If you’re in a rush and want to find out what the best tent air conditioner is, we recommend the Zero Breeze Mark 3 Air Conditioner.
Summer is camping season, when novices and veterans alike pack up their camping gear and set off on a multiday adventure into the wilderness. It’s a scene that we often romanticize in our heads, but once we arrive at our destination, reality has a way of slapping us back to our senses.
In particular, the heat has a way of making a person regret embarking on a camping trip, as they toss and turn during the night, unable to sleep. The best tent air conditioners can provide some relief, which is why we took an in-depth look into some of the top performing units on the market.
In this article, we’ll be reviewing the following best tent air conditioners:
- Zero Breeze Mark 3 Air Conditioner – Best Overall ↟
- Black+Decker Portable Air Conditioner – Editor’s Choice
- BougeRV Portable Air Conditioner – Best Bang for Your Buck
- SereneLife Portable Air Conditioner – Best Air Conditioner with Dehumidifier
- Evapolar evaCHILL Portable Air Cooler – Best Evaporative Cooler
- NEXGADGET Portable Air Conditioner – Cheapest Tent Air Conditioner
Similar to a camping generator, a tent air conditioner will fill your serene landscape with the whirring of mechanical parts and air movement. This noise isn’t always appreciated (whether it’s by you or your neighbors), which is why it’s important to consider how loud your air conditioner will be.
The loudness of sound is measured in decibels (dB). For reference, an average conversation comes in at about 60 dB, while the sound of breathing is roughly 10 dB. Many of the larger tent air conditioners that we’ve reviewed are around 50 dB, which is similar to the noise created by a moderate rainfall. On the other hand, some of the smaller options that we discuss land close to 25 dB, which is equivalent to the rustling of leaves or a whisper.
The best tent air conditioners come in all shapes and sizes, which means they all have different power outputs. When it’s hot outside, do you want your air conditioner to have a dinky fan that can barely be felt even when your face is right up against it? Or do you want a powerful stream of cold air that will keep the inside of your tent at a comfortable temperature?
Yeah, that’s what I thought.
Which is why most of the tent air conditioners in the review below are far more powerful than your typical tent fan. Some are definitely beefier than others, like the Black+Decker air conditioner, while others are a bit more modest in their output. Regardless of your needs, we’ve got you covered.
More specifically, though, you’ll want to take a look at the tent air conditioner’s BTU, which is how “cooling power” is measured. BTU stands for British Thermal Unit, and one BTU is how much energy it takes to heat one pound of water by one degree Fahrenheit at sea level.
At the same time, it’s an indication of how much power your tent air conditioner uses to remove heat within the span of an hour. Here’s a rough guide that you can follow to make sure your air conditioner is powerful enough to cool your tent sufficiently:
- 2 person tent = 5,000 BTU
- 4 person tent = 7,000 BTU
- 8 person tent = 10,000 BTU
- 10 person tent = 14,000 BTU
As an aside, most of the tent air conditioners that we’ve reviewed below fall somewhere between 2,000 and 8,000 BTU.
The best tent air conditioner is a luxury item that you’ll mostly find in the hands of car campers who want some portable AC. Since they aren’t necessary for survival, you probably won’t come across any trekkers who have one shoved in their backpacks. After all, many of these products weigh in excess of 20 pounds, which is hardly reasonable to bring with you on the trail.
That’s not to say that they’re all heavy, though. Something like the evaCHILL portable air cooler weighs a modest 1.7 pounds. However, as you might expect, it’s not very big or powerful, making it a better option for smaller spaces.
Heavier tent air conditioners are going to be more robust, creating a powerful cooling effect that is better suited for larger spaces. For RV life or a few days in the sweltering heat with your family, I’d suggest you make the sacrifice and go with something heavier.
Types of Units
The types of tent air conditioners can be broken down into where they receive their power from. Technology has come a long way, so not all air conditioners need to be plugged into an outlet anymore. However, battery operated coolers are less powerful than their corded counterparts, so they may not provide the amount of relief that you’ll need.
