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Keep Your RV Cool This Summer: 20 Easy And Affordable Tricks!

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Kelly Headshot

By Kelly Beasley

Last Updated: October 13, 2022

No, ma'am, this isn't your run-of-the-mill article about how to keep a camper cool in summer that only spouts obvious remedies.

Here you get actual, tangible, actionable steps to get cooler in the extreme heat of summer temperatures.

15 tips to keep cooler this summer

Some of these tips are more affordable than others, but they are all within reason.

Without further ado, let's dive into how to keep an RV cool in the daytime heat!

Use Reflectix In Your Windows And Cabinets

Let's start with the most well-known solution. Reflectix for your windows!

Reflectix might be the cheapest way to cool an RV in the summer.

RV trailer window with reflectix inside

Cut the reflective insulation to fit and place it in all RV windows that get direct sunlight. Putting some in the back and tops of your upper cabinets can also be helpful.

You can also tape the Reflectix to the outside of your windows, but I've never gone that far.

Reflectix is easy to cut, easy to store, and easy to apply.

It's a very cheap fix for beating the summer heat! You can find rolls of reflective insulation in big-box hardware stores. They also sell on Amazon.

Shade Keeps Your RV Cool

I hope you just rolled your eyes. As in, I hope you thought this one up on your own.

Travel trailer boondocking being shaded by tree in Arizona

This is the #1 best way to keep your camper cool in a hot climate besides chasing elevation. Chasing elevation costs more in gas money and time.

If you can park at a campsite where it's shady for even half of the day, that's better than nothing.

Smart Window Orientation

If you have a huge RV window in your camper or many on one side, try to avoid parking where it/they face south or southeast. And use window covers like Reflectix on the side facing the sun.

Airstream travel trailer rear window view

Photo by Greg Graham

But there are other helpful ways to orient your RV, depending on your situation and how hot it is outside. 

See the next tip:

Using Your RV For Shade

First, decide if you want to spend time sitting outside of your RV.

If you do, park your 'porch' side, so it faces north to northeast.

Why?

Because that's naturally the side you'll sit on. By the door. Parking this way shades that side of the camper during the hottest part of the day.

Ketchum Idaho dispersed camping

In the afternoons, the sun is shaded by the RV itself, creating a nice 'front porch' environment.

So really, the time of day you want to sit out should determine how you position your camper.

The bad news is that if you face your door to the northeast, your awning won't be of any help in providing shade from the afternoon sun.

So, this scenario is best when it's so hot out that you can't be inside the RV in the afternoon, no matter what kind of shading you have.

(Like when it's so hot out that even if you're parked so your awning shades afternoon sun, it's still in the '90s in your RV.)

Awning Facing South/Southeast

This scenario is best if it's not extremely hot, not above the mid-80s. You can partially shade your RV from the brutal afternoon heat this way.

Then use your vent fans and interior fans to keep the air moving.

travel trailer with awning out boondocking in Valley of the Gods, Utah

Of course, if you're in a campground and can't pick your campsite, you may have zero orientation options to keep your RV cool at all.

Also, remember that you may not ALWAYS be able to use your awning. If it's windy, it must come in. Then it does you no good whatsoever.

No Awning? Use A Tarp Or Portable Awning

If you don't have an awning, portable awnings are available on the market, like the Moonshade Awning.

Or, you can hack it- make up your own awning using a tarp or similar.

Fifth wheel trailer using shade cloth on large window

A little bit is better than nothing at all! They did this just to shade their big living room window.

Attach a large tarp to the top of the south side of your RV and secure it down at the ground using stakes or another attachment method.

If you create air space between the RV and the tarp, that's even better.

If you choose to park with your door facing north, this is your best option to help shade the sunny side of your RV without using the awning (assuming you have an awning on the side getting the southern sun).

Or, use the portable one on the south side for maximum RV cooling.

Shade Your Roof With Shade RV

Shade RV is a product that covers your roof to create shade when you can't park under any. This might be the most expensive option on the list, but it's also one of the most effective. Using Shade RV is an excellent solution if you don't move much or are in full sun in extreme heat somewhere such as Arizona. 

Maximize Vent Fan Effectiveness

What if you can't use your AC? In that case, your vent fan is your next best friend in keeping your RV cool.

Fantastic RV Vent Fan

When it's not excessively hot out, and you only have one vent fan and a small RV, I'd advise you only to open one window.

Because if you hang out between the open window and the fan, you'll get an airflow with the cross breeze.

