The Best Portable Fridge for Traveling by Car or Campervan

You’re going on a road trip and want to keep your drinks and food cold? Do you need an extra small fridge for your camper van or motorhome, or are you looking for something for your car or camping?

Then you need a portable 12-volt fridge. Don’t know which one to choose? Read on; we help you choose the best portable fridge for your car or camper van road trips.

Disclosure: Some of the links on this post are affiliate links, meaning at no additional cost to you, I may earn a small commission if you click through and make a purchase.

The 4 Best 12V Portable Refrigerators

If you don’t want to read the whole post, here’s our selection of the four best portable refrigerators to travel and carry in your vehicle.

Amazon’s Choice: Dometic CFX28 12v Electric Powered Cooler, Fridge Freezer

  • Portable compressor fridge
  • Works at 12V-24V and 100 – 240V (Includes connection cable)
  • Refrigerates and freezes in two separate compartments
  • Freeze -7ºF (22ºC)
  • Capacity 26 liters
  • 1.5-liter bottles enter vertically
  • Weight 28.88 lbs
  • Product dimensions: 13.42” W x 16.69” H x 24.4” D
  • Additional features: USB Port – 5V, 500mA | Wi-Fi connectivity | Drain plug | LED Interior Light | RCM certificate
  • Free shipping on Amazon Prime

Pros: Works on 12/24V and 100-240V; it’s light and has a cooler and freezer.

Cons: it’s small for long trips.

It has more than 500 ratings with a score of almost 5 (5 is the maximum).

Dometic CFX28 12v Electric Powered Cooler, Fridge Freezer
540 Reviews
Dometic CFX28 12v Electric Powered Cooler, Fridge Freezer
  • Your purchase includes one cooler, one manual, one warranty card, one Connection cable for 12/24V connection, one Connection cable for 100-240V connection and removable wire baskets. Uses refrigerant type R134a
  • Portable Cooler dimensions: 13.42” W x 16.69” H x 24.4” D | Weight: 28.88 lbs | Capacity: 26 l | Compressor reach: -7 °F (–22 °C)
  • Additional features: USB Port – 5V, 500mA | Wi-Fi connectivity | Drain plug | LED Interior Light | RCM certificate

Alpicool C40 Portable Refrigerator 12 Volt Car Freezer 42 Quart(40 Liter)

  • FREEZES WITHOUT ICE: -4°F(-20°C)
  • 12/24V and 110 – 240V
  • It also works with small solar systems
  • 3 levels of car battery protection
  • Faster Cooling: Intelligent compressor cooling technology, from 77℉(25℃) to 32℉(0℃) only needs 30 minutes.
  • Capacity 40 liters (42 Quart)
  • Two-liter bottles come in standing up.
  • Handles on the sides for easy transport.
  • Top opening
  • Digital temperature display.
  • Product dimensions : 22.6″ x 14.4″ x 16.5″

Perfect for short road trips and camping

Alpicool C40 Portable Refrigerator 12 Volt Car Freezer 42 Quart(40 Liter) Vehicle,Truck, RV, Boat,...
501 Reviews
Alpicool C40 Portable Refrigerator 12 Volt Car Freezer 42 Quart(40 Liter) Vehicle,Truck, RV, Boat,...
  • FREEZES WITHOUT ICE: -4°F(-20°C) deep chilling down performance ,can be a frigde and freezer. Run great with your small solar system as well.
  • CAR BATTERY PROTECTION:With temperature memory function and 3 different levels for battery protection: Low, Med and High to protect your vehicle battery without run down.
  • STORAGE SPACE:Exterior Size 22.6" x 14.4" x 16.5", 42 Quart(40 Liter) capacity ,fits 54 x 12ozs cans of Cola.Fruit, meat, ice-cream can be kept fresh in our C40 refrigerator.

Dometic CF110 12v Electric Powered Cooler, Fridge Freezer

  • Portable compressor fridge
  • Works at 12V, 24V, and 110 – 240V
  • Low power consumption using AC or DC means it’s great for solar setups or other off-grid applications (CDF11, CF18, CF25 are DC only)
  • 3 level of battery protection
  • Capacity 144 cans | 112 quarts | 106 liters
  • Refrigerates and freezes
  • Temperature from 0 degrees F to 50 degrees F (-18 degree C to +10 degree C)
  • Exceptional performance
  • WLAN and USB connection
  • Dimension: 31.1 x 19.9 x 21.9 inches
  • Weight: 69.9 pounds

It is perfect for road trips, trucks, camper vans, or as an auxiliary fridge in an RV.

