Nothing quite replicates the comforts of home on the road like having a 12 volt refrigerator in your van or at your campground.

With refrigeration, you may keep food that is still fresh and other cold things like dairy, meat, poultry, veggies, and beer.

It frees you from having to deal with a cooler filled with ice and soggy food.

The finest 12 volt refrigerators for campervans aren’t cheap, but owning one allows you to prepare your own food for less money (and healthier food).

One of your greatest van-building purchases will be a nice 12V refrigerator.

Additionally, you must be certain that the refrigerator you choose will satisfy your demands, endure the rigors of a life on the road, and fit within your budget.

With the entry of more recent low-cost competitors like Iceco, Alpicool, and Costway as well as the rising price of established manufacturers like Dometic and ARB, the world of 12V refrigerators has become very complicated.

We guide you through all of the vanlife refrigeration alternatives in this article, from budget-friendly to high-end to do-it-yourself.

We discuss the benefits and drawbacks of the top 12V refrigerator models.

We talk about whether the pricey 12 volt refrigerators are truly worth the money and what you could be giving up with the less costly models.

So continue reading to learn which refrigeration system is ideal for your rig!

Table of Contents

The Best 12V Fridges

We’ve whittled down the lengthy list of 12 volt portable refrigerators for van life to a select few models after doing significant study and testing.

Here are our top selections for the best 12 volt refrigerator under $500, the best high-end/upgrade refrigerator, and the greatest overall value (we recommend additional options in each category further down in this post).

#1. ICECO VL-Series 12V Fridges Best Overall Value

These refrigerators, which cost around half as much as higher end models, contain everything you need for life on the road and include the very effective Danfoss SECOP compressor and stainless steel construction.

Available in single and multiple zone configurations with capacities ranging from 45 to 74 liters.

Iceco.com is offering a 12 percent discount with the promo code GNOMAD.

If you use this link to shop and end up spending money, we get a commission (at no additional cost to you).

The finest overall value for portable refrigerators in the vanlife market, in our view, is offered by Iceco 12 volt models.

They provide a great balance of high-quality parts, durable construction, performance on par with more expensive 12 volt refrigerators, and hard-to-beat cost.

They provide many form factors in their JP-series and a range of sizes to suit any purpose, from tiny single-zone to huge dual-zone.

#2. Dometic CFX3 12V Fridges – Upgrade Pick

Many vanlifers choose CFX3 fridges because of their best-in-class energy efficiency, cutting-edge technology, durable build quality, and general dependability.

available in single and multiple zone configurations with capacities ranging from 24 to 99 liters.

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

If you use this link to shop and end up spending money, we get a commission (at no additional cost to you).

When it comes to 12 volt refrigerators for vanlife, the Dometic CFX3-series is at the top of the list.

These refrigerators from Dometic, recognized for their durable, cutting-edge, and transportable living equipment, are very energy-efficient, loaded with cutting-edge digital capabilities.

The only true drawback is a greater price, but if you want the finest for your setup, it may be worth it to you.

#3. BougeRV 12V Refrigerators – Budget Pick

Vanlife refrigerators for 12V are reliable and affordable.

Sizes ranging from 30 quart (28L) to 53 quart are available (50L).

Discounts for Bougerv.com

  • GNOMAD90 Get $90 off the 53-quart refrigerator
  • GNOMAD12 for a 12 percent sitewide discount

If you use this link to shop and end up spending money, we get a commission (at no additional cost to you).

The value of BougeRV 12 volt portable fridge is remarkable.

They are 12V DC refrigerators that are well manufactured and very efficient with all the necessary features, yet they cost less than a third as much as high-end models (with discounts).

And unlike some other inexpensive 12V refrigerators, this one is supported by a company that is dedicated to both the product and the vanlife community.

BougeRV is an excellent choice if you want refrigeration in your van without going overboard with your spending.

For advice on things to consider when choosing a refrigerator for your van, continue reading.

There is a ton of useful information here, which we suggest reading.

You may also move through to our list of suggestions if you’d like.

