10 Tips To Keep Your Pets Cool in a Camper Van in the Summer

Leaving pets alone in a camper van for extended periods of time is one of the biggest concerns of pet owners. This is especially true during the summer months when the temperature inside a car can reach up to 138F even if the outside temperature is only 90F. Understandably, how to keep a camper van cool is one of the biggest questions that van life pet owners ask.

For the last four years, we have been traveling with our cat, Maya, in a Ford Transit camper van. We adopted Maya in Guatemala and have traveled with her throughout Central & South America. Our travels have brought us to some considerably hot and humid environments, but we’ve always taken the necessary precautions to keep the inside of our van cool and safe for our cat. And four years later, we’re proud to say that we’ve never once put Maya in a dangerous heat situation.

So, in this post, we want to share our top tips to help keep your camper van cool when traveling during the sweltering summer months. In the end, we even discuss how we keep our van warm during extreme cold weather.

1. Park in Shaded Areas

The #1 thing you can do to prevent your camper van’s interior from getting too hot is to avoid direct sunlight. This usually involves parking in the shade, like under a tree or in the shadow of a tall building. Doing this can keep the van’s internal temperature cooler, even when it’s sweltering outside.

A cat sitting infront of a camper van parked in the shade
Our cat and our camper

If you plan to park the van the whole day, consider the sun’s trajectory across the sky. Your van might be in the shade if you parked it in the morning but it might experience full sun in the afternoon. See if there are spots where you can park that experience shade all day.

Top Tip: Can’t avoid the sun? Park the camper van so the front windshield is pointed away from the sun. This prevents most of the heat from accessing the inside of the vehicle.

2. Get a Windshield Shade

A vehicle can reach up to 48F hotter than the ambient outside temperature because of the heat that comes in through the windows. The inside of a van is similar to a greenhouse; it traps heat.

Camper van with windshield sunshade
Van with windshield sunshade

One of the easiest ways to prevent the sun from heating up a van’s interior is to block the front windshield from the sun with a sunshade. The windshield is the van’s largest window and most significant source of heat intake. Blocking this window with a reflective sunshade allows you to slow down the rate at which the van’s interior heats up.

Below, we recommend some of the most popular sunshades for the Mercedes Sprinter, RAM Promaster, and Ford Transit vans.

3. Get Window Tint Film

Getting UV-blocking window tint film was one of our best decisions, and it continues to help keep our van cool when parked in the sun. With the film on, the intensity of the sun’s rays becomes drastically reduced, and it has helped slow the rate at which our van’s interior warms up. As a side benefit, our van’s A/C works much better at cooling the front cab while we drive.

We applied the window film to all our windows: front windshield, side windows, and rear windows.

Though you can purchase tint film online, we recommend going to a mechanic that supplies 3M window tint. Not only is the 3M film better quality, but putting the film on yourself can be tricky if you don’t have any prior experience.

4. Properly Insulate Your Camper Van

If you are building your camper van from scratch, installing insulation is a must to prevent large temperature swings during the day. We usually think of insulation as keeping a house or van interior warm during the winter, but insulation also plays a vital role in keeping a van cool during the summer months. That’s because insulation blocks the transfer of heat to the inside of the van.

Two people standing inside a DIY camper van
Insulation is essential for internal temperature control

For Example, when we were converting our camper, the van’s interior would get uncomfortably hot in the middle of the day because the van’s sheet metal roof was absorbing the sun’s rays and radiating the heat inside the vehicle. But once we installed the insulation (and walls and ceiling), the van no longer gets as hot.

Learn More About RV Insulation |  Campervan Conversion  Insulation Guide

5. Proper Air Circulation In An RV

Whenever we have to leave our cat alone in the camper van, we crack open our rear windows and turn on our vent fan to exhaust mode. Doing so substantially increases air circulation and removes excess heat trapped in the van’s ceiling (hot air rises, and cool air remains near the floor).

Cat sleeping alone in an RV
Maya sleeping comfortably in our camper

The hotter the day, the faster the speed we set on our vent fan. You would be amazed by just the kind of airflow we can create if the fan is set to ‘high’.

