Very Effective Fan, Please
April 22, 2012 9:21 PM   Subscribe

Can you recommend a great fan or portable air cooler for travel?

Every July, my kids and I spend a week at a conference that is held at various college campuses. This means we are usually in a dorm with no air conditioning, in a room with windows on only one side, so no hope of cross breezes. We muddle through every year with a couple of old fans, but I'd like to buy something that would make our stay more comfortable. I want either a powerful fan that could do a great job of pulling the cool night air in once the sun goes down, or an in-room cooler like some I've seen online that use water evaporation. I haven't bought a fan since the 90s, and designs seem to have changed a lot, so I could use some guidance.

We travel in our minivan, so space is not much of an issue. And since we expect to keep attending this conference, I'm willing to spend a little money to get something really effective. Recommendations?
posted by not that girl to Shopping (8 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I'm the sort of person who has a fan on all night when I sleep, so with continuous use I've gone through quite a few fans when they simply stop working or become intolerably noisy.

I bought several of these, described as the ‘Chillout 8" Personal Fan’, about seven years ago and they've been fabulous. They're quiet, durable (dropped on a concrete floor a few times without issue), provide a good breeze for the size, and can easily be thrown in a bag with a bunch of clothes for travel.

On the higher end, during a hot summer a couple of years ago I splurged on a Stanley Lasko High-Velocity Blower Fan, though that might be overkill: I usually only use it on the lowest setting because on the highest setting the skin of your face pulls back like the Maxell Guy if you're anywhere near it.
posted by XMLicious at 10:26 PM on April 22, 2012

Oh, another plus of the Stanley fan for you might be that it has two built-in three-prong electrical extension outlets in it, which could be handy for phone chargers and such in a dorm room that's outlet-deficient.
posted by XMLicious at 10:37 PM on April 22, 2012

My husband and I have a couple of these xtreme garage fans from Menards. Somewhat louder than your average fan, but much more powerful. We really like them and they seem to hold up decently well. Not terribly expensive for what you get either.
posted by asciident at 10:52 PM on April 22, 2012

The evaporation cooler things you mention are called "evaporative air coolers" or colloquially "swamp coolers" and it is worth keeping in mind that they only really work in dry environments. The more humid it gets the less well they work, and at 100% ambient humidity they don't work at all. (Except as heavy, wet fans I mean. They still blow air, they just don't cool it.) These bad boys are a great way to cool down a room if you happen to live somewhere where they work well, but they are only portable in a loose sense of the word. They tend to be pretty big and full of water, so they can be quite heavy indeed.

I think what you want is a combination of two fans: a window fan with adjustable sides (to keep out bugs) that pulls air in from outside, and a desk fan (like the first one that XMLicious mentions) or maybe a pedestal fan to blow air over your body. The first will fill the room with cooler air from outside, and the second will help shed the heat that your body generates and disperse it into the room, and also help your sweat evaporate. You might get an oscillating pedestal fan of some kind if you don't want to have a personal desk fan for everyone in the room, you can probably figure out which would suit your needs best.

I can't really recommend specific models, but that would be my general strategy. If you buy a pedestal fan try to buy quality as they can be pretty cheaply made sometimes and can break in plenty of annoying ways. Also keep in mind that if noise is an issue, larger fans tend to be lower pitched and also quieter overall for a given amount of air-moving capacity.
posted by Scientist at 10:56 PM on April 22, 2012

Oh, when I say "window fan" I am talking about something like this or this. That's not an endorsement of either fan (though they have good reviews) but that's the kind of fan I think you want. They'll work even if the window doesn't have a screen (as long as it's a proper double-hung window... dorm windows can be pretty useless) and will bring fresh air into the room. Without a fan in the window you'll just be circulating stale, stuffy air around and around.

Actually, if you're lucky enough to have double-hung windows you might get *two* of that first fan, and put one on the top of the window and one on the bottom (with the top one blowing out and the bottom blowing in) to get some serious ventilation going on.

posted by Scientist at 11:03 PM on April 22, 2012

Argh, tags. I need to go to bed. Good luck!
posted by Scientist at 11:03 PM on April 22, 2012

Response by poster: Scientist, I have that kind of double window fan that can be set to exhaust or intake, and find that almost no dorms have double-hung windows. They almost all have windows that slide open to the side, and it is hard to set up the window fan and usually almost impossible to be able to use it properly.

XMLicious, I like those little personal fans. Oddly, it hadn't occurred to me to go that route, but it occurs to me now that if each of us had our own small fan to position as we liked while we slept that could work very well. Perhaps as a supplement to a window fan.

Thanks, this has been helpful.
posted by not that girl at 6:49 AM on April 23, 2012

Don't forget that you can put a pan of ice in front of a fan to lower the temp.
posted by CathyG at 11:43 AM on April 23, 2012

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