best campervan air conditioner

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Best 12v Air Conditioner For Campervans, Expedition Vehicles And Off-Grid RV’s

We never thought we’d need a campervan air conditioner. But that changed after spending some time down south where we struggled to get a good nights sleep during the summer heat.

We didn’t like the thought of getting pushed out of an area because things got too warm. We decided the heck with that, let’s get a van air conditioner so we can see and do the things we want to.

That led us down a long road of researching the Best Campervan 12 volt Air Conditioner. And to make it even more difficult, we wanted a van ac unit that could be run off-grid using just solar and lithium batteries. Because plugging in just isn’t our thing.

First let’s have a quick look at the different types of air conditioning units that are a good fit for a campervan.

Then we’ll dive into the details and finally finish with an install of the camper van air conditioner we decided on.

If you don’t want to read the entire article here are our
Top 3 Picks

Don’t Miss ➡ Our 24 Volt Air Conditioner Installation

best deal
campervan air conditioning unit

12v Air Conditioner

  • Only $800 12v or 24v
  • Working great after 1 year
  • Requires DIY Skills
  • Poor Warranty/Support
Best Build Quality
best dc air conditioner

Cruise N’ Comfort 12v Air Conditioner

  • US Based Company
  • Top Quality/Durable
  • Great Customer Support
  • Requires DIY Skills
  • Expensive
easy install
B-Cool 12 volt ac

B-Cool 12 Volt AC

  • Easy Rooftop Install
  • Efficient
  • Limited Installation Options
  • Expensive

Let’s take a look at the 3 most popular Van Life Air Conditioning systems

1. Rooftop Van 12 Volt Air Conditioner

These are the most common type of air conditioner seen in the RV and campervan industry.

These motorhome air conditioners, until recently, have been designed to run exclusively off shore power.

  • Pros:
  • Easy Install
  • Self Contained Unit
  • Cons:
  • Increase Vehicle Height
  • Adding Weight To Roof
  • Uses Valuable Roof Space
  • Loud

They are inefficient(except for a couple that we will look at), very loud, and take up a lot of rooftop space making them a poor choice for a camper van AC unit.

You may also enjoy:
Electrical Fundamentals for DIY Campervans

campervan rooftop air conditioner

One of the biggest drawbacks with these units is the footprint. They take up a lot of rooftop space that could be used for other things like solar panels, rooftop deck or storage.

In addition, they add a lot of height and weight to the roof which increases center of gravity in an already top heavy RV or van.

To be fair, there are some rooftop AC units that have recently come out designed to run on 12v or 24v.

These units are much more efficient, lower profile, but expensive(2-5K). Don’t worry we will have a look at them in more detail below.

Overall, this is why we prefer the RV mini split or under van air conditioner systems which we will talk about about next

2. DC RV 12v Mini Split- Best 12 Volt Air Conditioner For Vans

Although similar, these should not be confused with the more common residential “Mini Split AC” systems.

The DC RV Mini Split AC units from Cruise ‘N Comfort or our cheapo Chinese one are purpose built campervan air conditioning units.

camper van air conditioner
This is our AC unit on our box truck conversion sitting behind the cab.
best 12v air conditioner
  • Pros:
  • Efficient
  • Flexible Mounting Options
  • Quiet
  • Doesn’t Take Up Space On Roof
  • Keeps Weight Down Low
  • Cons:
  • Requires Refrigerant Charging
  • More Complicated Install
  • Takes Up Space Inside

Designed to run off 12v or 24v and built with some of the most efficient compressors available. Thus, making these a great choice for an off-grid RV air conditioner.

These DC Air Conditioners are a great choice because they are modular. They consist of two basic components, the outside condenser/compressor and inside evaporator/blower.

The condenser is a fan unit that lives on the outside of the van. People often mount them underneath the van but they can be mounted anywhere outside.

The other component to the system is the evaporator and blower. These pieces must be in the area that you are cooling. In order to keep your weight down low people often mount these on the floor of the living area.

best dc air conditioner

Because you have these separate components you basically have 2 or 3 pieces that will require mounting. In addition, you’ll have to run refrigerant and electrical lines to connect them all together.

