Tents can get pretty hot, and for campers like me who like raging all night in arid climates, it can make life quite challenging, especially when you need to get some sleep.
Fortunately, there’re a couple of solutions to prevent the solar-oven effect of the outside air.
My favorite method is actively cooling my tent using swamp coolers. It’s an awesome DIY that requires minimal resources and is easy to set up.
Here’s a summary of how I make my evaporative cooler for camping:
1) Bucket Preparation
2) Prepping the mesh pad
3) Installing the mesh foam in my bucket
4) Fitting a gardening cloth
5) Creating a Drip Ring & punching drip holes
6) Positioning and Plugging the Power water Pump
7) Mounting fan
8) Finding the right air cooler location
If done correctly, an evaporative cooler will keep your tent cool and help you stay cool even on sunny days. Plus, they consume minimal wattage and water to keep you running through the hottest months.
Of course, understand swamp coolers aren’t the magical panacea. There’re numerous factors to consider like the volume of air, size of the tent, outside conditions, the position of the tent relative to the sun, etcetera.
But if you’ve nailed all these factors, you can bring the conditions in your tent to much more manageable degrees.
That said, let’s now look at how to make an evaporative cooler for camping.
Table of Contents
Parts Needed to Make Evaporative Coolers
1) One 5-gallon bucket
2) One 5-gallon lid
3) One evaporation cooler mesh pad
4) 4’ PE tubing or polyethylene tubing or poly tubing. You could also choose an irrigation tube
5) Garden shade cloth
6) Small cooling fans. I’d suggest the computer cooling fans.
7) Power fountain pump
8) Flex Duct. To direct the cool air flow towards your tent
9) Power source for fan and water pump
10) Miscellaneous parts: wires, power connection cable
I know my list of parts may sound like quite a lot for a simple DIY swamp cooler, but it’s far from that.
Some of these parts have multiple alternatives and are easy to DIY. In addition, the assembly is also quite easy.
- Power drill and hole saw for making holes on the 5-gallin buckets and fan mount holes.
- Drill bits to help mount the fan
- Scissors for cutting the insulation pad
- Ruler for measuring accurate insulation pad dimensions
- Screwdriver for screwing the fan
- Knife or any sharp tool for cutting the poly hose and bucket lid.
- Hole cutter bit for drill
The only consumables you need in constant supply in water supply and power.
For our DIY swamp cooler, expect to use a gallon of water after three hours, assuming there’s no leakage or any anomaly.
So, depending on how long you want to stay cool, you can expect to use 4 gallons a day on the higher side.
Power for Evaporative Coolers (Battery and Solar Panel)
The amount of power is dependent on how long you want to run your swamp cooler. The size will also depend on the type o fan and power pump.
However, a 12V power source is a sufficient option for the regular DIY evaporative cooler setup.
If you don’t have access to direct power or electricity, consider the deep cycle marine battery and solar power. The solar panels, in particular, offer an incredible way to power this rig and keep the warm air away.
Evaporative Coolers Assembly Instructions
Step One: Bucket Preparation
The first step is to cut some holes on the side of the 5-gallon bucket. Use a power drill, and hole saw to make large holes.
Ideally, I’d recommend making holes on the upper 1/3 section of the bucket, ensuring they’re all well above the water level.
Depending on the size of the holes and bucket, you can even make two rows of holes.
Step 2: Prepping cooler mesh pad
The second step is cutting the mesh pad.
Pads are expensive, so you need to make your cuts carefully.
The cut dimensions should match the size of your bucket, but a typical 5-gallon bucket is 13/14” high and about 30/31” around.
Step 3: Installing the mesh pad in your bucket
The next step is rolling the cooler mesh pad into a cylinder.
Then fit the evaporative cooler mesh cylinder in your bucket to see whether it fits. Ideally, the swamp mesh should sit in the bucket but shouldn’t be tight-flush with the inner side of the bucket.
Equally, the bucket lid should fit effortlessly, slightly kissing the top of the blue cooler pad. If the height doesn’t allow fitting of the lid, use scissors to make the necessary adjustment.
Once the pad has a correct fit and everything, bind it together using an adhesive, silicone, or hand-stitch the seam.
You should have a full mesh pad cylinder at the end of it all.
Step 4: Make a second mesh pad
This step isn’t necessary, but if you want to enhance the cooling properties of your swamp cooler, you should consider it.
The process entails making a smaller second mesh pad. I’d recommend cutting your pad to 24” by 13” dimensions.
Next, roll it into a cylinder design as you did with the first foam.
However, you don’t need to hand-stitch or seal the seams of the second cylinder.
Instead, you simply need to fit it inside the bigger foam cylinder. Slip the smaller foam pad inside the first foam, but don’t do it in.
Instead, you should aim at leaving the inner cylinder with an inch popped out to create a bigger and wider evaporative surface.