Compressor Air Conditioner
The most common type of tent air conditioner, the compressor style doesn’t actually produce cold air. Instead, it removes heat from the air using a chemical refrigerant. It’s what you can expect to find in a model like the Zero Breeze Mark 2 portable air conditioner. There are typically two hoses attached to these units – one to expel the hot air created by the air conditioner itself, and the other to act as an intake that leads to the compressor, which then expels cool air.
Evaporative air conditioners don’t use a compressor to remove heat from the air. Instead, you have to fill them with water (or ice, in some cases) and this moisture is used to remove heat and humidify the air.
Cordless Air Conditioners
For portable comfort, many newer models of air coolers don’t require an external power supply. Just pop in a few batteries, and you’ll be good to go until they need to be replaced. It is worth noting that this style is inferior when it comes to cooling ability though, making it more ideal for small spaces in areas where you can’t depend on electricity.
Corded Air Conditioners
And of course, there’s the good old-fashioned corded units. These are going to be the most common, and you will need an external power supply to run them. If the campground doesn’t have a plugin, consider bringing a camping generator to power your device.
Window Air Conditioners
Window air conditioners? Those are supposed to be mounted on the window of your house or apartment, so why are they making this list? Well, what you might not know is that with a little innovation, you can make your tent compatible with a window AC unit.
Full disclaimer, you will need to cut a hole in your tent to make this work, so it’s definitely not for everyone. However, if you want to give it a try, here are the steps that you can take to make it work:
1. Start by measuring the window AC unit. You’ll need to be very accurate with this, so measure it twice if you need to. If you happen to cut the hole too big, there’s not much you can do aside from replacing the entire tent.
2. The next step is the cut the hole. Take your measurements and cut an opening roughly 1/2 an inch smaller than the size of the camping air conditioner. The extra fabric will help seal the gap around the unit, making the final step even easier to accomplish. Just make sure the opening you cut is at least a foot above the tent floor, so you can put the window AC unit on a stand.
3. Mount the unit. You can either make a DIY stand or purchase a professional stand to lift the unit off the ground. Any condensation drains should be directed outside the tent.
4. And finally, make sure everything is fully sealed. You don’t want any open gaps between the window air conditioner and the tent, so consider taping the fabric to the unit to make it airtight.
Of course, we can’t talk about camping air conditioners without mentioning one of the most important factors – price. As you might expect, a quality, portable AC unit is going to be pretty expensive. Many of the best tent air conditioners mentioned below are going to cost in excess of $1,000, which is no surprise when you consider the fact that these are luxury items.
But if you can’t pay that much, don’t worry. They might not be as effective, but some of the evaporative coolers that we reviewed cost under $100. There’s an option for everyone, though the age-old adage holds true: you get what you pay for.
The Best Tent Air Conditioners – Reviewed
As one of the most portable, most powerful, and most reliable tent air conditioners on the market, it’s not hard to see why the Zero Breeze Mark 3 is our pick for best overall.
Zero Breeze is pretty much the creme of the crop when it comes to tent air conditioners, as far as I’m concerned. It’s honestly hard to find many other options that get the job done well without sacrificing other important features that we care about, like portability, noise, and energy consumption. But nothing good comes without a cost, and in the case of the Zero Breeze, it quite literally is the price that will bite you the hardest.
This air conditioner runs off a battery, making it ideal for use off the grid. On a full charge, you can typically get between 2 and 7 hours of life out of it, depending on how you use it. If you want to refill the battery by using your car or solar energy, you’ll have to purchase the adapters separately. However, it does come with an A/C adapter, so you will be able to power it that way as well.
The Mark 3 is an upgrade from the (already amazing) Mark 2 air conditioner. While the size is almost the same, the Mark 3 has twice the cooling power, and it can be fully charged in 2.5 hours when connected to a wall outlet.
