Recreational vehicles are a great way to enjoy the country with family and friends during all four seasons. Depending on where you reside, and your journey takes you, summertime trips can be a problem without a solid air conditioner. If you’re looking to beat the heat in your RV, our list of the best small RV air conditioners will ensure you’ll stay cool no matter where you roam in your caravan or camper.
- Best Small Air Conditioners for Recreational Vehicles
- How to find the Best Small RV Air Conditioner
Best Small Air Conditioners for Recreational Vehicles
Dometic Penguin II 641816
- BTU: 15,000
- Style: Rooftop
- Size: 40”W x 11 ¼”H x 29”D
- Weight: 90 lbs.
- Warranty: 2 years
- BTU: 13,500
- Style: Rooftop
- Size: 26.7”W x 39”L x 13”H
- Weight: 98 lbs.
- Warranty: 2 years
- BTU: 7,000
- Style: Portable
- Size: 29.5”H x 19”W x 16”D
- Weight: 60 lbs.
- Warranty: 1-year
- BTU: 8,000
- Style: Portable
- Size: 27”H x 14.6”W x 13.8”D
- Weight: 53 lbs.
- Warranty: 1-year
- BTU: 5,000
- Style: Window
- Size: 12”H x 15.9”W x 13”D
- Weight: 48 lbs.
- Warranty: 1-year
Rooftop air conditioners are the most popular style for most consumers with RVs, but not the best choice if your budget is tight or your roof is thin. With that in mind, our list consists of a mix of systems that are used in recreational vehicles of all kinds.
#1 Dometic Penguin II High Output Air Conditioner
The Best Small Rooftop RV Air Conditioner
While there’s no substitute for a rooftop air conditioner if you want to keep your RV cool for extended periods of time, they aren’t exactly small or low-key. Most of the smallest systems in this class come from Dometic, and the Penguin II series is the best option if you want a small rooftop unit with heating capabilities.
The redesigned Penguin II lineup includes several different systems, including this model, which is rated at 15,000 BTU. That makes it the most powerful air conditioner on our list, and despite the somewhat delicate-looking design, the shroud and other external components are built to last. It’s lightweight, resistant to UV-rays, and aerodynamic to reduce drag.
A rib-reinforced base pan adds durability to this system, while a high-performance motor and fan crank out the airflow. There is a filter you can remove, wash, and replace as needed to go along with a Quick Cooling feature. This RV AC unit will work with ducted or non-ducted installations but is a “base” model with no interior controls.
There are two variants to choose from with this low-profile air conditioner with a white or black upper shroud. You can also choose between a 13,500 or 15,000 BTU unit, although we went with the latter as the current price difference is minimal. With either style or capacity, you’ll get a 2-year warranty from Dometic.
This high-powered unit is the best option for larger RVs that want cooling on demand without the hassle of a portable system. While pricey, it’s well worth the cost given Dometic’s expertise in the field will outlive its warranty by years when seasonally maintained. That said, you will want to keep the installation process in mind as well as additional accessories.
Related Article: Dometic RV Air Conditioner Reviews and Buying Guide
#2 RecPro Low Profile Air Conditioner AC3400
Whether you need a dimmer switch, shower pan, or a new compartment door for your RV, RecPro is a great company to turn to. While they carry several RV air conditioner brands, they also have their own lineup, which includes the low-profile AC3400 rooftop unit.
This sleek rooftop air conditioner has a slightly different style than the Penguin II, but is almost as small. The RecPro AC3400 measures 26.7”W x 39”L x 13”H, so it’s a little taller than that unit and weighs just under 100 pounds. The UV stabilized polypropylene chassis, and canopy is built to withstand the elements, and the company designed it for a low power draw so it won’t overwhelm your system.
The non-ducted nature of this air conditioner will rule it out for some, but it has plenty of pop with an airflow rating of 375 CFM. It’s listed as capable of dealing with areas up to 650 square feet at 13,500 BTU. Consumers found it relatively quiet, and we’d have to agree, considering it’s a little under 60 decibels indoors at full speed.
Unlike other rooftop AC units, the RecPro AC3400 comes with several extras out of the box. The ceiling assembly is included, and so is a remote control. The housing installs cleanly and has a flush LED display to let you know the temperature. As for the remote, it allows you to set a timer, access sleep mode, and adjust the speed and temperature.
The Penguin II has a slightly lower profile and is a few pounds lighter than this system, but doesn’t provide nearly as much bang for the buck. RecPro is well-known in the RV world but not as large of a brand as Dometic or GE, so we could not find many reviews on the AC3400. This system is available in black or white and is backed by a 2-year warranty.
#3 Whynter Elite Dual Hose Portable Air Conditioner
The Best Portable Air Conditioner for Large RVs
Portable air conditioners are great to use as supplemental cooling in your home and in tight spaces like server rooms. You’ll find the Whynter Elite ARC-122DS in both of those locations, but it’s also an excellent system for larger RVs and campers as well.