Various Vanlife Refrigeration Types

In your vehicle, you have a few different alternatives for keeping food cold.

Here is an explanation:

#1. 12V Compressor Refrigerators (Best Overall Option For Full-Timers)

For good reason, compressor refrigerators are the most prevalent 12 volt refrigerator you’ll encounter on the road.

These 12 volt fridges are often made for use in boats and 4x4s, and they are constructed with efficiency and durability in mind—two qualities that are crucial for an off-grid adventure vehicle.

These 12 volt portable fridges typically have the ability to operate while at an incline of up to 30 degrees, have highly effective, variable speed compressors that draw very little power, and can be used as a refrigerator, freezer, or both.

They also come in a variety of configurations, including chest-style, upright, and dual-zone fridge/freezers (other types of fridges need to be kept perfectly level when running).

These 12 volt portable fridges are ideal for vanlife because to their mix of features.

Although compressor refrigerators are fantastic, there is a drawback: price.

Before adding supplementary batteries and a way to charge them, these 12 volt freezers are more costly than other models (like solar panels or a battery isolator).

However, if you want to convert your van into a comfortable off-grid mobile home, spending the extra money on a premium 12V compressor fridge is completely worthwhile.

#2. Create Your Own Cheap Fridge (Best Option For DIY-Ers On A Budget)

If you’re a do-it-yourselfer, which, let’s face it, you probably are if you’re reading this site, you can create your own quite effective fridge out of a chest freezer.

Since freezers often have better insulation than refrigerators, your homemade refrigerator will be more effective than a typical mini-fridge.

The basic concept is to use a chest freezer, connect it to a tiny inverter, and wire it to a thermostat that is set to a refrigerator temperature.

The inverter is turned on and off as required by a relay that is linked to the thermostat.

The relay activates the inverter when the fridge’s inside temperature exceeds our objective.

The relay shuts off the inverter when the fridge reaches the low temperature that you select.

This stops it from overcooling and prevents power loss from keeping the inverter on constantly.

The main advantage is financial: building a true, functional refrigerator for a small portion of the price of a specially designed, 12-volt portable refrigerator.

There are disadvantages, however, as with anything.

You’ll need to invest some effort in developing this system, and these refrigerators may not be nearly as effective as 12V refrigerators.

If you need something smaller for your vehicle, you’ll have to choose an upright freezer since chest freezers often come in enormous sizes.

We couldn’t find many smaller than 3.5 cubic feet, which is double the size of a 50 L portable fridge.

But transforming it to a DIY vanlife fridge follows the same basic principle.

Here are some how-to articles on DIY fridge conversions that we’ve located:

  • Making a Super-Efficient and Effective Refrigerator (Vandweller’s Reddit)
  • The Most Energy-Efficient Fridge Ever: Converting a Chest Freezer to a Refrigerator (A Self Sufficient Life)
  • A Super-Efficient Off-Grid Refrigerator for the Poor (Off Grid Boot Camp)

#3. Common Coolers (Best for Shoestring Budgets)

A excellent cooler can get you going for a reasonable price if you’re just starting out on your vanlife adventure and don’t want to fork out cash for an expensive 12 volt fridge and electrical system straight immediately.

A lot of high-performance coolers can keep ice for 5–10 days, giving you plenty of time to relax in the woods before you need to resupply.

Coolers do have a number of shortcomings that make them unsuitable for permanent habitation.

Ice is expensive, not to mention the time and work it takes to find it when you need it, regularly dispose of any ice melt, and deal with food that may be contaminated with water.

However, a nice cooler is a terrific alternative for keeping your food fresh on the cheap whether you’re a weekend traveler, trying out this whole vanlife thing, or on a tight budget.

Remember that when your demands and money change, you can always update your van.

#4. Thermal Efficient Coolers (Fine for Roadtrippers, Not Recommended for Van Life)

Thermoelectric coolers may chill their contents without ice by connecting to a 12V power source.

They just aren’t the best for living in a van, however.

