Best Campervan Fridges for Van Life

 

There is nothing better than a quality 12V fridge to keep your food and drinks cold 24/7. If you’re using a standard non-electric cooler in your camper van, you’ll likely incur loads of costs over time from spoiled food and buying ice every couple days, so a 12V fridge can make all the difference.

A portable mini fridge is going to be one of your biggest expenses during your van conversion. That being said, you will want to ensure you’re getting the best camper van fridge for your budget. We researched dozens of fridges to find the best makes and models for any budget or lifestyle. Whether you’re living the van life in a Sprinter, cargo van, VW, skoolie, RV, SUV, minivan, truck or small car, we have a fridge that will be the right fit for you.

 

Types of Fridges [Short Comparison]

There are three types of portable fridges for camper vans:

Compressor Fridges – A.K.A. Two-Way Fridges

Recommended Option

Compressor fridges are cooled by a compressor which circulates a refrigerant liquid, similar to a standard home refrigerator. If you’re a full-time van dweller or on the road quite often, a compressor fridge is probably your best option. They’re incredibly efficient, relatively affordable, safe, reliable and easy to install. They can be used on an incline and are unaffected by the ambient temperature. The only downside is the motors produce some noise, but this is not loud enough to disturb your sleep. 

Gas Fridges – A.K.A. Three-Way, LPG, or Absorption Fridges

As the name implies, these fridges are gas-powered. If you don’t have solar panels, or you don’t want to risk discharging your batteries, then a gas fridge will be your best option. If you’ve ever owned or driven an old camper van or RV, chances are it will have come fitted with one of these. Newer gas fridges run efficiently, silently, and typically have a long lifespan, but they require professional installation, can be dangerous due to carbon monoxide, and the cost of gas may increase your long-term expenses overall. They cannot be used if you are parked on an incline and will only cool to a certain amount below the ambient temperature. You can also power these fridges with electricity, however this works out as a pretty inefficient way to keep your food cool due to the large amount of power required in comparison with a compressor fridge.

Thermoelectric Coolers

Best for Occasional Road Trips

Thermoelectric coolers require a constant 12V supply which they use to power a fan which removes hot air from inside the cooler, creating a cold environment to refrigerate your food and drinks. They can also be used to remove cold air, creating a warm environment. These are very affordable, but much less efficient and cannot reach nearly as low of a temperature as other options as they are affected by the ambient temperature of the room.

 

[Read our full comparison of these three types of fridges]

The Best Campervan Fridges

 

Compressor Fridges

 

Dometic CFX Portable Fridge Freezers – Most Efficient

Recommended model: Dometic CFX3
Price: $799 – $1549

Other sizes/models include:

Dometic CFF 35 L – $799
Dometic CFX3  25L – $899.99
Dometic CFX3  35L – $979.99
Dometic CFX3  45 L – $940.39
Dometic CFX3  55L – $1199.99
Dometic CFX3  100L – $1499.99
Dometic CFX3 Dual Zone  75L – $1399.99
Dometic CFX3 Dual Zone  95L – $1549.99

Dometic portable fridge/freezers have become known as the best campervan fridges for many reasons. They are one of the most efficient portable fridges on the market with an incredibly low power draw (85W), they’re reasonably priced, durable, and loaded with useful features. Standard Dometic coolers include a digital control panel, LED interior light, USB port for charging your phone or other electronics, a drain plug, and removable wire baskets. There are other additional features depending on the specific Dometic model, which are detailed below.

There are 3 main product lines for Dometic fridges/freezers that are best for camper vans:

CFF

The CFF is Dometics’ no frills standard cooler, which is capable of acting as a fridge or freezer. It comes with a double-sided lid and LED screen, and can be set to cool between 0ºF and 50ºF.

CFX3

Every CFX model of Dometic cooler has integrated WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity, which allows users to adjust the fridge temperature remotely via a smartphone app as well as providing energy consumption ratings and diagnostics tools. This model is capable of cooling as low as -22ºC / -7ºF, and is equipped with a separate ice compartment. It uses just 1Ah or 0.56 kWh in a 24 hour period.

CFXDZ

The DZ stands for dual zone, meaning there is a separate freezer compartment with a divider. Although it is a dual zone, it still only has one temperature gauge. But don’t worry, the freezer compartment will still stay colder because the majority of the cold air is trapped in that compartment. If you don’t want to use the freezer, you can remove the divider to allow for more fridge space. The CFXDZ also comes with all of the same features as the CFX3. The key difference is that this model is unfortunately less efficient in terms of power draw, consuming 3.04Ah or 1.68kWh in a 24 hour period. It’s also a bit more expensive.