This is significantly more complex than a rooftop AC unit that only needs to be mounted and hooked to power.

These particular units from Cruise N’ Comfort do come at a cost anywhere from $3-5K. They have a VES model which is likely the best 12v air conditioner for vans which start around $3,000.

We ended up going with a much less expensive option, also much lower quality, that cost under $800. More on that in a bit.

3. Residential RV Mini Split AC For Camper

These residential air conditioners are gaining popularity in the RV and campervan industry. When I started looking for a 12 volt air conditioner for camper or RV’s I couldn’t help but notice how efficient these residential mini splits are.

They are so efficient that running them off an inverter and thus making them essentially 12 volt is a very good option. The power usage is equal to and often lower than even the best 12v air conditioners available today. The downside is how much space they take up.

Now I realize we are talking about air conditioning but mini-splits have the added bonus of being a heater as well. Now I wouldn’t choose to have the mini-split as a primary heat source but it’s great when plugged in or as a backup.

mini split AC for campervan
  • Pros:
  • Very Efficient
  • Easy DIY Install
  • Some Models Can Heat As Well
  • Very Quiet
  • Larger Cooling Capacity
  • Cons:
  • Very Large Outside Unit
  • Difficult To Mount
  • Outside Unit Must Be Mounted Upright
  • No Good DC Options Available Yet

These are hands down the Best RV Mini Split since they have the cooling power for larger spaces of an RV.

RV Mini-split air conditioners do two things really well, efficiency and being very quit.

They gain the efficiency by have a variable speed compressor that are not often found in other types of van AC units.

A typical air conditioner turns on and rapidly cools to a set point and then turns off until things heat up again. The result is a a lot of variability in the temperature from hot to cold.

Mini-splits work a little differently and don’t just simply turn on and off. Instead, the variable speed compressor gently speeds up or slows down depending on the cooling needs. This results in a much more stable room temperature.

Mini splits consist of an outside condenser and indoor evaporator/fan similar to the DC units mentioned above. Installation however, is not as flexible as the 12 Volt mini split air conditioning units mentioned above.

The outside unit must sit upright as in the picture so there’s no option to mount it under the rig or on roof.

That leaves the only viable option of having it mounted on the back of the campervan. This is no problem for an RV or box truck conversion but does pose some issues with the doors on the back of a van.

For that reason we don’t think this is the best 12v air conditioner for vans.

Now that we’ve covered the basic types of air conditioners for vans, let’s now look at what specifications make for the best van life air conditioning system.

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What Makes a Good Van Life Air Conditioning System

When I set out to find the best Campervan Air Conditioner it was more difficult than I expected.

It was apparent that companies have only just recently started to develop AC units for campervans that are efficient enough to be run off solar and batteries.

Below are the characteristics that we will be looking at to help us choose the best camper van air conditioner.

  • Efficiency (watts)
  • Noise Level
  • Air Conditioner Size and Footprint
  • Cooling Capacity
  • Price $$$

Air Conditioner Efficiency

Efficiency to us Vanlife folks boils down to how much energy these devices use.

You might be asking how much battery capacity do I need to run AC off-grid?

To figure that our let’s first have a look at the power draw these different van life air conditioning units have.

We will be looking at energy consumption in watts so that we can fairly compare energy across 12 volt, 24 volt, and 120v units.

Remember, Amps is not a good measure of energy use because it changes with your voltage. For example, 10 Amps at 12 volts is the same as 5 Amps at 24 volts.

As far as batteries go, A 100ah battery has 1200 watts of energy. With lithium that would give us about 1000 watts of usable energy.

Most of the AC units will be pulling roughly 500 watts while running. So a 400 Ah lithium battery bank could get you about 8 hours of run time.

need a quick electrical 101 crash course? ➡ Campervan Electrical How To Beginners Guide
It even has calculators to help you figure out just how much battery you need.

Best Campervan Rooftop Air Conditioners For Vans

The newer DC powered rooftop AC units for Vans are a fine choice and offer the easiest installation.

