Use odds and ends to build a portable, off-the-grid air conditioner

You’ve sent up your tent for camping and are ready to retire for the night. Just you and the Maine summer wilderness.

And, depending on your excursion and tent type, oppressive heat. You’re acres away from the nearest road, much less electrical outlet, and the prospect of the next day’s adventure hike seems less appealing after a night tossing and turning in a pool of your own sweat.

There’s a solution. When planning your next August camping trip, spend an afternoon building your own portable, off-the-grid air conditioner using supplies easily acquired from your local hardware store, if not already kicking around somewhere in your garage.

To be clear, most plans for these do-it-yourself machines involve repurposing five-gallon buckets, so these rustic models are a bit bulky to carry along for extended hikes. But if you’re setting up a base camp with supplies, these can be worth the carry, and the science behind the five-gallon-bucket versions can be scaled to be much smaller — although you’d sacrifice some power in exchange for increased portability.

On the flipside, you can go big and convert a wheeled box cooler into an air conditioner and really freeze out your camping space (that video’s below).

The video above, which was been viewed more than 10 million times, illustrates one way to convert a bucket into an air conditioner. In this case, he uses a portable solar generator to be truly self-sufficient.

Many other, similar directions involve using 12-volt or other batteries — in either case, you’re not plugging these things into wall outlets, so you can set them up out in the woods, or any number of other places where household electricity isn’t handy.

The basic premise behind these air conditioners is that you take a five-gallon-bucket, line the insides with something that filters the moisture from the air, supply the crude device with ice water, then use a small fan to blow the icy air out through holes in the bucket.

You’ll use tubing to run the cold water over the filter layer and keep the air passing through nice and chilly.

You do need to acquire a couple of relatively inexpensive gadgets to run these things, most notably a small water pump (in addition to the fan mentioned above), which you can buy online for between $10 and $20 if you can’t find something similar at your local hardware store.

You’ll also need tools — a power drill with a hole saw is perhaps the most prominent item you’ll need to dig out of your shed, although probably not the only one.

Here are a couple websites with more detailed step-by-step directions on how to pull this project off:

Both sites propose using an old computer fan to blow the air through the makeshift device, and each shows a finished product that lowers the surrounding air temperatures by 20-30 degrees.

The Burning Man post reports that the bucket air conditioner uses two gallons of water every five hours, and about 1.45 amps per hour.

That guide writes that he hooks his air conditioner up to a 105AH deep cycle battery, which can run the machine for 47 hours before it needs to be recharged — easily long enough to cover regular daily use through most camping trips.

They don’t just have to be for camping trips, either. You can keep these projects in mind for workshops or basements without windows available for the standard air conditioning units, as well.