Although many of us would love a tent air conditioner, especially for those camping trips during a scorching summer day, there’s a big chance we can end up with a device that can set us back a couple of hundred dollars and provide us with little to no cooling.
Here are a couple of reasons why:
- you are trying to cool a “room” with nearly no insulation whatsoever.
- there are no such units designed specifically to be used inside camping tents.
- battery-powered camping air conditioners will almost never keep up with the power required to maintain a comfortable temperature.
- in many cases, we have no access to power.
Fortunately, some people found some ingenious ways to work around these problems, and with as little as $200 they made one device work great.
- they’ve worked around the insulation problem using something as simple as a space blanket.
- instead of going for overpriced and unreliable battery-powered units, they chose a simple window-mounted air conditioner that was adapted to a camping tent (or fitted to a tent with ac port).
- camping generators can easily solve the problem of accessing power in remote locations.
Here’s a short video demonstrating how this tent ac actually works:
If you’re planning for comfortable camping this summer, then I suggest you take a look at Frigidaire FFRE0553S1 air conditioner (reviewed down below), and see how you can make this work for your tent. In my opinion, spending hundreds on an expensive portable ac is just not worth it for the sole purpose of being used for camping.
If you are still skeptical about this, feel free to browse some ideas about cooling a tent without electricity.
You can also improvise if you’re good at making stuff. With as little as $20 you can build your own DIY tent air conditioner.
I’m pretty sure you’ve heard about the famous Zero Breeze as well, and how wonderful this new device is. Well, not all crowdfunding campaigns really deliver a quality product, and this turned out to be a total scam. You can read my review of Zero Breeze to find out more.
A quick peek at what tent air conditioners I consider to work
Nowadays, wherever you look for a product, you’ll find somebody who comes with a new invention or design that’s presumably the next big revolution. The portable AC unit market did not escape this, and the product that bloggers always recommend is the Lifesmart Indoor/Outdoor Cooler. I friend of mine fall to this trap, and he got one. After I saw it in action, I decided to include it in the worst choice category.
How to adapt an air conditioner to a camping tent
Until the Coleman AC division gives some attention to us, the tent campers, and not only to RV enthusiasts, we are stuck with the option of adjusting different types of portable air conditioners to achieve our goals. There are no mounting kits on the market designed for this, and because of that, I can only see three solutions that will work for an everyday tent.
This idea didn’t work for me, and I don’t recommend this to anyone who’s camping with their family. There’s just not enough space inside to accommodate a bulky unit. Perhaps it’s more adequate for a large wedding or concert tent, although I’m sure that you need to consult an HVAC engineer when it comes to this.
Outside a tent, attached to the wall or as a standalone unit but with some duct that runs inside
This is the method that I chose. I was close to giving up with this whole tent cooling ideas and stick to my old mini fan. But then I found the guys from ac boot and the idea of having it outside came back to me. The solution they sell is good, but I saw it being a bit too expensive, and I knew that somebody out there has a DIY solution for that. After all, we all want to save money when possible.
Unless your tent already has a cutout for ac mounting, you will need to improvise and do it yourself. It’s not difficult to make a hole, all you need is some scissors, a zipper, and some good sewing skills.
You can see why the method is flawless. Since there are no plastic ducts or separate boots for the ac unit, setting up the system is very easy. Literally, all you need is a small table or something similar that you can use to lift the device off the ground. A longer power cord is useful if the generator/power source is far away.
All you need to decide is where do you want the cold air to blow. I would recommend to keep it on the sides or perhaps where your feet will be.
This method can be adjusted to work with the Tripp Lite SRCOOL12K or the Honeywell, but it will require some sort of duct that you need to run inside.
Hanged on the rooftop
In theory, a system that can be hanged up somewhere on the roof will benefit you better. Sadly, no such product ‘s light enough and has enough power to make this work. A cheap alternative would be an air circulator, but I used one for years, and I can tell you that when it gets too hot, it becomes useless.
Determine the right cooling capacity
You’ll need to calculate the square footage for your tent. For canvases 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 created the following table that can help determine how much BTU’s (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|
|8-10 person||120-160 square feet||8000 BTU|
|12-14 person||180-220 square feet||10000 BTU|
You need to keep in mind that sun exposer 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.
It’s the insulation that makes the difference
The direct sunlight exposure it’s to blame for poor performances. The tent fabric’s alone is not designed to stop the heat transfer between the cold and the hot air. Even more, some material that doesn’t block the sunlight can turn the tent into a greenhouse, with the CO2 and water vapors trapping the heat inside.
