How To Air Condition A Tent And Stay Cool During Hot Summer Nights

If you like camping during summer, then you know evenings can get pretty hot.

And after a long day of hiking or other outdoor activities, everyone needs a good night’s sleep. But, if your tent is a sauna, that’s unlikely to happen.

As you know, a portable air conditioner can get the job done.

But does tent air conditioning work?

Do you need to modify your tent?

Is it even worth it?

If you’re wondering how to air condition a tent and all these questions are running through your mind, this article is for you. From types of ACs to other ways you can keep your tent cool during summer, I’ve got you covered.

To find out more, read on!

4 Ways to Insulate Your Tent And Why It Matters

several tents and a car on a field

When using a portable AC unit inside a camping tent, there’s one thing you need to keep in mind – insulation.

Unless you want all the cool air your tent AC produces to escape through the fabric, your tent needs to be insulated.

As you know, insulation is a physical barrier that prevents heat transfer between materials.

When it comes to tents, they’re not great at insulating. The fabrics they’re made of usually transfer heat well, and they actually trap the heat inside, causing them to work like a greenhouse.

Unless you’re growing tomatoes inside your tent, you don’t want that kind of heat.

Here are a few ways you can insulate a tent and make the best use of your tent AC unit.

Emergency Blanket

One of the best ways to insulate a tent is using an emergency blanket.

These things work like magic.

They’re basically thin plastic sheeting made of heat reflective material.

An emergency blanket was used by NASA to prevent the Skylab space station from overheating while in orbit. If it could keep a space station safe from the sun, it can surely do the same for your tent.

During winter, you can tape an emergency blanket on the inner side of the tent to keep the warm air in.

In the summer, you want to do the opposite.

Ideally, you should cover the entire tent from the outside. That way, the emergency blanket will reflect the sun’s rays away from your tent, keeping you cool inside.

Reflective Tarps

Reflective tarps are a bit more costly than emergency blankets, but they do a wonderful job at reflecting UV rays away from your tent.

And not only that!

This type of tarp is both windproof and waterproof, so it’ll keep you safe from weather elements all year round.

And since they’re heavy-duty, they’ll last you a long time.

Insulating Sheet

You can’t forget about the floor.

Without proper insulation on the bottom of your tent, the cold air from your portable air conditioner will quickly escape through.

Polyester cloth is your best bet when it comes to floor insulation. Asides from working well as insulation, it’s water-repellent and mold-resistant, so that’s one less thing to worry about.

Duct Tape And Pool Noodles For Minor Leaks

If there are any tiny gaps cold air can get through, these two items prove to be an effective solution to that problem.

Pool noodles are made of foam, which is, as we all know, a great insulator. They’re easily bendable and you can put them on entrances and corners that could let the air escape. If necessary, you can secure them in place with duct tape.

They’re very affordable and can be bought in every dollar store.

For areas that are a bit harder to reach, just a piece of duct tape on its own will do the job. You can also use it to seal the area between the air conditioner and the port, leaving no holes for air to go through.

Window AC Unit

Window air conditioner units are popular in areas with moderate climates, where periods with high temperatures occur once in a blue moon. In these areas, a central AC unit isn’t cost-efficient.

But window AC units are also common in open-plan homes and rented apartments without central air conditioning. Chances are, you’ve seen a fair share of these around your town.

But did you know these work great for tents, too?

Most models allow you to choose the fan speed and air direction.

They can have a powerful cooling effect in a matter of minutes, and their low price tag makes them a worthy purchase.

They do, however, require a few adjustments if you want to use one in your tent.

How To Install A Window Unit

Nowadays, you can find plenty of tent models with camping AC ports.

They usually have either an elastic band or a mesh sheet around the air conditioning port that allows you to fit devices of different dimensions.

But you don’t actually have to buy a tent with an air conditioner port. That’s actually an alteration you can easily do on your old tent.

Here’s how:

  • First things first, pitch your tent. That way, you can see exactly where your window AC will go. Measure the size of the AC and apply it to the tent with a marker.
  • Elevate the window air conditioner from the ground. Ideally, place it on a stand less than a foot tall. But, you should also keep in mind that an AC blowing directly on your head is not healthy, so either keep it at a lower level than your mattress, or face it towards your feet.
  • In this case, “measure twice, cut once” can’t be more true. You only have one chance to make a perfect port. If you make too big of a hole, all the cold air will simply escape through it.
  • After you’ve made 100% sure the square is suitable for your portable AC unit, grab a sharp box cutter and chop it off.
  • Now, the only thing that’s left is to move your tent AC into the gap you just made.