 

ARB Portable Fridge Freezers – Durable & Long Lasting

 

Recommended model: ARB ZERO 
Price: $1222 – $1936

Other sizes include:
ARB ZERO 38 Quart – $1222
ARB ZERO 47 Quart – $1262
ARB ZERO 63 Quart – $1470
ARB ZERO dual zone 73 Quart – $1742
ARB ZERO dual zone 101 Quart – $1936

 

The ARB portable fridge is overall a fantastic fridge for a camper van and a firm favourite with off-roaders, with its super durable steel frame capable of withstanding a fair few knocks. It has a digital control panel, LED interior light, drain plug, and removable wire baskets.

The dual zone models can both cool and freeze at the same time, or the 73 quart model has a removable divider to create one large cooler- there’s even a boost mode too for rapidly cooling down a six pack at your chosen campsite (or several six packs, as the cooler boasts a capacity large enough to whole 87 cans of beer).

The ZERO cooler comes with Bluetooth connectivity for monitoring and control, a like for like rival to Dometic, plus a 3,000mA outlet for charging mobile devices. The only key differences between the brands are price and power draw, with the ARB ZERO running at a miniscule 9W at a standard cooler temperature.

The ARB Elements range also provides stainless steel-enclosed coolers built to withstand all weathers. 

Whynter Portable Fridge Freezers – Basic Essentials

Recommended model: Whynter FM
Price: $472 – $679

Other sizes include:

Whynter FM-45G (45 Quart) – $472
Whynter FM-65G (65 Quart) – $580
Whynter FM-85G (85 Quart) – $679

The Whynter Portable Fridge Freezers are a good option for the price and are every bit as efficient to run as the Dometic (80W). They have an LED temperature display a fast freeze mode, operating at -8°F to 50°F, although they don’t have a separate freezer compartment, and they’re a bit heavier too. A great entry-level option if you’re not looking for somethingw ith all the bells and whistles of WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity.

Costway Portable Refrigerator Freezer – Most Affordable

Costway 54 Quart Portable Refrigerator Freezer Car Mini Fridge Electric Cooler

Model: Costway 54 Quart
Price: $329

The Costway portable fridge freezer is for anyone living the van life on a budget. This is a very affordable fridge with all the basic features, plus a few surprises. The Costway cooler has Max and Eco modes which cool to between -4°F and 68°F, the outer case is shock proof,  and incredible it even comes with Bluetooth app connectivity for remote operation. It runs at a very modest 45W and can hold up to 60 cans of beer, just in case you were wondering. 

 

Gas Fridges

 

Smad LP Gas Electric 3-Way Absorption Fridge

Price: $449 – $1299

Sizes include:

1.24 cu. ft. – $449
1.4 cu. ft. – $449 
2.12 cu. ft. – $549
3.5 cu. ft. – $1299

The Smad Gas fridge is one of few decent three way gas fridges on the market. A gas fridge isn’t recommended for van life, but if you’re dead set on using gas, the Smad is the way to go. This fridge has adjustable and removable shelves, can be run on 12V, 110V or propane, and will allow for electric hookup if need be. The plus side to these fridges is that without a motor they run completely silently, and can cool to between -0ºF and 50ºF.

Thermoelectric Coolers

 

Wagan Thermoelectric Cooler/Warmer

Size: 46 Quarts
Price: $144

You get what you pay for with this cooler. It’s one of the best fridges for road trippers on a budget. It will keep your food and drinks cold up to 36°F below the ambient temperature and keep your food warm up to 140°F above the ambient temperature. It’s very lightweight and comes with magnetic/removable doors to keep your food cold/warm. Just keep in mind that this fridge is going to take a toll on your battery and have a tough time storing frozen foods.

Koolatron Compact Cooler

Size: 18 Quarts
Price: $120

The Koolatron Cooler is another small, lightweight, affordable option for road trippers. It was designed specifically to fit right in between the driver and passenger seats in your car, truck, or minivan and runs on 12V.

What to Look for in a Portable Camper Van Fridge

 

Fridge Efficiency and Power Draw

Fridge efficiency is really important for van life. If you have yet to buy solar panels and batteries, keep in mind that you will need to spend more money on these if you buy an inefficient fridge.

Most modern 12V refrigerator compressors are very efficient. Of course, some are slightly more efficient than others, but with better building and insulation materials, technology, and configuration, some companies can create a more efficient fridge with a lower power draw.

You should know that the power draw listed by manufacturers is not always completely accurate. Testing conditions vary, making it difficult to provide accurate numbers. To ensure that we provide as accurate information as possible, we looked at the power draw listed by manufacturers along with numerous tests done by independent sources and customer reviews.

Fridge Capacity & Size

Buying a mini fridge without enough capacity will require you to grocery shop more often and require you to dig around in your fridge when you need to find things. On the contrary, buying a fridge that is too big will cost more and take up more precious space in your van. Most van dwellers traveling solo will use a 20 – 40 quart fridge, while couples will use a 40 – 60 quart fridge. Ultimately it comes down to the physical space in which you plan to install your fridge.

