There’s nothing like having a refrigerator in your van to really bring the comforts of home on the road.

Refrigeration means you can store fresh food and other cold items – like vegetables, dairy, meat, “booch,” and beer. It means you don’t have to fuss with a cooler full of ice and water-logged food. And even though campervan refrigerators aren’t cheap, having one means saving money (and eating healthier) by cooking your own meals.

A good 12V fridge is one of the biggest investments you’ll make when building your van. And you need to know that the fridge you’re getting will meet your needs and hold up to the daily grind of life on the road, all while staying within your budget.

The world of 12V fridges has grown quite confusing, with newer budget players like Iceco, Alpicool, and Costway entering the market, and major brands like Dometic and ARB getting more and more expensive.

In this post, we help you wade through all the vanlife refrigeration options, from cheap to top-of-the-line to DIY. We go over the pros and cons of the best 12V refrigerator models. We discuss whether those expensive fridges are really worth the cost, and what you may be giving up with the cheaper units.

So read on and discover the best refrigeration solution for your rig!

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The Best 12V Refrigerators

After extensive research and testing, we’ve narrowed the huge list of vanlife refrigerators down to a handful of fridges that we recommend. Below are our top picks for best overall value, best high end/upgrade fridge, and best budget 12V refrigerator (we recommend additional options in each category further down in this post).

Best Overall Value
ICECO VL-Series 12V Fridges

Sporting the ultra-efficient Danfoss SECOP compressor and stainless steel construction, these fridges have everything you need for life on the road for about half the cost of higher end units.

Available in sizes from 45 to 74 liters, and both single and dual zone.

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In our opinion, Iceco refrigerators are the best overall value for portable refrigerators in the vanlife space. They offer an excellent combination of top quality components, rugged construction, performance on par with higher end fridges, and affordable pricing that’s tough to beat. They come in a variety of sizes to fit any need, from smaller single-zone to large dual-zone, and offer different form factors in their JP-series.

Upgrade Pick #1
Dometic CFX3 12V Fridges

Featuring best-in-class energy efficiency, cutting edge technology, rugged build quality, and overall reliability, CFX3 fridges are the top choice of many vanlifers for good reason.

Available in sizes from 24 to 99 liters, and in both single and dual zone.

Use coupon code Gnomad for 5% off + free shipping at Dometic.com.

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The Dometic CFX3-series represents the top of the line when it comes to vanlife refrigerators. These fridges are extremely energy efficient, packed with advanced digital features, and come from Dometic’s well-known pedigree of producing rugged and innovative and mobile living appliances. The only real downside is higher cost, but that may be worth it to you if you want the best of the best for your rig.

Budget Pick #1
BougeRV 12V Refrigerators

Solid and inexpensive 12V vanlife refrigerators. Available in a range of sizes from 30 quart (28L) up to 53 quart (50L).

Coupon Codes

  • Use Gnomad90 for $90 off the 53-Qt fridge.
  • Use Gnomad15 for 15% off all other refrigerators.
  • Use Gnomad10 for 10% off sitewide.
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BougeRV portable refrigerators offer incredible bang for your buck. They are well made, highly efficient DC refrigerators with all the basic features, and they’re less than 1/3 the cost of the high end brands (with discounts). And unlike some other cheap 12V fridges, this fridge has a brand behind it that’s committed to the product and the vanlife space. If you want refrigeration in your van without breaking your budget, BougeRV is a great option.

Read on for a guide on what to look for when selecting a refrigerator for your van. There is a lot of good info here that we advise checking out. Or, if you prefer, you can skip to our list of recommendations.

Jump to detailed 12V fridge comparison>>>

Different Types of Vanlife Refrigeration

different vanlife fridges @captainelsewhere
Photo by @captainelsewhere

There are a few different options for keeping food cold in your van. Here’s a breakdown:

12V Compressor Fridges (best overall option for full-timers)

Dometic CFX 50W 12v Electric Powered Portable Cooler, Fridge Freezer

Compressor fridges are the most common type of fridge you’ll see on the road, and for good reason. These fridges are often designed for use in 4×4 vehicles and boats, and they’re built with durability and efficiency in mind – two things you really need in an off-grid adventure vehicle.

12V compressor fridges have highly efficient, variable speed compressors that draw very little power, they can be used as either a fridge or a freezer, they come in a variety of configurations – including chest-style, upright, and dual-zone fridge/freezers – and they typically have the ability to run while at an incline of up to 30 degrees (other types of fridges need to be kept perfectly level when running). This combination of features makes these fridges perfect for vanlife.

Even though compressor fridges are awesome, they do have a downside – cost. Portable 12V fridges are more expensive than other options, and that’s before you factor in the need to add auxiliary batteries and a means to charge them (like solar panels or a battery isolator).

But if your goal is to turn your van into a comfy, off-grid mobile dwelling, investing in a high quality 12V compressor fridge is totally worth the cost.

Build Your Own Inexpensive Fridge (best option for DIY-ers on a budget)

Midea MRC04M3AWW Single Door Chest Freezer, 3.5 Cubic Feet, White

If you’re DIY-oriented – and let’s face it, if you’re reading this blog, you probably are – then you can build your own fairly efficient fridge out of a chest freezer. Freezers tend to have thicker insulation than fridges, which means that your DIY fridge will be more efficient than a standard mini-fridge.

The general idea is to take a chest freezer, plug it into a small inverter, and wire it to a thermostat that you set to fridge temperatures. The thermostat is connected to a relay that kicks the inverter on and off as needed. When the temperature inside the fridge rises above our target, the relay turns the inverter on. Once the fridge reaches the low temperature you set, the relay turns off the inverter. This prevents it from cooling too much, and also prevents power drain from leaving the inverter on all the time.

The big benefit here is cost – you can make a real, working refrigerator for a fraction of the cost of a purpose-built 12V portable unit. But as with anything, there are drawbacks. These fridges may not be quite as efficient as 12V fridges, and you’ll have to sink some time into building this setup.

Chest freezers tend to be quite large, and many of the smaller ones are – we couldn’t find many smaller than 3.5 cubic feet, which is twice the size of a 50 L portable fridge – so if you need something smaller for your van, you’ll have to go with an upright freezer instead. But the same general idea applies for converting it to a DIY vanlife fridge.

Here are some tutorials we’ve found detailing a DIY fridge conversion:

Standard Coolers (Best for Shoestring Budgets)

Engel ENG65 High Performance Cooler - Tan, Engel 65 High Performance Hard Cooler and Ice Box

If you’re just beginning your vanlife journey and don’t want to throw down for an expensive fridge and electrical system right away, then a good cooler can get you started for a minimal cost. Many high performance coolers can hold ice for 5-10 days, giving you plenty of time off in the wilderness before you need to restock.

Coolers do have many drawbacks that make them less than ideal for full time living. The cost of ice adds up, not to mention all the time and effort it takes to hunt down ice when you need it, periodically dump out any ice melt, and deal with potentially water-logged food.

But if you’re a weekender, or if you’re just testing out this whole vanlife thing, or if you’re on a shoestring budget – then a good cooler is a greatoption for keeping your food cold on the cheap. Remember, you can always upgrade your van down the road as your needs and budget change.