Step 5: Fit a Garden Cloth
The next step is to fit a screen between the layers of the mesh pad and the bucket’s edge.
I’d recommend using garden cloth.
The garden cloth should help hold the water and moisture in the cooling pad, away from direct contact with the air holes.
Again, this is a complementary method that should help enhance the evaporative and cooling properties of your swamp cooler.
Step 6: Creating a Drip Ring
The sixth step involves creating a “lasso” drip ring.
Items you need for this DIY include a traditional T-junction, knife, or any sharp cutting object and a garden hose.
The branches of the T-junction are quite long for this task, so you start by cutting both sides using a knife to leave at least ½” at each branch. It’ll leave you with a smaller and more manageable T-Junction.
The next step is creating the hose loop. Take your garden hose, and loop it into a circle. Test fit the circle on the blue cylinder you created much earlier.
A good way to make the process effortless is to consider the length you had cut for your mesh pad. Your poly tube should have a similar dimension.
For example, our cooler mesh pad was 30” around, so the poly tube should have a similar length. Be sure to add an inch to accommodate the T-branches.
Once you cut the ideal poly tube length, plug it in the T-Connector branches.
The remaining poly tube should be plugged into the T-stem to complete the lasso. Don’t worry about the height because we’ll trim it later.
Step 7: Punching Dripping Holes
After creating the poly tube loop, the next step should be punching drip holes on the lower side.
Of course, you’ll have first to remove the lasso drip ring from the gallon and flip it downwards on a working table.
From there, you can get a thin piece of wire and a heat source.
Secure your thin wire, nail, or needle with pliers or anything that will keep you from getting burned. Next, heat the wire to make punching the small holes easier.
Of course, you could as well use the brutal force without heating the wire, but it’ll make the process messier and even risk destroying the pipe.
A heated wire makes the process effortless and allows you to drill holes uniformly.
But before drilling, I’d suggest you mark holes evenly on the poly tube, ideally an inch apart.
Next, press the hot wire on the marked section to create nice holes. While at it, don’t apply too much pressure to avoid poking the second layer of the poly tube.
Step 8: Fit Pump
Position your pump at the bottom of the 5-gallon cooler bucket.
Next, install your drip line with the hose from the T-stem directed towards the pump.
Test fit the hose from the T-stem junction and ensure it connects to the pump. There should be a minor slack between the pump and the drip-line lasso.
If there’s an excess of the poly pipe, cut it for a snug fit.
Next, connect the poly pipe to the motor nozzle.
The other crucial step is guiding the power line connectors from the pump to the outside. Make a small notch at the higher sections of the bucket to guide the power wires from the pump to the source of power.
Again, as with the poly pipe connecting to the T-stem, ensure there’s no kinking on the power lines.
Once the power lines and the poly tube are connected, fill your bucket with water. You should never run a fountain pump dry.
If you wish, you could event test the pump to see its performance. The idea behind testing is to see whether the setup can work or whether you missed something. From here, adjust the setup and any device for the best performance.
Step 9: Mount the Fan
Take your bucket, and trace the outline of your fan.
Cut the outline to create the hole that fits the rounded part of your fan. The process should be easier than it sounds.
Next, mount it on the inside. Use silicone adhesives and bolts to secure it in place.
While you can mount the fan on the top of the lid, it works well on the bottom because it compacts the unit. Plus, it helps hold the cooling pad and keep it in position.
After a successful mount, notch a few holes on the bucket to guide the fan’s power lines away.
Step 10: Assembling everything
This step is about double-checking everything to keep you warm on hot days.
Allow the adhesive on the cooling foam to cure. Line up the power cords for the fan and pump.
Consider the bucket, and pay attention to the lid. You should rotate to close the lid while ensuring the fan is mounted properly.
Step 11: Placing the DIY Swamp Cooler
Understand that evaporative coolers are usually positioned outside your tent or structure.
While the flex duct will channel cool air to your outdoor structure, the gallon itself or evaporative cooler should remain outside in the hot air and dry air.
You must keep one of your tent’s window open to avoid getting bogged by the relative humidity of the cold air. Plus, the extra relative humidity will bog down the swamp cooler’s cooling effect.
Understand an evaporative cooler is different from an air conditioner where you want the window kept closed tight for the cooling effects.
Step 12: Powering up
The final step is simply connecting both the fan and the motor to the power.
By now, you should be good to go.
That’s everything you need to know about making an evaporative cooler for tent camping and dry climates.
The assembly process is quite easy and simple, and most of the materials are available in your local hardware store. Plus, you’ve the option of using a solar panel for power generation.
While the DIY evaporative cooler isn’t close to pure air conditioners, it’s much better than a fan blowing hot air. It blows cool air inside and keeps the condition more comfortable.
The evaporative cooler saves you from the summer humid air at an affordable cost.