Dometic CF110 12v Electric Powered Cooler, Fridge Freezer
12 Reviews
Dometic CF110 12v Electric Powered Cooler, Fridge Freezer
  • No Ice Needed
  • Flexibility- refrigerate or freeze to 0 F
  • Low power consumption using AC or DC means its great for solar setups or other off-grid applications (CDF11, CF18, CF25 are DC only)

Cooler: Coleman Rolling Cooler | 50 Quart Xtreme 5 Day Cooler with Wheels

  • Capacity: 50 Quart (84 cans)
  • Cooler with Wheels
  • Keeps Ice Up to 5 Days

It’s a good cheap option for short road trips.

Sale
Coleman Rolling Cooler | 50 Quart Xtreme 5 Day Cooler with Wheels | Wheeled Hard Cooler Keeps Ice Up...
8,136 Reviews
Coleman Rolling Cooler | 50 Quart Xtreme 5 Day Cooler with Wheels | Wheeled Hard Cooler Keeps Ice Up...
  • Xtreme Technology; Insulated lid and extra wall insulation keep ice up to 5 days in temperatures as high as 90°F
  • HIGH CAPACITY: Holds up to 84 cans
  • HEAVY-DUTY WHEELS: Effortless rolling over any terrain

Free Shipping with Amazon Prime

These four refrigerators have free shipping with Amazon Prime. If you’re not an Amazon Prime subscriber, you can do it for free for 30 days (don’t forget to unsubscribe if you’re not interested), and all your “Prime” orders during this 30-day period will have free shipping.

Best Car and Camper Van Fridge

The best portable electric fridge has to be the one that best suits your travel style and budget. Options range from $20 to $1000 or more.

It all depends on the use you’re going to give it. You can start with an ice cooler fridge (decent) or a thermoelectric refrigerator and then move on to a compressor (the best 12V portable refrigerators), and if you’re going to leave it fixed, you can choose a 3-way fridge.

As you can see, you have many options. For example, if you’re traveling sporadically or just want to try it, you can choose a good quality cooler or thermoelectric connecting to your car’s 12V charger.

If you have a camper van with an electrical system installed with solar panels and auxiliary battery, my recommendation is a 12V compressor fridge; the Dometic is between my favorites and those of many vans and RVs.

Compressor refrigerators can also serve as auxiliary fridges for your RV.

Best car fridge, the best refrigerators are the thermoelectrics that connects to the car’s lighter. You do not need an electrical installation like a compressor fridge need.

(Use the refrigerator connected to the car only with the car turned on)

If you are going camping, you can choose a portable fridge that connects to the 100- 220V power grid. This way, you will keep your drinks cold and the food well preserved.

Different Types of Portable Refrigerators

There are different types of portable refrigerators for your car or camper van. Here’s the one that best suits your travel style and budget.

Portable 12V Compressor Fridge

12V compressor refrigerators are the most popular and the ones you’ll see most during your travels, and for a good reason.

These refrigerators are designed for all types of vehicles, from 4×4 to boats, and are built with durability and efficiency in mind.

12V compressor refrigerators have highly efficient variable speed compressors that consume very little energy, can be used as a refrigerator or freezer.

They come in various configurations, including chest, vertical, and dual-zone refrigerators/freezers – and usually have the ability to operate at an inclination of up to 30 degrees (other types of refrigerators must be kept perfectly level when operating).

This combination of features makes these refrigerators perfect for van life.

Although the compressor refrigerators are amazing, they have one drawback: the cost.

Portable 12V refrigerators are more expensive than other options, and that’s important to keep in mind. Also, since you’re going to need to add an auxiliary battery and a means to charge them (such as solar panels, 110/ 220V connection, or a switch to the vehicle alternator).

If your goal is to turn the van into a wheeled house, investing in a refrigerator with a high-quality 12V compressor is worth it.

And please don’t do like us in our first van, and put a 220V fridge with an inverter. All you’re going to get are headaches and spoil the auxiliary battery too early.

Coolers: Refrigerators that Need Ice to Cool Down

This is the typical portable fridge we’ve all started with. They’re cheap, and you can buy them anywhere, and for it to cool things down, you have to put ice.

Here you have very cheap options ($10 or $20, but they do not keep the cold long.

My recommendation is the ones that are around $80, like the Colemans. They have good insulation, and food can last you fresh food for 2 days.

Portable cooler, car fridge

To not have to use so much ice, you can put frozen food, frozen water bottle, etc.

Choose the ones with a drain for the water to make it easier to keep it clean and don’t rot your food.