The drawbacks are that they add height to your vehicle, add weight up high, and take up valuable rooftop space.

If you’re like us and want enough solar to run AC off grid these rooftop units were not our first choice.

The following units are all DC air conditioners designed to run on 12 volt and some can do 24 volts as well.

I won’t be including any 120 volt traditional style RV AC units because they pull far too much energy.

If you plan to always be plugged in traditional RV AC units might be a good option for you as they are very affordable at around $600-$900 but they pull well over 1000 watts of energy.

12v Air ConditionerCooling BTUPriceWattsDimensionsNoise
Manual PDF
10230$2,550600-840Rooftop 37.8″ x 28.35″ x 6.5″
Interior 19.7″ x 13.4″ x 4.5″
40 dBa
Dometic 2000 RTX
Manual PDF
6824$2,729228-700Rooftop 25.4″ x 33.9″ x 6.6″
Interior 15″ x 14″ x 5″
70 dBa
Mabru RV 12000
Manual PDF
12000$2,599260-660Rooftop 38.2″ x 33.8″ x 6.5″
Interior 11.4″ x 18.1 x 2.8″
33 dBa
Nomadic Cooling 2000
Manual PDF
9830$3,890360-860Rooftop 35.5″ x 32″ x 7″

Interior 16″ x 16″ x 3/16″
60 dBa

Best DC Mini-Split Camper Van Air Conditioners

Next up let’s have a look at what we think is the best van air conditioner system. These split systems offer the most flexibility in a camper van 12v AC unit and are highly efficient.

First let’s take a look at the Cruise N’ Comfort system, arguably the best 12v air conditioner for vans, then have a look at the budget system we got from Amazon.

AC UnitCooling BTUPriceWattsDimensions
Cruise N Comfort
HD-12s 5K
5000$4,400370-480Indoor unit L 22” x W 12” x H 10.5” 
Outdoor unit 14″ tall x 20″ wide x 4-1/2″thick
Cruise N Comfort
HD-12L 8K

8000$4,400540-630Indoor unit L 22” x W 12” x H 10.5” 
Outdoor unit 14″ tall x 20″ wide x 4-1/2″thick
Cruise N Comfort
HD-24L(24 Volt)
10000$4,900650-850Indoor unit L 22” x W 12” x H 10.5” 
Outdoor unit 14″ tall x 20″ wide x 4-1/2″thick

Note: You can purchase the system with the indoor unit as a combined compressor and blower assembly. These dimensions are listed above.

The system can also be purchased with the indoor compressor and blower separate.
Compressor dimensions: 10″ x 10″ x 10″
Blower dimensions: 15 3/4“ wide x 13 15/32“ deep x 6 1/8“

Combination compressor/blower
Compressor and blower separate

As you can see these are a great choice if you want to keep things off your roof and desire the flexible mounting options.

The ability to hide this unit out of the way and run ducting to the living space makes these DC air conditioners very flexible.

The Best Camper Van Air Conditioner For Our Expedition Vehicle

We knew we needed a split air conditioning system to maximize roof space for solar. While the residential mini-splits systems were tempting we just couldn’t wrap our heads around mounting something that large on the back of our camper box.

So that left us looking at the DC min-split air conditioning systems mentioned above. While we liked everything about the Cruise N’ Comfort we just couldn’t justify the cost for us.

So instead we opted for this Chinese drop-shipped unit that can be purchased through Amazon or direct from Alibaba or Aliexpress. Very reasonably priced at just under $800 delivered!

AC UnitCooling BTUPriceWattsDimensions
12 Volt AC
9000$800720-960Indoor unit L 18” x W 6.3” x H 12.6” 
Outdoor unit 15.7″ tall x 21.6″ wide x 9.5″
24 Volt AC

13000$800360-900Indoor unit L 18” x W 6.3” x H 12.6” 
Outdoor unit 15.7″ tall x 21.6″ wide x 9.5″

We have the 24 volt air conditioner version and are seeing about a 50% run cycle with peak amperage at 35 amps. The average hourly watt consumption was only around 400 watts or 16 amps.