Thermoelectric Coolers (Fine for Roadtrippers, Not Recommended for Van Living)

Coleman Cooler| 40-Quart Portable Cooler | Iceless Electric Cooler with cooling technology up to 40°F  for Picnics, BBQs, camping, tailgates and Outdoors

Thermoelectric coolers plug into a 12V power source, and have the ability to chill their contents without ice. But they’re just not ideal for living in a van.

Thermoelectric coolers only have the ability to cool 40° or less below ambient temperature – which is fine if you spend all of your time in cool weather, but if the outside temperature is above 78° you probably won’t want to store meat or dairy in one. They also draw much more power than 12V compressor fridges, making them difficult to run on an off grid electrical system.

If all you want is something to keep drinks or snacks cold during road trips, then a thermoelectric cooler just might fit your needs. But if you want refrigeration for camping or boondocking, then an actual 12V fridge or standard cooler are far better choices.

3-Way Absorption Fridges (Not Recommended for Vanlife)

Smad Small Propane Fridge 3 Way Refrigerator for RV Outdoor Camper Gas 110V 12V,1.4 Cu.ft.

3-way absorption fridges are more commonly found in RVs, and in our opinion don’t make much sense for vanlife. These types of fridges can run on 12V DC, 110V AC, or propane, giving you a variety of options to keep your food cold. But they’re wildly inefficient on 12V DC power, running them all the time on 110V AC means additional drain from your inverter, and running them on propane means you have more fuel lines to deal with (and you’ll have to vent the fridge to the outside).

Another huge drawback is that absorption fridges need to be completely level to function properly – and unless you spend all your time in RV parks, perfectly level ground can be difficult to find. When you’re living in a van, you really need a go-anywhere fridge that’s also energy efficient, and 3-way absorption fridges just don’t fit the bill.

Chest-style vs. Upright Fridges: What’s Best for Your Build?

chest fridge in layout original @wildwheelswander
Photo by @wildwheelswander

In the world of 12V DC compressor fridges, there are two broad styles: top-opening chest fridges, and front-opening upright fridges.

Many upright fridges run the exact same compressors as their chest-style cousins, so you would think that choosing between the two is simply a matter of how you prefer to access and organize your refrigerated food. But chest-style fridges have some big advantages over upright fridges that in our opinion makes chest fridges the best choice for off-grid campervans.

Chest Fridges are More Energy Efficient.

When you’re boondocking in the wilderness with your batteries and solar panels as your only power source, energy efficiency is a prime consideration. And chest fridges are generally more energy efficient than upright fridges.

Why is this the case? Part of the reason is that cold air naturally sinks. With chest fridges, the door is at the top, which means that cold air will pool at the bottom of the fridge where it has nowhere to escape. But with upright fridges you’re relying on the insulation seal around the door to keep cold air in when the door is shut, and any accumulated cold air will spill out whenever the door is opened.

Since food has a higher thermal density than air, most of the cold in any fridge is actually “stored” in the food (or beer) inside the fridge, so fridges that are packed full are much easier to keep cool than fridges with a lot of empty space. And with the interior shelf arrangement of upright-style fridges, it’s likely that you’ll end up with wasted empty space on top of your food items.

All of this means that upright fridges have to run longer to keep your food cold, which equals a bigger drain on your batteries.

Chest Fridges Hold More and are Easier to Organize

If you’re used to a standard front-open refrigerator in your house or apartment, then this may come as a surprise. How can a front-open fridge with shelves and drawers be tougher to organize than a chest fridge that forces you to stack items on top of each other?

The front-open fridges in stationary dwellings are huge, and give you plenty of space to spread out and organize your food items. But in a smaller van fridge, empty space is wasted space that just makes your fridge’s compressor work harder (and draw more power). Even with shelving, you still need to stack items on top of each other and you still need to shift items around to get to others. And you’ll likely end up with a ton of empty air between the top of your food and the bottom of the next shelf. All of this means wasted space without any real gains in organization.

The top-down layout of chest fridges allows you to tightly pack them to fit more stuff and eliminate any wasted space. Most chest-style fridges also come with dividers and dairy compartments, which help a lot with organization.

And if your food shifts around inside the fridge while you’re bouncing down those gnarly backroads, with a chest fridge you won’t have to worry about your eggs flying out at you when you get to your campsite and open the fridge to grab a cold one.

Chest Fridges Are Portable and Can Double as Coolers in Emergencies

Chest fridges are shaped and configured like coolers, and include handles for easy portability. This allows you to move your fridge around your van, bring it inside and plug it into 110V AC if you’re stationary somewhere, or stow it outside in cool weather for greater energy efficiency. All of this is more difficult with an upright fridge.

Many chest fridges also feature drain plugs at the bottom. These plugs make cleaning easier, but they also allow your fridge to double as a cooler if for some reason you lose electricity. Just dump ice in your fridge like you would a standard cooler, and pull the drain plug as needed to remove ice melt. This is something you just can’t do with a front-opening upright fridge.

Which One is Better for Your Layout? It’s All About Preference

Upright fridge in van @h2ovanagon
Photo by @h2ovanagon

One big reason some vanlifers choose upright fridges over chest fridges is their layout. Upright fridges have a smaller footprint, which can make them easier to incorporate into a floor plan. Since they open from the front, you don’t need to make sure there’s enough overhead space to open the lid, like you do with chest fridges (to make this less of an issue, you can buy a fridge slide or make your own).

But there are some things to consider when incorporating an upright fridge into your layout. First, it will likely need to be permanently mounted, whereas chest fridges are portable and can be easily moved. Also, you may have to get down on your hands and knees to see inside an upright, unless you mount it on a cabinet a few feet off the floor. With chest fridges, it’s easy to look straight down and see all the contents.

We think chest fridges are the way to go, but the best 12V compressor fridge for you ultimately comes down to your needs and preferences. Here’s a quick overview of pros and cons to help you decide:

Chest Fridges

Pros

  • More energy efficient
  • Greater usable capacity
  • Can easily see all contents of the fridge
  • Rugged and portable
  • Can be used as an extra seat
  • Can be used as a cooler in emergencies

Cons

  • May be tougher to incorporate into a floor plan
  • Need space above for lid to open (or mount it on a fridge slide)
  • Some may not like “top down” organization

Upright Fridges

Pros

  • Smaller footprint may help with planning a layout
  • Less of a “learning curve” to transition from a standard refrigerator
  • Generally lighter and less expensive

Cons

  • Not as energy efficient
  • Internal layout means more wasted space
  • Not easily portable
  • Tougher to see inside (unless mounted high up)
  • Food items may shift around while driving, and fly out when you open the door

How Much Electrical Capacity Do You Need to Run a Fridge?

electrical capacity for fridge

Running a 12V fridge in your van requires an electrical setup that consists of (at a minimum) a 12V outlet connected to an auxiliary battery (not your starting battery), and a means to charge it. But how much battery capacity do you need?

Determining Your Battery Capacity

To calculate how much battery capacity you need to reliably run your fridge, first find your fridge’s average power draw.

As an example, let’s assume our fridge draws an average of 2.0 Amps per hour.

