A tent air conditioner removes excess heat and humidity from a family camping tent and offers campers a good night's sleep as well as relief during the daytime. It is especially useful on days where the humidity is as difficult to tolerate as the heat.
For tent campers in very warm, humid climates, an air conditioner can make the difference between enjoying tent camping and staying home.
Because tent air conditioners need to remove both heat and humidity from the tent body, they consume a fair amount of electric current and require a 120-volt power source at the campsite.
Window air conditioners
Tent campers favor window air conditioners over other types.
Window A/C's are widely available in various sizes and offer the most cooling power for the price. However, they need to be mounted through a tent doorway, window or wall.
Portable room air conditioners
Room air conditioners are upright units, which sit entirely inside a chamber and feature an exhaust hose to vent warm air out window opening or a tent doorway.
Water condenses into a reservoir that needs to be emptied as often as every few hours in humid climates.
Although easier to set up than a window air conditioner, these units are costlier and heavier for the same amount of cooling ability.
Window air conditioners suitable for tent camping come in various sizes:
A 5000-BTU window air conditioner is the most popular size for family tent camping. These units are often designed to be as small and as quiet as possible.
A 5000-BTU A/C is suited to about any size family-dome tent.
It should also perform for a medium-size cabin tent with a 10' by 10', or a 100 square-foot floor plan.
A 6000-BTU window air conditioner will cool a large or x-large cabin tent to approximately a 15' by 10', or a 150 square-foot floor plan.
An 8000-BTU window air conditioner is available for oversize cabin tents or for campers in large tents who want to camp on exceptionally hot and humid days.
Tent air conditioners with good ratings are available online with free shipping, making it economical to shop from home.
Pitch the tent in the shade during the hottest part of the day. Shade trees should be to the south or west of the tent.
Direct sunlight striking a tent will cause it to heat up inside, possibly 15 degrees more than the outside temperature. It will be very difficult for the air conditioner to keep up with this "solar gain" heating issue.
If there are no trees near the campsite, either
Keep the shiny side of the reflector blanket up, in order to reflect sunlight away from the tent body.
In order to keep too much air from passing through the ceiling mesh, it may also be helpful to lay fabric or plastic over some of the mesh netting. Leave enough ventilation for breathing.
General A/C maintenance
Regularly clean the air filter behind the front grill to improve air flow. The filter should be easily accessible, without removing the front cover or housing.
Other maintenance will require removing the front cover and the side and back housing.
If the air filter is missing, the evaporator fins at the front of the A/C may become plugged with debris over time. They can be cleaned with compressed air.
The condenser fins in the back of the A/C occasionally need to be cleaned of debris as well.
These tent air conditioners should all run comfortably on the basic, 120 volt, 15 amp electrical service that is available to any electric campsite.
Even with a 15-amp circuit, there will be electrical capacity left over for other small electrical devices.
Campers should use an outdoor extension cord rated at 15 amps or higher.
The extension cord should be in good condition, with no gaps in the insulation.
Rain and electrical tips
The front of the A/C should be sheltered from rain.
Tent campers should try not to run electrical devices when the ground has been wetted by rain.
Before rain can soak the ground, turn off any electrical devices, put on shoes or boots, and carefully unplug the extension cord from the campsite outlet box. Wait for the ground to dry and then plug the extension cord back in.
Keep extension-cord connections off of the ground and sheltered from rain.
Most readers can stop here and go look for a tent air conditioner.
Campetent wishes tent campers many enjoyable camping trips in warm, humid weather.
The following information is for readers who would like more information to help them determine a suitable A/C for a special situation.
Sizing an air conditioner to a tent.
The best tent air conditioner is the smallest that will do the job.
A tent window air conditioner should be able to reduce the temperature inside the tent approximately 15 degrees F (8 deg C) and should be able to remove much of the humidity. This should make the tent body comfortable for most campers.
A large temperature difference inside the tent body is less conducive to tent camping, where campers need to be in and out of a tent. Campers shouldn't expect a tent body to be as cool as the inside of a house.
A tent cannot insulate, so an air conditioner will need to often cycle on and off.
If the A/C is too large for the amount of space inside the tent body, it will remove the heat before it can remove much humidity. The tent body will feel cold and damp.
If the A/C is too small for the space inside the tent body, it may be able to provide some spot cooling directly in front of the unit, but will not be able to make the tent comfortable.
Estimating an A/C for your tent
Campetent has applied some basic arithmetic in order to devise the BTU vs tent-size guidelines shown above.
For campers who would like to determine their own results...
5000 BTU A/C vs tent size
A 5000 BTU window A/C is generally rated to cool a room with 150 square feet of floorspace.
Assuming a 7-foot ceiling, this would be a room of about 1000 cubic feet.
Houses insulate and seal much better than family tent walls with mesh ceilings. A 5000-BTU A/C cannot be expected to adequately cool a 1000 cubic-foot tent body.
Let's de-rate the room-size rating by 30 percent, in order for campers to get more satisfactory performance from a 5000-BTU A/C inside a tent.
So, for the purposes of tent camping, a 5000-BTU A/C should adequately cool a 700 cubic-foot tent body in warm, humid weather, as long as campers keep it out of strong sunlight.
Assuming a 6 to 7 foot tent ceiling for a medium-size tent, this determines a floorspace of a bit more than 100 square feet, or approximately a 10' by 10' floor plan.
These dimensions would fit a medium-size cabin tent.
Many medium-size tents with 6' ceilings are dome tents, with sloped walls and considerably less interior volume. For a dome tent, 700 cubic feet would allow for floor dimensions of greater than 10' x 10'. Since dome-tent floor dimensions max at about 12' x 12', a 5000 BTU A/C should cool about any dome tent.
Therefore, a 5000 BTU A/C can be expected to cool a medium-size cabin tent or a medium-to-large dome tent.
6000 BTU A/C vs tent size
These window air conditioners should be able to cool a large to x-large cabin tent.
A 6000 BTU window A/C is generally rated to cool 225 square feet of floorspace.
Assuming, again, a 7-foot ceiling, these dimensions approximately determine a 1500 cubic-foot room.
Reducing the 1500 cubic feet rating by 1/3 gives 1000 cubic feet of tent body space that the A/C might be expected to cool satisfactorily. Assuming a 7' ceiling for a large cabin tent, 1000 cubic feet would need about a 15' by 10' floor plan.
This A/C sizing guidelines should give campers a good idea of what to look for in most tent camping situations.
Campers should note that as temperatures climb from 90° to 105° F (30° to 40° C), being outdoors for more than a short period of time will become dangerous and the A/C may become ineffective.