If the outside temperature is over 78°, you generally won’t want to keep meat or dairy in a 12 volt thermoelectric cooler since it can only chill items by 40° or less below ambient temperature.

This is OK if you spend all of your time in cold weather.

Additionally, they use a lot more power than 12V compressor fridges, which makes it challenging to operate them on an off-grid electrical system.

A thermoelectric cooler could be the perfect solution for you if all you need is something to keep your beverages or snacks cold while you’re driving.

But a real 12V fridge or regular cooler are far better options if you need refrigeration for camping or boondocking.

#5. Fridges with 3-Way Absorption (Not Recommended for Vanlife)

In our perspective, 3-way absorption fridges, which are more often seen in RVs, don’t make a lot of sense for van living.

You have a range of alternatives for keeping your food cool with these sorts of refrigerators since they may operate on 12V DC, 110V AC, or propane.

However, using 12V DC power for them is very wasteful, using 110V AC all the time would put extra strain on your inverter, and using propane will need you to deal with additional fuel lines and require you to vent the refrigerator outdoors.

Another major disadvantage is that absorption refrigerators need perfectly flat ground in order to operate, and unless you spend all of your time in RV parks, it might be difficult to locate such ground.

3-way absorption fridges just don’t cut it when you’re living in a van and require a portable, energy-efficient refrigerator, which is something you can’t get with them.

What’s Best for Your Build: Upright Fridges VS. Chest-Style 12 Volt Refrigerators?

There are two main types of 12V DC refrigerators: top-opening chest refrigerators and front-opening upright refrigerators.

You may assume that because many upright refrigerators use the same compressors as their chest-style counterparts, deciding between the two would just come down to personal preference for how you access and arrange your chilled items.

However, compared to upright refrigerators, chest-style refrigerators offer a number of significant benefits, making them, in our view, the greatest option for off-grid campervans.

Chest Refrigerators Use Less Energy

Energy efficiency is a top priority while boondocking in the woods with just your batteries and solar panels for electricity.

Additionally, 12 volt portable refrigerators in the chest type often use less energy than those in the upright style.

How come this is the case? The fact that cold air naturally descends is one of the causes.

Since the entrance of chest refrigerators is at the top, cold air will collect there since it has nowhere else to go.

When the door is closed on upright refrigerators, however, you must depend on the insulating barrier surrounding the door to keep the cold air within; yet, any stored cold air will escape anytime the door is opened.

Because food has a higher thermal density than air, the majority of the cold in any refrigerator is actually “stored” in the food (or beer) inside the refrigerator.

As a result, refrigerators that are fully stocked are much easier to maintain a cool temperature than refrigerators with a lot of empty space.

Additionally, it’s possible that the upright-style 12 volt refrigerators’ inner shelf design will result in unused empty space being placed on top of your food.

All of this results in extended operating times for upright refrigerators, which increases the battery drain.

Chest Fridges Are Easier To Organize And Hold More Items.

This could surprise you if you’re used to a front-open refrigerator in your home or apartment.

How can a chest fridge that compels you to stack stuff on top of one another be harder to arrange than a front-open fridge with shelves and drawers?

In fixed homes, the front-open refrigerators are enormous and provide you plenty of room to stretch out and arrange your food goods.

However, unused space in a smaller 12 volt refrigerator is wasted space that forces the compressor to operate more forcefully (and draw more power).

Even when using shelves, you still need to stack things on top of one another and move things about to access others.

Additionally, there will probably be a lot of empty space between the top of your food and the base of the subsequent shelf.

All of this results in unused space and little organizational improvement.

Chest-style 12 volt refrigerators’ top-down design enables you to compactly pack them to store more items and remove any extra space. Organization is further aided by the fact that the majority of chest-style 12 volt portable coolers also have separators and dairy divisions.

With a chest fridge, you won’t have to worry about your eggs shooting out at you when you open the fridge to have a cold one at your campground if your food slides about within the fridge while you’re bouncing down those rough backroads.