At 29.5”H x 19”W x 16”D, this portable AC unit isn’t the smallest of its kind, but compact and quiet with a decibel rating of 52dBA on low. It can handle areas around 450 square feet, with an airflow rating of 155 CFM. That particular statistic isn’t impressive, although cooling isn’t the only thing this portable system is capable of.
The Whynter ARC-122DS doubles as a dehumidifier with the capability to remove 76 pints of moisture each day. It has a dual hose venting configuration on the back with two large outlets and two drainage options with continuous or manual. Self-evaporation technology should take care of most of the collected condensation, however.
If you want to circulate air in your RV, fan mode is an option, and you can access all the controls from a small digital panel on the front. A remote control is also included so you can set the timer, temperate, and adjust the speed of the ARC-122DS remotely. Other notable features include an LCDI plug, dual air filters, auto-restart, and three fan speeds.
This portable air conditioner is ready to roll out of the box and comes with an installation kit, including an intake hose and window kit. It’s packed full of useful features and performs as advertised, but you’ll want to consider an extended warranty given the price. Aside from the 1-year guarantee, our only complaint is the airflow compared to other ARC portables from Whynter.
#4 SereneLife Portable Air Conditioner SLPAC8
The Best Small Portable RV Air Conditioner
Portable air conditioners aren’t as expensive as rooftop models, but they can get pricey depending on the brand and features. SereneLife may not be a brand that rings many bells, but they’ll have your attention once you see what the SLPAC8 portable air conditioner brings to the table.
The SereneLife SLPAC8 may not have the same stylish design of the Whynter Elite, but it has just as many features. It has an independent fan mode, cooling mode and can dehumidify a recreational vehicle with ease. The dehumidifier can remove 1.2 liters of water per hour, and the system itself is ideal for spaces up to 225 square feet.
By current standards, the SLPAC8 is rated at 8,000 BTU, which puts it a step ahead of the Elite, although it can’t cover as much area. The lightweight design keeps the weight to manageable 53 pounds, and it’s one of the smaller portable systems at 27”H x 14.6”W x 13.8”D. Large fixed vents on the front of this AC unit allow for ample airflow, but it only has one outlet on the back.
This system has a solid set of features with a 24-hour timer, washable filter, and sleep mode, which lowers the speed while you slumber. It’s also considered a sealed system, so there’s no removable tank for the dehumidifier, only a drain hose, and plug. A universal window kit is included, but you may have to make a few adjustments depending on the type of windows in your RV.
This highly-rated air conditioner won’t take up much space in a recreational vehicle or camper, and it certainly won’t break the bank. It’s best suited for smaller RVs and Fifth Wheel campers, but easy to use and store out of sight. This system is available in three different configurations depending on your needs, including slightly larger models with features like Wi-Fi or heating.
#5 MIDEA Window Air Conditioner MAW05M1BWT
The Best Small Window AC Unit for RVs and Trailers
The term RV is used broadly and can encompass a variety of vehicles. That includes travel trailers you tow behind a truck, along with tiny homes and large fifth wheel campers. If you’re looking for a small system you can hang from a window while you’re at a permanent or temporary campsite, we have an interesting solution in the MIDEA MAW05M1BWT.
While one of the simpler systems on our list, this window AC unit is incredibly easy to use. Two large dials on the front allow you to adjust the thermostat or set the speed. You can use this system in fan-only mode if you just want to circulate air, and there are two speeds to choose from across the board with High and Low.
There are no bells & whistles to speak of on this air conditioner, so it doesn’t come with a remote, and you can’t set a timer. It does have a washable filter, and consumers found it easy to install in a residential setting. For use in an RV, there are a few things you’ll need to keep in mind, including the overall size and weight of the MIDEA MAW05M1BWT.
This AC unit is 12”H x 15.9”W and weighs a little under 50 pounds. You’ll have to make sure the wall of your camper trailer or RV can hold the weight. You also need to ensure that your windows are large enough to accommodate the air conditioner, but should take into account how they actually open as well.
Using a window-based AC unit in an RV isn’t the first option for most consumers, but lightweight systems like the MIDEA MAW05M1BWT are used to cool millions of campers and travel trailers each year. We also like that it’s a self-evaporating unit, so drainage isn’t an issue as long as it’s maintained. This affordable air conditioner comes with a 1-year guarantee from MIDEA.
How to find the Best Small RV Air Conditioner
The first thing you’ll discover when searching for the best small RV air conditioning unit is that there aren’t any truly “small” units available. Some are certainly smaller than others, but these machines have to be a certain size in order to cool an RV or camper. It’s also important to remember that an air conditioner considered large by some consumers may not be by others, as the size of your RV comes into play as well.