A space blanket covering the tent will help the air conditioner to work more efficiently by reflecting back most of the incoming heat from the sun. This inexpensive aluminum sheet will make a huge difference if there is no shaded area where you can set up camp.
My pick: Frigidaire FFRE0553S1 – The best tent air conditioner
For me, the best portable tent air conditioner was the Frigidaire (check on Amazon). 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 42 pounds and it’s so compact, you’ll have no problem transporting inside any car’s boot.
Many times I don’t camp near a power source, and I have a 2000W generator to provide me with the energy I need. Compared to other ACs at this price, this only uses 410 watts to operate, and it requires around double of that to start.
Being an outside fitted unit, the remote control that comes in the kit is handy. And as for the controls itself, 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.
The runner-up: Honeywell Portable Camping Air Conditioner
It came second for one reason only. It has to go inside; there’s no way you can mount this to a tent’s walls, and that didn’t serve my needs. But still, for a reasonable price (check price on Amazon), and if your tent allows it, you can end up with a great tent air conditioner.
It is advertised as a portable cooler for rooms up to 400 square feet, but this number is only valid for a place in a building with primary insulation. I think that when used inside a tent, in the middle of a hot day, it should be able to cool it if it’s not bigger than 250 square feet.
Now, it’s much quieter than my pick, it only produces around 45 dB, but it needs about 920 Watts of power to achieve a cooling capacity of 9000 BTU.
Even though it’s an indoor unit, you will still need to run the exhaust hose, and you will probably need to make some modifications to your tent.
As for portability, it’s not that easy to move around. It weighs approximately 64 pounds, but because it’s tower-shaped (32 inches high), it can be difficult to transport it in the boot of an everyday family car.
The choice for large tents: Haier 14,000 BTU
This one is what I call a modern air conditioner. It doesn’t look like something you would want inside your tent if you have a small one. So only pick this one if the 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 is has a heating mode with a heating capacity of 10,000 BTU. All others ACs at this price range will come with a cool only mode.
The Bank Breaker: Tripp Lite SRCOOL12K
This system is a beast, but the price tag was too much for me. It retails for around $600 for the 12,000 BTU version, but it can reach as much as $2700 for the 24,000 BTU variant.
It draws 3.2 kW of power, thus powering it from a generator is not a good idea.
The flexible tube that’s included in the kit can be used to aim the cold air precisely where you need it. When I saw this it, I imagined that the most effective way to use it is to run the plastic tube through the roof of the tent, possibly attaching a diffuser or a louver to control the airflow.
When it comes to mobility, I can’t say that is easy to carry around. It works if you have a truck or a van, but I’m not sure you’ll want it in your seven-seaters.
What all bloggers recommended
Everywhere I looked, people recommended some water or ice-based coolers. The Lifesmart
Indoor/Outdoor cooler was the one that was advertised the most. After seeing it in action in a small shed, I can only recommend it for outdoor use only. It’s perfect for a shaded open space, like under a gazebo or a tarp shelter, but that’s it.
Some could argue that evaporating water is the best way to cool down a surface, and I don’t disagree with them, but I can’t see it being a comfortable solution if you want to sleep and be wet all the time.
The Arctic Air (cheap Amazon cooler) personal cooler and the GO Cool were mentioned as well. Again, I can’t imagine why you would want moisture inside your tent. Even if you use them with proper ventilation, they’re no better than a $5 air cooler. You can try one of them and see if it works for you, but none of them is a real camping air conditioner. The only advantage they have is that they are battery powered, which makes them useful sometimes.
Maintenance tips to improve the performance
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 to underperform, losing up to 20% of their maximum BTU.
Frequently asked questions
Q: Will tent air conditioners work with solar panels?
A: 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.
Q: Should I rent one instead of buying it?
A: 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.
Q: Why do some portable AC underperform?
A: 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.
Q: Do I need to buy a tent with a pre-made hole for ACs?
A: 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.
Q: When will Coleman make a special unit for tents only?
A: 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.
Conclusion and what to look forward to
Many of you will probably consider cooling a 4-8 person tent, and the best air conditioner for that is the Frigidaire FFRE0553S1. Originally designed as a window AC, campers all over the world adopted it quickly as part of their essential camping gear.
I am one of them, and I can only rate it with a 5 out of 5 stars. But I followed all the rules of summer camping to make it work efficiently. So if you plan to get one, make sure you give it a little help by adding that space blanket over the tent.
Those who are looking to cool an industrial tent should not rely on this post only. Most like, an HVAC engineer will guide you through professional products built for that purpose.