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Tips And Tricks To Stay Cool In A Van During Summer

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Summer can be a tough time for van dwellers. There are few ways to stay cool aside from traveling North or heading to a higher altitude. Fortunately, we’ve come up with a few tips to stay cool in a van during summer. To start, read through our post on insulating a van for hot weather.

In that post, we discuss covering windows to block radiant heat, insulating the floor and walls, and installing a vent fan on the roof for maximum airflow. Once a van has been built, there’s not much that can be done about changing the vehicle’s construction. However, there are still tricks you can do to stay cool.

Infographic on ways to stay cool in a camper van in summer

Tips and Tricks To Stay Cool

Spend as little time as possible in the van

Body heat and other activities will rapidly heat up a van. Spend time in shopping malls, libraries or museums throughout the day.

Avoid running high-capacity electronics

Charging laptops, watching television or running a refrigerator is going to release a lot of excess heat. Try to find alternatives like charging your laptop at Starbucks or using a cooler instead or a refrigerator.

Spend time in the shade

Use an awning attachment, or find a tree that you can spend time under during the day. The temperature can drop as much as 10-15 degrees Fahrenheit in dry environments when sitting in the shade.

Use vent fans or smaller portable fans

Ventilation is the one of the biggest things you can do to keep your van cool. If you don’t currently have a vent fan installed in the roof, consider purchasing a smaller battery powered fan, or a larger electric fan to keep the air flowing.

Read our post: Best roof vent fans for a campervan

Keep doors and windows open

For proper airflow, keep doors and windows open as often as possible. Keep in mind bugs may become a problem in some environments. Consider purchasing window screens or creating DIY bug nets to prevent this problem.

Soak a t-shirt in cool water

Often it is easier to cool yourself rather than your environment. If you are able to pick up ice or cold water, use this to soak an old towel or t-shirt in, then wrap the towel around the back of your neck or head. This will significantly reduce your body temperature.

Purchase a cold therapy gel pack for the neck and shoulders

If you have a refrigerator or cooler, purchase an inexpensive gel pack for your neck and shoulders. You can keep the pack in a refrigerator or cooler at night and use it to cool off during the day.

Use a handheld water mister

Not the most long-term solution, but a small handheld water misting fan may be all it takes to get you through the hottest part of the day. These are often battery operated and should cool you off in the short-term.

Drink lots of cold water

An obvious but often overlooked solution is proper hydration. Drinking lots of cold water throughout the day will keep your body temperature lower.

Run a generator and AC

This is the most cumbersome option, but if things get really hot consider purchasing a generator that can be used during the day to run a small AC unit.

Park somewhere with shore power

Another solution that may not be accessible to everyone is to park at a campsite or somewhere with electric hookups. This will give you the power you need to run an air conditioning unit or other cooling solution.

Sleep outside

During the summer, body heat can warm the van fast. Consider spending the night outside in a sleeping bag or tent if you are staying in campgrounds or on BLM land.

This Post Has 8 Comments
  1. Yeah… Leaving the doors and windows open isn’t a good idea. My son and I are homeless right now. We are sleeping in my Honda Odyssey. We park in my daughter’s driveway (no there isn’t any room for us in her place). Last night there was a mountain lion across the street in an empty lot, just 40 feet away from us. I had the slider opened for a while to let the heat out while we relaxed. Luckily I shut it before the mountain lion found us.

    1. Wow, you have had an adventure just sitting in a driveway! Leaving doors and windows open is certainly a personal choice. Different parts of the country might be more or less conducive for it. Bugs in the northeast, bears in Arkansas, etc. should all be concerns, but the idea is to try to manage your airflow through the van to cool it down. Good luck keeping the cats out!

  2. Very impressive and informative site.
    Keeping cool…… Hanging a fine mesh netting over any framework with an air gap below apparently works. This material is commercially available in Spain and is used extensively for crops to help stabilise the temperature to optimise growth. I have not researched why it works but suggest the black (or green) netting absorbs the suns heat so causes an up-draft and also cuts down the amount of direct sunlight hitting the van or yourself. This netting is like a very, very loose knit jumper/sweater/woolen hat letting about half the light through and not flat pierced sheet. Regardless… it works and is a very low cost option.

  3. Add a tropical roof….what you ask. Land rover did this in the 1950’s . Its a roof over the roof with a 2″ air gap. When you drive air flows between the two keeping a cooling stream over both roofs. When you are parked the upper roof bakes and the lower roof (the actual roof) is out of the direct sun. By convection air flows over the lower roof cooling it off. We used it in our F 250 for 2 years in Africa, our cab never heated up, and the back of the truck was never as baked as the roof. All you need is a roof rack with a solid surface, preferably white. You can use lightweight plastic, plywood or aluminum tread plate. I saw a recent add from a sprinter van guy who added cut up plastic pallet forms to his roof…worked perfectly and super lightweight. Cheap too!

  4. Y’all need to head out to the Blackrock Desert some summer. We burners know a thing or two about keeping cool. And yeah, tarps are your friends. If you can keep direct sun off your sleeping quarters, you will DRAMATICALLY lower the temperatures. Then any breeze will feel heavenly.

    Isn’t as effective in hot and humid environments, unfortunately, but for hot dry climates, a simple bit of shade is heaven on earth.

    1. Oh, and I forgot: for hot and dry climates, don’t overlook evaporative cooling. Just about as good as air conditioning, for a tiny fraction of the electricity — if you can spare the water.

  5. 2 tarps with 6 inch+ space between (one on van, the other above, ladder racks in my case) with air exhausted from inside van by upper fan blowing in between. Lower fan blows in from shaded and somewhat cooler ground at back door. White plastic taped inside glass, then thick black plastic inside of van to keep out any sunlight. Reduces thermometer temp 12 to 15 degrees. Fan directed at body, and it’s below the sweat threshold for me here in Florida. Windows slightly cracked open, and … hmmm, “Security” at back door. Booby traps are illegal in Florida; just a disclaimer.

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