Haven’t selected your vent fan yet? | Read our Maxxair Fan Review

Maxxair | Maxxfan Deluxe

A high-quality vent fan is a top van life essential. It exhausts stale, greasy, & musty air and promotes fresh air flow into the van. The Maxxfan's unique rain cover allows you to continue operating the fan even when it's raining hard outside.

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6. Leave Plenty of Water & Food

Make sure your pets have access to water and food if you plan to be absent more than half a day. Of the two options, ensuring your pet has an adequate water supply is critical during the hot summer months.

Feeding A Cat Inside our RV
Lunch time for Maya!

If you’re a cat owner, feeding your cat wet food is a good idea. This ensures that your cats are fully hydrated before you leave them. This is important because cats usually drink much less water when compared to dogs.

7. Install a Blackout Curtain

Most of the heat that enters a camper van comes from the front. This is because that’s where the largest windows are. And while sunshades and window film work great to block out most of the heat transfer, the front of the van can still get very warm if the vehicle is left out in the sun all day. No insulation works 100%.

Blackout curtains in a camper van
Blackout curtains installed in our van

But you can help to slow down the heat transfer rate between the front and the rear part of the van by installing a blackout curtain. These curtains do a good job of trapping the heat in the front part of the van, and we would estimate gets you an extra hour or two before the rear part of the van becomes dangerously hot.

100% Blackout Curtain
$39.95

Perfect van life addition to separate front cab and rear living quarters. Curtains prevent light from reaching the sleeping area and provide an insulation layer during hot and cold weather.

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02/18/2024 07:41 pm GMT

8. Get an Outdoor Pet Tent

If you’re parked in a safe area, like at a campsite, you can keep your pet cool by keeping them in an outdoor tent enclosure. This is an excellent solution so that your pet can remain outside the van but still in a safe and protected environment.

Portable Cat Tent

Portable enclosure to keep pets safe and prevent them from wandering off in public areas. This lightweight tent sets up in seconds and packs away quickly when not needed.

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9. Install a Temperature Sensor for Pets

An indoor temperature sensor is perfect for those who want to know the exact temperature of the inside of their van at all times. You can set an alarm to receive a text or email if the temperature rises above or below a specified temperature.

However, this sensor does require a monthly subscription to function correctly and so it isn’t the cheapest solution available. But for some, this is a very useful device that provides great peace of mind.

Waggle RV - Safety Temperature Sensor
$199.00

Eliminate uncertainty about the camper's interior temperature while you're away from the van. Does require a cellular subscription to function.

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02/18/2024 08:05 am GMT

10. Install a Diesel Heater To Keep Pet Warm During Winter

When traveling in the winter, you will want to ensure your camper van doesn’t get too cold for your pet. That’s why we recommend installing a diesel heater to keep your van interior warm.

You can find many cheap diesel heaters on Amazon. We bought one, which broke after less than 200 hours of use. And since a reliable heater is vital to winter van life, we can’t confidently recommend one. We eventually replaced our Chinese diesel heater with an Espar heater. They’re significantly more expensive, but we’ve got lots and lots of use out of it. Espar says it works up to 10,000 feet (3,000m), but our Espar has worked consistently when we were as high as 14,000 feet (4,200m).

In terms of keeping your pet warm, the Espar is excellent because you can set a minimum temperature on the thermostat. When the van’s internal temperature falls below this point, the Espar will turn on and heat the interior to your preset temp.

Enjoyed reading? Check out our “Van Life with Cats” guide page for more similar content.

Final Thoughts About Leaving a Pet Alone in an RV

As a pet owner, I’m always concerned about the well-being of my pet, and it can be stressful to leave my cat alone in my camper while I’m out. But with proper preparation, the owners and pets can make the best of the situation.

Cat and dog playing alone under an RV
Maya playing with a new friend

Planning your itinerary ahead instead of being spontaneous is always a good idea. Make sure to have a good parking spot where there might be some shade, less traffic, good air circulation, and plenty of food & water in the RV. 

There are many things to take care of, but don’t let it discourage you from taking your best friend on your journey together. RVs can provide the best way of traveling with pets.

If you have any questions regarding traveling in a camper with a pet, please comment in the section below.

Happy travels!

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