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The ultimate guide to heating and cooling in Caravans and Campers

If you’ve found yourself freezing, or melting away on a trip away in your Caravan or Camper trailer, we’ve got good news. There are plenty of ways to ensure that you feel comfortable inside your trailer, regardless of what the weather is doing.

Australia is a big place, and the weather can vary a lot depending on where you are, and what time of year you visit. It can be pouring rain, stinking hot and freezing cold, and when you live out of a camper trailer or Caravan your a little more vulnerable than being at home in a house.

So, how do you stay cool, or warm when travelling Australia?

Freshwater Point Camping

Camped on a 40 degree plus day means you have to be innovative

Park in a good spot

The first, and best way to ensure that you have an enjoyable temperature for the majority of your stay is to pick a good spot to pull up. If its hot, under a tree is a great place to be as you’ll get far more shade than out in the open. Of course, pick your trees wisely as some have a habit of shedding big branches. They don’t call white gums ‘widow makers’ without a reason!

Have a think about where the sun is going to rise, and set each day and base your orientation around this. We always try and have shade throughout the day, whilst reducing the amount of sunlight that is absorbed by our hybrid camper.

Hybrid caravan and camper trailer

The perfect place to camp when its really hot!

Heating

Using your stove 

One of the more common ways to heat a Caravan or Camper with an internal kitchen is to make use of the stove. Perhaps you’ve unintentionally noticed this; when you cook something your van gets hotter because of the gas stove (or induction cooktop!)

There are a lot of people who will boil a kettle just before bed, and the heat generated by the stove takes the chill off the air.

Now, I will make a point of suggesting that if you are going to run any gas appliances indoors you really need to have the correct ventilation, and a CO monitor is the best money you’ll spend, period.

Diesel heaters

If there’s a cheap, popular modification to Caravans and Camper trailers recently for camping in winter that everyone loves, its diesel heaters. You can buy a cheap one online (which most people do) and install it for under $300, and the heat that they generate is absolutely ludicrous.

They run on a tiny amount of diesel and 12V, and will warm a van or camper trailer in a matter of minutes. 

Again, you need a CO monitor, but these are an extremely effective way of caravan heating. You can get a portable diesel heater too, if you don’t want something permanently installed. We’ve gone down that path for now, and really enjoy camping in winter, even with our two young kids!

Portable Diesel Heater

Our portable diesel heater ducted into the camper trailer

Gas heaters

If you didn’t want to go down the diesel heater path, a lot of people get LPG heaters installed too. These are similar, and have some benefits, and some downsides. They work well, are nice and quiet and a lot of owners rave about them.

They require a professional installation by a gas fitter, and are much more expensive to purchase and install, but still a good option nonetheless. They also take fuel and 12V power to create heat, and you’ll be toasty warm inside your camper trailer, RV or Caravan.

Electric blankets

Running electric blankets when you are camping has become a much more common thing. In fact, you can even buy 12V electric blankets which will run from a cigarette lighter plug, and these are hugely popular.

Alternatively, if you have an inverter you’ll probably be able to run a normal 240V electric blanket. These don’t draw a huge amount of power, but if you only have a small battery system and you want to run a couple overnight the power draw can add up.

If you aren’t sure what inverter, solar and battery system you need, we’ve written a post that will help you size it to suit your requirements here; Solar panels for camping; what do you actually need?

Air conditioning

A lot of aircons will cool as well as heat, and they can do it quite efficiently. Of course, if you are camping off grid the power consumption is significant, and without a generator, or substantial lithium battery system and inverter it won’t be an option.

If you have the battery and solar to keep up, you need to be careful how long you run the aircon for, as they will chew the batteries power up quite quickly!

Dometic Caravan Aircon

Aircons will usually heat and cool, but they use a lot of power

Warm clothes and bedding

Camping has been common practice in freezing temperatures for many years, long before all of these fancy gadgets came out, and the simple solution is good quality, warm clothing. A set of thermals today makes a huge difference, as does a number of tight, light weight clothes worn over the top of each other.

On top of this, you need suitable bedding that isn’t going to make you wake up frozen to the bone. Your sleeping bag rating should be well under the minimum temperature you are expecting, as they are sold as a survival rate, not a comfort rate. If you are going camping in 0 degree weather, you want a sleeping bag rated for well under that.

Freezing nights

With the right clothes and bedding you can sleep in freezing temperatures

Cooling

Make use of the wind

Air flow makes a world of difference when you are camping and its hot. Caravans and camper trailers are generally pretty good at being able to open windows and allow the wind to blow through. We’ve done a heap of camping in 35 – 43 degree weather, and with a good breeze it can be comfortable sitting inside your van or camper trailer with the windows down.

Make use of the wind by opening windows to allow a good breeze, and any roof hatches that you have too.

Windows open for air flow

Opening windows and allowing the breeze to blow through is a great improvement

Portable evaporative aircons

There’s quite a few camping aircons on the market today, with the portable evaporative units being very economical and common. These work just like an evaporative aircon at home, by taking water and evaporating it through air flow, which causes a decrease in the air temperature.

You need a water supply, and a system that can supply minor battery power to make the aircon run. Please understand that you can’t beat physics though; expecting a small evaporative aircon to cool your van down to a chill is not reasonable, and its not going to happen.

These are basically an upgrade to a fan, and will not cool any areas down with any amazing results, but they are nice to sit in front of.

Fans

The most common way to keep yourself cool in a Caravan, Camper Trailer or RV when you are away from mains power is to use a fan. This can be the top of the range Sirocco ones that are permanently mounted, or a portable 18V Ryobi Fan, or one of the millions of different styles.

It’s worth mentioning that if you have an inverter, you can run a 240V fan quite easily too, as they really don’t use much power at all. We’ve been camping with a big household fan in Dwellingup in the middle of summer (with a 3 week old too!) and had a ball.

Air flow really is critical for being comfortable, and the only time they really don’t work is when its very humid and sticky, as you never feel cool without an aircon!

Ryobi 18V Fan review

We use a Ryobi 18V portable fan, which works pretty well

Air conditioners

The nicest way to get cool when its hot is to use an aircon. Unfortunately, you need a seriously significant lithium battery system, a generator or to be plugged into mains power, and that puts a huge limitation on when you can run the aircon. 

There are 12V evaporative aircons, and even some small 12V reverse cycle aircons but they are few and far between, and you can’t beat physics. A unit that uses little power will have little cooling effect; its as simple as that.

Wet cloth

The oldest trick in the book (especially when sleeping) is to use a cold, wet cloth. This acts exactly like an evaporative aircon; the moisture evaporates from your skin and leaves you feeling cooler at the end of it. 

You want to be comfortable

We’ve done our fair share of uncomfortable travel, and often it is related to the weather. Doing it now, with as much comfort as you need and you look back and chuckle. You can still be very comfortable with a simple setup, but the key is being comfortable. 

If you come back after a camping trip exhausted because you couldn’t sleep as it was too hot, or you wake up several times a night shivering its not much fun, and you’ll think twice about going next time.

What do you do for heating and cooling when camping?

Comfortable camping

Camped on the beach, in comfort!

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