How Good is the AC in a Popup Camper, and Does it Actually Work?


If you’re interested in purchasing a popup camper, air conditioning is an important component to consider. Of course, you’ll want to use your camper in a variety of climates. You also won’t want to worry about the camper becoming uncomfortably warm on a hot day. Learning the types of air conditioning available for popup campers, and whether or not they actually work, can help you make the right decision for you and your family.

When considering the purchase of a popup camper, a common question is whether or not the air conditioning is effective. It can be challenging to regulate the temperature in these vehicles due to their canvas popouts and poor insulation. So let’s get right to it.

Will an air conditioner really cool a popup camper? Yes. You can use an air conditioning unit to effectively cool your popup camper and maintain a comfortable temperature. There are several options such as a rooftop a/c, wall mount a/c, and portable a/c. Assessing your situation will help you select the best approach for cooling your camper.

Types of Air Conditioning Units in Popup Campers

When deciding the best way to cool your popup camper, it’s essential to know the advantages and disadvantages of each approach. Knowing your options can save you money and ensure the highest level of comfort for you and your camping companions. The four cooling methods we will look at today are a wall mount air conditioner, a roof mount air conditioner, a portable household air conditioner, and a household fan.

Wall Mount A/C

A wall mount a/c is an air conditioning unit that you can mount into the wall or window of your camper. You can either install the unit into a window, or a hole that has been cut into the wall of your camper. This can be a cost-effective and efficient option for cooling your camper. Wall mount a/c units can be found from the factory on some units, or installed by the end user. A benefit is that these are self contained and simply require to be plugged in.

Advantages:

  • A wall mount air conditioner has the benefit of being very easy to install. You can install it yourself, which saves money on installation fees.
  • The system itself is often cheaper than a roof mount air conditioning system, which makes it an affordable option for cooling your camper.
  • Since wall mount a/c units often fit in a hole or window within a wall of the camper, the noisier elements of the system will be outside of the vehicle. If you’re worried about your air conditioner making noise, this method will help keep the noise to a minimum.
  • This system will typically be more powerful than a portable a/c unit or a fan, so it’s a good option in between these and the stronger roof mount a/c units.

Disadvantages:

  • A wall mount a/c is not as powerful as a roof mount air conditioning unit. If you need a stronger a/c, it might be best to consider a rooftop model.
  • Wall mount a/c’s are not ducted so will only work in the area it is installed in.
  • If you install the unit into a window, you will have to remove and store it for travel, which some may consider inconvenient compared to other methods.
  • Won’t run on battery.

Roof Mount A/C

A roof mount air conditioner system is a large box unit that you mount to the top of your popup camper. This is the most powerful method of cooling your camper, and for this reason, it is one of the most popular options. Typically these come preinstalled from the factory, but can be simple to install as they are fairly self contained. To install yourself, you would need to mount to the roof, run power, and thermostat wires.

Advantages:

  • Due to its higher btu output, a roof mount air conditioner will be able to keep your camper cool even on a summer’s day or in a hotter climate. If you enjoy using your camper in these conditions, this system is your best bet for staying cool in your camper.
  • Unlike many window mounted a/c units, a rooftop a/c will not need to be removed for travel. This makes this system one of the most convenient options as well.
  • Due to its location outside of the camper, this system may be one of the quietest options. If you are a light sleeper, noise is important to consider when making an a/c purchase.
  • These can be ducted to get into other areas of the camper for better cooling.

Disadvantages:

  • Roof mount a/c units are the most expensive option for cooling your popup camper. It might be worth exploring other options before investing in this method unless it comes preinstalled form the factory.
  • This is also the most challenging system to install. You will likely need to pay an installation fee, and any repairs can be costly as well.
  • These units will use more power than other methods. The energy required is an extra expense to consider when making this decision. You will need to make sure you have a circuit for it in your power distribution pannel prior to install.
  • Won’t run on battery.

Portable Household A/C

A portable air conditioner is a convenient way to keep your camper comfortable on a summer’s day. The unit is a machine, usually on wheels, that you can place almost anywhere throughout your camper. It will often have a built-in fan to keep the cold air circulating throughout the camper.

Advantages:

  • Due to this system’s mobility, it can be placed almost anywhere you need to keep cool. If you only need to cool one particular part of your camper, this can be a simple and energy-efficient way of doing so.
  • This system is easy to use and will not require any complicated assembly or costly maintenance and repairs. This is truly plug and play.
  • Newer technology allows these machines to be programmable, and they often come with a remote control for convenient use.

Disadvantages:

  • You will need to place the a/c relatively close to a window to allow the exhaust pipe to drain outside of the camper.
  • Unlike the other a/c units, this one will take up space on the floor of your camper. This can be inconvenient for two reasons. One, because floor space is limited in a popup camper to begin with, and two, because cool air tends to stay low to the ground. A system located on the roof or an elevated location will be more likely to cool the entire camper effectively.
  • Since the entire unit will sit inside your camper, this may be one of the noisier options for cooling the vehicle.
  • As a popup camper folds down, this will need to be stored in a vehicle or sideways (this may damage the unit) for driving.
  • Won’t run on battery.

Household Fan

A household fan may not be an a/c system, but it can help with air movement and keep you cool under the right circumstances. There are many reasons to consider using a fan to cool your camper before investing in a pricier cooling system.

Advantages:

  • A fan will keep air circulating in your camper. Using one in combination with other cooling methods can help you keep your camper comfortable in the right circumstances.
  • A fan can be placed anywhere throughout your camper and aimed at the area you are occupying. There is no need to place it by a window or in any specific area. This helps keep certain locations within the camper cool.
  • This is the most affordable option for cooling your camper. If you typically camp in milder climates, a fan may be all you need to keep the camper cool.

