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Battery Operated Air Conditioners for Camping

Camping in the summers can be scary if you hate extreme heat and sweat. The idea of sweltering in a tent without temperature control is not a pleasant one. Especially if you are comping away from established campsite with no power.

In such a scenario, the thing that you need to carry with you is a battery operated air conditioner that can bring the tent or car temperature down to bearable levels. Sounds too good to be true. Right?

In this article, we are going to explore what portable air conditioners are, how they are powered, their effectiveness, and then look at a few good rechargeable portable AC for camping.

Battery powered air conditioner for camping – do they work?

Some of us might be skeptical about an air conditioning unit that works on battery power. Traditionally, we have seen large AC units installed in our homes that consume a lot of power to work. Then how can an AC unit work with a battery? Well, they do.

A battery operated portable air conditioner for camping and traveling is usually not huge in size compared to house AC units. They also have less BTU rating which means they won’t cool down a very large room or tent.

But, if you are using one to cool down your 1-person tent or a cabin of your parked trailer, it should be enough.

Challenges to cool down a tent or car cabin

While looking for a battery air conditioner for camping, you have to keep in mind two things and manage your expectations according.

  • Your portable air conditioner is not going to drop your tent or car temperature to chilling 60 degrees Fahrenheit. There is not enough power in the small compressor running on a battery to remove that much heat.
  • Your car or tent does not provide very good insulation to stop the ambient heat to get inside even if you are running your AC. Your camping AC for the car or tent is not working in a well-insulated space.

With these two challenges in mind, you have to manage your expectation of what a rechargeable Air Conditioner for camping can and cannot do.

Types of portable air conditioner for camping

The term air conditioner is often exploited because of the way people use it. Usually, when we say “air conditioners” we mean the ones with air compressors and refrigerants.

But manufacturers usually market their non-compressor type devices (aka air coolers) as ‘air conditioners’ as well. Technically, they are right but this might confuse a good number of users who think it is compressor type.

The same is the case when you search for a battery powered portable air conditioning unit for camping. Not all of them will be compressor types. Some are just simple air coolers masquerading as air conditioners. So, let’s understand the different types of portable air conditioner for camping use.

Air Conditioners (Compressor type)

This is the most common type you might expect when looking for a ‘true’ air conditioner. This type of air conditioner has one main component that is absent in all other types i-e COMPRESSOR.

The compressor is a rotary device that runs on electricity and compresses refrigerant gas. It is usually attached to the backside of an AC unit and is usually painted black in color for improved thermal performance. If you are looking for actual battery powered cooling, this is the device you should be getting.

components of Battery Operated Air Conditioners for Camping

Portable AC for car or camping works using the same principle as your room AC unit. It uses the compressor to compress a refrigerant gas that absorbs heat from your tent/car and expands. The hot gas is then compressed again outside your tent to release the heat in the atmosphere and the cycle continues.

Swamp Air Cooler (Evaporative type)

Swamp air coolers are simpler than air conditioners and don’t have a compressor at all. They just use water evaporation to create a cooling effect. Since they don’t have a compressor and a close cycle assembly, they are relatively cheap, slightly bulky (because of the water bucket) and less effective, especially in a high humidity environment.

With air coolers, you can drop the temperature of the room by 5 to 10 degrees Celsius depending upon the relative humidity of the air and outside temperature.

Air coolers are not replacements of an actual air conditioner. They are just slightly cooler fans due to the air passing through wet pads and cooling down. With an air cooler, you cannot set the desired temperature or control it much.

You can use them as a cheap replacement portable car air conditioner but never trust them enough to leave your pet inside the cabin with windows closed.

If the air is highly humid (due to recent rain or camping near a water body) your air cooler can only act as a fan without any actual cooling.

Dry Air Cooler (Non-evaporative type)

This one is a cross between evaporative air coolers and compressor types air conditioners. It is still not as effective as a compressor air conditioner but has slightly better performance than a swamp air cooler.

In a compressor air conditioner, gas is compressed and circulated through evaporator coils. The gas expands in the evaporator coil and cools them. Air is then blown through the cold coils and into the room.

In the non-evaporative type air coolers, cold icy water is circulated through the evaporator coolers (instead of compressed refrigerant) and then air is blown through the cold coils to cool the air down.

