How to Air Condition a Tent on Summer Camping Trips

By: Ashley Vitiello | Last Updated on December 22, 2023

Imagine yourself deeply connected to nature, enveloped in a chorus of rustling leaves and a sky twinkling with stars. Yet, a single discomfort can tamper with this peaceful scene – the oppressive heat within your camping tent. As any seasoned camper will attest, sweltering summer nights can turn your tranquil sanctuary into an unbearable hotbox. But what if we told you there’s a solution?

You can learn how to air condition a tent and merge the enjoyment of camping with the comfort of a cool summer breeze. In this comprehensive guide, we walk you through the ins and outs of air conditioning a tent, ensuring that your camping experience is as enjoyable and comfortable as possible.

We cover everything from choosing the right tent to different air conditioning methods, so join us as we explore the best methods.

Easy Steps to Air Condition a Tent

Choose the Right Tent

While a well-ventilated mostly-mesh tent is ideal for warm conditions without an AC unit, it’s not the best for when you want to use something to cool your tent. If you’re going to run a unit, you want it to be as efficient as possible, which means closing off your tent so the inside stays full of cold air instead.

Look for tents that have less mesh. It’s even better if they have PVC windows instead of mesh windows, that way you can still look outside without compromising your air conditioner’s hard work.

Any tent that has a built in AC port will be a game-changer for getting some cold air running inside your camping tent.

Strategic Tent Placement

Getting your tent position right can be a game-changer in the battle against the summer heat. It’s all about strategic placement. Let’s break this down into a few handy tips for achieving the ideal tent setup:

Shade

Try to hunt out a spot that provides generous shade, ideally during the peak hot hours. Ducking under a tree or cozied up next to a big rock – they’re your natural parasols keeping your tent cool.

Proximity to Water

If you can, set up your tent near a lake or river. There’s a reason seaside property is so prized – the cool breeze coming off the water can be a real treat, helping to circulate cooler air around your tent.

Use a Window AC Unit

Window AC units can be a godsend when it comes to tent air conditioners. Here’s what you need to have on hand for this method: a tent with an AC port, a window AC unit, an adjustable stand, and a power source. It sounds like a bit of kit, but trust me, it’s worth it.

We highly recommend the Amazon Basics Window-Mounted Air Conditioner for a quality window AC unit.

Setting Up the Window Air Conditioner Unit

  1. Pitch your tent on a flat, level surface, preferably in a shaded area.
  2. Cover the tent with a tarp, then with the included rainfly.
  3. Set up the adjustable stand next to the AC port and adjust its height to match the bottom of the port.
  4. Place the window AC unit on the stand and attach it to the port according to the tent manufacturer’s instructions.
  5. Create a seal around the opening so there’s as little space exposed as possible.
  6. Plug the AC unit into an electrical power source and turn it on.

Pros

  • Effective cooling method
  • Saves on valuable tent space.
  • It can be quieter than a portable AC unit
  • Once you find the right stand, setup is easy

Cons

  • Requires a stand
  • Needs a tent with an AC port

Use a Portable AC Unit

Another good option for a camping air conditioner is a portable AC unit. This one’s a touch more straightforward, only needing a tent, a portable AC unit, and a power source.

For a quality portable AC unit, we really like the Black + Decker Air Conditioner.

Setting Up the Portable Air Conditioner Unit

  1. Pitch your tent on a flat, level surface, preferably in a shaded area.
  2. Place the portable AC unit inside your tent.
  3. Run the duct hose from the AC unit to a port or opening that leads outside the tent – this will spit out hot air.
  4. If there’s a drain pipe, run that outside the tent as well.
  5. Plug the AC unit into the electrical power source and turn it on.

Pros

  • Effective cooling method
  • No need for a special stand or AC port.
  • Designed for easy portability and installation

Cons

  • Takes up space inside the tent
  • Can be noisy
  • Quite expensive

Battery-Operated Portable Air Conditioners

Don’t discount battery-operated air conditioners. They come in all sorts of styles, from rechargeable units, USB-powered, right to 12v car battery-powered options. The cheaper battery-powered fans and ice evaporative coolers may not cut it in a blazing tent, but there are some more advanced models designed specifically for off-grid, outdoor use.

