Struggling with sweltering summer temperatures in your van? We've been there, and we're here to share our experiences and strategies for staying cool while living the nomadic life. Last summer in Oregon, we tried the Zero Breeze air conditioning unit, but it didn't quite hit the mark. So, we explored other options like rooftop air conditioners, but had to pass due to weight and space constraints.
Thankfully, we discovered the game-changing Eva Polar Portable Swamp Cooler! This small, personal unit saved us in the scorching heat last summer, and now, it's keeping us comfortable on our sailboat in the Sea of Cortez. We also discuss tactics like relocating to higher elevations, seeking shade, and finding air-conditioned escapes, all to help you beat the heat and stay cool in any nomadic living situation. Join us for this refreshing conversation on the Wayward Home Podcast!
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So I'm sitting on the back stern of my sailboat here in the Sea of Cortez and it's getting really hot out. We're almost near La Paz, just about 50 miles north of La Paz, and over the last couple of days the temperatures have been in the mid 80s to upper 80s and not really cooling down at night at all. Last night we were lucky to get to a low of 77 when I woke up at 7am, and that's just too hot. And so all this heat has made me think that I should record a quick episode for you about how to stay cool in a van during the summer months, because this summer and just about a month or so we'll be back in our camper van and dealing with even more heat in the northern latitudes, and we struggled with this quite a bit last summer. So I figured I should come on and tell you a few strategies that we figured out to stay cool in the summer heat. Let's go. Welcome to the Wayward Home podcast. All about van life, boat life and nomadic living. We'll bring you tips, interviews and stories from the road and on the water. Now here's your host, kristen Haynes. Hey there, this is Kristen Haynes with the waywardhomecom, and I spend half the year in my camper van and half on my sailboat in Mexico And I hope to help you achieve your nomadic living dreams, so living this nomadic lifestyle. I often relate us to migratory animals because we follow weather patterns. When it gets too hot down here in Mexico, where we spend winters and springs on our sailboat, we put the boat away, jump in our camper van and head up to the northern latitudes to try to find cooler weather, and typically we go to the Oregon area because that's where I'm from I grew up in Portland and then we'll drive across the country and we'll go to Minnesota, where Tom is from, and typically those places are way cooler than if we stayed on our sailboat in the Sea of Cortez during the summer months. Some of my cruising friends do that and they say it's really hot and really humid. So I haven't had a desire to try that out just yet, but last summer in Oregon it was really a doozy. I grew up in the Portland area and I expect summers to be in the 80s, sometimes hitting 90, but we had these crazy heat waves that were over 100 degrees And when you're living in a camper van with no air conditioning unit, that can be just miserable. We found ourselves struggling through sleepless nights, crashing at our family's house and just trying to do everything possible to get out of those heat waves. And it was hard, and I'm hoping this summer won't be quite as hot. But you never know, those heat waves can always hit, no matter where you are. And so we've developed some strategies to help us cope with those crazy heat waves. So the first strategy we tried was getting a portable air conditioning unit called the Zero Breeze. This is a compressor style air conditioner that runs off of 12 volts, and so we decided to give it a try in our van. The only problem with this type of air conditioner is that it has to be vented. So out of the you know, the back of this air conditioner are these two huge vent tubes and you have to vent those outside of your van. And so we kind of jimmy rigged that one night, sending these vent hoses out our rear windows and stuffing some clothes around them to create some sort of a seal, and we plugged into a campgrounds electrical system so we could run this thing throughout the night. We hoped that the Zero Breeze would just cool down our entire van and just bring it down to a level where we could sleep. But really the Zero Breeze wasn't powerful enough to cool down the entire rig. Where I think it would work is if you placed it up on a shelf or high up in the van where it was pointed right at you, kind of like a personal air conditioning unit, and then it definitely would work. But then you'd have to figure out how to vent it and you'd have to possibly drill holes in your van And it seemed like a lot of work to us for something that didn't even really cool down the entire van. And so we tried it, we tested it. It wasn't really for us. I know a lot of people love the Zero Breeze, so I'm not knocking it or anything. We just