideas to see if they can improve the performance, but the main thing to remember is: don’t expect it to run like it will inside your home.
The cooling capacity of tent air conditioners
You’ll need to calculate the square footage for your tent.
For tents that are divided into many separate rooms, this can be tricky.
You can also use this energy chart as a guideline for your research.
Unfortunately, there are no standard measurements to the cooling efficiency for tents only, so you’ll need to use the one that’s for rooms or buildings.
The majority of camping tents have no insulation, and the performance of the ac unit is diminished eighty percent.
I’ve created the following table that can help determine how much BTUs (British thermal unit) you need for different types of tents.
|Type of tent||Square footage||Required BTU|
|4-6 person||60-100 square feet||5000 BTU|
|9-10 person||120-160 square feet||8000 BTU|
|12-14 person||180-220 square feet||10000 BTU|
You need to keep in mind that sun exposure will work against you and, for better results, always pitch your tent in the shade.
Other factors that might impact the performance are the ceiling height, number of rooms, and the number of people in your tent.
An underpowered unit will run constantly and will never be able to keep up with the incoming heat, resulting in huge energy costs especially if you are running a generator.
On the other hand, an oversized unit doesn’t necessarily mean that it will make you feel more comfortable. If the device is way too powerful for the size of the tent, it will cool down the air very fast before the proper dehumidification takes place. This will make the air feel very uncomfortable.
Cycling on and off too quickly not even will consume more power, but the efficiency will decrease drastically.
Learn more about how to properly size the air conditioner for the specific space that you want to cool down.
How to improve the performance of a tent air conditioner
- As a rule of thumb, you should always try to block the sunlight by any means. This will increase the performance of any AC dramatically. Find a shaded place to set up camp.
- You’ll want to keep the cold air inside as much as possible, so, when you install it, try not to leave any gaps for the air to escape.
- Check if the filter is washable and clean it at least once a month. For most devices, you don’t require any special tools to do this. A dirty filter will make your air conditioner underperform, losing up to 20% of its maximum BTU.
How to fit an air conditioner unit into a camping tent
Before considering buying one, you need to make sure that you are comfortable with doing some DIY modifications to your tent (unless you already have a tent with an ac port).
The size and the extra parts that these devices need to function properly don’t make it a straightforward job.
We are going to discuss the three main ways you can install an ac unit to your tent without causing too much damage.
Fitting a window-mounted ac to a tent
Camping enthusiasts prefer window-mounted air conditioners as they can easily be adapted to any type of tent and, most of all, they don’t take any room space and have little to no other parts that need to be connected to them.
This is how most people install them:
- Measure the size of the unit – before committing to cutting a hole in your tent, you need to measure carefully the size of the unit. Measure twice if necessary, as if you cut an even slightly bigger hole, there is nothing much you can do other than replace the tent.
- Cut the ac port – with the correct measurements written down, you can proceed to cut the hole. This hole must be ½ inch smaller than the size of the unit, so when you’ll slide the ac in, the extra fabric will help you seal the gap. You should never cut the hole right above the tent floor. Always go at least one foot higher so that you’ll be able to place the window ac on a stand.
- Mount the unit – with the opening in place, you can proceed to mount the unit, on a DIY stand or, if your budget allows it, you can purchase a professional ac unit stand. If your unit has a condensation drain, make sure that the pipe is running outside the tent.
- Seal the air gaps – No air gaps should be left unsealed, as it will diminish the efficacy of the unit drastically. You can tape the fabric to the unit itself, or, you can glue some extra Nylon sheets to make up for the insufficient material.
That’s all that you have to do in order to have a fully functional air-conditioned tent.
Note: If cutting a hole inside your tent and sticking a Nylon sheet on top of it is not for you, you can choose the option to purchase a pre-made ac boot that can easily be adapted to any hole.
Fitting a portable air conditioner to a tent
Not all of us are confident enough with cutting holes in the tent, and this is perfectly normal. Once you do that, there’s no way to fix it.
That’s why many prefer to install a portable ac unit, as this doesn’t necessarily require any modifications to be done.
Here’s how you can achieve this easily:
- Choose the correct size – remember that these types of units are mounted inside the tent and they take quite a lot of space. Having a massive unit inside a 2 person tent is not exactly very convenient.
- Placement – once you have the correct sized unit, you should place it in a “corner”(unless you have a round tent), where it has the lowest chances of being hit unintentionally.
- Run the accessories – most of these units usually have a condensation hose/pipe that needs to be run outside. You should be able to take it out through the zipped flap, that is why you need to consider the placement carefully. For the units that have a water collection tank, you don’t need to worry about running pipes, but you might have to wake up in the middle of the night to empty it.
Fitting a rooftop air conditioner inside a camping tent
This is the ideal scenario, however, it can only be achieved if you use lightweight or small evaporative coolers.
Due to the fragile structure of tents, it’s impossible to hang something heavy like a portable ac for example.
Evaporative coolers however are the perfect fit for the job. By hanging them on top of everything you gain extra reach for those tiny water droplets, thus giving you a much greater area that can be cooled via evaporation.
