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The Best 12V Portable Fridges for Van Life

If you’re planning on living in your van full time or for long stretches, you will probably want to invest in a 12V portable fridge. Fridges can store foods that wouldn’t last in a cooler, so you have a wider variety of meal options. They are also a great way to make your rig feel more like home!

What to Consider Before Buying a 12V Fridge for Van Life

There are a few things you need to consider before deciding on a fridge.

Size

The size of your fridge is extremely important to consider. You want to make sure that it will fit inside your rig, and you might have to design your build around it. Smaller rigs would better fit smaller fridges, and vice versa. You also want to consider how much food the fridge can hold and whether or not that will be enough for you and whoever else might be traveling with you.

Power draw

Power draw is another important factor to consider. You will need to make sure that your power system can run your fridge. If not, you might be dealing with a dead battery and non-functional fridge most of the time.

Some portable fridges have too large of a power draw to be made functional by a portable power station. Keep in mind whether a portable power station would be enough, otherwise, you will likely have to install a full solar power system.

Cost

The cost of a portable fridge can make or break your decision to buy it. Some fridges can go for over $2k, while others can be as low as $200. While more expensive fridges are typically longer-lasting and better overall, you can still find some pretty reliable affordable fridges.

Design

There are several different design factors that are important to keep in mind when buying your 12V portable fridge. This is mostly in order for your fridge to fit well into your build. An upright fridge will need its own space, while a chest-style fridge can fit inside something like a bench.

If you want to place your fridge in a specific part of your build, you want to make sure it opens up the right way. Some portable fridges have started to come with a slider bundle if you’re interested in a slide-out fridge design.

Some fridges also might not have a freezer, so keep in mind what you feel like you need!

Best 12V Portable Fridges

Now, let’s take a look at some of the best 12V portable fridges out there!

Dometic CFX3

These Dometic fridges are all around the most popular 12V portable fridges for van life, and for good reason! Dometic CFX3’s are a dual-zone fridge and freezer with an impressively low power draw. This fridge option is also a little more technically advanced since you can control the temperature levels over WiFi or Bluetooth. It also has an ice maker!

This fridge is designed to withstand any of the rough roads you might find yourself driving down. It also has a battery protection system to help you avoid waking up to a dead battery!

The biggest con with Dometic options is that they are very pricey.

Isotherm Cruise 130

This Isotherm Cruise portable fridge is a fantastic option for people who are more interested in a front-loading fridge! It has a ton of internal space for food storage, plus it comes with a freezer compartment. It also has temperature control to save your battery from dying!

On the downside, front-loading fridges such as this require their own space in your build for you to access it. The freezer section of this fridge is considered to be fairly small by some people. This unit also draws a little more power than top-loading fridges.

Isotherm also highly recommends that you install at least two vents where you store this fridge to allow for proper airflow.

Alpicool CF

These Alpicool 12V portable fridges are a fantastic option for anyone who might be on a budget. For as low as $300, you can get most of the same features as a Dometic fridge. The Alpicool units have both a fridge and freezer section with individual temperatures for each, battery protection, and a pretty low power draw.

These fridges typically have a shorter lifespan and are made out of plastic, so they might not be as reliable to withstand rough roads and the outdoors.

Depending on the size of the fridge you get, some open vertically. You have to put that into consideration with your build as most benches are designed to open horizontally.

Whynter FM

This Whynter fridge is another fairly affordable option at around $500. It is another dual fridge/freezer, but this one also has a fast freezing mode! It is solidly built, making it extremely durable and perfect for a life of travel.

However, these fridges are on the heavier side and can be hard to transport. They are also bulkier and take up more space. There is no interior light inside the fridge and some people have reported some voltage issues.

ARB Classic Series

ARB’s classic series II dual fridges/freezers are advanced and reliable. These are specifically made for off-road vehicles, so you don’t have to worry about durability! These have a low power draw and Bluetooth capability to control the temperature right from your phone. These also have a nice 3-year warranty!