Check out the video below for more details on the power consumption.

The numbers for the 12 volt air conditioner are from the supplier which I have not been able to verify as we are using the 24 volt version.

Here are a couple videos I put together on this unit. In the first video we disassembled the outdoor unit so that I could mount the radiator/condenser separate from the compressor.

In the second video we covered the complete installation as well as charging the unit with refrigerant.

We then did some real life tests to have a look at unit efficiency and wether this would be the best 12v air conditioner for vans.

Check out ➡ Our detailed Air Conditioner Installation article which goes along with the videos below.

Is It Really The Best Van Life Air Conditioner?

UPDATE: After 3 years of using this budget Campervan Air Conditioner we are happy to report that it continues to work great. It’s survived months of bumpy roads through Baja and is still working and cooling great.

The cooling capacity and efficiency a just right for our 14′ overland box truck. The ability to separate the outside components made for a clean looking install with everything easily accessible should it ever need servicing.

While I was initially concerned about having to charge the unit with refrigerant that turned out to be quite simple. That entire process was covered in the Part 2 air conditioner install video.

I will post updates on this AC unit once we have more time with it. Better yet, give us a follow on your favorite social media where you can join us as we tour North America and beyond.


Other DC Van Air Conditioners Worth Mentioning

In doing my research I came across the company, They have similar systems to the Cruise N’ Comfort but power draw was rather hight at over 1,000 watts. Keep in mind these systems are higher BTU’s at around 16,000 so for a bigger RV, skoolie or camper these could be a good option. But for my purposes I ruled them out because of their energy use.

Residential Mini-Split AC For Camper Van

Next let’s have a look at these residential mini-split air conditioners. They have both 120 volt AC systems as well as 12v/24v DC systems.

While these are a great option for a box truck conversion, skoolies or RV mini split, they are problematic for vans with rear doors.

But it is doable and I’ve seen them mounted directly to the door, bumper mounted, or mounted to some sort of external rack on the back.

As you are about to see these units offer tremendous value for how efficient and affordable they are. Let’s not forget, the majority of these are also heat pumps so they can heat as well as cool.

There are a LOT of different brands out there for 120 volt Mini-splits AC’s. They all have very similar specs so for the sake of simplicity I will be showing you Pioneer.

Another brand I would look at is Mr Cool. I think you can even buy those through Home Depot.

I also included a 12 volt DC version from Sharkaire.

All of these brands come pre-filled with refrigerant which makes install a breeze as well as saving you some money.

AC UnitCooling BTUPriceWatts
(3% added to 120v Units)
Pioneer 120 Volt
9,000$700300-1000Indoor 28″-1/2 x 7″-3/8 x 11″-3/8
Outdoor 30″-3/8 x 11″-7/8 x 21″-7/8
Rollicool10,000$500450Indoor 16″ x 16″ x 8″
Outdoor 21″ x 8″ x 16″
SharkAire 6000 BTU
12 Volt
6,000$1,900300 – ?Indoor 28″ x 10″ x 7.7″
Outdoor 26 x 10″ x 20″

Thoughts On the Best 12v air conditioner for RV’s and campervans

The residential mini split AC systems were very appealing for us since we are building a box truck camper.

Their pricing, efficiency, and the fact that they can heat make them hard to beat. But their size and weight make them less than ideal for a lot of folks. Using these with a high quality inverter makes them one of the best options for a 12v air conditioner if you have the space.

The AC unit that we decided on once disassembled provided us with a very compact install that so far has been working great for us.

With our 1,000 watts of solar we can easily run the air conditioner entirely off the sun. This has been great and allows us to hike and bike without worrying about the dog back in the camper.

How Has The Air Conditioner Been Working?

So far it’s working really well. We’ve been bouncing around Baja and Mexico with it for the past 3 years with 100’s of hours of use and it just keeps on ticking.

It cools our Total Composite Camper Box easily on the low setting and even with the door wide open the medium setting keeps us nice and chill.