The downside is that, most likely, you’re not going to be able to keep too much stuff inside the tent. Clothes, food, equipment..all of these have to stay away from the cooler, otherwise, they will “suck” the water and get damp very quickly.
A battery-powered evaporative cooler can simply be hung by the top poles with the help of a string.
The costs of air conditioning a camping tent
It is very difficult to calculate exactly how much it would cost you to air condition a tent, as you need to know exactly how hot is going to be on that day, this is due to the fact that tents alone have no insulation value whatsoever.
As a general rule, you would need around 12.000 BTU for every 100 to 150 square feet. For this type of tent, the cost of the unit alone can be as high as $3800.
Small camping tents usually require no more than 5000 BTU and the price for the unit alone is much cheaper, most likely you’ll end up spending no more than $300 for a tent ac.
Other costs associated with air conditioning a tent:
- Power cost – you’ll probably use it to run almost non-stop, therefore it will consume a lot of power. The average cost of kWh in the US is around $0.131 – you can multiply this by the power consumption listed in the unit’s datasheet and the number of hours you need it to run.
- Batteries or camping generators – in the eventuality that your campsite has no access to the grid, you’ll need to invest in some type of energy storage or energy generation device. This could cost anywhere from $300 to $2000.
- Tent modifications – any adaptation of an ac unit to a tent will require some modifications to be done. Cutting the hole for the ac to fit in, running ducts outside, drain pipes, etc. Although they don’t cost very much, it’s worth taking them into consideration
As you can see, the true cost of air conditioning a tent can reach thousands, and at this point, the investment just doesn’t make sense anymore.
But don’t be disappointed.
Here’s what you can do to dramatically cut down the costs:
- Add extra insulation to your tent – this alone will save you a lot of money. You see, tents alone are very poor at keeping cool air inside. The fabric has no insulation value at all. Adding just half an inch of any type of insulation would increase the R-value by tens of times.
- Check for air gaps – air is in constant movement, even inside a tent, especially if it’s being blown by a fan/ac. Sealing all the gaps will increase the performance of the AC unit and lower the running costs.
- Choose the properly sized unit – a smaller unit will have difficulties cooling down the required volume of air, and a much bigger unit will turn on and off too many times to be efficient. Having the proper size tent ac unit will reduce the running costs.
This article goes into more details about these costs.
How to choose the correct camping ac unit – buyer’s guide
We’ve mentioned previously that this is not going to be an easy decision to take.
Looking at a “best of” list won’t do it, especially if it’s just an affiliate list made by somebody just to collect revenue from your purchase.
Here’s what you need to look after when purchasing an air conditioner for your specific tent:
Nobody likes to carry around extra heavy stuff, especially on a camping trip when your boot is already packed with many other items.
In this situation, small evaporative coolers fit perfectly, but you can probably get away with some portable units that can be used on a camping trip.
2.BTU or how powerful the unit is
That’s the second most important feature to look after. If you buy an undersized ac unit, you’ll most likely be disappointed and then you’ll complain on all the forums about how AC’s for tents are not working at all.
Going big and powerful on the other doesn’t help either. Not only that you’ll pay ten times more for a unit, but the lifespan of that device will be cut in half by the fact that it will constantly switch on and off. Use our table to guide you through this step when you’re planning to calculate the cooling capacity.
No matter how big your camping tent is, this unit will probably be 2-3 feet next to you. Some don’t get bothered by the white noise produced by the ac, but for most of us, it’s important to be as quiet as possible.
Evaporative coolers excel at this feature, but some units, like the window-mounted AC’s, do come with comfortably low decibel levels.
In general, the more powerful the unit is, the noisier it gets. So if you can, stick with a relatively small unit, but don’t go under 5000 BTU as it will most likely underperform on a very hot summer day.
This shouldn’t really be a problem if your campsite has access to the grid. However, if this is not possible, you need to make sure that the batteries or your generator can provide the necessary power to run it for the duration of the trip.
It doesn’t make any sense to buy a battery-operated ac unit that can only run for 2-3 hours, but you’re planning to camp for 3 days.
If running a generator, make sure that it can provide the necessary starting power required by the ac unit. Most of the time, this power requirement is 1.5 to 2 times higher than the running power.
5.Price and other costs
For most of us, this is what we’re interested in most.
How can we cool down a tent for as cheap as possible?
For this to happen, you’ll need to sacrifice some mindsets that you might have.
Let go of the idea that only big brands provide quality, and don’t consider fancy designs, as these will probably increase the price by a lot and provide the same performances as a “box” shaped ac.
Since it’s going to be a “try and see if it works” situation for most of you, our advice is to not spend more than $300 on a unit.
Yes, some of the units in this list cost thousands, and we do get an affiliate commission if you buy through the link, but that doesn’t mean that we need to promote something that it doesn’t necessarily worth the money.
What accessories and consumables you need for a camping ac
So you’ve thought that you can just buy the unit and that’s it. Your tent will be instantly air-conditioned.
Sadly, you’ll still need to make some extra purchases to make it work. Don’t worry, they only cost little money.