Over the course of one day (24 hours), a fridge drawing 2.0 Amps per hour will drain 48 Ah from your battery.

When sizing your battery bank, you also need to consider the type of battery you have. Lead-acid, AGM, and gel batteries can only be discharged 50% before you start to damage them, so you always want to double your energy usage number to determine your battery capacity. In this example, you would want a minimum battery capacity of 100 Ah – plus additional capacity for your other electrical loads.

LiFePO4 batteries (lithium iron phosphate, or LFP), on the other hand, can be discharged 100%. So in this example, a 48ah LFP battery should be able to keep up with your fridge. However, you would need a bigger battery to accommodate your other electrical loads, and we always recommend building in some wiggle room if you can.

Recommended Battery
Battle Born 100Ah LiFePO4 12V Battery

Lithium iron phosphate (LiFePO4) batteries are THE best choice for modern camper vans.They last much longer, charge faster, and can be fully discharged without damage. Battle Born batteries are made in the US, and designed specifically for mobile living and off-grid dwellings.


Our #1 recommended battery choice.

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Charging Your Batteries

If your budget allows, adding solar to your van will allow you to stay off grid while keeping your batteries charged up (we recommend mounting them to your roof, or you can build a portable mount). We have detailed information on system sizing, installation, and just about everything else you need to know in our epic electrical post.

Recommended Solar Kit
Renogy Premium Solar Kits

Everything you need to add solar to your van. Including solar panels, mounting brackets, MPPT charge controller, fuses, and wiring.

Enter coupon code GnomadHome for 10% off at Renogy.com

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In addition to solar, it’s a good idea to install a battery isolator or DC-DC charger, which allows you to charge up your batteries from your alternator while driving. This is a great way to keep your batteries topped off when you’re in the woods or in cloudy environments. And if you’re on a budget, you may be able to meet most of your charging needs with just a battery isolator. You can always add solar as your budget and your needs evolve.

Best DC-DC Charger
Renogy 20A/40A DC-DC Charger

3-stage charger for optimal battery charging. Works with all battery types (lithium, AGM, etc) and alternator outputs. Pair with the BT-2 Bluetooth module for monitoring from your phone. Available in 20A and 40A. Renogy also makes a 60A DC-DC charger.

Enter coupon code GnomadHome for 10% off at Renogy.com

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Portable Power Stations

If installing your own electrical system sounds intimidating (it’s not that bad – promise!), then another option is to go with a portable power station like the Jackery Explorer 1000, or competing products from Goal Zero or Bluetti. The big advantage to power stations is convenience and ease of use, but you will pay a bit of a premium for that.

Jackery Explorer 1000 Power Station

With a 1002Wh lithium battery, 1000W pure sine inverter, and the ability to charge via solar, the Explorer 1000 is a top notch solar generator for basic power needs.

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You can also buy the Jackery bundled with their Solar Saga 100W foldable panels.

[Bundle] Jackery Explorer 1000 and Two SolarSaga 100W Panels

Jackery Explorer 1000 portable power station paired with two SolarSaga 100w solar panels. Everything you need for an off grid adventure.

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The Jackery Explorer 1000 has enough juice to run a fridge and other vanlife necessities, but you will need to be proactive about seeking out sunny weather to keep it charged. The upcoming Jackery Explorer 1500 and Explorer 2000 will be even more capable of powering full time vanlife.

What to Look for in a Portable 12V Compressor Fridge

what to look for in a portable 12v fridge @therustyrambler
Photo by @therustyrambler

Here’s a quick rundown of what to look for when evaluating fridge choices for your van:

Pricing (and your budget)

12V compressor fridges can be pretty expensive in general, but there’s quite the range of prices between high-end brands and budget brands. If your budget doesn’t allow for a higher-end fridge (and you don’t want to use a cooler while you save your pennies), then you might want to take a hard look at less expensive brands.

Higher end fridges have been getting more and more expensive over the past few years – and while top brands like Dometic, ARB, Engel, etc., make excellent units, the value may not be there for a lot of people. There has also been a proliferation of budget brands using quality components like Danfoss SECOP compressors that are worth looking at. You may be making some tradeoffs in terms of reliability and efficiency with some of these units, but you’ll also be spending way less money. Plus, there are now fridge brands like Iceco that can go toe-to-toe with higher end units in many respects.

If you’re a full-timer, we think a fridge is an area of your van build where it’s worth investing in quality, and buying a top-of-the-line fridge is a worthy expense. But if you don’t have that kind of money to spend, there are some great values out there as well.

Rise of the Cheap 12V Fridges

When we built out our first van back in 2016, you could count the number of vanlife fridge brands on two hands, and most of them had been around for years, if not decades.

Since then, the number of vanlife fridges available has exploded. Search “12V refrigerator” on Amazon, and you’ll be met with dozens of similar-looking products sold under generic-sounding names like Costway, F40C4TMP, SetPower, AstroAI, and Bodega.

Most of these companies are not making their own products or doing any sort of R&D – they are just slapping their brand name on a mass-produced fridge made in the same Chinese factory as all the others. That’s why you see what looks like the exact same fridge being sold under many different brand names.

Demonstration: Go to Alibaba.com and search “12V refrigerator.” You’ll see a list of fridges (the exact ones you’ll find rebranded on Amazon) that you can purchase in bulk and slap a brand name on. You can then have your fridges shipped directly to Amazon and have them handle shipping and fulfillment for a cut of the profits. This is exactly what many of these companies are doing.

Now, this doesn’t mean that these products are bad. You just need to be aware of exactly what you’re buying, and make sure the brand is willing to support your purchase.

This is why we recommend the cheap fridge brands that we recommend: Alpicool and BougeRV.

Alpicool has been around for years, and is the original manufacturer of many rebranded fridges. And why buy a rebrand when you can buy the real deal directly from the source? Plus, they use LG compressors vs something generic.

And BougeRV, while they essentially rebrand 12V refrigerators (and other products), their products are high quality. They’re making a big push into the vanlife and RV space, and seem like they’re committed to becoming a reputable brand. This bodes well for customer support and future development of their product line. (For example, Renogy started by rebranding mass-produced Chinese solar products, but have since developed into a reputable brand that has quality products, good support, and unique offerings).

Interior Capacity and Freezer Capabilities

How much fridge space do you need? Buying a camper fridge that’s too big means spending more than you need to, and giving up more space in your van. Likewise, having a fridge that’s too small means shopping for groceries more frequently. Needs vary from person to person, but our 50-Qt fridge has enough space for a week’s worth of fresh food for both of us, plus a few kombuchas and a couple of six packs.

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

Here are some good general rules of thumb:

  • If you’re a couple, you will be best served with a fridge that is at least 45-Qt.
  • If you’re solo, you may be just fine with a smaller fridge in the 30-Qt range.
  • Larger families and people who need a freezer should look at larger dual-zone fridges.

Energy Efficiency and Compressor

When you’re living off-grid, energy efficiency is a huge concern. Batteries and solar are expensive, and the more energy efficient your appliances are, the more money you can save in capacity (or the more time you can spend off-grid while still powering everything you need).