Disadvantages:

  • While a fan circulates the air, it does not produce cold air. On a hot day, this method may not be enough to stay comfortable in your camper.
  • If a fan is your only cooling method, this could limit the climates you can comfortably camp in. If you want to use your camper in a variety of conditions, you may need to consider a more powerful option for cooling the vehicle.
  • Won’t run on battery power.

Upgraded Rooftop Vent Fan

Upgrading your rooftop vent fan to a Fan-Tastic or Maxxair fan can significantly cool your pop up camper. This moves a lot more air than your stock fan, and these fans are typically reversible so you can use the fan as a ceiling fan. These fans have a rain vent cover so you can use these in the rain without worrying about water entering the camper. These also have thermostats and remote controls to fine-tune your settings. These are simple to install and can be wired direct in place of your stock fan.

Advantages

  • Can run on battery
  • Has a thermostat to fine tune your settings.

Disadvantages

  • You will need to install these, depending on the model, you may need to patch your roof from removing your old vent.

What size air conditioners are typically installed from the factory?

Most of the time, popup campers do not come with an air conditioner system pre-installed. The required size will depend on the size of the camper, insulation, conditions you plan to camp in, and any other requirements you may have. Depending on the size of your camper, if it comes with an a/c installed it will be anywhere from 5,000 to 9,000 BTUs.

What size air conditioner do you need?

To determine the right size a/c for your camper, you will need to calculate the amount of BTUs necessary for the size of your camper. BTUs, or British thermal units, are the units used to measure a system’s heating or cooling capabilities. A higher number of BTUs indicates a stronger a/c.

To calculate the BTUs necessary to cool your camper, first find the square footage of your camper. Multiply this number by 40, and you will have an estimate of the number of BTUs required for your camper. Since popup campers typically have poor insulation, you may want to aim higher than this number to ensure you can adequately cool your camper.

Can you run a/c off a generator?

Yes, you can run your air conditioning unit using a generator. To do this, you will have to ensure the generator is powerful enough to run your a/c. If your a/c uses a higher amount of watts to function, your generator might not be powerful enough to keep the a/c running. Typically you will need a 3,200-watt generator to run an ac unit on your trailer.

Do you really need a/c in a popup?

The great thing about a popup camper is the ability to take it on the road to explore new places. To get the most use out of your camper, it would be wise to secure an effective way of cooling the vehicle in warmer conditions. Due to the lack of insulation, popup campers overheat quickly. For this reason, it is important to have some sort of cooling system to maintain a comfortable temperature inside your vehicle.

Tips to Maximize A/C in your Popup Tent Trailer:

  • Park in the shade if possible. This will help keep the temperature down in your camper on a sunny day.
  • Close up windows to keep cool air inside of the camper.
  • Close the fold out popup areas if you can. A smaller space will be easier to keep cool.
  • If your air conditioner has a filter, clean it regularly. This will ensure that your a/c unit is running as efficiently as possible.
  • Adjust your system’s ducts to make sure the maximum amount of cool air is flowing out to the areas you need it.
  • Insulate the camper as needed. Doors, windows, walls, canvas popouts, and other areas can be insulated to help keep the cool air inside your camper.
  • Install reflective insulation over pop up canvas areas. This will provide added insulation and prevent heat from entering the thin canvas material of the popouts.

Can you install a air conditioner in a popup camper yourself?

Yes, you can install an air conditioning unit yourself. First, decide on the a/c system that meets your needs. Then, you can determine whether you’d prefer to install the unit or hire professional help.

A wall mount a/c is relatively simple to install on your own, and portable systems will not require installation. A roof mount a/c system will be the most difficult to install without professional help. It is advisable to hire a professional to ensure that a rooftop a/c is installed correctly.

How much are air conditioners for popup campers?

Depending on the method you choose, your cooling system could cost anywhere from a $15 portable fan to over $1000 for a roof mount air conditioner. The cost of your a/c unit will depend on the method you choose and the BTUs required to cool your camper.

Wall Mount Cost

The typical starting price for a wall or window mount air conditioner will be around $250 and can go up to $700 depending on the BTUs and other features of the unit.

Roof Mount Cost

A roof mount air conditioner is the most expensive way to cool your camper. It can cost between $500 and $1000 depending on your needs. This is also one of the most effective ways to cool a popup camper, so it is worth considering as an investment if you are an avid camper.

Portable A/C Cost

A portable air conditioner can cost under $100, but higher quality units will start around $300. The cost will also depend on the BTUs needed for your camper.

Fan Cost

A portable household fan can cost as little as $15. Most portable fans will not cost over $100, with the average price being between $30-50. A tower fan will take up less floor space. You can also get a 12v fan that will work on battery power.

Upgraded Vent Fan Cost

An upgraded fan for your camper could cost from $100-$300 depending on features. Our favorite model is this one.

Conclusion

Whether you’re hesitant to purchase a popup camper, or you’re hoping to find a cooling system for one you already own, there is a method out there that will work for you. Despite the canvas popouts and efficiency issues with certain systems, you can still find a way to stay comfortable on a summer adventure.

Don’t let hot temperatures prevent you from getting the most out of your popup camper. This is an investment you made to get out and see the world, and you should be able to do so regardless of the climate. A heavy-duty roof mount a/c system may be your ticket to happy camping, but plenty of people enjoy comfortable trips with portable a/c systems or fans as well.

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Eric

I have been camping most of my adult life and am passionate about having the best camping equipment as well as writing. Combine these two items and you have our site.

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