If you have TWO fans, set one to pull air in and the other to push hot air out. This will also help with the cross breeze.

If you have a stock fan that is NOT a Fantastic Fan or a MaxxAir fan, replacing it with one would do you a world of good.

Typically the stock fans have a teeny-tiny fan that barely pulls warm air in or out. Very lame.

Insulators For RV Vent Fan And Skylight

If you use your AC, close the cover and insert a foam insulator into your vent fan area to help keep the heat out.

insulating cushion for RV vent fan opening

If your vent fan is flush with your ceiling or you have a skylight, you can buy a vent cover that insulates or a skylight shade.

Some RVers put a bit of Reflectix up there, too. I find the foam does an adequate job- no heat gets through mine sans Reflectix.

They are super cheap yet effective.

Find these in any camping store, on Amazon, or even at Walmart. Or, make your own.

Add Blinds

Most RVs come with blinds, but if yours doesn't, this is a no-brainer. 

Add insulated ones such as honeycomb cellular window shades or any insulating material if you can.

Insulated curtains are also helpful.

Minimize Your Stove Usage

Stoves are hot when on, duh. The less you use yours in high temperatures, the better.

Try using a microwave instead. Or cook outside using an outdoor grill, sun oven, or fire pit.

However, if you must use your stove, once finished, put the pot or skillet outside right away.

No sense in letting it cool off inside your RV, warming your camper or motorhome even further.

Finally, you can opt to eat food that doesn't require cooking, such as salads, sandwiches, and granola.

Use An RV Awning Shade

Once the sun gets low enough, your awning won't provide much shade. So here is another effective hack.

RV awning shade

 Put up a shade cloth that hangs from the end of your awning. It serves two purposes:

  1. Create a more private (and cooler) outdoor space
  2. Keep more shade on the side of your camper

You can buy them pre-made, or you can rig up one yourself.

Remember, just like the awning, this shade won't fare well in windy conditions.

Switch From Incandescent To LED Lights

If you haven't already done this, you're probably never off-grid. LED lights will save your battery juice- it's one of the first mods RVers make who want to boondock or dry camp.

RV light fixture painted gold with LED lights

But more importantly, they put out way less heat than incandescent lights do.

This solution doesn't seem to make much difference, but it does. It also saves battery power when you're boondocking.

Use Stand-Alone Fans

It seems like a no-brainer, but sometimes relying only on ceiling vent fans (or just ceiling fans, such as in fifth-wheels) is not enough.

The truth is, the more air movement you have, the better.

12 volt box fan

So, buy yourself some stand-alone fans.

You can do either 120-volt or 12-volt fans, depending on how often you are off-grid and if you have an inverter.

120-volt will likely be more powerful. But 12-volt fans will also help give you some cooler, fresh air.

Use A Dehumidifier

If you are on the east coast and in high humidity, taking the moisture out of the air helps to make your environment more comfortable.

Make Your AC Vents More Efficient

OK, so it's hot enough that you're using your AC?

RV trailer air conditioner outlet vent

FYI- If you have this style vent on your ceiling, you can probably rotate it to make it push air where you want it.

AC is usually adequate, but when it's so hot that your AC can hardly keep up, try these two tips:

  • If you have a bigger RV with multiple 'rooms,' close the vents in the rooms you aren't using (and close the doors).
  • If possible, point the vents towards where you are sitting or standing in your RV for maximum cooling effect.
  • Make sure you've cleaned your AC filter or filters. Too much dust and dander in them can make your AC sluggish.

Chase High Elevation

The hotter it gets (and the more you love mountains), the higher you'll want to be in elevation. That's where the cold air is!

Of course, this only applies if you are location-independent and are willing to move.

Denali National Park river meadow mountains

No, it's not the most cost-effective solution.

But chasing elevation is one of the most effective (and adventurous!) solutions to the heat when living in an RV full-time.

For every 1000 feet you climb, it gets about 3.5 degrees cooler. It will cool even more if it's not humid or raining/snowing.

Where's Your Water Hose?

OK, this doesn't do anything to keep your motorhome or travel trailer cool in the summer, but it will make your hot days a little better.

Camco Taste Pure drinking hose

If your water hose sits in the sun, the water inside gets hot. (Yuck!)

Get your hose shaded if possible. Don't let it be sitting outside on the hot pavement.

If you keep it under your RV or cover it, your rig's water won't be sickeningly warm.

Build Or Buy A Swamp Cooler

These can be somewhat effective, but ONLY in low-humidity environments. A homemade swamp cooler is VERY cost-effective!