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

All of the fridges we look at here are generally efficient, but some brands are able to achieve greater energy efficiency due to better insulation, configuration, and compressor controls. We list all available data on the average power draw of various fridges below.

Note: It can be insanely difficult to find accurate power draw information for 12V fridges. Not every manufacturer makes test data available – and when they do, the test conditions may be different than those used by other manufacturers, making comparisons difficult.

Wherever possible, we obtained test data on average amp draw directly from the manufacturers. Since all these numbers have caveats and may not be directly comparable, we’ve treated energy efficiency more as a discussion point in our analysis. But if any fridge manufacturer wants to loan us a unit to conduct our own field tests, we’ll happily oblige.

Exterior Dimensions and Weight

If you’ve already got a designated spot where you plan to put your fridge, you’ll want to make sure all the options you’re considering will fit. Some brands have a bigger footprint but are squatter, while others are taller with a smaller footprint. At the end of the day, whether a certain fridge will fit your van’s configuration can be the deciding factor. Weight could also be a factor in your decision if you need to move the fridge around regularly or if you’re trying to stay under a certain weight limit. We list dimensions and weights for all the fridges we looked at below.

Direction the Lid Opens

This may seem like a minor consideration, but it can make a big difference in your van set up. Some fridges have lids that hinge from the back, while others have side-hinged lids.

what direction fridge lid opens

Lids that hinge from the side need less overhead clearance to fully open, and since you’re facing the fridge from the longer side it may be easier to view and reach the contents. In our van, we have our rear-hinged ARB fridge between the front seats – so having the hinge at the rear actually makes it easier for us to access everything. But every van is different, and the best lid direction for you will depend on your specific setup.

Standard Features and Extra Features

Most portable 12V fridges have the following standard features:

  • Ability to operate at up to a 30° incline.
  • LED lighting inside the fridge.
  • Floor drain plug for easy cleaning.
  • Low voltage cut off to protect your batteries.
  • Dividers and lift-out organizer baskets.
  • Separate dairy compartment.

Some fridges include more advanced features like digital controls, remote readouts, wifi apps, and additional accessories.

Warranty and Reliability

Factory warranties give you a degree of security in case something goes wrong and needs to be fixed or replaced. However, we don’t want to overstate the importance of warranties.

While a fridge advertising a 3-year or 5-year warranty is awesome, the big question is how easy it will be to get warranty servicing. If you have an issue with your fridge, you may be on the hook for shipping costs to send it back to the manufacturer. Or you may have to take it an authorized service center who will examine it for warranty eligibility. In any case, you may be without your fridge for weeks or longer.

Reputation is also a factor here. The big brands like Dometic, ARB, and Engel generally have good reputations for reliability. Danfoss compressors are known to be reliable, so budget fridges with this compressor are usually a safer bet. You will roll the fewest dice if you stick with major brands or fridges with Danfoss compressors.

Epic Comparison of the Top 12V Fridges for Vanlife

In our quest to find the best refrigerator for vanlife, we analyzed fridge models from the most popular adventure fridge manufacturers. We compiled data on average power draw, warranty, interior capacity, exterior dimensions, weight, noise level, features, accessories, and more. Below are our thoughts on the different options out there.

Scroll down or use the links below to jump to a section.

Top Pick and Best Overall Value

Top Pick: Iceco 12V Fridges (various models)

ICECO VL-Series 12V Fridges

Sporting the ultra-efficient Danfoss SECOP compressor and stainless steel construction, these fridges have everything you need for life on the road for about half the cost of higher end units.

Available in sizes from 45 to 74 liters, and both single and dual zone.

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ICECO JP-Series Fridges

Danfoss SECOP compressor and Iceco quality with durable ABS construction and a front-opening lid. An excellent value for life on the road.

Available in sizes from 30L to 50L.

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What do you get when you take a Danfoss SECOP compressor with a 5-year warranty, bulletproof construction, performance and efficiency worthy of a Dometic or ARB, and wrap it in a package that’s nearly half the price of the high end fridge brands? Well, you get an Iceco.

In our opinion, Iceco refrigerators offer the best overall value out there in the portable refrigerator market. Not the cheapest nor the most expensive fridges, they sit in a Goldilocks sweet spot of top notch components, efficient performance, and affordable pricing.

Plus, they come in a multitude of sizes from 30L up to 74L, both single zone and dual zone, and different form factors, so you can easily find a fridge to suit your needs.

Energy Efficiency

Based on our research, Iceco fridges in general are extremely energy efficient – pretty close to on par with big names like Dometic and ARB.

During independent testing of the VL45 single zone fridge’s power consumption, it drew an average of 0.72A per hour, which is excellent. Similar testing of the VL-60 dual zone fridge revealed average power consumption of 1.77A per hour in max mode, and 1.27A per hour in eco mode. This is highly efficient for a dual zone fridge that’s also running a freezer compartment. Users report similarly efficient numbers.

Price and Overall Value

In our opinion, Iceco refrigerators offer the best overall value in the vanlife refrigerator space. They are nearly half the cost of some higher end brands, yet they are close to on par in terms of efficiency, components, durability, and important features.

Warranty and Reliability

Iceco offers a 5-year warrant on the super-reliable Danfoss SECOP compressor that they use in their fridges. They only offer a 1-year warranty on all other parts, which is lower than most other refrigerator brands. However, we have not heard of any reliability issues with these fridges.

Features and Accessories

Iceco refrigerators offer all the basic features that we’ve come to expect in 12V refrigerators, including battery protection and eco/max cooling modes. They don’t have a whole lot of bells and whistles such as digital features, but that’s not a selling point for many. As far as accessories, Iceco offers a slide mount and an insulated cover, both of which work for many of their fridge models.

Bottom Line

Iceco fridges offer an excellent value that’s tough to beat. They are rugged and well made, include top quality components like Danfoss SECOP compressors, and they are among the most efficient fridges out there. All for a price that makes more sense for more people than what some of the high end brands charge.

Upgrade Picks

Upgrade Pick #1: Dometic CFX3-Series 12V Refrigerators

Dometic CFX3 12V Fridges

Featuring best-in-class energy efficiency, cutting edge technology, rugged build quality, and overall reliability, CFX3 fridges are the top choice of many vanlifers for good reason.

Available in sizes from 24 to 99 liters, and in both single and dual zone.

Use coupon code Gnomad for 5% off + free shipping at Dometic.com.

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We think the Dometic CFX3 line of portable 12V fridge/freezers are the top high-end choice for a vanlife fridge. Dometic (or Waeco, as they’re also known) has always made solid fridges, but their newest models are setting the bar for portable refrigeration.

CFX fridges are highly efficient and use very little power. They’re built to be rugged and durable, with solid construction, stainless steel hinges, and reinforced corners. They have advanced features, like the ability to control the temperature through a wifi app.

The most popular version of this fridge is the CFX3 45-L, but Dometic also offers CFX fridges in a variety of sizes, including double-zoned fridge/freezers. So no matter what your refrigeration needs are, Dometic makes a CFX fridge to fit.

Energy Efficiency

Based on our research, Dometic CFX3 fridges are the most efficient that we’ve found. We were not able to find any publicly available data online, so we called Dometic directly and asked them what they had. According to Dometic’s own testing, the CFX3 45L draws an insanely low 0.68A per hour on average (90°F ambient temperature with the fridge set to 39°F).

