It was our first trip out with our new-to-us Starcraft remodeled pop up camper, and like most camping in Nebraska in the summer, it was on the hot and humid side. Andy came crashing into the pop up and yelled, “LeAnna!!! There’s an air conditioner for a pop up camper over there!!!”
I furrowed my eyebrows at him and said, “Yeah, so?”
“I didn’t know that was a thing!” He exclaimed.
I did. I mean, I was the one doing all the research for used pop up trailers. However, I crossed a rooftop AC unit off my list because of
1. Tow weight (we only have a van and are limited in our tow capacity)
2. It’s camping! Who needs AC!?
Apparently, my husband had different visions. Before I knew it, he was looking up the best air conditioners for pop up campers and how to do a pop up tent air conditioner installation! After plenty of considerations, measuring, and comparing, here is what we found for finding and buying the best portable air conditioner for campers. And most shockingly of all, installing a portable ac unit for camping was WAY easier (and affordable) than I ever envisioned!
|Pop Up Camper AC||Image||BTUs Available||Weight||Preview It Here|
|Black + Decker Portable AC/ Heater ComboBPACT12HWT||12,0000||68 Pounds||See The AC On Amazon|
|Honeywell Portable AC||9,000|
|76.7 Pounds||Check Current Prices|
|Danby Window AC||6,000||44.1 Pounds||Read More Reviews|
|TOSOT Window Air Conditioner||8,000|
|59.4 Pounds||See It Here|
|ASA Electronics ACM135B RV Rooftop AC||13,500||68.4 Pounds||See It On Amazon|
|Aircel Mach 3 Plus AC/Heater Combo||13,500|
|90 Pounds||Compare Prices Here|
Why Install A Pop Up Camper AC Unit?
So, while I originally thought having a pop up air conditioner seemed silly (I wanted to enjoy the outdoors, not sit in the AC!), I will (begrudginly!) admit that my husband was right on this one. Having a camper AC has been luxuriously nice!!!
Enjoy Longer Camping Seasons
Here in Nebraska, our summers are brutally hot, humid, and muggy. While yes, camping IS about enjoying the outdoors, if it’s too dang hot to even sleep, then sometimes it’s not even worth it. There were a lot of weeks where we had nothing going on, wanted to camp, but couldn’t bring ourselves to face a night of 100 degrees + humidity with the kiddos.
Everyone (Kids Included) Sleep Better
I can bear the idea of waking up in a pool of sweat, but combine that with babies and toddlers up all night because THEY can’t sleep from the heat and that’s a big hard pass from me. Camping with toddlers is already more of a challenge than it used to be, I don’t care to add to the stress and (even more) sleepless nights of parenting. With a portable air conditioner in a pop up camper, the kids sleep SO much better. Which, means MOM sleeps so much better!!!
What To Consider Before Choosing a Pop Up Camper AC
Are You Willing to Make Major Camper Modifications?
Depending on the type of air conditioner for a pop up camper that you choose (more on this in the next section) you might have to be prepared for major alterations to your camper, including tearing out chunks of your canvas, or cutting open your roof.
Where Is It Going To Go While In Use?
Where are you going to put the camper AC? Is it going to be on the floor, taking up precious space? Will you mount it to the wall or ceiling? Again, this is really going to depend on the type of unit you decide on, but know where you even CAN put it can help make the decision on type.
Where Is It Going To Go While Not In Use?
If it is a small rv window air conditioner, are you ok with having to take the entire thing down each time you travel? If so, where will you put it while you drive? In your vehicle, in the camper?
Alternatively, if you get a portable rv air conditioner, can the pop up trailer fold down without needing to tip the AC unit? (Note: SOME units supposedly can be laid on their sides, but this just wasn’t something we were comfortable figuring out on our own)
How much weight can you add to your camper? If you are like us, we were limited on our options because our van can only tow so much weight. For some people, towing capacity isn’t an issue.
How much are you willing to pay for a small ac unit for camping? Rooftop units can be almost double the cost of portable ones, but have a few advantages to them if you can afford the weight and cost. So then can can you expect for an RV air conditioner installation cost?
Unfortunately, there is no one answer. You can get wall units for as low as around $200 and rooftop units well into the thousands. And of course, anything in between. But also, consider any extra tools you may need to outfit your unit, additional purchases (like vents, insulation tubing, etc) as well as the cost of your time to do the install. Ours personally came in a little under $500 total, including the portable AC unit itself and all additional supplies needed.
