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Beat the Heat: 12 Tips for Keeping Your Camper Van Cool

Updated: Dec 9, 2022

Most of us camper van owners like to think we’re pretty cool… but are we really?

Your camper van probably doesn’t boast the amazing insulation and built-in air conditioning that most homes do, which means you’ll have to be a little more creative in order to stay cool in hot weather. Thankfully there are a number of ways to do just that.

Let’s take a look at 12 of the most effective ways to stay cool while on the road in summer.

1. Choose a coastal or elevated spot

Not all campsites are created equal – where you choose to park can have a huge effect on how comfortable you are. Coastal spots generally offer cooling sea breezes, while parking at elevation can take quite a few degrees off the heat of the day or the overnight temperature. Avoid parking on concrete, asphalt or any other hard and hot surface.

2. Park in the shade

Likewise, parking in the shade can reduce the heat of your camper van by quite a bit – as much as 10-15F in dry conditions. Install an awning attachment to create your own shade to enjoy outside.

3. Keep doors and windows open

Without an air conditioner to control the temperature inside of your van, the key to keeping cool is ventilation. Moving air allows the body’s own air conditioning unit – the evaporation of sweat – to work effectively, so when and where possible, keep your windows and doors open. It should be said that this strategy might be a little risky if you’re in an area with over-friendly wildlife, although fly screens and mosquito nets can help if you’re only contending with insects.

4. Install a vent fan in the roof

If you are in an area where you feel uncomfortable about sleeping with doors and windows open, consider installing a vent fan in the roof. An unpowered vent fan is the cheapest option, using natural breezes to rotate the fan and ventilate the van, although these won’t work on particularly still (and particularly hot) days. The better option is a powered fan that runs on standard 12V power, guaranteeing airflow in all conditions. It can be quite remarkable just how big a difference these fans make!

5. Use powered fans to move air

While roof vents are great for keeping the ambient temperature of your van down, they don’t offer much direct airflow within the space. Powered fans, whether portable, battery-powered units or more permanent installations, will create airflow that you can actually feel, and will make an enormous difference to your comfort levels. PRO TIP: if you’re in a dry environment, soak a thin cloth in water and drape it over the fan head to create a cut-price evaporative air conditioner!

6. Use reflective window shades

When you’re out in the wilderness, it’s less about keeping the cool in as it is keeping the heat out. Reflective window shades are a great way to do the latter. These keep the inside of your van shaded, and they don’t accumulate heat themselves, as the sun bounces right off of them. Not only do they stop heat building up within your van, they also increase security, keeping valuables hidden away from prying eyes.

7. Avoid hanging out inside the van

A single human body can have a dramatic effect on the temperature of a space that measures just a few hundred cubic feet. We’re warm-blooded creatures with bodies that sit at almost 100F, so by taking yourself out of your van whenever possible, you’ll be removing a major source of heat. Spend time outside instead, or if it’s too hot to even do that, find a local library, shopping mall or cinema to spend the heat of the day in.

8. Cook outside

Cooking requires heat, the enemy of the camper van owner in the summer. It’s important that you cook outside wherever possible. If you haven’t yet built your camper van, consider installing an extendable kitchen that allows you to cook out the back of your van. If you’ve got an internal kitchen already installed, use a communal campsite kitchen on a hot night, take the opportunity to cook over a small fire, or enjoy a meal at a local restaurant.

9. Sleep outside on hot nights

You might prefer to close and lock your camper van while you sleep to keep your valuables safe and secure. On particularly hot nights this will turn the van into an oven though, with your body heat only adding to the discomfort. If you know you’re going somewhere warm, take a tent and sleeping bag with you, and sleep outside on hot nights.

10. Avoid using or charging big electronic equipment

Electronics generate heat, and the bigger the item, the more heat it will push out. Avoid watching television on hot nights. Turn off the fridge – use a cooler instead. Charge your laptop at a local café rather than in the van. All these little things can add up to a real difference in comfort.

11. Stay hydrated

Your mom was right – you need to drink more water, especially when it’s hot out. A chilled beverage can help to cool you down from the inside, and restocks your body with liquids lost to sweat. Keep a drink next to you in bed, as sleeping in the heat can make you sweat a lot during the night, and you don’t want to wake up with a heat hangover.

12. Install an air conditioner

The final strategy is to go all out and install an air conditioner. We’re not talking the normal cabin A/C – these need the motor to be running, which is expensive and doesn’t make for a great night’s sleep. We’re talking a fully-fledged camper van air conditioning unit, complete with its own generator for power. Expensive? Yes. Cumbersome? Certainly. Effective? Most definitely.

Wanting to be the coolest camper van owner on the road? We’re ready to make that dream come true! Contact the friendly team at Drifter today!

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