Owners of this fridge generally report power consumption at less than 1A per hour, which is consistent with Dometic’s numbers, so it’s safe to say that this is a very efficient fridge.

Price and Overall Value

Dometic CFX fridges aren’t cheap, that’s for sure. They’re among the most expensive vanlife fridges you can buy. But you do get what you pay for, including best-in-class energy efficiency, durability, and a slew of advanced features. CFX3 fridges may not be the best “value”, but they are excellent products that are worth the cost to some.

Warranty and Reliability

In the US, Dometic offers a standard 2-year factory warranty on their products, withe option to purchase an extended warranty for up to 3 years. They offer a longer standard warranty in Australia. Dometic also has a solid reputation for reliability and support.

Features and Accessories

Dometic CFX fridges are packed with features. They include more advanced features than any other fridge on this list, including a reversible side-opening lid, the ability to control the fridge settings from the comfort of a wifi app, and a usb port for charging devices. The CFX line also includes all the standard portable fridge features like low voltage cutoff, digital controls, an interior light, and a drain plug. As far as accessories, Dometic makes a fridge slide and an insulated cover for CFX fridges.

Bottom Line

We highly recommend Dometic CFX3 refrigerators. They are the most efficient out there, they offer the most advanced features of any fridge, and Dometic is well-known for producing top quality 4×4 and mobile living components. The CFX3 is not cheap, but if that’s not a priority for you then it’s an excellent choice for your van.

Upgrade Pick #2: ARB 12V Refrigerators (various models)

ARB Zero 12V Fridges

Built for overlanding expeditions in the Australian outback, ARB fridges are insanely rugged and durable. The ARB Zero includes modern upgrades and easily competes with Dometic's offerings.

Available in sizes from 38 to 101 quarts, and both single and dual zone.

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ARB Series II 50 qt Fridge Freezer

Reboot of the time-tested classic ARB 50-qt overlanding refrigerator, with upgraded features including Bluetooth.

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ARB Elements Weatherproof 12V Fridge

The most rugged fridge ARB makes. This 63-qt fridge features 304 stainless steel weatherpoof construction, and an electronic locking keypad.

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Designed for 4×4 expeditions in the Australian outback, ARB portable fridge/freezers are known for their durability and ruggedness. They feature strong powder-coated zinc steel construction, and their very low power usage will help you keep your food cold on an off-grid solar setup. We use the 50-Qt model daily in our van, and we can personally attest to its quality and reliability. The lid on these fridges hinges from the back, making the ARB our top choice overall if you need a rear-hinged lid.

The downside to these fridges is cost – they’re a bit pricier than many other 12V fridges out there. The quality certainly is there to back up the price and we wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this fridge, but this isn’t exactly a budget choice.

Energy Efficiency

ARB Fridges are very energy efficient, trailing only the Dometic CFX fridges (based on our research). ARB is one of the few manufacturers that makes power consumption test data readily available. According to ARB, the 50-Qt model draws a very low 0.87A per hour on average (based on a 27-hour test in 86°F ambient temperature, with the fridge set to 37°F). In a comparison test with an Engel fridge at 90°F ambient temperature (fridge set at 37°F), the ARB drew a low 1.35A per hour.

We personally own the ARB 50-Qt fridge, and we can attest to its very low power draw. During an extended power draw test we conducted, we measured the ARB’s average power draw at around 0.95A per hour over nearly two weeks. This test was conducted with daytime ambient temperatures in the high 70’s, and nighttime temps in the high 60’s.

Price and Overall Value

ARB fridges are some of the most expensive we looked at. You can save a bit of money with other brands, but ARB makes top quality, rugged, and efficient fridges. You really do get what you pay for with these.

Warranty and Reliability

ARB offers an excellent 3-year warranty, so you can be comfortable knowing that they stand by their products. We haven’t heard of any reliability issues with ARB fridges, and we’ve had zero problems with ours.

Features and Accessories

ARB fridges include all the features you expect, like low voltage cutoff, digital display, interior lighting, removable lid, and drain plug. They also have a ton of accessories available, including fridge slides, tie down straps, a transit bag, and a remote display. The accessories aren’t cheap, though!

Bottom Line

ARB fridges offer excellent durability and power efficiency – two top priorities when you live in a van. They also stand behind their products with a 3-year warranty and highly-rated customer support. They do cost a bit more than other options, but they’re well worth the price and we don’t hesitate to recommend them (our own ARB fridge has been a kickass addition to our van).

Budget Picks

Budget Pick #1: BougeRV 12V Refrigerators

BougeRV 12V Refrigerators

Solid and inexpensive 12V vanlife refrigerators. Available in a range of sizes from 30 quart (28L) up to 53 quart (50L).

Coupon Codes

  • Use Gnomad90 for $90 off the 53-Qt fridge.
  • Use Gnomad15 for 15% off all other refrigerators.
  • Use Gnomad10 for 10% off sitewide.
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BougeRV sells the best among the slew of inexpensive Chinese mass-produced 12V refrigerators that are now all over Amazon and elsewhere. But the big differentiator between BougeRV refrigerators and all those others is that BougeRV seems committed to becoming a real, reputable brand in the vanlife, RV, and adventure space. This is an important indicator of reliability and support, as well as future expansion of the product line.

BougeRV’s portable refrigerators are extremely cheap, but they perform nearly as well as high end brands, and include all the basic features you would expect in a 4×4 fridge. It comes in sizes ranging from 30-qt up to 53-qt. We extensively tested their 53-qt model, and we were generally impressed with its quality and performance.

If you don’t have a lot to spend on a vanlife refrigerator (or if you just don’t want to shell out the equivalent of a month’s rent for one appliance), then BougeRV deserves a hard look.

Energy Efficiency

BougeRV makes very efficient refrigerators. They use Wancool compressors, which are cheaper rebranded versions of the highly-efficient and reliable Danfoss compressor.

During our own hands on testing, we measured the 24-hour average power draw of the 53-qt model at 0.97A per hour on Eco mode, and 1.33A per hour on Max mode. These tests were conducted with ambient temperatures ranging from the upper 70s to the upper 60s.

Price and Overall Value

BougeRV refrigerators offer a tremendous value, and the best bang for your buck that we’ve found. With discounts, you can get a BougeRV fridge for less than 1/3 the cost of our high end picks. This is an insanely cheap way to add refrigeration to your van.

BougeRV fridge discount codes: Use Gnomad90 for $90 off the 53-qt model. Use Gnomad15 for 15% off all other fridges).

Warranty and Reliability

BougeRV offers a standard 2-year warranty, which you can extend to 3 years by registering your product. Since this fridge is newer on the scene there’s scant information on long term reliability. However, the product appears solid and BougeRV seems committed to becoming a reputable brand, all of which bodes well.

Features and Accessories

BougeRV refrigerators include all the basic features you would expect in a 12V refrigerator, including Eco mode, dual compartment interior with removable basket, interior LED light, and battery protection. They do not have more advanced digital features, such as Bluetooth.