The fan noise on low is plenty quiet and is similar to your roof vent fans. It has an eco mode but not really sure what that setting even does.

The air conditioner only comes in Celsius and can not be changed to Fahrenheit. It has a digital touch pad on the unit itself if you don’t want to use the remote.


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How much solar do I need to run a camper van air conditioner?

For units consuming between 300-500 watts per hour I would say the minimum is 1000 watts of solar. Here are some power consumption numbers on the 24 volt AC unit that we have.

How much battery do I need to run AC in a campervan?

With an efficient DC air conditioner you will need at least 300 amp hours of dedicated lithium to run AC in a campervan. This is in addition to your base battery capacity for the camper. You can expect the AC to run for 6-8 hours on 300 Ah. We’ve got a great calculator to help you gauge your campervan electrical needs. Check it out here, Campervan Electrical How To Beginners Guide

How much does it cost to put air conditioning in a caravan?

The price can vary greatly depending on the AC unit you choose. Rooftop AC units are the easiest to install and total cost can be under $3,500. More robust split systems will run you between $5-6K installed.

Is there such a thing as a 12 volt air conditioner?

There are many high quality 12 volt air conditioners that are perfect for a variety of applications

How many amps does a 12 volt AC unit draw?

While amperage can vary the particular unit we’ve been using draws 16 amp at 12 volts

august wheeler author bio

Hello! My name is August, and I’m a devoted traveler and travel blogger living full-time on the road. I made the decision to leave my 9-to-5 job and pursue a nomadic lifestyle, and it’s been an incredible journey. My passion for experiencing new cultures is what drives me, and I aim to motivate others to embark on their own adventures through my stories, photos, and advice. When I’m not discovering the wonders of the world, I indulge in skiing, mountain biking, and savoring the unique flavors of different places.

10 thoughts on “Best 12v Air Conditioner For Campervans, Expedition Vehicles And Off-Grid RV’s”

  1. Fantastic info for us now in Turkiye, at 38 deg C. We have 900 wats on the roof, and 400 amp/hrs usable. Question, does the Rollicool come with flex tubing so the external unit cn be mounted on an opening door? Many Thanks. Our email is…. Best wishes. Tony and Carolyn

    1. Typically the higher the voltage the more efficient the system. Typically people don’t go above 48 volts for campers. To make a higher voltage system like a 24 volt it’s not that you use different batteries but rather how you wire them. By taking two 12v batteries and wiring the together in series you now have a 24 volt battery. I would not consider anything other than Lithium technology for the batteries.

  2. Great write up, lots of great information here!
    We do want people to be aware that we have a VES Classic line, we normally market it towards heavy equipment, but it can be a great solution for Vans/RVs. It is a lower cost option, starting around $3,000.
    We hand make our products and take pride in our quality.

    -Cruise N Comfort USA

  3. Good info and I’m glad to see someone else doing the informed DIY approach to van 12v AC. I went a similar route and also had to charge my unit, but it was worth the trouble for the cost savings. I bought a unit identical to the Mabru RV 12000 direct from Huabon via alibaba for less than half of what Mabru charges (Mabru is fibbing when they say it’s 12k btu, it’s not, it’s 9k). I put this in an old Toyota Sunrader along with a 300ah li battery and 800w of solar and I can run the ac on eco mode from solar while driving. I put in a upgraded alternator that lets me charge at 60A rate from the engine and now I’m in good shape down in the South even when it’s hot. It’s a tricky DIY project because there are a lot of pieces in play but I was able to save a lot of $ and I have a well working off grid AC system now. The type of system you installed is similar in performance to the roof top unit I bought and is a good way to go if you have the DIY skills to put the whole battery/charging system together to run it. Bonus for me is that I can now run the AC while driving to keep the kids cool.

  4. Great post! As someone who loves adventure and spending time off the grid, I’m always on the lookout for reliable and efficient cooling solutions for my campervan. This post has been super helpful in identifying the best 12v air conditioners for my needs. I appreciate the detailed descriptions and comparisons of each option. Thanks for sharing your expertise!

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