In An Emergency, Chest Fridges May Also Serve As Coolers.

Chest refrigerators include handles for convenient carrying and a form and configuration similar to coolers.

This enables you to move your 12V fridge about your vehicle, store it outdoors in cold weather for increased energy efficiency, or bring it inside and plug it into 110V AC if you’re stationary someplace.

A fridge that is upright makes all of this more challenging.

Additionally, the bottoms of many 12 volt chest-style freezers include drain plugs.

These plugs not only make cleaning simpler, but they also enable your 12V portable fridge to function as a cooler in the event that power is lost.

Simply add ice to your refrigerator as you would a regular cooler, and draw the drain plug as necessary to get rid of melted ice.

An upright refrigerator with a front-opening door simply cannot be used for this.

For Your Layout, Which 12 Volt Refrigerator Is Better? All Depends On Preference

The architecture of upright refrigerators is a key factor in why some vanlifers prefer them over chest refrigerators.

Since upright refrigerators have a smaller footprint, they may be simpler to include in a floor layout.

As opposed to chest fridges, which need ample above room to open the lid, these appliances open from the front (to make this less of an issue, you can buy a fridge slide or make your own).

However, there are a few factors to take into account when using an upright-style 12 volt refrigerator in your design.

In contrast to chest-style 12 volt portable fridges, which can be transported easily, it will probably first need to be permanently attached.

In addition, unless you install an upright fridge on a cabinet a few feet from the ground, you may need to go on your hands and knees to look inside one.

With chest refrigerators, it is simple to look straight down and see everything within.

Although we believe chest-style refrigerators are the finest option, your requirements and tastes will ultimately determine which 12 volt refrigerator is right for you.

As a short guide to the benefits and drawbacks, consider the following:

#1. 12 Volt Chest-Style Fridges

Pros

  • Less energy-intensive
  • Greater capacity for use
  • Can clearly see the fridge’s contents
  • Tough and transportable
  • May serve as a second seat
  • May be used in an emergency as a chiller.

Cons

  • May be more difficult to fit into a floor layout
  • To open the lid, there must be room above (or mount it on a fridge slide)
  • Some people may not enjoy “top down” management.

#2. Upright-12 Volt Refrigerators

Pros

  • A smaller footprint could make layout design easier.
  • Transitioning from a normal refrigerator has less of a “learning curve”
  • Often cheaper and lighter

Cons

  • Insufficiently energy-efficient
  • Internal design results in more unused space
  • Unlikely to be portable
  • A challenge to glimpse inside (unless mounted high up)
  • While driving, food things could move about and fly out when you open the door.

To Power A 12 Volt Portable Refrigerator, How Much Solar Power And Batteries Are Required?

A 12V outlet linked to an auxiliary battery (not your starting battery) and a method of charging the auxiliary battery are the electrical necessities for operating a 12V fridge in a van.

You need how much battery capacity, though?

How to Calculate Your Battery Capacity

Find your fridge’s typical power demand before calculating how much battery capacity you need to consistently power your 12V refrigerator.

Let’s use our refrigerator as an example, assuming it uses an average of 2.0 Amps each hour.

A 12V refrigerator using 2.0 Amps per hour will deplete 48 Ah of your battery in a day (24 hours).

You must also take the kind of your batteries into account when sizing your battery bank.

Always double your energy use amount to calculate your battery capacity since lead-acid, AGM, and gel batteries can only be depleted 50% before they begin to suffer harm.

In this case, you would need batteries with a minimum capacity of 100 Ah in addition to extra capacity to accommodate your other electrical demands.

On the other hand, LiFePO4 batteries (also known as LFP or lithium iron phosphate) allow for 100% discharge.

A 48ah LFP battery should be able to power your refrigerator in this case.

To handle your other electrical needs, you would need a larger battery, and we usually advise adding extra wiggle space if you can.

#1. Battle Born 100Ah LiFePO4 12V Battery – Suggested Battery

For contemporary camper vans, lithium iron phosphate (LiFePO4) batteries are THE BEST option.