Bottom Line

BougeRV refrigerators are great choices for frugal vanlifers or vandwellers on a budget. They are efficient, perform well, and include all the basic features you would expect in a modern 12V compressor fridge – all for a fraction of the price of higher end brands.

Budget Pick #2: Alpicool CF-Series 12V Fridges

Alpicool CF 12V Fridges

The OEM for many generic 12V fridge brands. Features LG compressors, solid performance, and affordability for valifers on a budget.

Available in 48 and 58 quart sizes, single zone only.

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We’re working on adding this section – more details coming soon!

Other Options

Time-Tested Reliability: Engel MR040 12V Refrigerator

ENGEL MR040F 40-Qt Portable Fridge/Freezer

Featuring the bulletproof Sawafuji swing compressor, the Engel MR040F is legendary for reliability. It's a bit less efficient than our top picks, but will likely last for decades.

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Engel fridges are legendary for their reliability and longevity – in fact, their motto is “A Legend in Reliability” – and they certainly stand up to their reputation. Engel fridges use the rock solid Sawafuji Swing Motor compressor, and many owners have run the same fridge for decades.

Engel fridges draw a bit more power than our top choice Dometic and ARB fridges, but they are still very efficient. They do skimp on some features that come standard on other fridges, most notably digital temperature controls. If you buy an Engel, you’ll be using a manual control knob instead of buttons and a digital display (although, some people actually prefer this). Another downside is cost – Engel fridges are in the same high price range as ARB units, but generally have a lower capacity per dollar.

We think the 40 Liter Engel MR040 is the best option for vanlife. Designed specifically for marine use, the MR040 features durable plastic construction that can weather the stresses of life on the road.

Energy Efficiency

The Engel MR040 is an efficient fridge, though not as efficient as the offerings from Dometic and ARB. According to Engel’s own performance data, the MR040 draws about 1.5A per hour in 95°F ambient temperature with the control knob set to “1” (the lowest refrigeration setting).

In their product descriptions for this fridge, Engel states that the MR040 “typically draws 1-2 Amps per hour,” and a comparison test run by ARB showed this fridge drawing 1.67A per hour in 90°F temps. We also found another test report indicating that the Engel draws just over 1.6A in 91°F temps, helping to confirm that this fridge reliably draws give or take 1.5A per hour in summer conditions.

Price and Overall Value

Engel fridges are on the high end in terms of price, so this is not a budget buy. And these fridges lack some features that come standard on other fridges. But, Engels are renowned for their overall quality and reliability, so even though the price is hefty it’s safe to say that this is a good long-term investment.

Warranty and Reliability

Engel offers a 3-year warranty on their fridges, like you’d expect from a top brand. But where Engels really stand out is reliability and longevity – these fridges are legendary for lasting decades without any issues.

Features and Accessories

Engel fridges are not the most feature-packed. They use a manual control knob instead of digital controls (some actually prefer this), and they do not have an automatic low voltage shut off (although the Sawafuji compressor supposedly adjusts its power draw when battery voltage is low). There are a variety of accessories available, including slides, remote displays, and tie downs.

Bottom Line

You really can’t go wrong with an Engel, especially if you want a reliable fridge that you know will last for many, many years. But Engels lack a few modern features like digital controls and low voltage shut off, and are getting left behind in terms of tech.

Decent Fridge and Good Value: Whynter FM-Series 12V Fridges

Whynter FM-Series Portable Refrigerator

Rugged mid-priced fridge that's a solid choice for vandwelling.

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Whynter (also known as Edgestar) fridges are a popular choice among budget-conscious vanlifers. The Whynter FM-Series offers portable refrigeration at a fraction of the cost of the big name brands, and with many of the same basic features.

Whynter fridges tend to be inconsistent. If you get a good one, it can be a great companion for you on the road. But there are many tales of units that break down after a few months, and of owners having difficulty getting support from the manufacturer. And while Whynter fridges are energy efficient, power draw tests and user reports tend to be all over the map, further suggesting that there may be some quality control issues with this brand.

Whynter fridges also don’t use Danfoss compressors (instead, they use a proprietary knockoff), adding more reliability concerns. Many vanlifers do use Whynter/Edgestar fridges with success, and they can be a good option if you’re on a budget. But there are some question marks to be aware of here.

Energy Efficiency

Whynter portable fridges are efficient, but they may be a bit inconsistent. According to Whynter’s own data, their 43L FM-45G draws a low 1.10A per hour at 90°F ambient temperatures with the fridge set to 39.2°F. However, this test report indicates that the Whynter edges 3A per hour to maintain a set temperature in similar conditions. Reports from owners of this fridge are similarly inconsistent, although most users state that it draws around 1A per hour.

Price and Overall Value

The Whynter FM-series fridges are among the least expensive that we looked at, and they offer an incredible value. If you’re on a really tight budget, you’re getting great bang for your buck here. Just be aware that there are consistency and reliability questions with this brand.

Warranty and Reliability

Whynter offers a short 1-year warranty on their fridges, and there are some real questions as far as consistency and long term reliability. Some owners have reported difficulty getting their fridges repaired or replaced if issues pop up. If you buy a Whynter, be sure to get it from somewhere with a robust return policy, just in case.

Features and Accessories

Like most fridges on this list, Whynter’s units include all the basic features, such as low voltage shut off, interior lighting, digital controls, and a drain plug. There are few accessories available, but they do offer a transit bag.

Bottom Line

Whynter makes a decent budget fridge, especially if you need a dual-zone model and don’t want to throw down for a Dometic or an ARB (or even an Iceco). But there are some questions around reliability, consistency, and support, so beware. But this is no more of a dice roll than any other ultra-budget refrigerator.

Conclusion

Portable 12V fridges are not cheap, and it’s important to know that the fridge you’re getting will fit your needs. We hope all the information we’ve presented here has been helpful – but please let us know in the comments if you have a question or you think we left something out.

Even though having a 12V fridge in your van makes vanlife a whole lot easier, don’t let not having a fridge stop you from hitting the road! Plenty of vanlifers make it work with a basic cooler, and you can always upgrade later. Ultimately, vanlife is not about gadgets and HGTV interiors – it’s about enjoying the freedom to create your own life. So get out there and start exploring!

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  • Hi, thank you for sharing all this info! Wondering if I could get your thoughts… I’m building out a Chevy express for 1-2 week trips and weekend camping, and I’d like to avoid the whole electrical, charge control, fuse box, battery set up, and am leaning towards an all in one jackery 1000 with 200w solar panels. For a fridge I think I’ll need a 40-45 liter. As of now the ice co V45 is half the price of the dometics. Is there a significant difference in power draw between the brands, and do you think I have enough power for the fridge, maxx air fan, LED lights, water pump, and phone charging? Appreciate any help or advice you can share!

    • Hi Mark, we actually just published a review of the Jackery 1000 yesterday that you might find helpful in making your decision. You can find it here:

      https://gnomadhome.com/jackery-explorer-1000-review-vanlife/

      I think that the Jackery is a great option for weekend camping and shorter trips. We were actually pretty impressed with it overall. We tested it running an ARB fridge, vent fan, kitchen appliances, lights, and computers. On sunny days it kept pace with our usage pretty well, and we were definitely using quite a bit of power since we were working on our computers for several hours each day. However, as with any solar setup, you do need to stay aware of your electrical usage and make sure you’re getting full sun on your panels. But the Jackery is a great option for your situation, especially if you don’t want to mess with wiring up a custom system.

