The traditional camping cooler with ice has made way for the new kid in town–the 12-volt refrigerator. Many campers who once filled coolers with ice to keep food and drinks cold are anxious to ditch the soggy mess of floating food for the cool, dry experience 12v refrigerators offer. Let’s find out why they’ve become so popular.
What Is a 12v Portable Refrigerator?
A 12v portable refrigerator works similarly to your home refrigerator, but 12v refrigerators are far smaller than your home fridge, and they’re capable of running on 12-volt DC power.
This means that you can plug a 12v portable camping refrigerator into a DC port inside a vehicle (commonly referred to as a “cigarette lighter” port) and take its power from the car’s engine battery.
Most come with an AC power adapter as well, so you can plug them into a wall outlet in your home or hotel room.
Benefits of Portable Refrigerators for Camping
There are numerous benefits of a portable refrigerator. Not only can you keep your food and beverages cold and safe for consumption, but you don’t have to buy ice to do it! You also don’t have to deal with the mess of melting ice or soggy and ruined food.
If you travel with medication that needs to be refrigerated, you’ll find another significant benefit to 12v refrigerators. It’s far from ideal to refrigerate medication in a cooler with ice, and it could be dangerous if the temperature isn’t cold enough.
Food safety is a tremendous benefit of 12v refrigerators. Using a thermostatic controlled temperature to protect your meats, dairy, and eggs while camping is priceless!
And unlike the absorption refrigerators that many RVs have, 12v refrigerators don’t require a nearly-perfect level ground to operate properly.
They’re also small enough to fit almost any camping application (as long as you’re not traveling by foot, bicycle, or motorcycle)!
What to Look for When Shopping for a Portable Refrigerator
Size and design are among the top factors to consider when shopping for a portable 12v refrigerator.
Depending on your camping application, the 12v refrigerator you buy should be large enough to accommodate enough food for your travelers for as long as you’re traveling. It must also be small enough to fit your vehicle’s style, located reasonably near a 12v outlet. You might also consider the weight of the fridge, particularly if you’ll need to move the fridge around.
Consider the 12v refrigerator’s design in conjunction with your specific application. Think about things like how the refrigerator’s door opens and vent location.
Shop around for the right price too! While they vary in price, these models tend to be relatively costly, though you’ll no longer be buying ice every few days or wasting money on spoiled food.
Also, think about power consumption. While these refrigerators are highly efficient, some use more power than others. Most importantly, the amount of battery power and solar power you’ll have available to run your refrigerator when you’re off the grid.
Best 12v Portable Refrigerators for Camping
Let’s look at five of the top-rated portable 12v refrigerators for camping to see why they’re considered the best!
- Heavy-duty yet lightweight ExoFrame construction with fender frame protected edges and aluminum alloy handles
- Powerful VMSO3 compressor cooling technology efficiently refrigerates and deep-freezes to –7 °F
The Dometic CFX series rates highly among reviewers for multiple reasons. It’s a 12v refrigerator and freezer. You can use some fridge/freezer combos as a refrigerator OR as a freezer, but not as both at the same time.
The Dometic CFX75 lets you use one side of the unit as a refrigerator and the other as a freezer. Or you can use both sides as a fridge or both sides as a freezer!
A highly sophisticated unit, this portable fridge barely sips power, boasting an efficiency rating greater than many in its class. The average power consumption is 1.3 Ah/hr using AC, DC, or solar-powered batteries.
Reviewers note the ability to leave the fridge plugged in overnight in their vehicle without drawing down the vehicle’s battery. Now, that’s efficiency!
The Dometic CFX75 is heavy, weighing in at 76 pounds, with dimensions of 35.1 x 19.5 x 18.6 inches. It’s a rugged unit with aluminum alloy handles, and it holds 70 liters of food and beverages. For your convenience, it has LED lights, a USB port, and wire baskets.
It uses VMSO3 compressor technology for cooling, and it efficiently cools down to -7 degrees F.
The CFX3 App offers both WiFi and Bluetooth control, and its battery protection mechanism prevents you from waking up to a dead car battery.
Reviewers overwhelmingly rave about the Dometic CFX75 and seem to find it worthy of its hefty $1300 price tag.
- Your purchase includes one cooler, one manual, one warranty card, one Connection cable for 12/24V connection, one...
