Leaving pets along 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 3 years, we have been traveling with our cat, Maya, in a Ford Transit camper van. We adopted Maya in Guatemala and have traveled all throughout Central & South America with her. 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 3 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. And the end, we even discuss how we keep our van warm during extreme cold weathers.
Not what you need? Check out our “Van Life With Cats” page for more similar content.
1. Park In A Shaded Spot
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. Parking in the shade can often determine whether it’s safe to keep your pet alone in the camper van.
If you plan to park the van for the whole day, think about the trajectory of the sun across the sky. Your van might be in the shade if you parked it in the morning, but might experience full sun in the afternoon. Try to see if there are spots that you can park that experience shade all day long.
2. Get A Windshield Shade
The reason why a vehicle can reach up to 48F hotter than the ambient outside temperature is because of the heat that comes in through the windows. The inside of a van is similar to a greenhouse; it traps heat.
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 biggest window in the van and is the largest source of heat intake. By blocking this window with a reflective sunshade, you can slow down the rate at which the van’s interior heats up.
Below we recommend some of the most popular sunshades for the Sprinter, ProMaster, and Transit vans.
3. Get Window Tint Film
Getting UV-blocking window tint film was one of the best decisions we made that continues to help keep our van cool when parked in the sun. With the film on, the intensity of the sun’s rays is 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 happen to building your camper van from scratch, installing insulation is a must to prevent large temperature swings during the day. We normally 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.
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 along 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 that stays trapped in the van’s ceiling (hot air rises and cool air remains near the floor).
The hotter the day the faster the speed we set on our vent fan. You would be amazed by just the kind of air flow we can create the fan is set to high.
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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 adequate supply of water is critical during the hot summer months.
If you’re a cat owner, it’s a good idea to feed your cat wet food. 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 long. No insulation works 100%.
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.
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 a great solution so that your pet can remain outside the van, but still in a safe and protected environment.
9. Install A Temperature Sensor For Pets
An indoor temperature sensor is perfect for those that want to know the exact temperature of the inside of their van at all times. You can set an alarm so that you can receive a text or email if the temperature rises above or goes below a certain temperature.
However, this sensor does require a monthly subscription to function properly and so it isn’t the cheapest solution available. But for those that have the money to spend, this is a very useful device that provides great peace of mind.
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10. Install A Diesel Heater To Keep Pet Warm During Winter
When traveling in the winter, you will want to make sure 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, but it broke after less than 200 hours of use. And since having a reliable heater is so important 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′ (4,200m).
In terms of keeping your pet warm, the Espar is great because you can set a minimum temperature on the thermostat. And when the van’s internal temperature falls below this point, the Espar will turn on and heat the van’s 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 just leave my cat alone in my camper while I’m out. But with proper preparation not only is it safe to leave your pets behind in an RV, both owners and pets can make the best of the situation.
It is always a good idea to plan your itinerary ahead instead of being spontaneous. Make sure to have a good parking spot where there might be some shade and 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 with you. RVs can really provide the best way of traveling with pets.