Take the Zero Breeze MARK 2 portable camping air conditioner as an example – it has a 650 Watts / 2,300 BTU cooling capacity that can drop the ambient air temperature by 30°F in just 10 minutes. Plus, it has a rechargeable lithium-ion battery that can run for several hours.

Evaporative Cooler

Evaporative coolers, often referred to as swamp coolers, function based on the principle of evaporative cooling. In a nutshell, they suck in warm air and pass it over a small reservoir of cool water or ice. As this happens, the water evaporates, chilling the air as it does so.

When it comes to a solid recommendation for a swamp cooler, I have to tip my hat to the Air Choice Portable Evaporative Cooler. It’s a mid-size evaporative cooler that measures 30.7 inches tall, so you would need a larger tent to use it. For something more compact, check out this Portable Air Cooler that’s 9 inches tall.

While evaporative coolers can be good options in dry climates, they won’t be as effective in humid areas. Keep in mind that they do need to refilled (with water) frequently and still require an electrical outlet in order to run.

Ways to Insulate Your Tent And Why It Matters

When you’re using a portable air conditioner in your tent, insulation is highly recommended. Without it, the cool air your tent AC creates could easily escape through the fabric and mesh ceiling, making your efforts less effective.

You could also call this sealing it off, or creating a seal. The better your seal, the cooler your tent will be and the more efficient your air conditioning unit will work.

Tents, by their design, aren’t insulated for air conditioning. They’re typically made of breathable materials that, instead of holding in air, actually let air pass through and breathe. This is normally a really good thing, but isn’t when you’re trying to hold your cool air inside.

Reflective Tarps

A reflective tarp can work in a similar way to a space blanket. Position the tarp on the outside of your tent with the reflective side facing up. It’ll help reflect the sun’s rays away from your tent, assisting in keeping the interior cool. Secure it in place with ropes or straps.

You could even use a regular tarp from your local hardware store. Since the main purpose is to seal off the breathable tent fabric, it works in a similar way as a reflective tarp or emergency blanket. Most people put it on top of their tent but under the rainfly, that way it seals off the mesh ceiling commonly seen in camping tents. The tarp should go as close to the ground as you can get it – more coverage means better air conditioning.

Emergency Blanket

Emergency blankets, also known as space blankets, are typically made of Mylar, a lightweight material that reflects heat. Lining the inside of your tent with these can reflect the cool air back into the tent while keeping the heat out. Make sure to cover as much of the interior as possible for the best results.

Conclusion

And there you have it – your complete guide on mastering the art of how to air condition a tent. As we journeyed through different methods, considerations, and tips, we hope you’ve found the key to unlock a comfortable, cool sanctuary amidst the captivating allure of the wild.

After all, the beauty of tent camping doesn’t have to come with the price of sweltering, sleepless nights. With the right knowledge and tools, you can merge the untamed adventure of nature with the comfort of a well-cooled haven. Remember, every camping trip is an opportunity to create lasting memories, and now, with your newfound expertise, we trust you’ll be able to fully cherish those moments – without breaking a sweat.

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With over 60 years of experience in the outdoors, we don’t just talk about outdoor gear or recommend a good hiking trail.

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About The Author

Ashley is an adventurous soul who loves all things nature, especially warm sunshine, wildflowers, scenic snacking, and mushrooms. She is an avid outdoor enthusiast who has spent years enjoying time outside doing things like hiking, camping, and rock climbing.
Her goal with Know Nothing Nomads is to make these hobbies easily accessible through knowledgeable content and how-to's based on all the stuff she's learned on her journey. If she isn't writing an article, she's probably in a forest looking at big mountain views and tiny pieces of moss on the side of the trail.

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We are Derek and Ashley of Know Nothing Nomads. Whether it is hiking, camping, or just generally being outside, we love it. We are so happy that you have found our little blog and hope that you stick around a while. Feel free to contact us with any questions or get in touch with us on social media!

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