didn't want to go through the build hassle it took to set up and run the Zero Breeze air conditioning unit. So we spent a sleepless night at a campground in the Hood River Oregon area And I remember it was like 85 degrees in the van all night and it was miserable and it was really hard to sleep And we just really hoped that would be our solution to just plug in and run this air conditioner on those really hot nights in Oregon. And it totally didn't work, and so we had to go back to the drawing board and figure out what type of air cooler system we could have in the van. A lot of people do choose to have those 12 volt or even AC air conditioners on the roof of their van, but we decided not to do that because, number one, they're pretty heavy. They weigh, you know, upwards of 100 pounds, some of them on the roof. Plus, we need our roof for storage of all of our, you know, outdoor gear, our wind, sport gear, that sort of thing. So we opted not to have a rooftop air conditioner. That's definitely something you could have. So we got on the hunt for a different type of air cooler unit And I was really excited. One day, when I was walking around Camping World, i saw this really small unit and it was called an Eva Polar And I googled it on my phone and I discovered that it was a swamp cooler. Now, if you're familiar with swamp coolers, you know they don't work if it's too humid out. But I figured you know organ's not really that humid and we really needed something to try. So we purchased that Eva Polar small swamp cooler from Camping World And you know it's really small, it fits really well in the van And it's meant to just be a personal unit, so you can't expect it to cool down your entire van, just like the zero breeze didn't cool down the van But it's really a lot easier to use. You don't have to vent it, you don't have to drill any holes in the van. You just set it on a table pointed at you or even put it in the bed right next to you And it's enough airflow to really keep you cool And it's really a wonderful thing. I even use the Eva Polar quite a bit during the day when Tom was out windsurfing and I'm sitting in the hot van, you know, working on my blog, on my computer And I would just point that thing right at me And it cools the air down a good 10 degrees And it feels really amazing And that's one of my favorite ways now to stay cool in a van in summer, even right now on the sailboat. That Eva Polar has been a total life changer as the weather just keeps getting hotter and hotter around here. We'll either use it when sleeping or when sitting at the table, just working and hanging out and just feeling that cool breeze on your body just feels so nice, especially when you have no relief from the really hot temperatures, especially right now on the sailboat. I know they're only in the mid to upper 80s, but with humidity around 60% sometimes it feels really hot. That being said, when the humidity does get that high, the cooler doesn't work as well, only bringing the you know, the airflow out of it to about a few degrees cooler than what's coming in. But when it gets a little bit drier, that thing is amazing, and so I highly recommend the Eva Polar Portable Swamp Cooler, and if you want to check that out, I'll put it below in the show notes, like I will with everything else I mentioned. Or if you want to see it right now, just go to thewaywardhomecom forward slash Eva Polar. That's E-V-A-P-O-L-A-R. It's a personal swamp cooler, the Eva Polar, and I really liked that. It's been a total game changer for us, both in the van and on the sailboat during the hot weather. So, being in Oregon, another thing that we do when we see hot weather in the forecast is we just try to relocate ourselves to somewhere that is a little bit cooler. Last summer, when there was one of the heatwaves, we tried driving up to the highest campground on Mount Hood at about 6,000 feet, and we drove up there hoping it would be significantly cooler so we could escape the heatwave. This is a tactic that has worked for us in the past We just drive up high on the mountain And the temperatures are cool enough at night that we can sleep. You know, that's what I worry about the most is will the temperatures be cool enough at night? Because during the day, you know, you can usually figure out something You can go swimming, you can take a solar shower, you can do something to cool off. But at night, when you're just laying in your bed in that stagnant air and there's no way to cool down, that's when life in the heat could truly get miserable. And so we often just drive up the windy roads to the highest campgrounds we can find on the highest mountains And we hope that that'll be cool enough for us to sleep the night in our Sprinter van. But last summer what we found is that these heatwaves were so intense that even that highest campground at Cloud Cap on Mount Hood was still too hot. It was unbelievable. We spent, i think it was one or two nights up there before we gave up and we had to drive back down the mountain and to my parents' house