      Regarding the Iceco fridge – most fridges on the market use the same Danfoss compressor (with the exception of Dometic and Engel), so the power draw there is pretty much the same across brands. But, the difference can come in how the fridges manage the compressor, and the level of insulation in the casing, all of which affect overall power draw. This can be a bit of a black box, though, since most companies don’t release their average power draw numbers (and the companies that do, they don’t use the same testing critera, so it’s tough to compare apples to apples). While I might expect an Iceco to draw a bit more that something like a Dometic, I imagine it would still be fairly efficient. Some friends of ours got an Iceco for their van recently, but due to Covid they haven’t been able to take it out on the road yet.

      I hope that helps, let me know if you have other questions!

      ~John

      • Hi John, this is very helpful thank you! Still sifting through all the solar generator info and reviews and have yet to pull the trigger on one. A couple things about the Jackery are giving me pause… the shorter lifespan of the battery, and only the one DC cigarette outlet. I’m planning to run my lights, fan, and water pump off of one outlet, and my fridge off of another. The new Bluetti 2000w generator seems to have everything I need, and has a lifepo4 battery, but I definitely want to be sure before spending close to $2k. I did make the mistake of buying a 200w Renogy solar panel ahead of time as it fit my spacial layout on top of the van, but it seems I would need double the voltage for the Bluetti to even accept a charge. Hence the cost of this project continues to rise!

    • Hi there, it definitely can be a bit overwhelming! Our general advice is to stick to reputable brands – there are a lot of cheap/shitty knock offs out there that draw too much power and won’t last. If you go with models from Dometic, ARB, Engle, Indel B/Truck Fridge (more budget), etc, you’ll be in good hands. There are also more expensive brands like National Luna, but we find that these are a bit overkill for a campervan. Hope that helps!

  • My wife and I are building a van that we can live in full time starting next year. I appreciate your comment about some fridges including digital controls and remote readouts. I imagine that would provide peace of mind. My wife and I are also considering finding a refrigeration repair service provider in case we need it.

  • I have two questions about 12v fridges in general that I have never gotten a good answer to:

    1. I’m a veteran cooler user and for years have used frozen water bottles for ice. No wet cooler, can be refrozen easily, and can be used as water after thawing. Do these units have the horsepower in freezer setting to actually refreeze water bottles? If so, I could rotate bottles in and out of a smaller unit to support various coolers.

    2. What are real some world experiences with only powering a fridge for a while and then letting it “coast” and act as a cooler? Are they insulated enough or do you really need to run them 24×7?

    Thanks for any help!

    JF

    • Hi Jeff, thanks for commenting! To answer your questions:

      1. Yes, you can definitely use one of these units to refreeze water bottles. All of the 12V fridges that we mention in this article can go down to at least 0 F (-18 C), and many can dip down to -7 F – plenty cold to freeze water bottles.

      2. We don’t have a whole lot of direct experience using a fridge like this, but our ARB fridge is very well insulated. We have had times where we needed to shut off our fridge to conserve battery, and the internal fridge temperature goes up maybe about 10-12 degrees F overnight (and this is with no ice, just food). But, you could add frozen water bottles, freezer packs, or even ice (most fridges have drains) if you need to use it as a cooler in a pinch. That said, 12V fridges don’t actually run 24/7 – the compressor kicks on only as needed. With our ARB fridge, it generally kicks on for about 5-10 minutes every hour, depending on how hot it is in the van. Most fridges also automatically sense battery voltage and will go into “standby” mode (i.e. just holding steady and not running the compressor) if the battery voltage dips below a certain point.

      Hope that answers your questions!

      ~John

  • Hi, Looking for a 60q for sprinter stealth RV with solar and trying to choose between ARB and Dometic. Both would suite my needs. Is one of them better at being an occasional seat?

    • Hi Jon, both are great fridges. As far as which one would work better as a seat, I would take a look at the exterior dimensions of each unit and see if one of them might fit better into your build (one might be taller than the other, etc). Another thing to consider is lid opening direction. ARB fridges hinge from the short side, whereas Dometic fridges hinge from the long side. That can make a huge difference in how you configure your interior. Both are quality units, but sometimes which one you go with comes down to how you want to configure your build. Hope that helps!

      ~John

    • lol, I’m pretty sure he was also asking about the sturdiness of the fridge and lid to hold the weight of a person. ; )

  • No one told me this when I started out but a simple $60 120v fridge from walmart is just as good on power and holds up in a vehicle just fine. (2 years for me now). I got a 1kw inverter from harbor freight bargin bin for $40. So roughly $100 for a fridge that uses about 15a a day in winter and average 45a average with peal of 60a in summer. My charge controller generally registers 500w generated for the day average. (300w system capable of well over 1kw daily). Which means in got batteries to full with only 500w…500 / 12v = 42 amps. Ive seen as high as 800w on really hot days.

    So thats 2 years of data. Generally about 40-45a average. So you can imagine how silly it seems everyone going out paying 10x more for a 12v. Yet EVERYONE says you gotta have 12v. But even if it used 150% more its literally an extra $50-70 solar panel or an extra hour a week running the generator or engine. Its kind of a big let down seeing the herd mindset in supposed “alternative living” communities.

    Theres no free energy. If swing compressors were so good youd see them in residential and commercial fridges and AC’s by now. Furthermore lower voltage is less efficient overall. Yes I know inverter losses but paying 10x to make up a few amps a day is ridiculous.

    • Hi Daryl, thanks for the input and sharing your real world experiences! I’ve also read about converting a chest freezer to a refrigerator and setting up the inverter with a temperature sensor and a relay that kicks the inverter on and off as needed. This seems like an interesting option because freezers have additional insulation built in, and the temperature relay eliminates the problem of power loss by constantly leaving an inverter on.

      How does your fridge do with off-roading and not being level? For us specifically, we spend a lot of time driving on gnarly forest roads and rarely find ourselves on completely level ground. So having a fridge that can function not at level was a big motivator for us going for a 4×4 fridge. Of course, someone who spends more time in cities would have different needs.

      As far as the types of fridges used residentially – we recently toured the Earthship community outside Taos, NM, which is community of completely off-grid self-sustaining dwellings. They actually use 12V RV fridges in their builds (the ones we saw were just a bit smaller than a full size refrigerator), as well as 12V lighting. We spoke with people who run 12V throughout their houses along with a handful of regular 120V outlets, and only turn their inverters on when needed (just like we do in the van). Higher voltages are definitely more efficient at longer distances, but when it comes to vans, RVs, and small houses, the problem of inverter inefficiency may tip the scales (and, as inverters become more efficient over time, this may be eliminated as well).