Types of Recreational Vehicles
When you think of an RV, you may envision an older airstream or Winnebago along with more modern options that are full of high-tech amenities. While there are far too many types of recreational vehicles for us to cover, most fall into a few select categories.
RVs – Often referred to as motorhomes, a traditional RV has an engine that allows you to drive it to your destination. They come in three different classes as well, with Class A, B, and C motorhomes. An RV that’s Class A is large and can accommodate multiple rooftop systems in some cases, while a Class B recreational vehicle is the smallest and Class C are mid-sized vehicles.
Fifth Wheel Campers – Next to the classic RV, a fifth wheel camper is the next most popular style found on the roads today. These cozy recreational vehicles are towed behind a truck that has a fifth wheel hitch and are cheaper than a wheeled RV but not as large or roomy inside. A variety of AC units will work with these campers, including rooftop systems.
Travel Trailers and Campers – A travel trailer is essentially any type of trailer that can be pulled behind an SUV or truck. There are trailers designed for camping and ones that haul goods or equipment, but both styles are easy to cool. Pop-up campers and are also popular but not suited for a heavy rooftop AC system. With both of these styles, you may want to consider something portable or removable like a window-based AC unit.
Portable or Rooftop Air Conditioner?
While you can find variants and unique air conditioners like the Zero Breeze and Emerson Quiet Kool, many air conditioners geared towards RV’s are rooftop systems or portable. As you’d expect, there are pros and cons to each type of system, which we’re going to break down below.
Rooftop RV Air Conditioners
A rooftop air conditioner for an RV is installed on the roof and can distribute air throughout your motorhome, depending on the type. Ducted and non-ducted models are available, although both require access through the roof. If you don’t have a window that can be used, you’ll have to cut through the top of your camper to install these systems.
This type of air conditioner can be an investment and often require more than just the unit itself for a complete installation. Thermostats, control panels, and air distribution boxes are just a few of the accessories you may need to purchase at an additional cost. If you are uncomfortable dealing with wiring or climbing on the roof of your RV, you’ll need to take the price of a professional installation into account as well.
Portable RV Air Conditioners
Portable AC units are smaller than a rooftop system, but you will lose valuable storage space inside your camper with this type of system. Weight isn’t nearly as important as the overall dimensions, especially height considering most are between 24” to 30” tall. Many of these units have dehumidification features or heat pumps, and the obvious advantage is you can use portable units in your home as well.
Some types of portable RV air conditioners can cost as much as a rooftop model, but most are considerably cheaper and come with more features. You can find portable air conditioners with remote controls, HEPA filtration, and other creature comforts like timers or sleep modes. The drawback to portable systems, aside from space is capacity, and larger units will leave a bigger footprint behind.
In addition to portable and rooftop AC units for recreational vehicles, there are two other types commonly found in these types of vehicles. Window air conditioners are removable, and there are several lightweight models ideal for RVs and campers. There are also under-bench AC units, although they are few and far between compared to other suitable styles.
When you need to measure cooling power in the air conditioning world, the BTU rating is the first thing you’ll want to look for. It’s a specification that you’ll find with any air conditioner sold in the United States, even if it can be somewhat confusing to understand.
BTUs or British Thermal Units is the power rating for AC units, and the larger the number, the more cooling power a system has. This article explains things in detail, although you won’t have to deal with too many variations as most systems fall within a specific range, which tops out around 15,000 BTUs. You don’t necessarily need a high-powered system, however.
Rooftop RV air conditioners are usually sized at 13,500 up to 15,000 BTU. There are some models that fall slightly above or below that mark, like 11,000 BTU systems, but manufacturers stick to those specifications. Recreational vehicles under 32 feet only need one unit, but anything over that length could require two rooftop systems.
If you’re purchasing a portable air conditioner, you won’t have any problem finding the BTU rating but could see two numbers. That’s because the standards changed after June 1, 2016, when rules applying to the testing of portable units were altered to be more consistent against other types of AC units. While bigger numbers still mean more power, the ratings are more accurate.
Warranties and Replacement Parts
When you’re spending $1,000 or more for an air conditioner, it’s a good idea to make sure it’s going to last for more than one season. How it’s used and maintained will play a part in any air conditioner's durability, but the warranty is your first line of defense against a damaged AC unit.
On average, you can expect a warranty between 1 to 2 years from an air conditioner, whether it’s designed to sit on your roof or a portable model. That’s not exactly consoling, considering the cost of some of these systems, so an extended warranty is something to think about.
Replacement parts can also help ease your mind when it comes to systems with a short warranty. You won’t find many with portable air conditioners, but it’s a different story with rooftop models. You can replace almost any part of these systems if something fails, from control boards and capacitors to the shrouds that help protect these units.
As you can see, you don’t have to settle for a rooftop air conditioner or break the bank to pick up a solid unit to keep your RV cool. Just keep the installation process in mind, along with the type of RV you own if you plan on purchasing a rooftop system.