They are significantly more durable, charge more quickly, and can withstand being entirely depleted.

Battle Born batteries are produced in the US and are developed exclusively for off-grid and mobile homes.

Our #1 recommended battery choice.

Getting Batteries Recharged

If your budget permits, installing solar on your van will enable you to remain off the grid while maintaining your battery power (we recommend mounting them to your roof, or you can build a portable mount).

In our big electrical article, we go into great length regarding system size, installation, and pretty much anything else you need to know.

#1. Renogy Premium Solar Kits – Recommended Solar Kit

Everything you need to equip your vehicle with solar power.

Including the cabling, fuses, MPPT charge controller, mounting brackets, and solar panels.

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

If you use this link to shop and end up spending money, we get a commission (at no additional cost to you).

Installing a battery isolator or DC-DC charger, which enables you to charge your batteries from your alternator while driving in addition to solar power, is an excellent option.

When you’re in the woods or in overcast conditions, this is a fantastic method to keep your batteries full.

And if you’re on a tight budget, a battery isolator could be enough to handle the majority of your charging requirements.

Solar may always be added as your requirements and finances change.

#2. Renogy 40A DC-DC Charger – Best DC-DC Charger

For optimum battery charging, use a three-stage charger.

Works with all alternator outputs and battery types (including lithium, AGM, etc.)

Connect the BT-2 Bluetooth module to your phone to enable monitoring.

The 20A and 60A versions are also produced by Renogy.

For a 10% discount at Renogy.com, use the promotional code GNOMADHOME.

If you use this link to shop and end up spending money, we get a commission (at no additional cost to you).

Portable Power Stations

A portable power station like the Jackery Explorer 1000, or comparable items from Goal Zero or Bluetti, are another alternative if establishing your own electrical system seems frightening (it’s not that tough, promise!).

Convenience and simplicity of use are power stations’ main benefits, but you’ll pay a little extra for them.

#1. Jackery Explorer 1000 Power Station

The Explorer 1000 is a top-notch solar generator for basic power requirements with a 1002Wh lithium battery, 1000W pure sine inverter, and sun charging capability.

If you use this link to shop and end up spending money, we get a commission (at no additional cost to you).

Additionally, you can purchase the Jackery with with their 100W foldable Solar Saga panels.

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

Two SolarSaga 100w solar panels are connected to a Jackery Explorer 1000 portable power source.

Everything you need for an excursion off the grid.

If you use this link to shop and end up spending money, we get a commission (at no additional cost to you).

You will need to be diligent about looking for sunny weather to keep the Jackery Explorer 1000 charged.

It has enough power to operate a 12 volt refrigerator and other vanlife requirements.

The Jackery Explorer 1500 and Explorer 2000 are even more capable of powering full time vanlife.

What to Check for in a 12V Compressor Portable Fridge

When comparing 12V fridge options for your van, keep the following in mind:

#1. Pricing (And Your Budget)

In general, 12 volt refrigerators may be relatively costly, although the cost of premium and entry-level models might differ significantly.

If your budget does not permit a more costly refrigerator (and you do not want to use a cooler while you save money), you may want to give less expensive brands a close examination.

While top companies like Dometic, ARB, Engel, etc., create outstanding units, the value may not be there for many individuals given the rising cost of higher end 12 volt refrigerators over the last several years.

There have also been several low-cost companies that use high-quality parts, such as Danfoss SECOP compressors, that are worth looking at.

With some of these units, you may have to compromise on efficiency and dependability, but you’ll save a ton of money in the process.

Additionally, there are also 12V fridge manufacturers like Iceco that can compete in many areas with higher priced units.

If you’re a full-timer, we believe a 12 volt refrigerator is an area of your van construction where it’s worthwhile to spend more money on quality, so getting a top-of-the-line fridge is an investment that will pay off.

If you don’t have that type of cash available, there are still some excellent bargains available.

The Growth of Low-Priced 12V Fridges

You could count the brands of vanlife refrigerators on two hands when we built up our first van back in 2016, and the most of them had been in business for years, if not decades.