That’s it!

To prevent air from escaping through any tiny gaps, you can wrap a towel around the edges.

Now, if you’re a bit more crafty, you can actually make a tunnel that will sit tight around your camping AC without letting the air get out.

In this case, you can make a port wider than your window AC.

Then, take some fire retardant fabric, like ripstop nylon, to make a tunnel. Basically what you do is glue the fabric around the AC port in such a way that it creates a sleeve. When it comes to the length, one to two feet is enough.

As you fit your window AC into the tunnel you just made, take a bungee cord to tighten the sleeve around the AC.

And voila!

Air shall not pass.

Freestanding AC Unit

3 freestanding portable ac units

If you’re not a fan of the idea of adapting your tent for an AC, then a freestanding portable unit is what you need.

They don’t require a port – you can use them inside a tent. You just need to run the hose out through the tent door.

As the name suggests, this type of air conditioning unit doesn’t require a stand, which is another reason to like them.

But what I like most about them is…

They come on wheels! That means you can easily move them around your tent whenever necessary.

Are they flawless?

Of course not.

When it comes to size, they take up a lot of tent space, meaning they’re not a great option for smaller tents.

Other Ways To Keep Your Tent Cool

But, keeping an AC on for 24 hours a day on your camping trip is not ideal.

You should never let it work unattended, and not just because your campground electric bill will skyrocket. There’s a fire hazard potential, too.

Here are some other ways you can keep your tent cool, by either utilizing the surroundings to your benefit, or using cheaper AC alternatives.

Pitch In A Shaded Spot

2 tents pitched in a shady spot

You can’t expect your tent to be cool during a hot summer day at the campsite.

Even a “blackout” tent, the kind that features specially designed fabric that reduces the amount of light entering, won’t perform a miracle.

But if you pitch your tent in the middle of the field, without any shade, what do you expect?

To keep your tent as cool as possible during this time of the year, find a spot where trees and bushes create shade, and pitch your tent there.

Keeping it out of direct sunlight will make a huge difference in the temperature inside, trust me.

Artificial Tarp Shade

If you’re not satisfied with the sun shelter the trees around you are creating, you can make your own shade by using a tarp and rope.

Tie a tarp to the trees around you, right above the tent. This will not only give you additional shade, but can also protect you from rain.

Just slightly tilt it to one side, so the rain doesn’t collect on the tarp and weigh it down.


a small portable fan

While not as effective as a tent air conditioner, fans can also make your summer nights more comfortable.

They do it in different ways, too.

An AC lowers the temperature, while a fan only moves the air around, causing your sweat to evaporate, which has a cooling effect.

Unless it’s over 100 degrees outside, a fan will do a decent job at cooling down your tent.

And what’s great is it doesn’t take up a lot of space. Lots of models can be hung from the ceiling, leaving you enough room to store all your gear.

Tent fans run on batteries, meaning you don’t need an electrical outlet to use them. Depending on the model, they can last anywhere from 5 to 48 hours.

But while a fan might do wonders for your 2-person tent, don’t expect it to cool down a large tent that accommodates 7 to 8 people.

Evaporative Air Coolers

Often, these are marketed as air conditioners, which is wrong.

ACs use chemical refrigerants to absorb heat and cast it out through the hose.

Air coolers, on the other hand, work on a principle similar to fans.

To do its job, an evaporative cooler uses only water and a fan. Water wets the cooping pads, and as the hot air comes in one way, it exits out the other way as cool vapor. The fan spreads the chill air across the room, and makes you feel cooler.

One thing to note is that evaporative coolers actually add more humidity to the room, instead of removing it like an AC. That’s why you shouldn’t keep your tent windows and air vents closed while this thing is working. Well, not unless you want the moisture to lead to mold in your tent.

If you don’t own an evaporative cooler, you can easily make one with just a fan and a bucket full of ice water.

To do so, place a bucket in front of the fan, and as the water evaporates, the fan will blow cool air towards you.

To Sum Things Up

Using a tent air conditioner on a camping trip is no longer considered a luxury.

Summers are ideal for camping, if only it wasn’t so hot – especially when it’s time to sleep. That’s why ACs are quickly becoming a staple piece of camping equipment.

But, using an air conditioner inside a tent is not as simple as it might seem.

From insulation to DIY AC ports, you have to make some adjustments to make it work.

Once you do though, no extreme heat will ever take the fun out of your camping trip. You’ll be kicking back in your air conditioned tent – cool as a cucumber.

And in case you want to find out which tent air conditioning will perform best, we singled out seven models we believe are the best on the market.