BTU is “British Thermal Units” and to put it simply, the higher the BTUS, the stronger (aka more cooling power) the air conditioner will be. Some people use actual equations to figure out the exact amount of BTUs needed for their particular rv ac unit, but really, the higher the BTUs, the better you are off. The thing about pop up campers is that they are not well insulated, so you are going to need something with high BTUs to be effective. (Still want that “equation? Take your Sq Ft Area of your camper or trailer and multiply by 40)
Note: The nice thing about a DIY pop up camper AC install is that you have a lot of brands and choices at your disposal, meaning you can really choose the best one for YOUR needs and YOUR camper. If you have a Coleman, no need to buy a specific Coleman AC unit. While you can certainly look for a specific air conditioner for a jayco pop up camper, just know that you are not limited to the brand of your camper!
Types of Air Conditioners For Pop Up Campers
Portable AC For Pop Up Camper
The first type (and what was our personal choice) on the best camping air conditioner is to just get a small portable air conditioner for camping. There are plenty of portable ac units on Amazon, that it is pretty easy to find one that will work for your particular pop up.
Pros To Using a Portable RV Air Conditioner
- Has high BTU options
- There is a wide variety of sizes to choose from
- Significantly cheaper than an rv roof air conditioner
- Many come on wheels that you can move around your camper if you so choose
- You can put them just about anywhere you want in your camper
- Incredibly easy to use
- They don’t need too many modifications
- Easy to buy online
- Keeps the camper cool
Cons To a Portable AC For a Pop Up:
- Depending on where you place it, a portable AC unit for camping could take up valuable floorspace/ Get in the way of the flow of the already small pop up
- A Portable air conditioner for a camper trailer may be louder than other alternatives (note: I haven’t found the noise on our Black and Decker portable AC to be loud at all)
- You do need access to a window (or make a few, easy modifications, like we did) for the venting tube.
- If you get a model that has a dehumidifier as well, make sure the unit is drained well before driving
For us, it was simple to decide on a portable air conditioner because it was going to require the least amount of modifications and work on the camper itself.
Other reasons that sold us on going the portable AC route was:
- Price was right
- It fit in between beds when the slides were pushed in and could stay upright with the top down. This was important because while we BELIEVE that it would have been ok on it’s side (there is nothing in the owners manual but everything online said it needed some sort of recovery period. However, it was pretty subjective, ranging from 30 min to several days!). Allowing it to be upright during moving means that we don’t have to deal/ worry about that!
- Our particular unit is an rv air conditioner heater combo with a dehumidifier. Therefore, we were able to take the bulky and heavy camper heater out completely (this worked for us since we don’t plan on boondocking much where there won’t be electric hookups).
- Having a generic portable air conditioner allows us to take it out of the camper and use in other situations as well, such as in our bedroom on particularity sweltering hot Nebraska days, or to use as an extra space heater (and in our home, as a dehumidifier) during the winter if needed.
- I know a lot of people who still like to have a portable AC for camping in a tent as well. If ever we decide to pop up a tent and are at an electrical site, we could still take it and use as a camping tent air conditioner!
Window Mounted Air Conditioner For Campers
Your next option for AC units for pop up campers is a window mounted unit. While there are a few ways to install a small rv window air conditioner, the most common is, well….in a window!
This method can often get pretty….well, let’s just call it “creative” in figuring out how to keep up the actual AC unit and where to actually place it. Part of having a window mounted unit is that about half of it needs to be outside, so that it can draw enough air in, which also means having to support and prop it up somehow.
Pop Up Camper Air Conditioner Installation for Window Mounted ACs
To start, you’ll have to decide where you’ll want the unit. Some people will actually cut out a whole in one of the PUP windows. If you do this, you can still leave the canvas flap so that you can close the window when needed and when the AC is not in use. Others, who have an empty bunk, can unzip the canvas next to the lift post and find a way to prop up the AC from the outside. Another option is to surprisingly use the “fire exits” now. Therefore, you would unzip those.
No matter what, you’ll need a way to secure the unit. (Make sure that if you have a unit that has a dehumidifier that it is at an angle for the water to release.)
Here are a few methods that people have had success with for hanging up for AC:
- Long Bar Magnets, like these.
- Use An Expandable Wall Mount. This isn’t cheap, but if you are installing a used (cheap or free!) AC unit, then that offsets the cost of the mount. Here is one that could be used on the outside of a window. You might have to put down a plank of wood or something else to keep the actual unit up.
- McGyver it with some Adjustable Shelving, like these. It may look wonky, but hey, it works….and it gives you some outdoor storage space!
Depending on your unit, you’ll still have to do some duct work for in and outtake. Here’s just one example of how someone jimmy rigged an rv wall mount air conditioner for their pop up camper
However, I have seen pop up camper remodels where they have found other places to put in a small window unit in places. My favorite was one remodel where they:
- Took off the cabinet door from under the stove.