And if you’re going to take it, for example, to the beach, choose one with wheels, they are much more comfortable and easy to carry.

Thermoelectric Fridges (The perfect car fridge)

Thermoelectric fridges are fine for short road trips and not too hot places.

Such refrigerators need a 12V connection but do not have the ability to cool below room temperature efficiently.

Although there are some that claim that they can cool 20ºC below room temperature, like the MobicoolQ40.

If you’re looking for something to keep your drinks or snacks cold during your road trips, then a portable thermoelectric fridge can meet your needs as long as you don’t travel to scorching places.

But if you’re looking for a fridge that really refrigerates your meals during your van or camping trips, then my recommendation is to choose 12V compressor refrigerators.

3-way Fridges (not portable)

Trivalent or 3-way refrigerators are the most commonly used in big vans and RV or motorhomes. It’s the one we have today.

They are fixed refrigerators, which need a ventilation outlet from behind and operate at 12V, 100 – 220V, and propane.

It is very efficient when you connect it to propane or 110/ 220V. However, at 12V, it is only used when you are on route, and the engine is turned on.

For us, it is the best option if you are going to leave it fixed in your van and if you have the propane installation, so as not to depend on going to campsites or areas with electricity.

It has very low consumption, a 13kg bottle can last you 2 months, using it every day.

Our fridge is the DOMETIC RM 5380, 80-litre, trivalent, propane-powered, 220V, and 12V (Available in Europe), pretty similar to Dometic RM 2354 (Available in the USA)

The Fridge that Opens Above or in the Front

You have two types of portable refrigerators, the ones that open above or the ones that open in the front (like the ones in the house, but in small).

You can find both models with the same compressors and features and think that you only have to choose the one you like the most.

But they have different advantages, especially if your idea is to use it as a portable fridge, you will find it more interesting than it opens up and now I tell you why.

Chest fridges (with the opening above) tend to be more efficient.

Why? Part of the reason is that cold air naturally stays at the bottom.

With the chest refrigerators, the door is at the top, which means that the cold air will accumulate at the bottom of the refrigerator, where it has nowhere to escape.

But with vertical refrigerators, the cold is preserved thanks to the insulation seal around the door. That’s why every time the door opens, the fridge loses cold.

Because food has a higher thermal density than air, most of the cold in any refrigerator is “stored” in food or drinks inside the refrigerator, so full refrigerators are much easier to keep cool than refrigerators with plenty of space.

And with the layout of the interior shelves of vertical-style refrigerators, you’re likely to end up with wasted empty space on top of your food.

Chest refrigerators have more capacity and are easier to organize

If you’re used to a standard front-opening refrigerator like your home or apartment, this can come as a surprise.

How can it be more difficult to organize a front-opening refrigerator with shelves and drawers than a chest-like refrigerator that forces you to stack items on top of each other?

The refrigerators with a front opening in the homes are huge and give you plenty of space to organize your food.

But in a smaller van refrigerator, empty space is a wasted space that makes the refrigerator compressor work harder (and consume more energy).

Even with the shelves, you still need to stack the items on top of each other, and still, you’re going to need to move the items to get to each other. And you’ll probably end up with a lot of empty air between the top of your food and the bottom of the next shelf.

All of this means wasted space with no real organizational gains.

And if your food moves inside the fridge while driving, you won’t have to worry about everything falling off when you open the door with a chest fridge.

That’s why we no longer buy beer bottles, and now we only buy cans…

In conclusion

Chest refrigerators are easy to carry and easy to accommodate inside your van. But, it depends on the design of your camper van.

Before you decide on a portable chest or front door refrigerator, take a look at your van and answer the following questions:

  • Where are you going to put the portable fridge?
  • Are you going to change the place inside your van?
  • Do you want to have it between the driver’s and co-pilot’s seats?
  • Are you going to get it out of your van?

Electricity Needed for Your Portable Compressor Fridge

Running a 12V refrigerator in your camper van requires an electrical installation consisting of (at least) a 12V power outlet connected to an auxiliary battery (not the car or van battery) and a means to charge it. But how much battery capacity do you need?

Determining the Capacity of Your Auxiliary Battery

To calculate the battery capacity, you need to run your fridge reliably and first find the refrigerator’s average power consumption.

As an example, suppose our refrigerator consumes an average of 2.0 amps per hour.

Over the course of a day (24 hours), a refrigerator that consumes 2.0 amps per hour will consume 48 Ah of the battery.

Since you’re never going to want to drain your battery completely, we recommend that you take its power consumption and double it to determine battery capacity.

