Staying Cool in a Van Without Rooftop Air Conditioning

Besides the air conditioner in the front, I don’t have supplemental AC in my van. I figure that if it’s hot, I’m not in my van anyway. Presumably, it’s daytime and I’m out exploring some site or working on a project or doing some tourist thing. If I’m at a campsite, plugged in or not, I’m probably outside under a canopy or messing around with folks nearby. In other words, I’m not just sitting in my van being hot.

There are instances when cool air would be nice though. Say, parking out in the desert. But even in the desert, I wouldn’t have a place to plug in. I could use a generator, but I don’t have the space or desire to lug that thing around and keep up with its regularly required service. So again, how to keep cool? I can’t make or buy a swamp cooler because I’m often in humid climates. If they work in the environment you live in, for the love God, use them!

Mainly I go somewhere cooler – choosing northern or higher altitude destinations over southern ones. But while I don’t willingly travel to hot places in the summer, I do live in a hot-ish place. I combat that with:

  • Shade: I park in the shade as often as possible. I use Reflectix in the windows if I’m in the city and a sunshade cloth over the windshield if I’m at a campsite. I keep the curtain separating the back from the cockpit closed. Outside the city, I open up my back doors and throw a shade cloth across them to create a canopy.


  • Fans: I have three fans going.
    • A 10 inch O2COOL fan that runs off 110 or 6 D batteries (from Wal-Mart). The batteries last up to 40 hours.
    • Another is a clip-on van that runs off 12V (found at Lowes). It is simply listed as item #0871016 – maybe it is the store brand? This thing is low cost, but high performance. I plug it into my cell phone’s power bank and the thing blows for hours. Bonus, it rotates 90 degrees.
    • The last is a desktop Sharper Image fan that runs off 110 or AAA batteries. Folks, I’ve tried for ages to find a link to this fan, but no luck. I scored it at a thrift store. *shrugs*
      • The fans are placed so that they create a big circle in the back of the van to help move air around. Essentially, one fan pushes and cools air into another fan, which does the same thing to the final fan.
  • Good sense: I keep the windows down (covering the opening a mesh bug net I created – pic here) and I keep the doors open.
  • If it is stifling hot at night, I spray the sheets or my shirt with a bit of water and have a fan blowing towards me.
O2Cool Fan and Sharper Image Personal Fan
The small fan is from Sharper Image. The larger one is O2Cool.

I don’t think stealth is a thing anymore (too many people are out here with big white vans). But, I don’t need the extra hassle that a rooftop AC might bring me. If I had to be somewhere for an event and knew temps would consistently be over 85 degrees during the day, I’d get book a campsite with hookups, get a portable AC unit from Lowes (a few are under $300) and give ZERO fracks, because being comfortable is important to me.

Tl;dr – You don’t need an AC, but they are nice to have. Use shade and a multi-fan system to create a constant circle of airflow.

I hope these tips give you some ideas. Feel free to post your own tips in the comment section below!

Be smart out there. Take care of yourself.

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