In this type of air cooler, the air doesn’t come in direct contact with the water. Due to this, there is no evaporation and hence the humidity of the room doesn’t increase when used for a longer period.

This also works equally well at high humidity levels, unlike the evaporative type air coolers which are useless at high humidity levels. The dry air coolers make perfect portable air conditioner for camping and outdoor use.

The below table gives a comparison of all 3 types of air conditioners/coolers.

Air Conditioner
(compressor)
Swamp Air Cooler
(evaporative)
Dry Air Cooler
(non-evaporative)
Cooling mediumCompressed RefrigerantWater evaporationCold water circulation
Lowest temperature68 °F (20 °C)5-10 degrees
below ambient
15 degrees
below ambient
Works in high humidity?YesNoYes
WeightHeavyLightweightLightweight
Power requirementHighLowLow
SizeCompactBulky
(with water bucket)
Bulky
(with water bucket)
Comparison table for different types of air conditioners/coolers

How are portable AC for camping powered?

Rechargeable battery air conditioners

Portable battery operated air conditioner for camping needs a considerable amount of power to run the compressor. That’s why, most of the models you will find will be powered via rechargeable lithium-ion batteries – the same batteries commonly found in your cell phone.

Some models include these batteries as part of the air conditioner (either built-in or removable) and others run on portable power station battery packs commonly used by campers. The same power station can also be used for other devices like battery powered kettles to make a quick cup of coffee or battery operated heaters during the winter camping season.

Car plugged air conditioners

Car plugged air conditioners and air coolers are meant to be used inside your car cabin. They can be powered up directly from your car battery either using the cigarette port or through a direct connection to the dashboard via wires.

If your air cooler is running on a 12v DC power, you can plug it directly into your cigarette plug. It would probably come with a compatible plug as well. Some portable air conditioners run on 24v DC and would not work with your 12v cigarette plug.

Best portable battery operated air conditioner for camping

The market is full of portable battery operated AC for camping and outdoor use. Some are true compressor-powered air conditioners while others are simple air coolers branded as air conditioners. Also, not all of them are suitable for your tent or car camping.

Below, I have shortlisted 4 small portable air conditioners for camping that can make your outdoor stay cool and breezy. The research took me over 2 days to gauge the suitability of each (because I was looking for one myself as well so it was partially a personal endeavor).

HeaterPower SourceTypeWeight
Zero Breeze Mark 2Rechargeable BatteryAir Conditioner28 lb
Airo Portable ACPower StationAir Conditioner67 lb
Evapolar evaCHILLMobile Battery bankEvaporative Air Cooler1.65 lb
IcyBreeze V2 ProRechargeable batteryDry Air cooler19 lb
Best portable battery operated air conditioner for camping

1. Zero Breeze Mark 2

This is probably the only true battery powered air conditioner for tents in the market that works as advertised. Zero Breeze started as a Kickstarter project back in 2018 and they raised over 1 million dollars in crowdfunding to make the next-generation portable air conditioner.

2 years later, they released the Mark 2 – a more advanced and improved version of their initial design that saw an improved compressor performance and change to the overall design of the unit intake and outlet.

The main component of the ZB Mark 2 is its proprietary designed pure sine wave air compressor that works on 24v DC. It is powered by a monster 630 Wh rechargeable battery that sits perfectly below the AC unit and clips on perfectly. It can run for 5 continuous hours or even an entire night if sleep mode is activated.

The compressor consumes 240W power and can bring down the room temperature considerably. As we discussed above, for best results, make sure your tent or car cabin is richly insulated.

Since this is one of its kind actual battery-powered air conditioners the company knows what they created and they are charging for it. At the time of writing this article, it was available for a little over 1300 USD (check the latest price on Amazon).

As more companies know the demand for this product and start producing them, the price should be accessible. The price is high partly due to the large battery but in my opinion, it should be around 600 USD in a fully competitive market.

Check out user reviews, full specifications and the latest price on Amazon [Amazon link]

2. Airo Comfort Portable AC

This one is a different product. It is designed as a full-fledge powerful air conditioning unit for homes. Although it is portable, it doesn’t come with its own battery and is not specifically designed for camping. It needs a 115v wall output. But since we are looking for portable AC solutions, there is a workaround to use this one for camping.

If you are camping out of a car or RV and have enough capacity to carry a bigger AC unit along with a power station (fancy word for camping battery bank), you can make this solution work. Regular campers carry power stations on camping to power up their electronics and other items.