Therefore, you would need an auxiliary battery with a minimum capacity of 100 Ah in this example, plus additional capacity for your other electrical charges.

This is our case; we have a 100 Ah auxiliary battery, along with a 100W solar board. Also, a 220V connection serves us to charge the auxiliary battery, the car, and electronic devices.

What to Look for in a Portable 12V Compressor Fridge

Here’s a rundown of what you should look for when evaluating refrigerator options for your camper van:

Price

12V compressor refrigerators can be quite expensive in general, but there is a wide variety of prices between high-end brands and budget brands.

If your budget doesn’t allow you a range refrigerator, we recommend carefully analyzing the least expensive brands.

Just keep in mind that the fridge is an essential part of your camper van and road trips. So it’s better to save a little more and buy something of good quality.

Indoor Capacity and Freezer Capabilities

How much fridge space do you need? Buying a portable camper fridge that’s too big means spending more than you need to and giving up more space in your van.

Furthermore, having a too-small refrigerator means shopping more often. Needs vary from person to person.

In our case, we have a DOMETIC 5380 refrigerator (80 liters) with enough space for a week of fresh food for both of us, a small freezer that works great, and space to put bottles and small food on the door.

Most 12V compressor refrigerators have the ability to function as a refrigerator or freezer. But if you need both at the same time, some brands offer refrigerators/freezers that have separate compartments for each.

Energy Efficiency and Compressor

To not connect to the mains too often, you have to have as efficient as possible devices.

Most 12V portable refrigerators on the market use the same highly efficient variable speed compressor, although some brands like Dometic/Waeco, Engel, and Whynter/Edgestar use their own units.

Exterior Dimensions and Weight

If you already have a designated place where you plan to place the refrigerator, you’ll want to make sure all the options you’re considering fit.

Not all brands have the same size; some are taller, others are wider, even if they have the same interior capacity.

And dimensions can be a determining factor in buying your portable fridge since it has to adjust to your van’s configuration.

Weight is another important factor; if you’re going to transport your fridge regularly, it better be lighter than if you’re going to leave it fixed most of the time.

Cover Opening Direction

As I mentioned above, this may seem like a minor consideration, but it can make a big difference in your van’s configuration. For example, some fridges have hinged lids from behind, while others have side-hinged lids.

Side-hinged lids need less top free space to open completely, and since you’re looking into the refrigerator from the longer side, it can be easier to see and reach the content.

The best lid direction will depend on the specific configuration of your van.

Standard Features and Additional Features

Most 12V portable refrigerators have the following standard features:

  • Ability to operate with an inclination of up to 30º.
  • LED lighting inside the refrigerator.
  • Floor drain plug for easy cleaning.
  • Low voltage cutting to protect your batteries.
  • Removable dividers and organizing baskets.
  • Separate dairy compartment.
  • Some refrigerators include more advanced features such as digital controls, remote readings, Wi-Fi apps, and additional accessories.

Warranty and Reliability

In addition, factory warranties give you some security degree if something goes wrong and needs to be repaired or replaced.

Reputation is also a factor here. Danfoss compressors are known to be reliable, so refrigerators with this compressor are often a safe bet.

Dometic has an excellent reputation for reliability and support, and Engel’s Sawafuji spinning engine is legendary for running for decades without problems.

The 5 Best 12V Portable Refrigerator

These 5 12V portable refrigerators can be purchased from Amazon at the best prices.

The 3 Best Cooler

The 3 Best Thermoelectric Fridges

Best 3-Way Fridges

Although this post is not focused on trivalent refrigerators, here are three options you should consider if you plan to install a trivalent refrigerator in your van or motorhome.

Conclusions

As you can see, there are 4 different types of portable fridges to take away by car or camper van.

Depending on the service you want these refrigerators to give you, your budget, the space in your van if you travel by car, if you have an electrical installation and your travel style, you will choose one refrigerator or another.

In summary, choose a compressor refrigerator if you have an electrical installation in your camper van or an auxiliary fridge in your large volume or motorhome.

Choose a thermoelectric fridge to travel by car and then connect it to the electric grid, in campsites, for example.

Choose 3-way fridges if you’re going to leave them fixed in your van or motorhome. And you have the necessary installation to get the most out of these fridges.

I hope this post has helped you choose your portable fridge to travel. If you have any questions, leave us a comment at the end of the post.

Prepare Your Road Rrip

*For more information about thermoelectric fridges, check out this article on Wikipedia.

Last Updated on 15 October, 2021 by Veronica

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