Keep the sun out as much as possible.
Duh. Sounds simple, but when you consider one of the biggest perks of vanlife is having your front door always open, it becomes tricky. Fortunately, there are ways to keep the sun out AND still have your doors open as much as you like.
First, block out the driver cab using reflective window coverings (available for Promaster / Sprinter / Transit / GMC Savana). You can also do as we did and hang thermal insulated blackout curtains between the cab and living space. These provide great privacy, block out light for sleeping, and keep a lot of the heat from the front cab out of the back (equally good in the winter when you don’t want to be losing all your heat out of the front windows)
Second, park smart. Try to angle your van so you aren’t getting direct sunlight in through your door or windows. This might mean changing your parking position throughout the day. If you don’t want to deal with that hassle, orient your door toward the east, as the morning sun isn’t as intense as the afternoon sun.
In fact, due to our fridge placement just across from the sliding door, we have to be really careful about letting afternoon sun in the van because it shines directly on our fridge and heats it a significant amount. Because of that, we recently invested in the Dometic IC CF 40 thermal insulated cover to increase our portable fridge’s cooling efficiency.
Install an awning.
This is the one thing we REALLY wished we had installed early on in our van days (but in Alaska where we built our van, getting one for a reasonable price was tough). This summer, we finally plan on upgrading and getting one!
The Thule Hideaway (available in 10.7’ or 12.3’) is about the best money can buy (but it sure is expensive). It stretches out 8 feet, has a super easy crank opening system, adjustable legs, and spring-loaded tension arms to absorb movement and aid in stability in wind resistance These are roof-mounted, and since not all van roofs are the same, be sure to check and see if you need an adaptor kit. Our Promaster, for instance, takes this Thule Promaster Adaptor.
If you have a shorter van (around 6’) you’ll find lots of cheap options, but the higher your van gets, the most expensive the awnings get.
For a full review of all your options, we highly recommend you check out Outbound Living’s guide to camper van awnings.