Planning a camping trip?
Okay, camping fridges might not be the most exciting topic in the world but there's nothing better than sipping on a cold one with your feet up staring out at the view. Let's jump in.
In a hurry? - here are our picks
1. Best camping fridge for families on a budget - Coleman 28 Quart Xtreme Cooler
2. Best camping fridge for for adventures in hot climates - Dometic RC1200EGP Gas Portable Cooler
3. Best camping fridge for high peformance in tight space - Dometic CoolFreeze CDF 26
4. Best camping fridge for day trips on a budget - Thermos Cool Box
5. Best budget 12V camping fridge - Campingaz power-box plus thermoelectric cooling-box
6. Best camping fridge for a weekend getaway - Dometic CDF-11 10.5 Litre Portable Compressor Fridge Freezer
7. Best camping fridge for serious campers on longer trips - Waeco B40 Hybrid Portable Fridge
Camping Fridge Buying guide
There are four main types of camping fridges and coolers.
Passive Cooler Camping Fridge
These are basically insulated cool boxes with a sealed lid. You keep them cool with ice-blocks or frozen drinks bottles.
Passive coolers are cheap and as they don’t need a power supply you can use them anywhere. They come in a variety of sizes and are easy to transport.
The drawback is that you’ll need to keep refreezing ice blocks for longer trips, although some campsites will freeze them for a small fee. They’re more suited for day and overnight trips.
Thermoelectric Cooler Camping Fridge
These are powered by an electric fan and can be charged either in your car or at home. They’ll keep your stuff cooler than a passive cooler, but their efficiency can be reduced if it’s very hot.
The cheaper ones tend to be noisy and they can drain a car battery very quickly if left charging with the engine off.
Absorption Cooler Camping Fridge
Also known as three-way fridges, these are big beasts, so are ideal for families and longer trips. They run on gas as well as mains electricity and 12V and tend to be more silent than other fridges. You’ll need a ventilated area if you’re running them on gas though, and they can be expensive.
Compressor Fridge Camping Fridge
These bad boys are the Rolls Royces of the camping fridge world. They allow you to set a temperature for your food and some will even freeze it if you want. As the compressor only works when it’s needed, they consume far less power - some are even solar-powered.
They’re expensive, but arguably the best choice if you’re a serious camper.
Things to consider;
Camping Fridge Space
Fridges and coolers can be bulky. You’ll need to consider not only how much space you have in your tent or van, but how you’ll transport and store it.
If you’re unsure what size you’ll need, do a dummy run by packing everything you’d want to take into a cardboard box.
Camping Fridge Cooling capacity
This will depend on what you’ll be storing. Some units offer a freezing option whereas others are just basically a fridge. If it’s going to be particularly hot, you’ll need a more powerful unit.
Camping Fridge Power
Passive coolers don’t need a power supply, though you’ll need to keep refreezing an ice pack.
If the weather is hot or you’re planning a longer trip, you’ll probably need a powered fridge. Do you want to be able to power it from your car battery? Is there a power hook up on the campsite, or do you need an alternative power source? Absorption coolers give you the option of running on gas or sometimes solar power.
Don’t power your fridge from your car battery with the engine off as this will drain it, leaving you with cool food but a long walk home.
Camping Fridge Noise
Some units can be noisy. It’s hard to sleep when they’re emitting a constant hum and you’ll also be the least popular camper on site.
The best fridge or cooler for you will depend on the types of trips you’ll be taking, how long you’ll be going for and how many people you’ll be taking with you. Passive coolers are fine for a day or two but if you go on longer trips you’re better off with a thermoelectric cooler. Consider an absorption or compression cooler if you’re going somewhere particularly hot or off the beaten track.
Camping Fridge FAQs
What’s the best 12V cool box
Ultimately the best one for you is going to depend on what you want it for. See our picks below below.
Can you take a normal fridge camping?
Theoretically, you can, and some people do, but it’s not ideal. For starters, your average kitchen fridge isn’t designed to be lugged around like a camping fridge - they’re much heavier and bulkier - so not great for portable camping. Your back will thank you later.?
They’re only designed to run on mains electricity so if your campsite doesn’t have an electric hook up, you’re pretty much doomed.
If you’re a serious camper, a proper portable camping fridge or portable camping cool box would be your best choice.
What temperature should my camping fridge be?
Ideally, a camping fridge should be 2-3°C. Depending on which you choose, most powered cool boxes will keep food between 15 – 25°C below the outside temperature. If outside temperatures are high though some can lose efficiency - a camping holiday on the continent will test your fridge far more than a trip to Wales.
Can you use a cool box as a camping fridge?
A cool box is never going to keep your food as cold as a proper fridge but can certainly function as one when camping. To use it as effectively as possible, minimise the number of times you open it, fill it as full as possible to prevent cool air escaping when it’s opened and make sure food is already chilled before you pack it. A cool box is great for portable camping though so don't count it out.
What is the best fridge size for camping?
What size camping fridge you buy will depend on the length of the trips you’ll be taking, the number of people and the space you have available. Remember, the bigger the fridge, the more space it will take up and the more juice it needs. If you're home camping, this isn't an issue.
Fridges generally range from around 25-litres capacity all the way up to 80-litre whoppers. As a rule of thumb, you’ll be able to fit around 27 cans in a 25-litre box and 120 cans in an 80-litre box.
Do camping fridges need a fridge freezer?
Whilst some camping fridges do come with a fridge freezer, others are just the fridge alone. If you're going on a longer trip, having a camping fridge with a fridge freezer is super handy. You'll be able to bring things like frozen veggies and ice cubes for the the G and T's, a deal breaker for some. Choosing camping fridges with a fridge freeze can also help save the pennies as you can freeze left overs. Fridge freezer models can require more power and leave less space for stuff that only needs to live in the fridge. So the potentially unsatisfying answer to whether camping fridges need a fridge freezer is..it depends. It depends on your trip type and what you want to cook up.
What does a 3 way fridge mean?
3 way camping fridges AKA absorption fridges are called so because they can be powered 3 ways - 12-24 volt, 240 volt or LPG gas. A 3 way fridge is therefore very flexible in terms of power options. Unlike a compressor fridge, 3 way camping fridges utilise a gas powered heat exchange to remain cool. In super simple terms, they get rid of heat as opposed to create cold.
What are compressor fridges?
A compressor fridge AKA 2 way fridge not surprisingly uses a compressor to generate cooling power. Given the compressor can be powered by both a 240 volt mains power supply or a 12 vol battery. Compressor fridges are sometimes called 2 way fridges. Compressor fridges are often more expensive.