You can buy a pre-made one, or you can build one yourself for pennies on the dollar.

Pre-Made Swamp Cooler To Keep Your RV Cool

These exist, and they have ready-made ones that fit the hole in your ceiling for your vent fan (TurboKool).

Screenshot of Turbokool RV swamp cooler product listing

You can install a TurboKool in your RV, but it will set you back a good chunk of change.

This makes it the easiest swamp cooler to use of all. It's up high, easy to use, and out of the way.

It runs $599 on their website.

There are also 120-volt stand-alone swamp coolers you can use if you can access 120-volt power.

Homemade Swamp Cooler To Keep Your RV Cool

Search on the Internet for 'homemade swamp cooler,' and you'll find many ways to build one.

They are simple, easy to make, and all have the same premise.

The unit cools the air using a fan to move air over either falling water or ice. The evaporation of the water or the ice cools the air.

Homemade versions are often made out of a cooler or a bucket. Minimal parts are needed.

Parts are a fan, a water pump, a container, a little tubing, and water. Cheap and easy!

For maximum cooling effectiveness, the homemade swamp cooler should remain outside of your RV (or vent to the outside).

Close Interior Doors!

If you have rooms you aren't using during the day, such as a bedroom in a fifth wheel, shut that room off and close the vents. No use wasting precious cooled air in that room- vent it into the living space of your RV for maximum effectiveness.

Conclusion On Keeping Your RV Cool

There are many ways you can keep your RV cool on your adventures, with or without AC.

However, even with the best of these ideas, unless you're using your air conditioning, it may be pretty miserable if you are in temps above about 85 degrees and you aren't in the shade.

Woman leaning out RV door

You might even benefit from lining your RV's underside (like skirting) as some people do in the winter.

Skirting also helps to keep the RV cooler in the summer.

To recap, your best lines of defense are:

  • Chase elevation
  • Park in the shade
  • Use your RV as shade
  • Use your roof vent fans
  • Install insulated curtains, shades, or roller blinds
  • Focus your RV air conditioner vents on yourself if applicable
  • Angle your RV so windows don't get maximum sun
  • Utilize your awning and/or shade cloth
  • Minimize stove usage
  • Use a stand-alone fan for maximum ventilation
  • Get a swamp cooler
  • Cover vent fans if using AC
  • Reflectix your windows and possibly cabinets
  • Angle park for the most shading where you need it
  • Use LED lights
  • Get a dehumidifier
  • Shade your water hose
  • Add blinds/shades
  • Close doors to rooms not in use

Good luck out there. There might be days that you cannot keep your RV in a comfortable temperature zone, boondocking or not, ESPECIALLY if you can't run the AC.

But you can do many of these things to keep it a little cooler than it would be otherwise.

Do you have a suggestion for how to keep RV cool in summer that is not listed here? 

Please tell us how to keep your RV cool in summer in the comments!

  • If you found this information useful, check out what other content we have on the RVing lifestyle here on Camp Addict.
Kelly Headshot

As a seasoned and passionate RVing expert, I have dedicated myself to living the full-time RV life for over 5.5 years, immersing myself in the unique quirks and joys of the boondocking lifestyle and gaining a wealth of knowledge and experience along the way. In December 2020, my business partner and I made the transition to part-time RVing, but in January 2023, we hit the road once again, this time in our trusty vans. My mission is to help others embrace the RVing lifestyle with confidence and excitement, armed with the knowledge and resources needed to make the most of their adventures. I believe that the more you know, the more you can truly appreciate and enjoy the freedom and flexibility of the open road. Join me on this journey and let's make some unforgettable memories.

  • Kelly, nice article!! RV orientation not always possible but something to consider when it is!! And the water hose was news to me too! I was surprised at no mention of “misters” or other water related cooling other than the swamp cooler. We are only part timers now (until retirement this month!) and only have a few nights boondocking so far… not even sure if Cracker Barrel parking lot qualifies for boondocking but we were off-grid.
    I am a big proponent of box fans but I will have to install either an inverter or go to 12VDC and install 12VDC outlets. My unit is shockingly unequipped with 12 volt outlets; none outside the Ford cab. Several USBs though, but USB fans are quite small. I guess they expect the onboard generator as the fix all for current.
    Best regards, Bill

    • Hi Bill!

      CONGRATULATIONS on your retirement!! That’s incredible and should be such a fun venture for you guys! Kudos.