Since then, the selection of vanlife refrigerators has multiplied.

Search “12V refrigerator” on Amazon, and you’ll be faced with hundreds of similar-looking goods offered under generic-sounding names like Costway, F40C4TMP, SetPower, AstroAI, and Bodega.

Most of these businesses just slap their brand name on a mass-produced, 12 volt portable refrigerator built in the same Chinese factory as all the rest without creating their own goods or engaging in any form of R&D.

That explains why you see what seems to be the same refrigerator being offered under many brand names.

Example: Type “12 volt refrigerator” into the search bar on Alibaba.com.

There will be a list of 12V refrigerators (exactly the same ones you’ll see rebranded on Amazon) that you can buy in quantity and brand.

Then, for a portion of the earnings, you may have your refrigerators transported straight to Amazon, who will handle shipping and fulfillment.

Exactly this is what a lot of these businesses are doing.

However, this does not imply that these goods are subpar.

Simply be informed of what you’re purchasing and confirm that the company will stand by you once you make the transaction.

For this reason, we suggest the affordable fridge brands Alpicool and BougeRV.

Since many 12 volt portable refrigerators are renamed, Alpicool, the original producer, has remained in business.

And why purchase a rebrand when you can get the original item straight from the manufacturer? Additionally, they employ LG compressors rather than generic ones.

Furthermore, BougeRV produces high-quality goods even though they effectively rebrand 12 volt refrigerators (and other items).

They are devoted to building a solid reputation as a brand and are making a significant push into the vanlife and RV spaces.

This is encouraging for customer service and the expansion of their product range in the future.

(For instance, Renogy began by rebranding mass-produced Chinese solar items, but has now grown into a trusted brand with high-quality goods, helpful customer service, and distinctive services.)

#2. Interior Volume and Freezer Functions

What size refrigerator do you require? A 12 volt camper fridge that is overly large can cost you more money and take up more room in your vehicle.

Likewise, frequent grocery shopping results from a refrigerator that is too tiny.

Everybody has different needs, but our 50-Qt fridge provides enough for a week’s worth of fresh food for the two of us, along with a few kombuchas and a few six packs.

The majority of 12 volt refrigerators may be used as either a freezer or a refrigerator.

However, some manufacturers provide dual-zone fridge/freezers with distinct compartments for each if you require both at once.

Here are some helpful basic guidelines:

  • If you’re a couple, a fridge with at least 45 quarts of space will be your best bet.
  • If you live alone, a refrigerator in the 30-Qt range would be sufficient.
  • Larger dual-zone fridge/freezers are recommended for larger households and individuals who need a freezer.

#3. Compressor Efficiency And Energy

Energy efficiency is a major problem when you’re off the grid.

The more energy-efficient your appliances are, the more money you may save in capacity even with the high cost of batteries and solar (or the more time you can spend off-grid while still powering everything you need).

Although some companies (including Dometic/Waeco, Engel, and Whynter/Edgestar use their own units), the majority of 12 volt portable refrigerators on the market utilize the exact same extremely effective Danfoss SECOP variable speed compressor.

All of the refrigerators we’ll be looking at here are typically energy-efficient, but certain manufacturers are able to do so because to superior insulation, design, and compressor controls.

All information about the typical power consumption of different refrigerators is provided here.

Note: It may be quite difficult to locate precise data on the power use of 12V refrigerators.

Not all manufacturers provide test data, and even when they do, the testing circumstances they utilized could not be the same as those used by other manufacturers, making comparisons difficult.

We received test data on average amp draw as straight from the manufacturers as feasible.

We’ve considered energy efficiency more as a discussion point in our study since all of these metrics have limitations and may not be directly comparable.

However, we would gladly accept a loan from any fridge manufacturer so that we could do our own field testing.

#4. Weight and Exterior Dimensions

Make sure all the alternatives you are thinking about will fit if you have a certain location in mind for your 12 volt refrigerator.

