5 Tips for Keeping Your Van Cool in Summer

The summer season may seem daunting to some van lifers. Beat the heat this season with our 5 tips for keeping your van cool in summer.
Woman sitting in doorway of van drinking from a mug.
Jamie is pro at keeping her van cool in the summer season. Photo from Jamie Leo.

Van lifers are used to different climates. When I’m traveling, it’s not uncommon for me to be in the desert one day and the mountains the next. It’s usually not an issue, but when the summer season comes around, keeping a healthy temperature in your van in these climates can become a little more difficult.

Temperatures can rise fast and your van can start to trap heat. It’s extremely important to be aware of the weather conditions of everywhere that you travel. This is especially true once heat waves start kicking in. With many van lifers not having the power or resources to install an A/C unit, it can become a challenge to maintain a cool temperature in their van.

Here are 5 tips for keeping your van cool in summer.

1. Plan your travel

One of the best things you can do to keep your van cool is to plan your travel schedule according to the seasons as much as possible. You don’t want to find yourself in the middle of the desert with no shade when temperatures are reaching well over the 100s.

It’s fairly common for van lifers to head north for the summer, hitting all of the mountainous regions and colder states that are usually difficult to visit in the winter anyway. Staying at a high altitude means cooler temperatures, so you don’t have to worry much about unbearable heat. These regions are also full of trees, giving you ample shade. If you decide to do this, you can easily return to the desert climates in the fall when temperatures are still warm but a lot easier to manage.

As you climb a mountain, you can expect the air temperature to decrease by 6.5 degrees C for every 1000 meters you gain

University Corporation for Atmospheric Research

2. Go with the flow

Keep the air flowing in your van. This will help keep the warm air from settling in. Any breeze is better than no breeze!

Try to keep your windows and doors open as much as possible to get the air moving. Installing a fan on your roof can be extremely helpful in this case, especially if there isn’t much natural wind in the area you’re in.

If you can’t install a fan, you can also buy some fairly cheap battery-powered fans that can help just as well. You want to make sure that you have the air flowing through your entire van. Try to set up one fan in the front and one in the back. Or you can open the front windows if you have a fan installed in the rear. This will help you flush out the hot air and maintain a cooler temperature inside.

3. Park smart

Be smart with where you park. Most importantly, you want to park in the shade wherever possible to avoid having direct sunlight on your van. Parking in direct sun can quickly trap heat inside.

Some people stick to the coast in the summer to catch the cool breeze coming off of the ocean – this can also work around other bodies of water, like lakes and rivers. So finding where water might be near you can help keep your van cool.

To help block the sun from getting inside, you can get some window covers to reflect it away. Window covers are fairly cheap to buy, but you can also build your own covers using something as simple as Reflectix. This will reflect the sunlight away from your living area, thus keeping your van cool.

If you’re at a campsite, you can set up a tarp over your van to create some of your own shade. 

4. Hydrate

Stay hydrated. Your health and safety are of utmost importance while you travel. Keep cold drinks in your fridge or cooler to ensure that you have a way to cool yourself down while also making sure you’re drinking enough water.

It can be helpful to get drinks rich in electrolytes to make sure your body is staying hydrated.

5. Install air conditioning

Finally, the ultimate way to keeping your van cool in summer is good ol’ A/C. If you have the financial means and space, buy yourself an air conditioning unit. There are tons of portable A/C units out there nowadays that can be extremely helpful for people whose schedules don’t allow them to stay away from the summer heat.

If you’re feeling crafty, get creative and make your own A/C using a Styrofoam box or a cooler full of ice and a portable fan.

The summer season may seem daunting to some van lifers, but don’t let it turn you away from this incredible lifestyle! There are plenty of ways that you can get around it and continue adventuring without it being dangerous to your health – or making you burn out from van life.

Be smart and stay aware of all weather conditions everywhere you go to avoid getting yourself in a potentially dangerous situation. It’s easiest to avoid extreme heat altogether, but if you don’t have that luxury, I hope that these tips for keeping your van cool can help you deal with it a little better. No matter what, van life is all about staying resilient and adapting to new environments. This is just another skill that we nomads develop and will have for the rest of our lives!


  1. This isn’t hard. Go buy a power bank or two and small USB power corded fans. For $30 you can move lots of air for days without a recharge. I’ve got mine working.

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