If you’re like us, then all you can think of is your next adventure. That means firing up your Adventure Van and taking it out on the road. No matter what season it is.
Chances are, a good amount of your road trips will take place in the summer. It’s peak camping season, after all. Unfortunately, high temperatures can quickly suck the fun out of your adventure. Keeping your van cool is essential if you want to get the most out of your camping experience. Sometimes, this can seem like a challenge, but we often use a few proven strategies to beat the heat.
Let’s take a look at 8 different ways to stay cool while adventuring in your van this summer.
1. Location, Location, Location
Location is everything when it comes to staying cool. So do your best to plan your routes with your destination’s climate in mind. In general, that means heading north for your high-altitude mountain expedition in the summer and south for your desert journey in the winter.
Another option for summer trips is sticking near the coast. We’re lucky enough to be located around an hour away from the Pacific Ocean, so we usually travel along the beach where the ocean regulates the temperature.
If you don’t live near the ocean, look for areas of higher elevation that will have cooler days and larger drops in overnight temperatures. Cool nights are the key to a long, cozy sleep and will significantly lower your energy consumption too.
2. Install Roof Fan/s
If you want to stay cool inside your van, improve airflow. It’s the most effective way to cool down inside temperatures. Don’t waste money, space, or energy on a large, energy-hogging AC unit. Instead, look for roof vent fans to get the air moving and suck out the heat.
Besides keeping your van at a more comfortable temperature, they’re a great way to control excess moisture. Moisture is your enemy and can lead to issues like mold, bacteria growth, and deterioration of natural surfaces such as wood or cloth. As a bonus, roof vent fans like the MaxxAir or Fantastic Fan are also helpful for getting rid of cooking (and other) odors.
If you have a single fan, it’s best to crack open a T-vent window or other windows to increase the circulation and cooling effect. With multiple fans, you have greater control over your airflow. Try setting them up to push and pull air through the entire length of the van so that you have a consistent flow, ensuring you cool down quicker and more efficiently.
3. Use Window Covers or Blackout Curtains
Keep the sun outside your van by using window curtains or covers. Don’t leave these off your van build list. You’ll thank us later.
Window covers can be as simple as homemade curtains. Still, you might want to invest in a higher-quality set with built-in insulation and magnet attachment points for ease of use. A good insulation layer will keep out the sun’s hot rays in the summer and keep heat inside during the winter. Blocking out the sun also makes it easier to sleep in after a long night of campfire stories and s’mores.
Your windshield lets in a lot of sunlight, so don’t forget to cover this up as well. Even a thin, cheap reflective windshield cover will surprise you by how much cooler it keeps your van in the sun. Go a step further and hang an insulated curtain in between the cab and living space. Not only can this provide privacy when you don’t have your windshield covered, but it also makes a big difference in keeping the heat out of your sleeping area. It’s equally effective for keeping your sleeping area warm and cozy in the winter.
Safety should never be ignored, especially out on the road, and window covers keep your belongings away from prying eyes when you’re away from your van on hikes. At night, they’ll give you peace of mind by adding an extra layer of privacy.
4. Increase Ventilation – Cracking Open a Window is Key
This tip keeps coming back, but it bears repeating – increase ventilation. It shouldn’t be overlooked. Even if you don’t have strong fans or a portable AC unit, you’d be surprised at how much cooler your van will be if you just kept your windows cracked open.
If you have fans, opening some T-vent or pill windows should create enough air circulation to keep the heat at bay. Even small, portable, battery-operated fans will be better than nothing when used next to a cracked window. While you’re at it, make sure to keep the bugs out by installing a mesh bug net as well.
5. Get an Awning
Make your own shade with the help of an awning. They’re designed to be attached directly to your roof rack or the side of your van and extend outwards to provide all the shade you need.
Parked next to the beach for the day? No problem. Awnings really are a game-changer because they allow you to create a ton of additional shade, no matter where you end up.
Rolling out the awning keeps one side of your van out of the sun and creates a cooler atmosphere right outside your van door. This gives you the chance to place some chairs under your awning, relax with a cold drink, and enjoy the view without breaking a sweat. After all, enjoying the great outdoors is why you went camping in the first place.
Trust us on this one; your awning will get a lot of use. That’s why you should invest in a good quality product that won’t break down with repeated use in the sun and rain. Fiamma Awnings feature the highest levels of craftsmanship and won’t let you down in bad weather. Featuring extra strong arms that roll out ever so smoothly, these awnings are a favorite among adventure van enthusiasts worldwide.
6. Portable AC Unit
The Totalcool has been a game-changer for us. It’s one of our new favorite toys for our personal vans as we travel around the Pacific Northwest.
While a full-blown air conditioning unit is often overkill and consumes a lot of energy, the Totalcool doesn’t use much power at all. It runs on 12 or 24 DC power or 110 AC power and has a low amp draw.
The Totalcool is a robust, well-designed unit built from special bacteria-resistant plastic, and it includes a biodegradable filter. Using evaporative cooling technology, it runs on ordinary tap water and can blow 45% cooler air as long as you open a vent and give it some fresh air. While it's not a full-blown air conditioner, it is great at keeping your van cool.
Keep your van cool during the summer months with this plug-and-play portable cooling system.
7. Park in the Shade
This may seem like a no-brainer, but park in the shade. We’ve seen plenty of vans parked in direct sunlight for hours on end when shade was just a few feet away.
On average, parking in the shade can help your rig stay 10-15F cooler. This makes a huge difference, and you probably have food or electronics inside your van that you wouldn’t want to overheat.
If there’s no shade, make some. We’ve already mentioned awnings, but additionally consider your van’s orientation to the sun and keep oversized windows facing away from the sun.
If possible, also try to park on gravel or dirt. This eliminates a lot of reflected heat from parking lot pavements. This strategy should make your van interior a whole lot more comfortable, especially when combined with overhead shade. And if you drive a bit further from the usual parking areas, you just might find your new favorite secret spot!
8. Cook Outside to Keep the Inside Cool
Cook outside when you can. We know you spent a bunch of time designing your dream #vanlife kitchen, but that doesn’t mean you need to use it for every meal.
Cooking in your van is absolutely the fastest way to heat it up. Making some soup on the stove might be a great way to warm up the inside of your van on a snowy day, but in the summer, it’s better (and more fun) to break out the grill and cook outside. You can also take advantage of camp kitchens when they’re available.
For that matter, you should minimize using electronics inside your van during the day that emit a lot of heat. Even a laptop can generate more warmth than you think.
If all else fails…
Even if you’ve followed every strategy on this page, it might not be enough to beat the heat in the middle of summer. Here are some other things you could try if all else fails:
- Head indoors
We know you love spending time in your van, but it’s ok to head indoors once in a while. Visit a museum, watch a movie, eat at a restaurant, go to a library, or even take a trip to the mall if you need relief from the heat.
- Get a cooler mattress
Consider trying a gel-infused memory foam mattress topper to keep you from sweating through your sheets at night
- Sleep outside
As a last resort, pitch a tent and sleep under the stars. It gives you a lot more ventilation than the inside of a van. Even better if you have a RoofNest rooftop tent on your roof rack where you have a better chance of catching a breeze. Our Safari Roof Racks and Low Pro Racks are a great way to do this.
THE WRAP UP
We hope this post was helpful, and let us know what you do to keep your van cool during the summer in the comments section below.