- Portable Cooler dimensions: 13.42” W x 16.69” H x 24.4” D | Weight: 28.88 lbs | Capacity: 26 l | Compressor reach:...
Rolling at #2 is another Dometic unit, the CFX28. A much smaller unit, this fridge/freezer combo holds 26 liters of contents and measures 13.4 x 24.4 x 16.7 inches. It has removable wire baskets, a drain plug, a USB port, and an LED interior light.
Like its big brother, the CFX28 12v refrigerator can serve as a dual-zone unit, meaning it can be a fridge on one side and a freezer on the other. Or it can serve as only a fridge or only a freezer. It also freezes down to -7 degrees F.
This unit weighs only 29 pounds, but it’s no lightweight. It has steel hinges and sturdy construction; many reviewers note its durability. It has a digital temperature display and is highly efficient and extremely quiet.
- ❄ STORAGE SPACE:Exterior Size 28.5"x14.2"x21.6", 63 Quart(60 Liter) capacity ,fits 78 x 12ozs cans of Cola.
- ❄ DUAL TEMPERATURE CONTROL: Detachable sensor divider to switch single temperature zone or two temperature zone in one...
The Alpicool T60 is a 60-liter, dual temperature 12v refrigerator that measures 28.5 x 14.2 x 21.6 inches. Far less costly than any of the Dometic units at around $350, it can be a fridge only or a fridge or freezer on either side.
This feature is quite rare at this price level, though reviewers say that the compressor runs significantly more when it’s in dual-zone mode. Reviewers have also mentioned that when the fridge is in dual zone mode, the larger side must be the freezer and the refrigerator’s smaller side.
The Alpicool T60 has removable baskets, a drain, and an LED interior light. It weighs 37.5 pounds and sports rear wheels for easy portability. The unit cools down to -4 degrees F and burns 60 watts of power.
- External dimensions: 23.5″ W x 16.5″L x 20.5″ H | Net weight: 45 lb
- 45 Quarts or 60 Cans (12FL oz) capacity; Adjustable temperature range: -8°F to 50°F; LED temperature display; “Fast...
The Whynter FM45-G is 23.5″ W x 16.5″L x 20.5″ H and weighs 45 pounds. It holds 45 quarts of food and beverages, and while it has two sides with removable baskets, it can serve as a refrigerator OR a freezer. But not both simultaneously.
With the ability to freeze down to -8 degrees F, this 12v refrigerator has a drain plug, and stainless steel side handles. Whynter rates the power consumption of the FM45-G as 65 watts.
Reviewers seem to like this 12v refrigerator and think it performs well for around $470. Some note the 45-pound weight as heavy, particularly in terms of portability. They also report their appreciation for the ruggedness of the unit overall.
Costway Dual Zone Portable 12v Refrigerator
- ❄️ 【A Multi-voltage System】This portable car refrigerator operates at 12V/24V DC and 100V~240V AC power source,...
- ❄️【Large Capacity】With a capacity of 55 quarts, the compressor car refrigerator is able to hold 84 bottles 330ml...
Rounding out the five best 12v refrigerators is the Costway Dual Zone 55-quart portable refrigerator/freezer. Weighing in at 36 pounds, it measures 27 x 13.5 x 21 inches. With a stated temperature range of -4 to 50 degrees F, this is a dual-zone unit, but it will serve as a refrigerator OR a freezer, not both at the same time.
This unit features removable baskets, an LCD display panel, an LED interior light, and handles on both sides. Best of all, it’s a large-capacity unit that holds a lot of food and beverages.
Note that its battery protection system shuts down power to the refrigerator if your vehicle’s battery drops to a certain level. If you travel with a dedicated house battery or a solar panel, this should not be an issue for you. Road trippers who leave their refrigerator plugged into their battery long-term when the engine isn’t running will love this feature.
Still, reviewers find this unit a relative power sipper considering its size and cooling capacity.
Which Refrigerator Will You Choose?
Most consumers who buy a 12v refrigerator never look back! These portable refrigerator/freezers have been game-changers for campers and travelers of all types. Gone are the days of filling a cooler with ice, infrequently opening it, and digging soggy food out of cold water.
Whether you’re a road tripper with a big family, or you’re a long-term boondocker who uses solar power, there should be a perfect 12v refrigerator for you!
Last update on 2021-09-20 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API