Quality, Reliability, and Warranty

You don’t want a fridge that’s going to break down on you or a fridge made with cheap parts that you will need to replace. Having a fridge with a longer warranty like an ARB (3 years) or Dometic (2 years), will not only ensure that you are covered if something happens to your fridge, but it also shows that they are confident that their product will last a long time.

Price

If you’re a full-time van lifer, skimping on an efficient, quality fridge is not recommended. However, portable fridges can get expensive so it’s understandable if you can’t fit one of the best fridges into your budget. Just keep in mind that you will spend much more money in the long run if you buy a cheaper fridge because they won’t last as long, you may need to replace parts, and most importantly, they won’t be as efficient which will require you to spend more on batteries and solar panels in order to make up for it. In terms of saving money, a refrigerator is one area you may not want to scrimp on in your van build.

Technology and Features

Portable campervan fridges have various technology and features that help with efficiency and usability. Here are some of the features you may find useful to keep in mind:

  • WiFi connectivity to change the fridge temperature with a phone app
  • Light up displays to show whether the fridge is currently running
  • Low voltage protection which stops the fridge from running when the batteries get too low
  • LED lighting inside the fridge
  • Drain plug at the bottom of the fridge to make cleaning easier
  • Removable wire baskets
  • Separate freezer compartment

 

Direction the door/lid opens

Chest fridge

Dometic Top Door Fridge Freezer

Chest fridges are more energy efficient, you can fit more items into them, they’re easily portable, and you also don’t need to worry about your food falling out after a bumpy drive. The only downside is it will be more difficult to find your food at the bottom of the fridge, and this can lead to the dreaded fridge juice if you forget about something down there.

Upright Fridge

Smad LP Gas Electric 3-Way Absorption Refrigerator

Upright fridges will make it easier to find your food, but after a bumpy drive, you may find your food falling out. They’re also less efficient, not easily portable, and there will be wasted space because things aren’t stacked on top of each other.

Where to Put your Fridge

You will want to put your fridge near your sink and stove/cooking device – whether this be in the front or back of your conversion van. You will also want your fridge to be easily accessible. If you have a chest fridge, the two best options are to put it in a pull out drawer, or use it as a part of your countertop.

van craft fridge

You can see the fridge on the right side of the van. It’s built into the cabinet so the lid is part of the countertop. Credit to vancraft.com.

 

Freezer Compartment

There are numerous portable fridges that include a separate freezer compartment. Dometic’s CFXDZ models have a divider in their fridge that is removable to allow users to expand the fridge area. Even fridges that don’t have a separate freezer compartment can still reach a freezing temperature on one side of the fridge allowing you to keep necessary items frozen. This, of course, isn’t as reliable and you will inevitably end up with food items that are colder or warmer than desired.

Types of Fridges [Full Comparison]

 

Compressor Fridges – A.K.A. Two-Way Fridges

Recommended Option

Powered by: 12v/24v DC or 120V/V240AC
Price: ranges from $300 to $1,500

Compressor fridges are powered by a compressor, similar to a standard home refrigerator. They’re the best option if you live in a camper van full time or are on the road often.

Pros and Cons

They run much more efficiently than other options when using DC battery power

You will need an electrical source

Does a better job a keeping your fridge cool in hot environments

Up front cost is a bit more expensive

Can find in numerous shapes to fit your camper van

Cheaper in the long run

Very easy to install

They run well when you’re driving or parked on uneven terrain

They run quietly

 

Gas Fridges – A.K.A. Three-Way, LPG, or Absorption Fridges

As the name implies, these fridges are gas powered. They’re not recommended for van life. They should only be used if you don’t have solar panels or you don’t want to periodically recharge your batteries.

Powered by: Gas/LPG or 12v/24v DC, 240V AC
Price: ranges from $400 to $700

Pros and Cons

They run silently

Installation is more difficult – it must be inspected by a registered gas fitter. If it’s not inspected, your warranty will be forfeited and your safety will be at risk.

They typically have a longer lifespan – only needs to be replaced after about 20 years

Gas always poses a safety threat

They run pretty efficiently when using gas

If you’re using batteries to power a gas fridge, it will drain the batteries very quickly

Cost of gas will increase your long-term expenses

Fridge doors typically only open from the front

 

Thermoelectric Coolers

Best for Occasional Road Trips

Thermoelectric coolers use electricity to remove hot air from inside the cooler, creating a cold environment to refrigerate your food and drinks. They can also be used to remove cold air, creating a warm environment. These fridges are only recommended for those taking an occasional road trip.

Powered by 12v/24v DC and some by 240v AC
Price: ranges from $100 to $300

Pros and Cons

Very inexpensive

Uses a lot more battery power

Light weight

Can’t set specific temperature

They don’t require ice

Will not come with a freezer compartment

They can keep warm as well

Can be noisy

Can only reach about 40 degrees Fahrenheit below the ambient air temperature

 

So there we have in! Your in-depth guide to the different kinds of refrigerators, freezers and coolers for your van conversion.

Read more van conversion kitchen essentials: Best Campervan Sink Options

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