Of course, advanced fridges like these are going to cost a lot more. These also open vertically, so that’s another thing to consider for your build. A few people have reported that the temperature gauge is a little off, but it otherwise runs great.

Costway 55 Quart

Costway’s 55 Quart portable fridge/freezer is another great affordable option. This fridge has great performance in very hot temperatures, and it has anti-shock and anti-shake settings to handle bumpy environments. It has a ton of storage space, is very easy to use, and has battery protection.

It’s important to note that this fridge is NOT a dual fridge/freezer. This means that it can either act as a fridge or a freezer, but not both at the same time. Some people have reported that this fridge has a shorter life span, and the length of the warranty changes depending on where you purchase the fridge. Some also have issues with their latches and lids.

It’s clear that there is a wide range of 12V portable fridges out there to consider. The fridge that you choose depends on what you have in mind for your build, what your budget is, and what fridge characteristics you like! The perfect fridge for one person may not be ideal for another.

It’s also important to take your time while looking for a fridge. There are a lot of different things that you need to consider to ensure you’re picking the right one for you and your circumstances. I hope this article may have helped you narrow down your ideas!

Did we miss any must-know fridges? Let us know in the comments!

  • Jamie Leo is a fairly new vanlifer, traveling the country with her boyfriend in their self-converted van. She recently graduated college with a bachelor's degree in theatre arts and she loves to spend all of her free time hiking, camping, and practicing yoga. Her favorite part of vanlife is exploring new places and new cultures! You catch her and her partner's latest adventure on Instagram @andwhatliesahead.

This post may contain affiliate links or mention our own products, please check out our disclosure policy here.

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9 thoughts on “The Best 12V Portable Fridges for Van Life”

  1. I use a 60 qt dual zone Iceco (VL60) that I’m very happy with. Like the Dometic, it has 2 separate compartments that are individually controlled so you can have a fridge and a freezer or both the same which comes in very handy. Also, this is significantly less expensive than the Dometic as you can get it on sale occasionally for around $700 including shipping. It seems fairly durable as well thus far.

  2. Iceco and Truckfridge are “must-includes” in any thorough review of affordable and quality portable refrigerators. The presented list is little more than a brief summation of the better ones available through Amazon, IMO.

  3. The 12 volt refrigerator from Dometic actually works. I put water in 3 buckets: one in the far back at the bottom of the metal basket, one near the front in a plastic drawer to lift, and one in the front milk compartment. Turn the freezer to 20 degrees. About an hour later, it was 20, and the next morning, 2 of the 3 buckets of water had frozen.

  4. Another thing I like is that you can monitor and set the temperature using the Wi-Fi app, which is a pretty cool feature. You can even charge your mobile devices as it has a USB port – a great way to get the most out of it while you’re camping.

  5. I have the same one as the cover photo, setpower AJ50 fridge, 53qt. It works so great in the past year! Cool very fast and quite and use low power. Really a game changer for a full time vanlifer. I bought it directly from setpower website: https://www.setpowerusa.com/ Less than $400, one third of the price of a big name brand and almost the same performance. Can’t recommend more!

  6. How could you write an article about 12v fridge / freezers and leave out Engle refrigerators. Very low power draw and ultra reliable.

  7. I have one that is a Dometic
    Commiming up on 10 years of heavy use.
    Voltage is issue ITS voltage can be 12 /or 24 . it likes 24 better higher voltage =lower current draw

    Gettinng away from cigarette lighter plug in is a key advantage , you can make a adaptor to use plug ins but you need 10 / 20 amp plug in connection ( double your rated draw)
    Getting voltage exactly right will benifit all of these coolers.

    Avoid coolers that are “Peltier” transistor plate coolers, they call them thermoelectric coolers. They are electricity hogs and dont cool as well . they are inexpensive and work ok to keep sodas and water cold on car trips. Thats it.

    There is a you tube channel called hobotechno he a wizzard here and a deeper dive
    https://youtu.be/CZ-mfLu2frg

    Im bill navy trained dieselmech and gasturbine tech with 45 years of technology under belt

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