Refrigerators and coolers are ironically a hot topic right now. With the newly refound love for the outdoors, people are flocking to parks and backyards everywhere to hike, camp, and (at least temporarily) live outdoors.
Keeping your food cool has always been a basic consideration. Recently the choices have become overwhelming. How do you choose the best camping fridge? Read on to find out.
16 Best Camping Fridges for 2021
Do you remember camping when you were growing up? My grandparents had these big, metal Coleman coolers. One was full of ice cold pop (that’s what we call soda in the midwest) like Shasta or Cola. The other was full of breakfast and lunch stuff. Mostly soggy sandwiches.
Recent years have seen advancements in cooler technology. First came better insulation and innovative heat sinks. Brands like Yeti and RTIC have hit the market hard.
However, those brands come at a premium. In fact, you may be able to find a portable refrigerator for about the same price. So when considering how to keep your food cool when camping, it opens up many more options. For possibly the first time, a camping refrigerator has become comparable to a high quality cooler.
You have probably already figured that part out. But how do you choose the best camping fridge? What are some of the factors to consider when shopping the available brands?
Best Portable Refrigerators For Camping, Camper Vans, and RVs
When it comes to finding the best portable camping refrigerator, 2 companies have been around and proven their reliability over time: ARB and Dometic.
However, with the growing demand in RV, Vanlife, overlanding, and camping in general there is a growing field of competitors.
So, do you go with the reigning champs? Or are you looking for the next up-and-comer that may knock them out of the top spots?
We have listed the pros and cons of both of the big guys and some of the new guys. Here are a few of the top sellers and growing portable fridge manufacturers today.
Best ARB Camping Fridges
ARB is one of the big guys in this space. An Australian company that now ships all around the world, ARB has become a leader in the portable fridge industry.
And for good reason. Their focus has been on reliability so that their products speak for themselves. They make all kinds of products for overlanding and camping designed to handle the rough conditions of the Australian outback.
Their camping fridges and freezers are no exception. Here are some of ARB’s top camping fridges to choose from:
The ARB Zero is one of the latest releases. They have 2 styles: single (fridge only) or double zone (fridge/freezer). The single zone come in 37Q, 47Q, or 63Q. Their fridge/freezer combo comes in 73Q and 101Q.
ARB’s Classic Series II fridge/freezer combo features smartphone control, dimmable backlit touchpad, with internal led light, and temperature and battery protection. Comes in sizes from 37Q to 82Q.
ARB’s flagship camping refrigerator “Elements” is designed for the elements. Rugged stainless steel make this line of portable fridges perfect for the back of a pickup bed, but can also fit inside your SUV.
Best Dometic Camping Fridges
When it comes to quality, Dometic is another company that doesn’t mess around. One of the biggest names in the portable fridge space, Dometic has been around for a long time. The founders invented absorption refrigerator technology and have been installing them in RV’s since 1956.
With that experience comes refinement in tech and quality. Today, Dometic produces thousands of products in the cooling space. Here are some of their best camping refrigerators:
The Dometic CFX3 Portable Refrigerator and Freezer is built to last. Coming in sizes from 35L to 100L, you will find one to fit your style of camping. Durable construction, efficient compressor, and a convenient app to control it all from your phone.
The Dometic CRX 50T is more of a traditional style front-opening fridge. Featuring 47L of space including a removable freezer compartment. Super efficient with an automatically adjusting fan that reduces the speed based on the ambient temperature.
Dometic also offers a drawer style refrigerator for your truck, overland, or van build. More of a built-in option for dedicated camping vehicles, save space while still providing 30L of refrigeration. The bonus is its size: it only needs 10″ of height to fit.
Best Iceco Camping Fridge
Iceco has come on the market strong. Emerging within the last few years, they have improved the technology in traditional camping refrigerators
Best Engel Camping Fridge
Engel is another company that have been making camp fridge/freezers for a long time. They have a dependable reputation and offer a full line of camping refrigeration products.
