Heating and Air Conditioning

Chapter 3: Van Air Conditioning & Heating

There are a ton of options for heating and air conditioning your camper van when encountering inclement weather. It is primarily dependent on how much you are willing to spend and where you’re traveling to. With a little creativity and elbow grease, even the penny pinchers can get by just fine.

Camper Van Air Conditioning


One of the most important things about living in your van is staying comfortable. If your not comfortable in your home on wheels, you won’t want to spend any time in it, which will only make you miserable! (Or even worse, send you back to a house that doesn’t even move!) And sure, van life has some trade-offs to living in a house, but being comfortable shouldn’t be one of them! Being comfortable will give you a much better nights sleep and make any long road trip go much smoother. Additionally, If you have pets or children, keeping your van cool is a necessity.

So our first piece of advice on staying cool when the temperatures rise, is to drive where the cool comfortable weather is! Hopefully you have some mountains close by!

With a well-insulated van and a fan, you can manage to stay very cool and comfortable. We really do stress to new van lifers how important a fan is to your comfort, plus, it also aids when cooking inside to get rid of any smells. We talk about the installation process of a roof vent in our Ceiling and Walls chapter. And of course nothing ever beats parking beneath a nice shady tree! Nobody wants to lay around in a sticky hot, sweaty mess, and you shouldn’t have to!

Sometimes a fan or a shady parking spot isn’t going to do the trick, which is why we recommend an air conditioning unit. If you’re traveling to hot places, a portable ac unit for your van is an absolute lifesaver.

There are plenty of ways to stay cool in your van. Check out a few ideas below that work with your budget and space accommodation.

Roof Air Conditioner

Dometic Brisk II Polar White Air Conditioner

Dometic Brisk II Polar White Air Conditioner

Cost: $$$$
BTU: 13,500
Watts: runs between 1,500 and 1,800 watts

This is the most ideal way to keep your conversion van cool. Being that it’s on the roof it’s more stealthy, it also doesn’t take up space in your van, you don’t need to sacrifice the views that a window provides, and it’s efficient and incredibly effective.

Window Air Conditioner

hOmeLabs Window Air Conditioner

hOmeLabs Window Air Conditioner

Cost: $$
BTU: 5,000
Watts: 460 when running

The hOmeLabs Window Air Conditioner is one of the best-selling ac units. This isn’t an ideal way to cool a camper van, and it’s not quite as powerful as some other options, but it gets the job done, and certainly brings out the spirit of a DIY van conversion. A window ac unit in your van isn’t the most attractive looking option or the most stealthy option either, but if you’re on a budget it’s a good solution.

Window ac units aren’t the easiest to install in a van, so here is a video which does a good job at explaining the install process. When installing this unit, you may also want to put some really thin strips of foam board insulation between the wood window frame and the ac unit to prevent it from rattling while the van is moving and to act as an extra sealant.

Large Portable Air Conditioner

Honeywell Portable Air Conditioner

Honeywell Portable Air Conditioner

Cost: $$$
BTU: 12,000
Watts: runs between 1,000 and 1,500

Similar to the window ac unit, this unit isn’t traditionally used in a camper van. However, it will get the job done for a reasonable price. A big downside to this ac unit is it takes up a ton of space in your van. With this unit, you will also need to cut a hole in the side of your van so the hose can let out the hot air. You will also want to put a thin layer of insulation over the hose because it will get very warm, therefore making your van warm.

Evaporative Air Cooler / Swamp Cooler

Honeywell Evaporative Air Cooler

Honeywell Evaporation Air Cooler

Cost: $$
Watts: 102

This AC is great because it’s affordable and only uses 102 watts of power. Keep in mind that this does not actually blow cold air – it reduces the temperature through water evaporation. However, if you do want it to blow cold air, it comes with an ice compartment. Overall, it’s a great unit for van lifers who aren’t staying in areas that get really hot. It will bring down the temperature a few degrees, which is worth the money for most.

Roof Vent Fans

Fan-Tastic Vent – A fantastic fan is the key to keeping your van cool. It has some great features such as a rain sensor that will automatically close the vent when it gets wet, reversible air flow, a thermostat, and a remote.

fan-tastic vent fan for camper van

Maxxair Deluxe Fan – This fan is a bit more expensive, but a great alternative to the Fantastic Fan. It has all the features a Fantastic Fan has along with the ability to keep the fan running when it’s closed, allowing air to circulate in the van. It can also stay open while driving, while the fantastic fan cannot.

MaxxFan Deluxe vent fan

DIY Air Conditioner

Additional Cooling Tips:

If you are traveling in an area that is primarily hot, paint your van white, or at least the roof. A light-colored van won’t absorb as much heat. Our friend @brisbanegirlinavan mentioned that she is always looking for shady areas to park and she often keeps all windows and doors open to allow for air circulation.

Camper Van Heating


No matter how well you insulate your van, it will never have the same insulation properties of a house. Period. Hate to break it to you but that is a fact. This means feeling the highs and the lows of the temperature, which can be difficult to get accustomed to at first. However, you may even grow to like waking up in the cool crisp air and letting the sun slowly warm you as it rises.

The number one key to staying warm is installing quality insulation in your van. We talk about this in our insulation chapter. But even the best-insulated van doesn’t keep you warm overnight, it only slows down the cooling process, so other methods are necessary as well. Try a propane heater if it’s really cold, but always, always keep a window cracked for ventilation. On the coldest of nights, you can get away with a mummy sleeping bag and a blanket over the top. The sleeping bag stuffs away small which is key when space is limited. Big bulky blankets may take up a lot of room. Also don’t be afraid to bundle up. Wear some warm socks to bed, a hoodie, and a beanie to keep your head warm. And of course, cuddling up with your dog or partner always does the trick!

Put a thick curtain or blanket behind the front seats in your van. Cold air will get into your van through the front because of the windshield and windows. Many cargo vans will have a built-in wall which will make this easier, but if not, you can install a rod or hooks to keep the curtain hanging.

And of course, our biggest piece of advice: if the weather gets chilly, be a snowbird and fly(drive) south! Don’t be afraid to drive to where the weather is more suitable! Good luck out there and stay warm!

Mr. Heater Indoor-Safe Portable Propane Radiant Heater – A radiant heater is well worth the money if you will be traveling to really cold destinations.

Indoor-Safe Portable Radiant Heater

Heated Throw Electric Blanket – A heated blanket is a life saver in the cold winter months.

Heated Travel Throw Electric Blanket for van

CamelBak 40oz Vacuum-Insulated Stainless Water Bottle – In the winter, fill an insulated water bottle with warm water and put it in your sleeping bag.

CamelBak Chute 40oz Vacuum-Insulated Stainless Water Bottle

Extreme Weather Sleeping Bag – This is meant for those sub-zero nights. If you get a little warm in this sleeping bag, you can unzip the bottom to let your feet cool off.

Extreme Weather Sleeping Bag

Wool Blanket – This is a 4.4 lb blanket, so you shouldn’t be shivering too much.

Wool blanket

Wool Socks – Merino wool socks will do wonders for your feet.

Wool Socks