- Filters – almost every ac unit has some filters that will require changing. In normal circumstances, when used inside a home, this will probably last for a year. But when camping, when dust, pollen, insects, and humidity are involved, you might have to change them after every use. It might be an exaggeration, but be sure to check them after each camping trip and see in what state they are.
- Ducting – Depending on the unit and the chosen mounting technique, you might need to buy some sort of flexible ducts to attach them to your tent (especially if the units sits outside, away from the tent)
- Stand – you should never place an ac unit on the ground. Moisture can cause a lot of problems, so be sure to build or buy a stand for it.
- Insulation – this is not the first time we mentioned this. If you want the cooling effect to last for more than 30 seconds, buy a cheap space blanket and properly place it on top of the tent. Make sure to cover the entire surface of the tent. You don’t need to worry about the tent floor.
- Power generator – most of us decide to go camping in remote and isolated areas. Having access to the grid is out of the question, therefore investment into a camping generator is required. This could cost you a lot of money, so plan ahead and stick to campsites that provide electricity if you can’t afford one.
Frequently asked questions
No air conditioner will work inside a tent unless you do something to help it: insulate it, pitch it in the shaded areas etc.
Even with this, you’ll battle the laws of thermodynamics and there’s little chance of winning.
Depending on what tent you own, it is possible to air condition one. However, please consider that the ac has to run constantly and have enough power to keep up with the lack of insulation.
There is nothing preventing you not to use one inside a tent. However, you need to make sure that this device is still able to operate as it is designed to.
For example, it needs to evacuate the hot air and you need to make sure you’re able to constantly drain the condensation outside your tent.
They do work, but you need to check what starting wattage they require. A particular unit can run on let’s say 450 Watts, but it may require 900 watts to start.
Make sure your solar power system can handle that.
If you can find one that is adaptable for a tent, I would say yes. But many times, hire stations will charge you extra for flexible tubes and other accessories, thus buying a reasonably priced one might be better.
They work by moving warm air from inside to the outside of your tent.
Having one unit completely inside with all the exhaust done through a long hose makes it underperform.
That’s why window air conditioners work better because they will naturally dissipate some of the heat as they are partially mounted outside of the tent.
I would say no. The DIY solution is cheap, and it can be done in less than one hour. For the reason that I can’t explain, companies charge around $150 for that little zipper-window.
Good question. I have no idea, but I hope someday they will think about it. Until then, you can keep checking their page for new releases. Right now, they only have ac units for RVs.
For the moment, there are no solar tent air conditioners on the market, mainly due to the power they require to run. It wouldn’t be ideal for someone to carry around a 2kw solar system just to power such a unit.
The most honest answer we can give is no. Perhaps, in the future, when technology can improve a little bit or a little more in the cases of the batteries, this could get feasible, but at the moment, sticking with camping in a shaded area and having a lot of natural ventilation is our recommendation.
Operating air conditioning units with other purposes than their intended use should be done with extra care and attention.
You need to check them before and after every use, to make sure that no cables are damaged and the extra humidity didn’t cause any damage to visible parts.
Having an electrical device running inside such a small space (as most tents are) is not ideal and should be placed as far away from you as possible. This will reduce the risk of touching moving parts or other dangerous components when you’re sleeping.
If it’s being run via a camping generator, you need to make sure that the generator is not too close to the camping tent that toxic fumes can get inside.
If you own a battery-powered camping ac, make sure that when not running, they are not left in the tent, as this can quickly overheat and could potentially cause them to ignite. Too much humidity could have the same effect, however, this only happens to poor quality batteries or to the ones that have a factory defect.
Make sure that the location where you’re going to place the unit is dry and water cannot puddle there. It is ideal if the device can sit on top of a stand, even if it’s a DIY improvisation. If possible, any cable should be run off the ground.
Always check the manufacturer’s instructions before using any kind of electrical device.
If you see it acting strangely or making strange noises, shut it down immediately and disconnect the power supply.
Check with the label if the tent material is fire-rated so that it will resist fire in the eventuality of an unlikely short circuit.
Conclusion and what to look forward to
Although some pretend that their products are designed to work with camping tents, remember that there is not a single ac unit that works perfectly with a camping tent.
You’ll have to choose the best tent air conditioner from all the devices that can be adapted for camping purposes.
It needs to be lightweight enough to be carried around, as nobody wants an extra burden when you’re having tons of other stuff to pack for the trip.
You shouldn’t rely on battery-operated AC’s, as the battery technology is still far behind for the purpose of a continuous run.
Remember that you’re trying to cool a space that has no capability of keeping the heat outside. Unless you want to go the extra mile to invest some money on a space blanket or some sort of extra insulation for the tent. You could use the same insulation for winter camping, it will still work great.
Unless you already have a tent with an ac port (opening), you’ll most likely have to do some modifications to it (cutting out a hole in the fabric) to accommodate the exhaust/condensation drain. If this modification is not done properly, you could end up ruining the tent.
With all these in mind, our advice is to wait for the technology to catch up a little bit, and, perhaps, genuine tent air conditioners will hit the market in the years to come.
How about this for a solution?
Find a motel/hotel nearby. Turn on a/c. Enjoy.
(Was this article satire? Dragging an a/c and a generator out in the woods seems dim to me.)