Best Norcold Camping Fridge
Norcold is another outdoor and camping fridge manufacturer that aims to balance quality at a lower budget. They are worth looking into if you need to save a little money without sacrificing quality.
Best Whynter Camping Fridge
Whynter offers several good options to keep your camping food cool. This is their best option for mid-range pricing and mid-sized portable refrigerators. Not a bad option when weighing the cost/benefits of a camp fridge.
Best LiON Camping Fridge
LiON is another up and coming company that uses state of the art technology to make camping refrigeration cool. . With a removable battery that can be recharged with solar power.
Best Selling Camping Fridge
Alpicool C15 Portable Camping Refrigerator
Alpicool makes good portable fridges for an affordable price. Don’t rule this one out for a compact option.
Best Budget Camping Fridge
Alpicool CF35 Portable Camping Refrigerator
A solid option for saving money. Highly rated reviews makes this a great value. The 35L is a great size for a weekend trip for a couple of people. Not too big to take up too much room or draw too much power, but big enough for all of your cooling needs.
Best Mid-Range Camping Fridge
Again, Iceco has been busy disrupting the market of camping refrigerators. The VL35 is a perfect weekend warrior for your road trip, van conversion, or overland vehicle.
Best solar powered camping fridge
LiON is focused on providing sustainable power off the grid. The removable battery can be recharged with solar, DC, or AC power.
What we will answer in this article:
- How to choose the best camping fridge?
- What are the different types of refrigerators for camping?
- What is the best size refrigerator for your camping style?
Camping Fridge or Camping Cooler?
Before jumping right into a camping refrigerator, you should consider whether or not you need one. As you will see, quite a few of the electric options are just a powered cooler and not a true refrigerator.
Here are some things to weigh out to help you decide:
- How long will you need to keep your food cool?
- If you need to refrigerate your food for several days, will you have access to bags of ice?
- Will you use it enough that it’s cheaper than buying ice?
- If so, will you be able to power it?
- If you can’t power it with your car or plug into a campsite, will you need to buy a solar or portable generator?
These are just a few thoughts to consider before laying out your hard-earned money on a fridge where a quality camping cooler will suffice.
Having said that, I feel confident that this camping fridge buying guide is the perfect way to make your choice.
Camping Refrigerator FAQ
What is the best fridge for camping?
This really depends on a number of factors which we will cover next. However, for simplicity you can skip to our recommendation now.
What are the different types of camping refrigerators?
There are 3 basic kinds of portable fridges. They are categorized based upon how they cool.
- Compressor Camping Fridge
- Which runs just like your home refrigerator; you can control the temperature precisely
- Absorption Camping Fridge
- Does not have a compressor, but requires heat to power. These are common in RVs and campers because they can run on LP (propane) gas
- Thermoelectric Camping Fridge
- Have no moving parts, which makes them smaller and quieter; however tend to be less efficient and have limited cooling temperatures.
How do you power a fridge when camping?
This question goes along with the previous one. There are 4 basic options:
- AC power, (110v) just like you have at home
- DC power, (12v) just like what you plug into your car.
- Solar power, whether that is with an onboard solar panel or an external one
- Gas power, generally running off of propane (pros and cons of gas power: For RV owners who are budgeting their battery power)
Which is the best 3-way camping fridge?
In addition to the 4 different options for powering your fridge, many new brands are making portable refrigerators that use combinations of AC, DC, solar, or gas power so that you can run your fridge under any circumstances.
What’s the best 12V camping fridge?
12v refrigerators (or DC refrigerators) have been around for a long time. They are commonly found in RVs and so are a popular choice. Because of that, there are a lot of them to choose from.
We have done a roundup of the most popular ones and consider the pros and cons of each below.
However, for quick reference here is our pick for the best 12v camping fridge. ***
What is the Best Fridge for Solar Power When Camping?
This is an increasingly asked question since solar power has become more efficient and portable. Not only do you have the option of 12v power, but many solar generators come with an inverter for AC output.
However, solar has limits on how quickly it can generate electricity, so you want to find the most efficient portable refrigerator possible. Additionally you want to know what your wattage requirements will be from your solar generator.
