THE 5 BEST CAMPERVAN AIR CONDITIONERS – ULTIMATE BUYING GUIDE

Summer is just around the corner, and that means long road trips, weeklong vacations, and tons of outdoor adventure. But enjoying those long periods of sunshine comes at a cost. You’ll be tasked with trying to stay cool by keeping your campervan at a comfortable living temperature.

Fortunately, there are ways to stay cool in your RV or camper van, even in the dead of summer. You’ll definitely want to have a nice rooftop vent for most days. But investing in an air conditioner means you can have access to cool air at any time of the day.

And although it’s not a cheap investment, campervan air conditioners can make living in a campervan so much more pleasant!

TOP RECOMMENDED CAmpervan Air Conditioners

DOMETIC PENGUIN II

Stylish

Low profile

Highly efficient

Can be used with our without ducts

DOMETIC BRISK II

Quiet

Versatile

Easy to install

Can be used with our without ducts

Reputable brand

ATWOOD AIR COMMAND

Strong

Sturdy

Can be used for heat

Extra cool setting

In this article, we’ll explain the different types of air conditioning machines on the market today. We’ll also share a few of our favorite products and give you a few tips and tricks for staying cool during your trip!

The Best Camper Van Air Conditioners

Ready to dive into the list?

PRODUCT

WHAT WE LIKE

THINGS TO CONSIDER

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DOMETIC BRISK II

  • Comes with warranty

  • Quiet operation

  • Can be used ducted or ductless

  • Requires installation

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DOMETIC PENGUIN II

  • Sleek and aesthetically pleasing

  • Low profile (less than 10-inches high)

  • Can be used as ducted or ductless

  • Requires installation

  • Expensive price point

  • Noisey

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ATWOOD AIR COMMAND

  • Heavy-duty and durable

  • Built-in heat pump

  • Arctic blast feature

  • Large and bulky

  • Expensive price point

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SENVILLE SENL-12CD MINI SPLIT AIR CONDITIONER HEAT PUMP

  • Energy efficient

  • 4-in-1 use (fan, heater, dehumidifier, cooling)

  • Affordable price point

  • Lower than average BTU cooling capacity

  • Requires installation

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BLACK + DECKER PORTABLE AIR CONDITIONER

  • Affordable price point

  • 3-in-1 use (fan, dehumidifier, cooling)

  • Portable

  • Below average BTU cooling capacity

Dometic Brisk II

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When it comes to outdoor equipment, Dometic makes some of the best products on the market today. And that includes the Dometic Brisk II, a rooftop air conditioning unit that easily ranks the highest among travelers and van owners.

It can either be installed into a ducted or ductless system, which makes it compatible with almost every type of vehicle.

If you’re traveling in a smaller van, then you can probably get by with the 13,500 BTU model, although you can also opt for the more powerful 15,000 BTU style if you have a lot of space that needs to be cooled.

As far as noise, the Brisk II uses a vibration minimizing technology with rubber bushings and long copper lines, which makes it considerably quieter than other units of this size. Of course, it’s not silent, but you don’t really notice it if you leave it on while you sleep.

PROSCONS
* Reputable brand
* Quiet operation
* Can be used ducted or ductless
* Requires installation

Dometic Penguin II

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If you’re looking for a discreet, low-profile rooftop air conditioner, then look no further than the Penguin II. Not only is it more aerodynamic compared to other units, but its ultra-sleek design actually looks great when installed.

Right off the bat, the Penguin II is the best option for anyone who doesn’t want a large, tacky, or ugly AC unit hanging off their van.

The Penguin II comes in several styles, all of which can be installed with ducted or ductless systems. You can choose between a 13,500 BTU or 15,000 BTU power rating, and if you’d like it to come with a heat pump (great for colder climates or those without a separate RV heater).

The only downside is the noise, which is surprisingly quite loud compared to the more inexpensive Brisk II model. While this isn’t a big deal for light use, those who plan to sleep with the cooling system running might look for another option.

It’s on the expensive side, but for a durable product from a reputable company, you can’t go wrong with the Penguin.

PROSCONS
* Sleek and aesthetically pleasing
* Low profile (less than 10-inches high)
* Can be used as ducted or ductless
* Requires installation
* Expensive price point
* Noisey

Atwood Air Command

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Sure, the Atwood Air Command may be large, heavy, and not exceptionally stylish, but it’s one of the most powerful air conditioners on the market.

It has a cooling capacity of 15,000 BTU, which means it can quickly chill your space in just a matter of minutes.

There’s even a nifty built-in feature that expels a burst of arctic air, which is helpful if your van has been baking in the sun for hours at a time.

