5 Best Portable AC Units

by Michael C. Upton  |  Published May 8, 2023

For many, getting back to nature is a calling fulfilled by camping. Yet, even modest tent or grand RV campers may feel the need to escape the heat. A portable AC unit can be the cooling effect needed for a great camping experience.

Photo: Honeywell 9000

In the world of air conditioners there are basically four categories. Rooftop air conditioners are usually permanently installed, require a lot of space, and although powerful can make a lot of noise. Vent free air conditioners, a.k.a. swap coolers, employ the process of evaporation to force cool air into the space and may not be suitable for all environments. Window air conditioners are installed outside of a window and do not work well with the camping lifestyle. Portable air conditioners are usually compact, easy to install and move, and perfect for RV and tent campers.

There are some things to consider when shopping for an AC unit to use on the next camping adventure. Electricity is key and AC units should match the usual 5–16-amp hook-ups at the camp site. Keep the area peaceful by considering the noise the machine emits and avoid units over 70 dBA. Campers will have to lug the AC unit around, so choose a unit with a manageable weight. As with all AC units, portable units display the amount of cooling effect in BTUs and BTU output should always match the size of the space being cooled; overcooling can result in reduced functionality of the unit.

OUR PICK: Honeywell MN12CES

As attractive as it is powerful, this portable AC unit can quickly cool up to 550 sq. ft of space at the simple touch of a remote. This unit’s ability to double as a dehumidifier and remove up to 66 pints of moisture in a day is an advantage for those camping in high humidity locations. When cooling, the Honeywell MN12CES runs on a self-evaporation system and is equipped with a trademarked Smart Digital Thermostat System allowing for energy savings. A washable filter is designed to protect from dust and hair to extend product life and performance. MN12CES comes with an optional window vent and rolls easily on four casters. The machine is quiet, easy to use, and compact compared to similar units.

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SPACE SAVER: NASUM Personal Space Air Cooler

When it comes to tent friendly portable AC units the NASUM Personal Air Conditioner is lightweight and compact. This unit weighs in at just under 2 pounds and comes with a convenient carry handle. The battery-powered device uses water and ice cubes to cool a small space without the need to plug in. Battery life allows the unit to run steadily for approximately 8 hours and can be recharged via USB port. Environmentally minded campers enjoy this unit’s small carbon footprint. The cooler has three speed settings, high, medium, and low, and can function as an air purifier if run without ice.

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ENERGY SMART: Honeywell 9000

When considering the pros of the Honeywell 9000, energy saving rises to the top. The unit will cool a space of up to 400 sq. ft. using automatic vertical wind motion. Settings can be customized with included remote control to utilize three fan speeds, a sleep mode, and a 24-hour energy saving timer. This unit also serves as a dehumidifier by consuming up to 80 pints of liquid per day. Owners appreciate this unit’s ease of installation and durability. The 9000 is also a top pick among pet owners who enjoy the system’s dual dust filter. Regular maintenance is required for this quiet, energy conscious machine.

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QUIET: Hisense 6000

Simple and quiet, the Hisense 6000 emits enough cool air to chill a 250 sq. ft. space. A quiet compressor and centrifugal fan design provides peaceful operation, 47 dB on low. This unit has only three settings, cooling, fan, and dehumidifier. The unit is fully programable with a 24-hour timer and can be remote operated. It also has an auto shut-off feature for energy savings. Dimmable digital controls make this unit great for sleeping areas. Users appreciate the Hisense 6000’s easy set up but note the unit may take longer than others to cool larger spaces. The unit’s compact size makes it perfect for small campers or rental cabins.

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VALUE: SereneLife SLPAC8

When it comes to bang for the buck, the SereneLife SLPAC8 is a clear winner. It is bigger and heavier than most portable AC units but looks slim and stylish, perfect for an RV. Cooling a space of 215 sq. ft. takes only a few minutes using the automatic swing mode with moving wind vent for maximum air circulation. This unit also serves as a dehumidifier by processing 60 pints of liquid per day. The system has four modes, cooling, heating, dehumidifier, and fan, which can all be accessed by remote. Sleep mode lowers the noise from the motor. The SereneLife SLPAC8 is hundreds of dollars less than comparable models.

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