We include all of that below. The short answer for the best fridge for solar power when camping is Dometic CFX28 12v Electric Powered Cooler, Fridge Freezer
What is More Energy Efficient: Side Door, Drawer Style, or Top Door Camping Fridge?
The top door is the most energy efficient. This is because stacking food helps to hold in the cold. And because the cold air tends to stay at the bottom. When you are quickly opening and closing the lid, more of the cold air stays inside the box.
Frequently asked questions for solar refrigerators
Can you run a refrigerator on solar power?
What is the most energy efficient fridge for solar power?
How many solar panels does it take to power a fridge?
What solar generator will power a refrigerator?
How to Choose The Best Camping Fridge
- Which category of camping fridge do you need?
- What size do you need?
- What is your power source?
- What is your price range?
We have broken this buying guide into categories that help to narrow down the research. When you start shopping for a camping fridge, the options can seem overwhelming.
But I think you will see that the field narrows pretty quickly when you start looking this way. For most of us, the best type of refrigerator is going to be a compressor style. We’ll explain more later.
After you narrow down the type of camping fridge you can move on to the size you need. And that’s not too difficult to do when you consider how big your family is and how much you will need to keep cool.
Next, you will need to know what your power source is. Do you need a camping fridge that runs on DC power only? Will it be plugged into your car or truck? Will you have solar power or a portable generator? Will you have access to regular 110v wall sockets like you do at a campground?
If that sounds like too many questions, don’t worry. We’ll walk you through all of them. Most modern camping fridges come with multiple options, but the main thing is how much power they draw. But we will compare the efficiency of each one to help make the best choice.
Having those settled, it just comes down to your budget. Having eliminated the different types and sizes helps to home in on the best option. If you have deep pockets, the sky’s the limit. But the most expensive is not always the best option.
So, let’s get right into it. We will start with the best kind of refrigerator for your camping needs.
STEP 1 – Category: Which is the Best Type of Camping Fridge For You?
We stated earlier that camping refrigerators fall under 3 categories: compression, absorption, or thermoelectric. If that sounds overly complicated, it is. Basically those are the ways that the fridge stays cool.
But we don’t need to know how they work. We just need to know the pros and cons of each one to choose. So, how do you decide which kind is the best for your camping needs?
Let’s take a look and compare. By comparing the 3 categories, you will see why a compressor fridge will fit what most of us are looking for.
Compressor Camping Refrigerator
- The most energy efficient on electricity
- Temperature setting does not depend on outside air temperature
- Does not need to be perfectly level to work
- Works as a refrigerator or a freezer
- Usually more expensive
This is the top choice of the 3 types of camping fridges because it works just like your home refrigerator. You set the temperature and forget it. It uses the least amount of energy to operate since it doesn’t require continuous power.
The temperature is less affected by the outside air; the other types can only cool up to 30°F (25°C) below ambient temperatures. That means you can lower it to freezer temperatures even in the summertime.
And unlike absorption fridges, it doesn’t need to be perfectly level to work properly. Which is important for camping and overlanding as a perfectly level site isn’t always possible.
Despite the price, there are very few drawbacks to this type of camping fridge.
Best Compressor Camping Refrigerator
Absorption Camping Refrigerator
- Can run on electric or LP (propane)
- Consumes little propane to power
- Inefficient power consumption if running on electricity
- Needs to be perfectly level to operate properly
- Only cools to 30°F (16.5°C) lower than the outside temperature
- Must be vented if running on gas
- Bulky, generally installed in RVs
If you have an RV, you most likely have an absorption refrigerator. They are very efficient when running on propane. While they are usually much bigger than the other types of camping fridges, there is normally a dedicated space in your camper for them.
For most campers though, an absorption fridge just isn’t a good option. You can’t set the thermostat like you can with a compressor style refrigerator. It can only cool to a limited range below the ambient temperature.