While some brands are squat and have a larger footprint, others are taller and have a smaller footprint.

The last determining aspect may be if a certain fridge will suit the layout of your vehicle.

If you need to move the refrigerator often or need to keep under a specific weight restriction, weight may also play a role in your selection.

Below, we provide measurements and weights for each 12 volt refrigerator that we examined.

#5. Which Way the Lid Opens

Although it may seem little, this can have a significant impact on how your vehicle is configured.

There are 12 volt portable refrigerators with back-hinged lids and those with side-hinged lids.

Since you’re approaching the refrigerator from the longer side, it could be simpler to see and reach the contents if the lids hinge from the side since they need less overhead clearance to completely open.

Since our ARB fridge in our van opens from the back, putting the hinge there really makes it simpler for us to reach everything.

However, since every van is unique, your particular arrangement will determine which lid orientation is ideal for you.

#6. Features That Come As Standard And Optional

The following characteristics are common to most portable 12V refrigerators:

  • Able to function at an inclination of up to 30 degrees.
  • The fridge has LED illumination inside.
  • Plug in floor drain for simple cleaning.
  • Low voltage cutoff for battery protection.
  • Lift-out organizer baskets and dividers.
  • Dairy section on its own.

Some refrigerators include more sophisticated features including wifi applications, digital controls, remote readouts, and more accessories.

#7. Guarantee and Dependability

In the event that anything goes wrong and has to be mended or replaced, factory warranties provide you some level of assurance.

We don’t want to minimize the value of warranties, however.

The key concern is how simple it will be to receive warranty service, even if a 12-volt refrigerator advertising a 3-year or 5-year guarantee is fantastic.

You can be responsible for the shipping charges to return your refrigerator to the manufacturer if it has a problem.

You may also need to take it to a licensed service facility where a warranty eligibility check will be performed.

In any event, you may go weeks or more without a refrigerator.

Reputation has a part in this as well.

Major brands with solid dependability histories include Dometic, ARB, and Engel.

Budget refrigerators with this compressor are often a safer pick since Danfoss compressors are renowned for being dependable.

If you stick with well-known brands or refrigerators with Danfoss compressors, you will roll the fewest dice.

Comparing the Best 12 Volt Portable Refrigerators in Detail

We examined refrigerator models from the most well-known adventure fridge manufacturers in our search to identify the top 12 volt refrigerators for van living, camping, and RVing.

We gathered information about the typical power consumption, warranty, interior and exterior dimensions, weight, noise level, features, and other factors.

Here are our opinions on the various choices available.

To go to a section, use the links below or scroll down.

  • Overall Best Pick
  • Improved Picks
  • Cheap Picks
  • Options Besides

Best Selection And General Value

Top Pick

#1. ICECO VL-Series 12V Fridges

These refrigerators, which cost around half as much as higher end models, contain everything you need for life on the road and include the very effective Danfoss SECOP compressor and stainless steel construction.

available in single and multiple zone configurations with capacities ranging from 45 to 74 liters.

Enter coupon code GNOMAD for 12% off at Iceco.com

If you use this link to shop and end up spending money, we get a commission (at no additional cost to you).

#2. ICECO JP-Series Fridges

Durable ABS construction, ICECO quality, a front-opening top, and a Danfoss SECOP compressor.

An outstanding bargain when traveling.

30L to 50L sizes are offered.

Use coupon code GNOMAD for 12% off at Iceco.com

If you use this link to shop and end up spending money, we get a commission (at no additional cost to you).

What do you get when you combine a Danfoss SECOP compressor with a 5-year guarantee, sturdy build, and performance and efficiency comparable to that of a Dometic or ARB with a price that’s almost half that of the top end fridge brands? You get an Iceco, then.

We believe that when it comes to overall value in the portable refrigerator industry, Iceco 12 volt refrigerators are the finest option.

They are not the cheapest nor the priciest refrigerators, but they occupy a Goldilocks-like middle ground of excellent materials, effective operation, and reasonable cost.