A big power station (like the Yeti 6000x) that can provide enough Watt-hours to run the AC for a good part of the night. The Yeti 6000x stores up to 6000 watt-hour energy and can power the 800 BTU Airo portable AC for up to 7 hours or all night.

I am not saying it’s a cheap solution but it is a solution that you can consider if you really like a good night of sleep (and have enough cash to burn). The power station alone costs up to 7 Grands.

Check out user reviews, full specifications and the latest price for Airo portable AC on Amazon [Amazon link]

3. Evapolar evaCHILL

If there is a contest for the cutest battery powered cooler in the world, I am sure the Evapolar will win it by a margin. It is small, well built and lightweight to carry anywhere (only 1.65 lb or 750 grams). It comes in 3 different colors with an LED panel for lighting.

This one is not a compressor type air conditioner but a swamp air cooler that uses evaporation to cool down the air in your room. It is powered by a 2A 5v USB cable that you can plug into anything that can charge a smartphone. You can run it off your laptop or even your small battery bank. Since it has no compressor, the only power-consuming component is its fan motor.

Since this is an air cooler, there are a few things you should keep in mind.

  • It will not reduce the temperature of the whole tent or cabin considerably. It only cools down the air blowing out of the vent.
  • It will increase the humidity of the air if used inside a closed area. Without proper ventilation, the increasing humidity will decrease the rate at which your body sweat evaporates. If your sweat does not evaporate, your body temperature will rise and you will feel quite miserable.
  • You will have to replenish the water bucket every few hours since the water is evaporated with the air. If you run it without water, it’s just a regular small battery operated fan, not a cooler.

If you keep your expectations right from this product, it’s one of the good products in this category. You can see the user reviews, specifications and latest price on Amazon (Amazon link)

4. IcyBreeze V2 Pro

The IcyBreeze is technically an air cooler because it does not have a compressor to qualify as an air conditioner BUT it is slightly different than the normal swamp coolers. It is a dry air cooler.

In swamp coolers like the Evapolar evaCHILL we discussed above, the cooling effect is produced by the evaporation of water that comes in direct contact with the blowing air. These coolers are ineffective because they don’t work at high humidity levels.

The IcyBreeze design is more like an air conditioner where cold pressurised gas is circulated through evaporator coils and the air is blown across the coil to cool it down. But instead of pressurised refrigerant gas, the IcyBreeze uses cold icy water to circulate through the radiator coil to cool the blowing air. You can say it’s a cross between an air conditioner and an air cooler.

Now, the benefit of this non-evaporative cooling is that you can use this type of cooler in high humidity levels as well. Since the cooler does not add more moisture to the air, using this for a long time does not increase the humidity of your tent or cabin even if it is fully closed.

The IcyBreeze V2 comes with an ice storage space that is enough to store your drinks and sandwiches and can work as a cooler when turned on. It’s a 2-in-1 device. The cooler is run by a 6AH or 10AH battery that can run the unit for a good 5-7 hours.

The cooler can blow ice-chilled air as long as the bucket is filled with ice. You can put in crushed ice or bigger blocks of ice with water. Crushed ice melts more rapidly so it’s better to use bigger blocks of ice. For even longer performance, you can wrap the blocks of ice inside polythene bags to reduce the melting rate and enjoy cool air for long.

You can see the user reviews, specifications and latest price on Amazon (Amazon link)

Conclusion

Battery powered air conditioners and air coolers can make your outdoor stay comfortable and sweat-free but before getting your AC or cooler, you have to keep in mind a few things we discussed above. Let me recap this for easy reference:

  • Not all air conditioners are compressor-type ACs. Most of them in the market are just fancy coolers.
  • Compressor-type portable AC consumes a lot of power so keep in mind their performance limitations and how long can they run on batteries.
  • If you are carrying a camping power station, you can use it to power any portable AC but carrying both the power station and AC is a huge logistic challenge.
  • In high humidity areas, you can only use non-evaporative type air conditioners (either compressor type or dry air coolers).

Hope you find this guide helpful in selecting your battery powered air conditioner for camping and outdoor use.

Recommended Camping Gears: I have compiled a list of my favourite camping gear in one place. The selection is based on my own personal experience using them for many years camping as well as feedback from fellow campers. Check them out on my Recommended Camping Gears page