Sand between your toes, muddy boots, well-soaked dogs…all signs of a great and active camping trip, but most of us would prefer not to have all that muck spreading into our sleeping bags or duvets. We’ve been testing lots of handheld and cordless vacs for keeping campervans, caravans and tents grit- and dust-free.
We can’t recommend any of the super-cheap, low-powered models because the few we tried were useless – no suction and batteries flat within a few minutes. It’s tempting to go for the cheapest, thinking it’s just for the van or the car. A good handheld vac, though, soon becomes indispensable in the house too – more than justifying the extra cost.
Lithium-ion batteries mean you don’t have to run the battery down completely before recharging. In the listing below, we’ve given the manufacturer’s claimed run-time and an indication of what our testers actually found. Cyclonic and bag-free just make suction better and life easier.
The tools you’ll need:
- Crevice tool for getting into narrow places
- A general dusting type tool
- A carpet tool – possibly with a motorised head (though this shortens run-time considerably)
- An extendable hose can be useful, but we found that suction was pretty poor with these.
Our top choice handheld vacs
The Hoover Freedom Handy and the Dyson V6 Trigger were our favourite purely handheld. It’s almost impossible to choose between them – both are really comfortable to use, have battery charges long enough to clean out a campervan and a good range of tools. For the cheaper option, it’s the Hoover; for design perfection, it’s the Dyson.
Our top choice overall is the Vax Blade 2 Max, but you can only justify the price if you’re looking for a new home vac too. It works perfectly at home and for the van. The longest run time and the most suction of any, but at a price.
Very much like the Dyson to look at, but not quite as refined. The Dyson, for example, sits solidly because the base of the dust chamber and the handle are at the same height. The balance in the hand is also not as comfortable. However, these are small design issues and the Hoover is cheaper and has great suction. Like the Dyson, it has a trigger control, but also has a slide-across continuous power button.
It comes with a motorised carpet/pet hair tool, a crevice tool and a dusting brush, and is easy to empty. Filters are easily changed too.
- Weight: 1.6kg
- Suction/power: manufacturer doesn’t state this, but it’s a 22V battery
- Use time: 25 minutes (20 minutes)
- Price: From around £75
Dyson do seem to confuse things with their models. There’s a V6 Trigger, a V6 Pro Trigger, but we also came across a car and boat version (with 12v adapter) and a pet version that looks exactly like the Pro.
Whatever you choose, the V range models are quick to recharge, light to carry and the super-sensitive trigger means you save the battery by starting the motor exactly when you need it. They’re not quiet, but the noise is quite a low pitch, so not annoying. They sit nicely on the base and motor (unlike the Hoover) and feel balanced in the hand.
We used the motorised carpet brush, which was very effective, the crevice tool and the dusting/upholstery tool. The car and boat accessories offer more, but we found suction wasn’t great, especially with a ‘heavy dirt’ tool whose hard bristles created a gap between floor and suction. There are standard and turbo settings, and the latter eats up battery life more quickly. Emptying is easy and clean, the filter is washable and the whole thing feels well-made and not cheap and plasticky.
Our advice would be to choose whichever is on special offer and select extra accessories if your choice doesn’t include them. Overall, we were impressed with the power and sturdiness.
- Weight: 1.3kg (V6) 1.6kg (V6 Pro)
- Suction/power: 20W in normal and 100W in max power (V6), 28W and 100W (V6 Pro)
- Use time: 20 minutes(much less in turbo mode and with the powered head)
- Price: From around £140 to £250, depending on tools and special offers
It looked a beast out of the BIG box so we were prepared to think it was overkill for a campervan. However, we realised that it would make a lot of sense for someone planning to replace their home vac. You’d then have just one efficient machine you could use for the house and for the van or car.
How? Well, you hold the motor and dust chamber, but attach a long, lightweight nozzle that then takes the carpet brush-head. Remove the long nozzle and you have a handheld you can still use with the brush-head for stairs, but which is also perfect for the van with its crevice and upholstery tools.
It’s very sucky with everything except the not-so-useful transparent hose attachment (we couldn’t hold the machine and also manoeuvre the pipe at the same time). You can boost power with one button and choose whether to have the brush-head powered (for carpets) or not (for hard floors).
The Pro tools set includes a crevice attachment with an extending flexible end that we found invaluable for nooks and crannies, especially in the van under seats and in the sliding bed rails.
The strip on the textile/upholstery tool came unstuck after one use, but it wasn’t an essential tool for us; others did the job better. Some kind of pet-hair head would have been useful to include, though.
45 minutes run time is promised and we got close to that with a full charge and on standard power. It was long enough to make light work of a fairly clean house. You get a much shorter time with power boosted and with the brush-head powered, of course.
- Weight: 3.1kg
- Suction/power: Not stated but 40V battery
- Use time: 45 minutes (less in boost mode and with the powered head)
- Price: From around £250 (you can get 32V and previous models more cheaply but we can’t vouch for their power)
The Black & Decker cyclonic is unusual in that it has an integrated hose so you can reach further and higher. The hose wraps around neatly when not in use and it boasts “smart
charge technology”, which apparently makes it faster to charge. There are two crevice tools and soft brush and an easy-to-open side door for dust removal.
We found it rather noisy and suction drops off when the dust-bowl starts to fill. It wasn’t our top choice for pet hair and it’s quite heavy. Very good value, though, and there are even cheaper lower voltage options.
- Weight: 2.28kg
- Suction/power: 18V (suction not stated)
- Use time: 15 minutes (more like 10)
- Price: Around £75
GTech are always advertising in the caravan magazines, so they clearly think this is the device for houseproud campers. We weren’t so sure. The tools are clever (they all store in the machine itself) and the long nozzle is useful, but suction didn’t impress us as much as the others we tried.
We did like the battery indicator, which is missing on the Dyson and Hoover, and battery life was good. It’s niftiest feature, though, is a spotlight. Now you can vac your tent in the dark!
- Weight: 1.6kg
- Suction/power: 22V (suction not stated)
- Use time: 20 minutes (pretty close to that)
- Price: Around £150
The Black and Decker is a little underpowered, but a good budget-buy. The simple pull-out nozzle gives you an extended crevice tool and it’s super-easy to empty. There’s a charging base station, a battery indicator and a filter secor to tell you when it needs cleaning. There’s also a boost mode.
Power is obviously not as good as the Dyson and Hoover, but it’s the cheapest and lightest of the lot.
- Weight: 1kg
- Suction/power: 10.8V, 27W
- Use time: 15 minutes (nearer to 10)
- Price: Around £45