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.
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 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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!