- Cut out the paneling and metal of the outside camper to perfectly match their particular window AC unit
- Put in drawer slides to set the AC unit on so that it can easily be retracted into the camper when driving
- Use the same metal/ paneling that you cut out and attach a latching and locking system so that it is like a swing door (from the top) that can cover the hole and be locked when driving. Bonus is that the door will sit on top of the AC unit, giving it a rain shield, too!
- Back in the inside, retrofit intake and exhaust grates where the cabinet door was. (Will probably need to do some additional duct work to attach the unit to the grates)
I liked this particular design because while there is still a lot of modifications needed and VERY careful cutting work done on the camper, I like the look of it, the fact that it is out of the way inside the camper, and you don’t need to mess with cutting a window.
Pros To Using a Window AC For Your Pop Up AC
- You might already have an old unit laying around/ Can get for cheap on craigslist or Ebay
- Since the cooling system is on the outside, they can be quieter than other models
- Can be a great project for handy men
- Don’t take up inside space/ floor area
- Can be quite the project that requires a lot of tools and potential know-how
- You have to completely remove and break down your AC system for transport
- Depending on which method you choose, you’ll have to cut into your canvas, windows, or even camper itself
- Will need to figure out the best method for mounting on your particular trailer (which is not only an extra step but exrta cost as well)
Pop Up Trailer Roof Top Air Conditioner
Your next choice for staying cool while camping is to go the most traditional route and get an rv rooftop AC. Some will argue that these are going to be your most effective option of all. These are box-like units that are mounted to the top of your roof. Most use heat pumps (some ducted, others not) If your camper already has wiring and a roof vent, then doing a rooftop rv AC install isn’t too difficult.
Simply remove the vent, place the AC in the hole, and connect the wiring. Voila! You’re done!
However, if you have to do the wiring or don’t have a ceiling vent, then it will take a little more finagling to make this option work. While it’s still the same RV AC install process, you’ll have to cut out the hole and run the wiring yourself.
Here’s a Pop Up Camper Rooftop AC Install Tutorial
Pros To A Pop Up Camper Rooftop AC Unit
- Most efficient for cooling
- Great for both hot and humid climtates
- Typically will find the highest BTUs with an rv rooftop ac (13,000+)
- Usually have fans already built in, so the air stays circulating and cool (rather than turning off and then needing to cool the air all over again)
- IF your camper already has wiring, it’s not hard to install
- Cost. This is THE biggest con by far for most. They can be twice as expensive as a portable air conditioner for a pop up camper. And when/ if they need to be repaired, that can be a pretty penny as well
- Weight. This is two fold. 1) Tow Weight: Depending on your tow vehicle, this may or may not be an issue for you. For us, this was a big concern to adding a rooftop AC unit. 2) Rooftop Weight: Ensure that the weight of your rooftop AC isn’t too much for your particular pop up trailer model. Otherwise, extra support will need to be added.
- IF your camper does not have wiring and a ceiling vent, then they can actually be quite difficult to install
Table Top Personal Cooler
So the last option here is just a simple tabletop “air conditioner.” I actually don’t really recommend this option, but since people look into them, I thought I would at least give you the pros and cons to this mini air conditioner option.
- Very Small (can set on top a table or counter)
- Not even technically an Air Conditioner (although most of them will market themselves as this!) They are essentially higher powered fans that mist out cool water
- If in an already humid location, you don’t want more water in the air inside your camper
As you can see, I don’t have a ton of great things to say about these “mini portable air conditioners.” HOWEVER, I do see these being nice outdoors on your picnic table to give a bit of breeze and cool mist! Just don’t expect these to cool down your camper properly.
Best RV Air Conditioner Reviews
Below, you’ll find the reviews on the top rated air conditioners for a pop up camper.
Best Portable Air Conditioner For Pop Up Camper Reviews
Just my personal opinion, but I feel like portable air conditioners for pop up campers is the way to go for a simple DIY Pop Up Camper AC. It’s what we personally did and are really glad with our choice.
This particular stand up air conditioning unit is actually the one that we personally used for Greta, our own PUP. We haven’t regretted this purchase yet. In 100 degree weather, it cools down our pop up trailer in about 15-20 minutes and maintains the temperature really nicely. Alternatively, we’ve also had to use the heater function on brisk fall mornings and it’s kept us perfectly toasty and comfy even with the outdoor temps have dropped below 50 degrees. I can also appreciate that I have never woken up drenched in condensation!
- Great cost per BTU and functionality
- You can set the exact temperature you want
- There is even a remote control so you can adjust the thermostat from your bunk!
- Easy to move in the trailer (we set ours where the sink was and it fit perfectly!)