      Well, not sure how well a mister would work in such a small space without it getting the floor all wet. I tried using a fan mister on my back porch in Arizona, and all it did was, well, wet the deck, LOL! (Boo!!) I was bummed. But I HAVE used a spray bottle to mist myself on the worst of days. It gave a little relief but made me all wet and literally took up time.

      There are some decent (I think) small fans that run off of USB. I have a Road Pro model with two speeds. It keeps me cooler when I have it pointed right on me, even from about 12′ away. But an inverter should work for you for a box fan.

      And yeah, I don’t have an onboard genny. Which is a real bummer. Life in here would be SO much nicer if I had an onboard I could turn on with the flip of a switch!

      My portable one needs:
      1. Get it out of the 4Runner (about 48lbs, Kills my back)
      2. Put gas in. (Also, go GET gas if I forgot it was empty)
      3. Place it where the exhaust doesn’t come into my RV.
      4. Pull starter string and hope it works.
      5. Pull starter string for the 11th time and it finally starts.
      6. Connect power cord to it.
      7. Move it once it gets too hot in the sun and it shuts itself off.
      8. Go out and re-gas it when it runs out of gas.
      9. Move it again when the shade moved and now it is in the sun and I have to go move it again….

      Not so easy/convenient, lol!!!

      Anyway, glad you liked the article, and enjoy your camping adventures!

  • Hi Kelly, I am reading this as I sit in our house with a fan blowing on me. It is 32 C (90 F) outside with 54% humidity so it feels like 37 C (97 F) out there. A rare day here in the Great White North.

    Great information as we await our new RV and the travels that it will bring. Can’t wait to experience these situations in person and put your tips into practice. Why suffer through things when we can learn so much and take advantage of other peoples experience and knowledge. Thanks for sharing!

    • Hey Dan,

      On behalf of Kelly, you are most welcome!

      We are huddled inside our Arizona residence where it is triple digits outside. The only saving grace is that it’s dry, dry, dry outside. Though that doesn’t really help at these temps.

      We’ll be hitting the road soon until it cools off. One can only handle so much hot weather, even if the house has a great air conditioning system! πŸ™‚

  • Kelly, thanks so much for your tips. I’m in NZ and we are only on the road in School holidays starting three years ago. Towing my caravan is a steep learning curve and at times and a massive stress. However, I’m getting used to it more and more – and feeling more freedom than I’ve ever experienced. – Thanks Mark

    • Hi Mark,

      I went to NZ in 2001 and absolutely loved it! RVing was nowhere on my radar back then. Glad to hear there’s some caravanning available down there! Very happy to hear this article helped you out. Keep cool and keep enjoying the freedom your caravan gives you!

      Cheers!

      • Thanks for the reply. Wish we could do this full time, however my wife loves her job and my daughter loves her school and local friends – so I’m planning trips when we all have time – that’s every few weeks and all our holidays. I could easily be on the road full time, but having a base property is good sometimes to take time out. We recently went down the South Island of NZ – and that was fantastic – so many places to stay – and scenery out of this world. We usually have tourists from around the world down there, but now it’s NZars hittting the road in large numbers seeing their own country. Where are you now in the US? I was a student over there many years ago on a scholarship and wish we could go back and travel there again.

        • Yeah, full-time RVing with no home base poses a whole string of problems on its own. I’m (so far) finding it nice to have a home base. I’d like to have a plot of land in Colorado to go to in the summer if I don’t feel like moving every two weeks.

          I’m now in Southern Arizona. I’ve been all over the west. All over the southeast. The NW is where I want to explore next, but in a van. Haven’t seen much of it. Just a bit of New England.

          There’s so much to see in the west. I’d recommend Utah and Colorado if you do get over here!

          • Hi, you mentioned NH, and many years ago I studied at Pierce Law School in Concord NH [so my home for a few years] and worked after for short time in Boston. Anyway, the capital Concord in the Autumn or Fall is great, and all the towns along the coast going through the State of Maine are a short distance away. Towns like Portsmith and Kennebunkport are beautiful. If you get the chance you must see these places, but not in the Winter.

            Yes, I’ll start my research on Utah and Colorado – and hope the covid travel restrictions lift so we can eventually skip over there for a trip.

            Best Regards – Mark

          • Yeah, I definitely saw Portsmouth- very cool little town! I was actually visiting a friend in Rye, NY. So, it wasn’t far. Gorgeous in the fall! Colorado and Utah won’t disappoint! Enjoy!

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