With a noise level of 46 decibels, it’s actually pretty quiet as far as these pieces of equipment go. It works by sucking in air through one hose and into the condenser, which removes the heat energy in the air. The cold air is the expelled through the machine, and the hot waste is sent out through an exhaust hose. It’s an effective design, but it may take some trial and error to get everything positioned properly.
Currently, the Mark 3 is on discount during its crowdfunding stage, so now is the best time to get your hands on this tent air conditioner!
– Suitable for off-grid use
While it’s not quite as versatile as the Zero Breeze Mark 2, the Black+Decker portable air conditioner is a powerful option for car campers who have access to a power source.
I was debating whether or not I should include the Black+Decker air conditioner in this review. Not because it’s a bad unit, but because it’s only suitable for a specific type of camper.
You see, it’s a bulky tent air conditioner, weighing in at 53 pounds. That being said, what are the chances that you’ll be dragging it any significant distance? Probably non-existent. Even so, if you just wanted to drag it a few feet from the car to your campsite, the weight doesn’t matter quite as much.
Additionally, this unit only works when it’s plugged into a wall outlet. Not all campgrounds provide electricity, which means you’ll need to bring a camping generator that’s compatible with an AC plugin. If you don’t already have a generator, that may or may not be an expense you’re willing to make – especially if it’s just for some cold air during a camping trip.
Putting aside those cons, it’s a very effective product as far as portable AC units are concerned. The power cord is a good length, as is the exhaust hose that you’ll need to direct outside, if you want to properly expel the hot air generated by the unit. It’s got enough cooling power to keep a space of 350 square feet comfortable, which is more than most of you will need from it. The three different fan levels also let you adjust the power of the air conditioner, and all of that can be set by using the remote control..
– Powerful unit
– Comes with remote
– Simple to use
– Lasts a long time
– A bit on the heavy side
– Requires a generator to use, or a campsite with power
Best Bang for Your Buck
A quiet air conditioner that won’t break the bank, the BougeRV air conditioner is a powerful option that rivals the Zero Breeze Mark 2, though the BougeRV does need to be connected to a power source.
Powerful and portable, the BougeRV air conditioner is pretty similar to the product by Zero Breeze, mentioned above. The biggest differences come down to the price and the power source, since the BougeRV is quite a bit cheaper than the unit by Zero Breeze. However, while it might be portable, you do still need to plug it into a generator or power station, unlike the Zero Breeze, which is battery operated.
But let’s talk about what the BougeRV does surprisingly well. Not only is it a very reasonable weight for the size of the machine itself, it’s also the quietest tent air conditioner that we’ve talked about so far. Compared to the Zero Breeze, it might only be a 2 dB difference, but it’s quieter all the same.
The touch panel is easy to use, and it allows you to make quite a few choices to suit your personal needs. Adjust between high, medium, and low speeds depending on how hot it is, and set the temperature like a thermostat for hands-free comfort. There’s also the option to run the fan by itself, without turning on the actual air conditioner.
If you set a desired temperature on the touchscreen, just be aware that you’ll hear the compressor turn on and off frequently in order to maintain that equilibrium. The BTU isn’t very high, so it will take awhile before you start to feel the cooling effect. However, once you give it enough time, it does make a difference.
– Multiple modes
– Not very powerful
– AC/DC only
Best Air Conditioner with Dehumidifier
It won’t take very long for the SereneLife portable AC to cool down your tent, and it’s one of the rare units in our review that acts as a dehumidifier at the same time.
Big and heavy, the SereneLife portable AC unit isn’t for everyone. However, if you don’t mind the bulkiness of it, you’ll have a hard time finding something that cools a room better. With an 8,000 BTU rating, it doesn’t take very much to keep your tent cool. The automatic swing mode with a moving wind vent circulates the air evenly, keeping larger spaces a consistent temperature, instead of creating pockets of hot and cold. On top of that, you can adjust the air conditioner without even standing up, thanks to the included remote control.