- Most trailers can still be closed with it standing on the floor upright
- You can easily remove from your Pop Up to use in other locations
- Not terribly loud
- Also has a dehumidifier
- Only need 30 amp electrical to plug into (you’ll need an extra heavy duty, outdoor extension cord)
- The blue LED lighting is BRIGHT (I have to cover with a book or something at night)
- If using as a heater, the water drip tank will need to be drained daily, unless you install the drip line
- Good for the size of a pop up camper, but won’t keep large rooms cold (if using in addition to your camper)
- High price
- If you have issues, Black and Decker isn’t known for great customer service
This stand up AC unit is also a great portable air conditioner for camping. This model is pretty similar to the above AC unit, except it is just an AC and dehumdifier (no heater option). It’s nice that you can select several different BTU models depending on the size of your pop up trailer (9,000, 10,000, 12,000, or 14,000 BTU options) and is easy to set up. It has a dehumidifier and dual filters as well, which is nice for camping in dustier locations (which can also be washed and cleaned easily). This unit can be a little loud when the compressor is on and I found it interesting that a lot of the lower reviews were more recent. What that tells me is that I highly recommend doing several test runs within your return policy time to make sure you have a good unit.
Top Small RV Window Air Conditioner Reviews
SereneLife 12,000 BTU Portable Air Conditioner ?
This wall/window mounted unit is one of cheaper options but is also only 6000 BTUs, so it will not be nearly as powerful as some of the portable or rooftop ACs, but it is also significantly cheaper. Therefore, if you want to just get things cool, but are not expecting cold, then the Danby DAC060EB1WDB is a good option. Alternatively, if you have a smaller Pop Up, then it could very well keep you quite comfortable, depending on your preferences. The biggest complaints with this unit is that while it has a dehumidifier, it needs to be installed at a specific angle to allow for the water collected from the dehumidifier to drain. Also, it is quite noisy as it goes in and out of the cooling cycles.
If you like a more aesthetically looking and more powerful AC for your camper, then the TOSOT is a really good consideration (8,000-12,000 BTU options). There is a swiveling vent door which helps to keep air circulating, which is really helpful. The touchscreen panel is easy to use and has various settings, one of which can be to just set it as a fan only, which is one less thing to bring if you don’t need a full-on air conditioner.
Like most other AC units, this one is also a dehumidifier as well and comes with an easy to use remote. What a lot of people like about this unit is that in comparison to others, it really is much quieter! However, there are not really any good instructions that come with (or to be found online) this model, so if you aren’t great with setting things up, a lot of people complain that it can be complicated to get figured out for set up.
RV Rooftop Air Conditioner Reviews
If you are looking for an easy to install, really affordable, yet powerful rooftop rv AC, then this one is a great option. Coming in at a lot lower of a price point than a lot of other competitors for rooftop units, it still has 13,500 BTUs, meaning it will easily cool down your pop up tent. If you’ve already got a standard rooftop vent and wiring, it installs really easily to 14.25″ x 14.25″ vent openings. You may have to run a drain line, but other than that, it is pretty straightforward and when installed, works great! It weighs 68.4 pounds, which is comparable to the portable units, but just take that into consideration for both your roof and your tow vehicle.
There are several Aircel Mach models. The 13,5000 BTU model is going to be the most middle of the road price range but for a little bit more, you can also get the 15,000 BTU model. However, you are not just getting an AC with this unit, it is also an electric heater, which is great for those cold nights! Either than the strength, they are pretty much the same unit as far as quality and install are concerned.
This unit is going to be significantly heavier (the 13,500 BTU model is 90 pounds) than some of the other ones, which may be a big downside depending on your particular pop up. You may need to put in extra roof supports, even though it will still fit most standard sized vents.
Honorable MentionLG, LW1019IVSM9, 500 BTU dual invertercostKoldfront WAC10003WCO 10000 BTU 115V Window Air Conditioner with Dehumidifier and Remote Control
Getting The Most Of Your Pop Up Trailer Air Conditioner
Depending on what kind of camping ac unit you decide on, giving it a little help can go a long way in keeping everything cool inside.
Clean and maintain your AC unit. This sounds obvious but is often overlooked. The better your unit is cared for, the better it will keep you cool and comfortable.
- If there are filters to replace, place a sticker on your AC with a date as a reminder.
- If you need to drain the dehumidifier tank, make sure you do so often. You’ll also want to clean that tank regularly, as sitting water can easily grow molds.
- If your AC has coils, clean them when the manual suggests.
- Check for cracks in the plastic of your AC
Keep Out Of The Sun (if possible). This is actually a two fold reason. First, for the obvious cooling reasons. If your camper is in the shade, your AC won’t have to work as hard. But also, if you have an outdoor unit, the UV rays can weaken the plastic, which could actually greatly minimize the life span of your potentially expensive camper air conditioner!
Use a Fan. If your AC unit doesn’t have a fan feature, it is sometimes nice to have a small table top fan to keep the cool air circulating inside the camper. This is the one we use.