Most of them are technically considered 3-way fridges, meaning that you can run on gas, battery, or normal AC power. However, they are very inefficient on electricity. If you will be without gas for any length of time, I wouldn’t recommend relying on them to run very long without completely draining your battery.
Best Absorption Camping Fridge
Thermoelectric Camping Refrigerator
- Can be used to keep food cool or warm
- Very inefficient power consumption
- Cannot set temperature
- Only good for short trips
- Doesn’t work well in warm weather above 77° F (25°C)
Because they draw so much power, thermoelectric fridges are not recommended for overnight camping. It’s ok for keeping food cool on a grocery run or even on a road trip since your battery will recharge as the car is running. But I wouldn’t recommend trying to run it overnight unless you have a big generator.
However, even using one in the car is limited during hot weather since they become less efficient with warmer weather. Thermoelectric refrigerators rely on cooler air to absorb the warm air from inside the box. Above 77° F (25°C) they almost stop working altogether.
Best Thermoelectric Camping Refrigerator
Results: What is the Best Kind of Camping Fridge for You?
As you can see, the best option for most campers is a compressor camping fridge. It is generally the most reliable in a range of weather. It can be set at your desired temperature just like your home refrigerator. They are more energy efficient since they cycle on and off as needed.
For those that have an RV or are converting a van into an RV, you may consider an absorption camping fridge. But only if you can keep it level and well ventilated and have access to propane.
If that is you, we have included the best absorption camping fridges for you.
And for the rare few that only need to cool some food for a day or so and won’t be in warm weather, we will also show the options for the best thermoelectric camping fridge.
But we will focus most of our recommendations on the compressor style.
Choose thermoelectric camping fridge if you:
- Only need to keep food cool for a short trip from the grocery store or picnic
- Like to waste money
Choose an absorption camping fridge if you:
- Have an RV, camper van, or overlanding vehicle that can keep it vented and level
- Are stubborn and just aren’t going to take any reasonable advice
Choose a compressor camping fridge if you:
- Will be refrigerating your food for several days
- Will be using electrical power
- Need to be as efficient as possible
- Want to set the temperature like your home fridge
- Want the option of a refrigerator or a freezer
How to Choose The Best Compressor Camping Fridge For You:
So, you have decided on a compressor style camping fridge. Excellent choice. Now you can start homing in on the best one to fit your needs and budget.
STEP 2 – Size: Choose the Capacity of Your Compressor Camping Fridge
This is going to vary by each person. How much food will you need to keep cool? The more people you will be feeding and the longer you need to keep it cool, the larger the capacity needs to be.
Your home refrigerator is measured in cubic feet. At least in the United States. In most other parts of the world fridge sizes are described in liters.
Most manufacturers of portable camping fridges are going to state the size by either liters or quarts, similar to how they advertise coolers.This can seem confusing, since it’s hard to make an apples-to-apples comparison. If one brand is 45L and the other is 45Q, what is the difference?
It’s safe to say that quarts and liters are roughly the same size. But for a quick way to compare, multiply quarts by 1.05 to find the equivalent in liters. Or multiply liters by 0.95 to calculate the size in quarts.
So to compare a 45L camping fridge to a 45Q one, you can multiply 45L x 0.95 = 42.75Q
Or to compare a 45Q camping fridge to a 45L one, just multiply 45Q x 1.05 = 47.25L
The bottom line is there isn’t a whole lot of difference in size between liters and quarts. Just remember that liters are slightly larger than quarts. And that manufacturers round their numbers.
So the question remains:
What size camping refrigerator do you need?
Ah, yes. I did digress a little bit. However, you will want to know how to estimate the size of your fridge. Here are a few factors to consider:
- How many people?
- If you are going solo, a small 25L may be sufficient.
- For 2-3 people, a 40L would be good for a weekend getaway.
- For 4 or more people, a 50L would be a good minimum for a weekend.
- How long will you be going?
- For the single traveler, figure at least a 35L for a full week.
- For 2-3 people, bump the size up to 50L minimum for 1 week.
- For larger groups, 65L or more for a weeklong trip.
- How much space do you have?