Although the Air Command excels at cold air flow, it also has the option to be used as a heater. The heat pump can keep your van nice and toasty even in temperatures as low as 35 degrees Fahrenheit.

This unit is a great option if you’re looking for a durable, long-lasting, reliable air condition that you can rely on for years to come. It’s on the pricier end too, but it’s a sturdy piece of equipment that will get the job done.

PROSCONS
* Heavy-duty and durable
* Built-in heat pump
* Arctic blast feature
* Large and bulky
* Expensive price point

Senville SENL-12CD Mini Split Air Conditioner Heat Pump

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This 4-in-1 mini split air conditioner does way more than just cool your van. It can also be used as a heater, dehumidifier, and fan, making it one of the most versatile tools we’ve seen.

This specific Senville model has a 12,000 BTU rating, which is considerably lower than other options on this list. However, it should be suitable if you have a small campervan or if you’re only using it periodically throughout the day. And considering this model has a SEER rating of 19, you’ll be saving a lot of money over the long run by purchasing this cost and energy-saving air conditioner.

Keep in mind that mini splits can be complicated to install since there the indoor unit and outdoor unit need to be connected by copper lines. Not a problem if you’re planning to hire a professional, although doing it on your own can be a little tricky.

PROSCONS
* Energy efficient
* 4-in-1 use (fan, heater, dehumidifier, cooling)
* Affordable price point
* Lower than average BTU cooling capacity
* Requires installation

Black + Decker Portable Air Conditioner

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This affordable and heavy-duty air conditioner is produced by Black + Decker, one of the biggest brands for power tools and home appliances.

It has a cooling capacity of 12,000 BTU, which should be sufficient if you own a smaller camper van under 30-feet in length.

In addition, this system can also be used as a fan and dehumidifier, which is an added bonus for an air conditioner at this price point.

This portable air conditioner/fan/dehumidifier is super easy to set up. You just have to plug it in and attach the hose and window adapter to your vehicle window, and you’ll be enjoying a cool stream of air (down to 65 degrees Fahrenheit) in just a matter of minutes.

We also love that it’s portable, so you can use it in your house while you’re not out on the road. And it’s also relatively quiet in the noise department, which makes it perfect for light sleepers (there’s even a programmable sleep mode so you can control the temperature at night).

PROSCONS
* Affordable price point
* 3-in-1 use (fan, dehumidifier, cooling)
* Portable
* Below average BTU cooling capacity

Choosing the Best Camper Van Air Conditioner

Tips for Keeping Cool

While campervan air conditioners are nice to have (who doesn’t love the feeling of a cold, refreshing breeze on a hot day?), they aren’t necessary. In fact, there are numerous other ways that you can stay cool while traveling on the road that doesn’t require the use of cooling equipment.

  • Avoid parking in the sun. Sure, this may sound like a no-brainer, but parking your van in the middle of a park with no shade will heat up the inside incredibly fast. If finding a shady spot isn’t an option, try to put up awnings or curtains to block out the sun.
  • Invest in good curtains. Although this won’t prevent your van from getting warm, it will make it considerably less hot than if you were driving without them. Best of all, they also act as privacy shields at night.
  • Open windows and vents. Air ventilation is key to staying cool in your campervan. You can install a roof vent that sucks the cold air in while circulating the hot air out.
  • Cook outside. As tempting as it may be to use your stovetop or oven, cooking indoors will inevitably generate more heat inside your van. Invest in a good outdoor camping stove (or go old school and cook over a fire) to keep the inside of your space as cool as possible.

Although these helpful tips can prevent your camper van from getting too hot, they still won’t provide the fresh burst of cold air that comes from a cooling AC unit.

If you’re traveling to humid climates or craving a cold breeze while you sleep, then you should consider purchasing an air conditioner for your RV.

Types of Air Conditioners

Ducted vs. Non-Ducted

Van air conditioners are broken down into two main styles – ducted or non-ducted. A ducted AC is wired directly to your vehicle and blows air through ducts in the ceiling or walls. They are great for a large van conversion because the air can be distributed. However, they are more permanent and tend to be more complicated to install.

A non-ducted or ductless air conditioning machine blows air from the unit itself. Because the air isn’t distributed through a duct system, it can take longer for the space to cool down. And if you own a large RV or motorhome, you might need multiple ductless systems to circulate airflow.

Rooftop

As its name suggests, a rooftop air conditioner is installed onto the roof of your van or RV. They can come in either ducted or non-ducted styles, which makes them a versatile choice for many van life travelers.