But as we all know, keeping the air cool only solves some of the problem. In a humid environment, the stickiness can almost be worse than the heat itself. It’s not too often that you come across a portable AC that can second as a dehumidifier, which is why I feel like the SereneLife is worth adding to this list. With the ability to remove 1.2 liters of moisture per hour (that’s about a third of a gallon), this unit could be a lifesaver in certain parts of the world.
Is it a little difficult to wheel around? Yes. Will you need a generator or power station to make it work? Yes. Is it overkill for anything smaller than an 8 person tent? Probably. But even so, the sheer power and effectiveness of this unit makes it worth the inconvenience. Not to mention, it’s pretty cheap as far as these products go.
– Seconds as a dehumidifier
– Handy remote
– Cools evenly
– Relatively inexpensive
– Overkill for smaller shelters
Best Evaporative Cooler
Affordable and portable, the Evapolar EvaCHILL is an evaporative cooler that that’s light enough to go anywhere with you, though it does lack some of the cooling power found in the other AC units we’ve reviewed.
We’ll end this review with a couple of mini units that you can check out if the behemoths above seem like they’re a bit too much to you. First off is the Evapolar EvaCHILL, an evaporative cooler that only weighs 1.6 pounds.
Before diving in, it’s good to know how evaporative coolers work, and how they differ from the other products mentioned above. In all of the other portable AC units we’ve talked about, a compressor is used to remove heat energy from the air. While evaporative coolers work similarly, the process is very different, making use of wet foam or fiberglass to absorb heat from the air. As such, you’ll need to fill the unit with water in order for it to work.
This style of air cooler isn’t nearly as effective as a compressor, but they’re much cheaper and more portable. You can plug them into a portable power bank, and they don’t require much energy to operate, making them ideal for folks who want to travel light.
Because the air is cooled by passing through a wet pad, evaporative coolers have the added effect of putting moisture into the air. In dry environments, this can be nice to have, but in humid climates, it’s the opposite of what you want to happen.
– Small and lightweight
– Requires little energy to operate
– Humidifies the air (can also be a con)
– Easy to use
– Not very powerful
– Guzzles water
Cheapest Tent Air Conditioner
It’s not very high quality, but it’s affordable, making the NEXGADGET air conditioner a great option for folks on a budget, who don’t really need a significant amount of cooling power.
The final and most budget friendly portable AC, the NexGadget unit certainly isn’t the most high-quality product in our review. Like the EvaCHILL just mentioned, it’s an evaporative cooler that requires you to fill the water reservoir for it to operate. At a basic level, it’s just a fan that blows mist, but even this can be enough to move the comfort needle. If you keep your expectations pretty low, I think you’ll be satisfied using this to cool a small space.
In terms of what it does well, it’s hard to beat how light and portable it is. Many products in our review weigh in excess of 20 pounds, so coming across a 2.4 pound unit can be quite the relief. And unlike most evaporative coolers, the NexGadget has the ability to oscillate, spreading its cool mist in a variety of directions. If you’d like, you can also add a bit of ice into the mix, to make the air even colder than it would be otherwise.
The low energy consumption also makes this an attractive option. It runs off a battery that can sustain it for several hours, but you can also feel free to connect it to a power bank via USB for a more long-term solution. While it won’t work miracles by keeping you and your family at a comfortable temperature, it’s better than nothing when you’re faced with the sweltering summer heat.
– Low energy consumption
– Battery powered
– Not very powerful
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Extreme temperatures can be one of the more unpleasant aspects of camping. You can’t run away from the heat, and nothing you do will make you feel any cooler, aside from jumping in the river. It can be a frustrating experience that may leave you unable to get a good night’s sleep or find much enjoyment in your vacation.
Even a minimal amount of relief would be welcome, which is why we took a look at some of the best tent air conditioners out there. In terms of power, portability, and noise, we believe the Zero Breeze Mark 3 AC unit does it best. Weighing just under 20 pounds with a noise rating of 46 dB, it’s a well-designed model that has everything you could want in a portable AC unit. Not to mention, it can be run off a battery, so there’s no need to stay on the grid to get use out of it.