- A camping fridge is going to take up some space.
- Make sure you have the room for it.
- If you don’t have space consider more meals that don’t need refrigeration.
- Or plan more trips to the grocery store during your trip.
STEP 3 – Power: Select a Power Source for Your Camping Fridge
Now that you have figured out the size of portable fridge you need, it’s time to consider how you will run it.
If you have a 12v fridge, it will run off of your car’s battery just fine while your vehicle is running. But what about when you are at the campsite? How will you power your fridge without running your battery down?
While a compressor refrigerator operates very efficiently compared to the other styles of fridges, it will slowly draw power away from whatever it is connected to. If you’re not prepared, it could run your car or truck battery completely out and you will need a jumpstart.
If you are camping at a campsite that has electrical hookups, then you don’t need to worry about it. Just plug it in when you set up camp and you’re good to go.
But if you are planning on any other camping, I suggest you consider your power source. Before you buy a camping refrigerator, it’s important to know how much energy it will draw. You may find a great deal on a fridge, but if it sucks a lot of energy you may wind up spending more on a portable generator.
Which is not the end of the world to have a portable power source. It’s just something to keep in mind when budgeting for a camping fridge. It may cost more than just the appliance.
So, it’s good to check how many amps are required when shopping. Then figure out how to supply it.
Should You Buy a 2-way or 3-way Camping Fridge?
All of that said, I recommend buying a camping fridge that allows for multiple power sources. If it is a 2-way camping fridge, that means you can run it off of 12v battery power or 110v power just like your house has.
If it can run on 12v, that means you can rely on a battery (your vehicle’s or a dedicated one) or a portable generator. You can get portable generators that have multiple power sources like 110v and solar power.
You can also get a small gas powered generator. Most RV’s have these, but must be ventilated properly and are usually mounted outside. And because of their noise, many campgrounds don’t allow them to run overnight.
The only time you need to consider a 3-way camping fridge is if you have an RV or overlanding vehicle that can ventilate and keep the fridge level when running on propane.
For most of us, a 2-way portable fridge is going to be the best option.
In summary, the questions to ask are:
- How much power will it require?
- The bigger the fridge, the more energy it will require
- Will it run off of your car battery?
- Will it have a dedicated battery?
- Will it run off of a portable generator?
- Will it run off of solar power?
- Will you have access to 110v?
- The last thing you want is to find out you don’t have enough juice to keep your juice cool.
- Top Door, Side Door, or Slide Camping Fridge?
- Top Door Fridges are the most efficient
- Top Door Fridges are the most portable
- Side Door Fridges may be easier to grab food or drinks
- Drawer Fridges are compact and work well as a built-in
Best portable camping fridge for campgrounds with 110v power
Best portable camping fridge for overlanding, off roading, and off grid camping
Best portable camping fridge for solar power
STEP 4 – Price: Set Your Camping Fridge Budget
This is an important step in any buying decision. After all, very few of us have an unlimited budget. However, saving money does not always equate to saving money.
For example, if you find the cheapest portable camping fridge you may find that it is poorly insulated or under powered. And the money you saved on the fridge has to be spent on a more powerful generator to keep up.
On the other hand, you more expensive doesn’t always equate to better quality. The old saying goes “you get what you pay for”. Unfortunately some manufacturers have taken advantage of that thinking and charge premium prices for a mediocre model.
So, don’t rely on advertising and price alone. Compressor camping fridges are more expensive than the other styles of portable refrigerators. But they are worth the extra money because they work when you need them. Consider this an investment that will save you money in the long run.
Best Overall Camping Refrigerator
The Wrap Up
So there you have it. A complete run-down of how to choose the best camping fridge for you . And while there are a lot of recommendations, you will find that there are only a few that actually fit your needs.
If you have any questions or need any help, leave a comment below. Or feel free to contact me using the email address at the bottom of the page.
After all of this, you may be wondering if a cooler is all that you need. With the innovation of todays coolers, you can go for days on bag of ice. Look for that review in an upcoming blog post.