to escape the horrible heatwave. During another heatwave, we took advantage of one of Oregon's other amazing natural features, which is headed to the Oregon coast. Now that actually did work. Although there are very few places you can boondock on the Oregon coast And we prefer boondocking, campgrounds on the Oregon coast are very crowded. They often sell out, because when there's a heatwave in Portland, everyone heads to the coast. You'll be hard pressed to find a campsite where you can park for the night, especially last minute. Notice like you usually find out about a heat wave just a few days in advance and you're struggling to find cooler temperatures. But eventually we did find some awesome boondocking spots that weren't too far from the Oregon coast, and so we spent the night at those places and we had significantly lower temperatures. It was really a relief from the heat wave that was happening in Portland, and during the day we actually drove down to the coast and Tom went surfing. He got in that cold water and cooled off, and so we did mark those special spots on my Google map so we can head back to the coast next summer if we have to endure yet another heat wave. So yeah, i definitely would recommend trying to find a natural area where you can escape heat waves, either the tops of mountains or, if you have a coastal area you can go to, or simply even just parking in the shade. I know a lot of us have solar panels that we have to charge during the day, and that is something that is important to think about, but also try to park in the shade. I think that that really helps keep the temperature of the rig down quite a bit, and hopefully you can find enough juice in the sun for your solar panels when you're driving around or if you're parked just for a few hours outside and you don't have to endure just sitting in the sun all day long. And so that's another thing we do is, during the hottest parts of the day especially, we try to park in the shade. So just moving your van's location is another great way to try to find cooler temperatures during those summer months. Another tactic during intense heat waves or during the summer months is to find some way to get inside an air conditioned house. Now, there are a few ways to go about this. One way is, if you have friends and family in a particular area, just see if they have room for you in their house for a few days until that heat wave goes away. That's been one of our main tactics, of course, in the Portland area, because I have lots of friends and family there that have spare bedrooms and we escape the heat just by staying in their air conditioned rooms. However, if you don't have friends or family members to fall back on, where you're currently traveling in your van in the summer, you can do house sitting, and if you know that you're going to be somewhere that has intense heat waves during the summer months, you might just want to try to house it all summer, or at least a significant part of the summer. And there are a couple of ways to do house sitting. I don't know if you've heard of a website called Trusted House Sitters, but you sign up. You have to pay a yearly membership fee and then you can look for people around the country who are going out of town, going on vacation, and want you to come live in their house and watch their pet or watch their house. Usually it's an exchange for watching some sort of pet, and so this is an exchange type program, where you go live in their house. You stay there for a while, as long as they need you take care of their pet, and then you don't have to pay any rent or fees above what you pay to Trusted House Sitters, and it's a pretty affordable program just for a year And so that's another way you can try to get inside an air conditioned house for at least a couple of weeks or a month during those hot summer months. Or you can sign up for a pet sitting website like Rover. I used to do this in the San Francisco Bay area and I'd pet sit for people and I'd stay in their houses for sometimes one to two weeks. It wasn't a really long term situation or gig, but that's another way to try to land yourself inside an air conditioned house during those hot summer months. Of course, if you have a little extra income, you can always revert back to going into a hotel or an Airbnb and just trying to stay away from those hot days. That's something else we've actually done is we've gotten a hotel in Portland for a few days of a heat wave. I have a lot of credit card points, so I basically get those hotel rooms for free. That's another thing we've utilized to escape those horrible 100 degree days. Another thing that's made a significant difference to the interior temperature of our sprinter van during the summer months is to get blackout shades and use them all day long, especially during the hottest parts of the day. Now I got some blackout shades from a company called van made gear, and these are shades that go on the front windshield of the van and the front two windows of the van, so the passenger