A rooftop unit is great if you’re short on space since it doesn’t take up any interior room. However, it can add height to your RV or camper van, which can be a problem if you when it comes to parking indoors or meeting height clearances.

Campervan Air Conditioning Installation
A rooftop AC needs proper installation, but is the best type of cooling system for a campervan you can buy.

Portable

Portable AC units are becoming quite popular in the RV world since they are easy to install and operate (simply plug it in and let it get to work). And because they are portable, they can be used in other places, such as your home.

The biggest downside is space. Portable units are usually quite big and bulky, so you’ll need floor space to store them in your RV.

You’ll also need to make sure you have a solid power system set up in your van. Click here to read more about our recommendations for batteries.

Window

A cheaper and less permanent solution to the roof air condition is the window air conditioner. These units are mounted on any side window of your RV and direct cool air straight into the main living space. They don’t add any height to your van, although they do block your view of the outside world from that window.

Split AC

A split AC unit is considered to be the most powerful and efficient type of campervan air conditioner, although you’ll often find this style of AC in homes and hotels as well. It consists of two parts (an air compressing part and an air handling part). The air compressor is usually hung outside, so it does require a bit of wiring in order to connect it to the handling part stored indoors.

However, Split ACs are known for having a high SEER rating, which means they are more efficient and energy-saving compared to other air conditioners.

Swamp Cooler

An evaporative cooler (otherwise known as a swamp cooler) is a great eco-friendly alternative to your typical air conditioning unit. Swamp coolers require a constant source of water to cool and add moisture to the air while also only using 15-35% of the electricity that regular AC units need.

These units are particularly useful if you’re traveling to places with warm, dry climates (although the cooler will work in any weather).

Old AC Unit
There are all kinds of ways to mount an air conditioner to your RV. There’s the high-end, efficient ways, then there’s this.

Criteria for Choosing an AC Unit

Efficiency

Running your AC will inevitably draw power, which isn’t a problem if you’re at a campsite connected to shore power. However, this becomes a more significant issue if you’re traveling off-the-grid or relying on solar and battery power to operate your air conditioner.

Some air conditioners, such as split AC units, are known for being more energy-efficient. If you plan on constantly running the power throughout the day, then look for a product that has a high SEER rating.

Durability

An air conditioner is not a cheap purchase. In fact, it could be one of the most expensive investments you’ll make for your van, which means you should make sure your unit is built to last. The last thing you want to do is pay a lot of money for a product that breaks after a few months (or worse, doesn’t cool down your van at all).

That’s why it’s important to look for a reputable brand and to read reviews before buying. Some companies also offer warranties in case anything were to happen to your AC while you’re traveling.

Noise

While you can always expect some level of noise with any air conditioner, some have a reputation for being louder than others. If you’re traveling in warmer climates and need to run your AC at night while sleeping, you might prefer one that is on the quieter side. If you’re just using it periodically throughout the day, a loud machine might not be the biggest deal-breaker.

BTU

All air conditioners come with a BTU (British Thermal Unit) rating, which measures how much heat the unit can remove. The higher the BTU rating, the more powerful and faster the air conditioner is at cooling down your RV.

Generally speaking, you’ll want to look for a product that has at least 13,000 BTU. If your van is larger, you may require a unit with a high BTU rating.

Ease of Install

While air conditioners aren’t the most complicated piece of equipment, they still require some level of installation. If you’re not the most tech-savvy, you should look for an air conditioner that can be easily installed with little effort. Otherwise, you might be better off hiring a professional to do the dirty work.

Camper Van RV Air Conditioners
Now that you know which kind of air conditioners are on the market, let’s dive into our recommendations!
Dometic Brisk ii Air Conditioner

EDITOR’S CHOICE:
Dometic Brisk II

Investing in an AC is the best way to beat the heat this summer.

Integrated duct systems, portable cooling units, and energy-efficient mini-splits are just a few options you have when it comes to cooling down your RV or camper van.

Although we love the Dometic Brisk II, you really can’t go wrong with any type of air conditioner on this list!

This post may contain affiliate links. That means if you make a purchase a product we recommend using the links in this article, we may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. We promise to use this pocket money to buy lots of coffee and fuel for the campervan to keep us enjoying #VanLife for just a little longer. We appreciate your support, and only recommend products we know and trust. Thank you friends!

About the Author - Alesha and Jarryd - Van Life Theory

Hi! We're Alesha and Jarryd, the founders of Van Life Theory! We're currently travelling around Australia in our 2008 Mercedes Sprinter campervan and sharing our best experiences, stories, reviews and adventures as we go along. Make sure you follow along on our Instagram and YouTube!

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