      I agree with your dislike of groupthink and herd mentality. Everyone’s needs, priorities and budgets are different, and the right decision for one person may not be right for someone else. Our mission here at Gnomad Home is to do our best to provide tools for nomads to make build decisions based on their own needs, priorities, and budget. We’ll be fully updating this post in the near future, and we plan to dig a little further into DIY refrigeration options like using a mini fridge or converting a freezer. We firmly believe that money should not be barrier to someone cutting the chains and hitting the road. You definitely don’t need an expensive Sprinter/Transit/Promaster with high priced gadgets to enjoy the benefits of this lifestyle!

      Thanks again for commenting, and we wish you all the best. Cheers!

      ~John

      • Level never been a problem. I think thats only a concern for propane to make the flame contact the burner effectively. Im in a 1984 chev hightop G20. I dont do serious overlanding but plenty of potholed gravel roads.

        I got to stress that i measure amps behind the inverter so whatever its using gets counted. I think inverters are another area where the groupthink comes in terms of expensive pure sine units. I use cheap modified sine wave and only as big as needed. So a 1kw for fridge due to startup draw and a 400w cobra ($40) unit for everything else. Starts a fan motor hard but everything else is great. I been using that setup since 2011.

        To me home solar is a different beast than camper solar. Especially if youre hooked to the alternator. Youre naturally bulk charging every few days or 2 weeks at most. Its not like youre trying to setup a “forgetaboutit” home system. RV’ing takes daily attention to everything anyway.

    • An inverter for $40 won’t be a pure sine wave one, it’ll be a Modified sine wave unit. No way you can get a decent inverter for $40 brand new. I wouldn’t run any fridge or sensitive electronic equipment off a MSW inverter. I bought a 3000W MSW unit for about $40$50 also but my pure sine wave 3kW one was several hundred $.

    • Hi Alex, thanks for commenting! We are aware of the Costway fridge and I’m glad it’s been working out for you. I’m in the middle of updating this post with newer info and plan on adding this fridge into the mix. Because of its low cost, the Costway is certainly an attractive option, especially considering that equivalent fridges from more reputable brands cost at least twice as much. But it should be pointed out that Costway is a company that basically imports “white labelled” products from China and rebrands them with their label. There is not much information out there regarding the specifications of this unit, and I have been unable to find any indication of a warranty. This all brings the long term reliability of this unit into question. It’s certainly a nice option because of the low cost, and even if it doesn’t end up lasting as long as an ARB or Dometic the cost savings could justify that. But anyone looking at this fridge should understand that it’s a gamble. Again, it seems like it’s been working out for many people and that’s awesome, but there are a lot of question marks surrounding it at this point. Thanks again for the input!

      ~John

  • Just a quick note to say that this is the best article and review for On The Road refrigeration that I have seen. Thank you!

    • Hi Bob, thanks for the kind words! Our goal is to be the most helpful resource out there for nomads, so if you have any suggestions for improvement feel free to let us know!

      ~John

  • I am between the Dometic and the ARB, which one do you think runs quieter? I am sensitive to appliance noise and want the quietest one so I can sleep next to it. Thank you!

    • Hi JD, ARB doesn’t provide noise level specs, but we have the ARB 50 qt and we hardly ever notice when it’s running. We have it up between our front seats, and I only notice noise from the compressor when I’m up front and thinking about it. Dometic does list noise level specs – most of their fridges clock in at 42 dB (this is only when the compressor is running). We don’t have personal experience living with a Dometic fridge for long periods, so we can’t give a subjective comparison. Most all 12V fridges are in the general 35-40 dB range. Hope that helps!

      ~John

    • Both made by Dometic and both use Danfoss compressor. I think the choice comes down to if you want side opening door or end opening door and Dometic is a little shorter and wider which I prefer.

      • Hi Bret, thanks for commenting! ARB outsources their manufacturing to Dometic, but their fridge is designed in house and they are not owned by Dometic. Dometic also uses their own proprietary compressor, while ARB uses the Danfoss. But they are both solid units, and I agree that the choice may come down to dimensions and lid orientation.

        ~John

        • Ha thanks I didn’t know that. Looks like they changed with CFX series.
          “The most significant difference between our CFX and CF models is our CFX has a WAECO compressor, and the CF line uses a SECOP compressor. The VMOS (Variable Motor Speed Optimization) controller was to VMOS2 in our CFX line, which together makes our CFX more efficient than our CF models.”

    • I’ve heard people shutting off their Dometic cooler at night while sleeping and there only being a small temp difference in the morning. This may be the only choice for those that are bothered by the noise. I wish this article did list all the decibel levels. If you read Dometic reviews on Amazon you hear people saying “it is louder than I thought it would be,” so John seems correct since most use the same compressor that 35-40dB is about right, and there’s no good solution beyond going with an ice using one. There are videos of people putting reflectix around their fridges too, but do not block the vents. Try this, get it cold first, and then shut it off for the night. That may be the best solution at this point.

      • Hi Walt, thanks for commenting! We do list decibel levels in our mega spreadsheet, which you can get access to by entering your email in the form within this article. However, many fridge manufacturers do not make these levels available. In our personal experience, we’ve found that placement of the fridge also affects things. We had our fridge up front between the driver/passenger seats, which ended up blocking a lot of the noise to the point where we did not even notice it. However, we’re currently stationary and have our fridge plugged into a wall outlet, and we can definitely hear it when we’re in that room.

  • Anyone have specs on the TruckFridge65 as far as incline? I have an app on my phone to measure it so was going to see when I should shut it off. I’ve looked all over Al Gore’s internet and nothing. Portables claim 30deg. What about fixed? Specifically TF65? Thanks! My VW Eurovans fridge got put out to pasture. Can’t be happier with the new TruckFridge TF65.

    • Hi Paul, I couldn’t find anything either! I know that all TruckFridge units use Danfoss/SECOP compressors, which are also used in the portables. Plus these fridges are built for RVs and trucking, so I would imagine that they can operate at a similar incline as the portable units (30 degrees). If you want to know for sure, I had good luck contacting TruckFridge with questions. Here’s their contact page: https://www.truckfridge.com/contact-us/

      Hope that helps!

      ~John

  • I dont know where you guys got the warranty information.. On Amazons website for the CFX50 that you recommend, it says the warranty is 1 year on the compressor and 2 years on parts. Its a poor warranty from what I am reading and a lot of money for their product!

    • Hi Jeana, we found that warranty information from several sources, but I just followed up with Dometic directly and the 3+2 warranty is only offered in Australia. Thanks for catching this! In the US, Dometic currently offers a 2-year warranty, but according to them that covers all parts, labor, and defects, and is automatically in place (i.e. no registration required). They also offer an extended warranty for up to an additional three years. If you’re looking for a longer base warranty, ARB and Engel both offer 3-year warranties on their fridges.

      Dometic fridges are certainly not cheap (nor are the offerings from ARB and Engel), but they are efficient and reliable units with a range of features and a good reputation in the nomad community. If you’d rather spend less on a fridge, we recommend taking a look at Truck Fridge. They make solid fridges using Danfoss compressors, and cost significantly less than units from the “big three” brands. Hope that helps!

      ~John

    • Hi Charly, that is correct. Dometic is a huge fridge manufacturer, and they actually manufacture units for several other brands. ARB fridges are engineered entirely in house at ARB, so Dometic has nothing to do with the design of the product, but they do manufacture them for ARB.

      ~John