side and the driver side, and they've become totally vital to our existence in the van. Not only are they privacy shades, but they do work really well to keep heat out. I've put my hand in front of the shades before and it's sweltering, and on the other side of the shade it's cool, or at least cooler than the outside, and so I would recommend getting some sort of a blackout shade for your van, for especially that front windshield, but also the sides. We have shades for our side windows as well. They came with our windows wilderness van windows, so we try to keep the direct sunlight out of our van as much as possible. Now, the company van made gear that I mentioned I'll put a link to them in the show notes too, so you can head over and look at their shades. But they make shades for sprinters, pro masters, transits, other types of vans and universal shades If you have a van that doesn't fit with any of those other varieties that I mentioned. Now, i really like these because they do have thermal insulation. They're made out of a non-toxic ripstop material with aluminum backed insulation, so that's why they keep that heat out of your van. They're extra good at that And I highly recommend these shades. We've been using them for about a year and I've had no issues with them thus far, so that's another way to keep the interior temperature of your van cooler in those summer months. Also, make sure you add some sort of rooftop vent in your van. We have one of those vents on our roof and that really allows the heat from the day to escape And or at night you can reverse the fan and actually push cool air down into your van. So if you're thinking about doing a van build, make sure you do a rooftop vent. I do have an article on my website about that and I'll put a link in the show notes below. There's Fantastic Fan and there's also the Max Air Fan. Those brands are the most popular and so you can read all about that in my article If you like. I won't go into it too in depth here, but we've used both a Fantastic Fan and a Max Air Fan And we love both of them. We couldn't imagine van life without a rooftop fan. It's really important, especially during those warmer days. So we haven't installed an awning in our Sprinter Van yet, but that's another popular way to keep a van cool during summer. Once you extend your awning it'll keep that blazing sun off of the side of your van. We've noticed that the skin of our van gets really, really hot and our van's not even that dark of a color. It's kind of a sandy, stone gray color. Actually, i think that's the color Mercedes calls it as stone gray, and I thought it would be a pretty light color for us, but turns out it gets really hot. I think probably having a white van would be way cooler, but having that awning out, keeping the sun off the side of your van, is probably a great idea for keeping internal temperatures cooler. There is one portable awning that I'm particularly interested in, called the Moon Shade awning. I'll add a link below. But I like it because it packs up and folds down and you can put it away inside your van. You don't have to install a permanent awning. You can also attach it to various trees or structures near you. You don't have to put it on your van if you want to create shade somewhere else, and I know a lot of van lifers who have used this. I can't personally attest to it, but it looks really cool And I'll also add a link to that below the Moon Shade portable awning. So an awning is another great way to stay cool in summer in your camper van. Well, i hope you found these tips about staying cool in your camper van during the summer months helpful. I give all kinds of tips like this, plus personal anecdotes and experiences, over on my newsletter. If you'd like to join my newsletter and keep up to date that way, you can also email me directly. I love interacting with my readers and my listeners and I will write you back. If you have any questions, just go to wwwTheWaywardHomecom. Forward slash subscribe and that will add you to my email list, and I would just love to hear from you if there's any topics you would like me to cover on this podcast. I'm all ears. And also, once again, if you like this podcast, go ahead and like it, or leave a review on Apple Podcast, which also really helps me out. So, as I wrap up this podcast episode, the day is also winding down, which is really a good thing, because it was really hot today And we both felt like we're baking a little bit. We did jump in to cool off in the sea, which is 74 degrees right now, but it's still been so hot all day. It's evening time now. There's a light cloud cover and a light breeze, and it's starting to feel a lot more comfortable on the sailboat And I'm hoping the temperature does dip below 80 degrees a little bit faster tonight And hopefully all of us will manage to stay cool wherever we are this summer, whether it's in a campervan, rv, sailboat or whatever you might be doing. So once again, thanks so much for listening to the Wayward Home Podcast and I'll see you next time.