You can easily select a fridge to meet your demands since they are available in a wide range of sizes, from 30L to 74L, both single zone and dual zone, and varied form factors.

Energy Savings

According to our analysis, Iceco refrigerators are generally quite energy-efficient—almost on par with household brands like Dometic and ARB.

The VL45 single zone 12 volt refrigerator drew an average of 0.72A per hour during independent testing, which is quite good.

The VL-60 dual zone refrigerator tested in a similar manner used an average of 1.77A per hour in max mode and 1.27A per hour in eco mode.

For a dual zone refrigerator/freezer that is actively operating the freezer section, this is quite efficient.

Users report figures with same efficiency.

Cost and Total Value

In our view, Iceco refrigerators are the most cost-effective overall option available for vanlife refrigerators.

They cost about half as much as other higher-end models while offering virtually same performance, durability, and other crucial qualities.

Guarantee and Dependability

The very dependable Danfoss SECOP compressor that Iceco uses in its 12 volt refrigerators is covered by a 5-year warranty.

They provide a shorter guarantee on all other parts—just one year—than the majority of other 12 volt refrigerator manufacturers.

We haven’t heard of any dependability difficulties with these refrigerators, however.

Specifications and Add-ons

All of the standard features that we’ve come to expect from 12V refrigerators, such as battery protection and eco/max chilling modes, are available in Iceco refrigerators.

They don’t have a ton of bells and whistles, like digital functions, but many people don’t find it to be a selling factor.

Regarding accessories, Iceco provides a sliding mount and an insulated cover, both of which are compatible with a variety of their refrigerator models.

To Sum Up

It’s difficult to top the value that Iceco refrigerators provide.

They are among the most effective 12 volt refrigerators available, are tough and well-made, and use premium parts like Danfoss SECOP compressors.

All at a price that more people can afford than what some high-end companies ask for.

Improved Picks

#1. Dometic CFX3-Series 12 Volt Refrigerators

Dometic CFX3 12V Fridges

Many vanlifers choose CFX3 fridges because of their best-in-class energy efficiency, cutting-edge technology, durable build quality, and general dependability.

available in single and multiple zone configurations with capacities ranging from 24 to 99 liters.

At Dometic.com, use coupon code GNOMAD to get free delivery and a discount of 5%.

If you use this link to shop and end up spending money, we get a commission (at no additional cost to you).

According to us, the best premium option for a vanlife refrigerator is the Dometic CFX3 family of 12-volt portable fridge/freezers.

Although Dometic (formerly known as Waeco) has always produced reliable refrigerators, its most recent models are raising the standard for the 12V portable refrigerator class.

Dometic CFX refrigerators are exceptionally energy-efficient and use less electricity.

They have a sturdy structure, stainless steel hinges, and reinforced corners, making them tough and long-lasting.

They contain sophisticated capabilities, such as the capacity to regulate the temperature using a wifi app.

The CFX3 45-L model of this refrigerator is the most often used model, however Dometic also provides CFX refrigerators in a range of sizes, including double-zoned fridge/freezers.

So whatever your refrigeration requirements are, Dometic has a CFX refrigerator that will work.

Energy Savings

Dometic CFX3 refrigerators are the most effective ones we’ve identified, according to our study.

We phoned Dometic and inquired about their data since we were unable to uncover any publicly accessible information online.

The CFX3 45L draws an absurdly low 0.68A per hour on average, according to Dometic’s own tests (90°F ambient temperature with the fridge set to 39°F).

It is reasonable to conclude that this 12 volt refrigerator is exceptionally efficient since owners often report power usage at less than 1A per hour, which is consistent with Dometic’s figures.

Cost and Total Value

Certainly, Dometic CFX refrigerators are not inexpensive.

They are among the priciest 12 volt refrigerators for van living available.

However, you do get what you pay for, which includes a host of cutting-edge technologies, best-in-class energy efficiency, and longevity.

Although CFX3 refrigerators may not be the greatest “value,” they are still wonderful goods that are pricey for certain people.

Guarantee and Dependability

With the option to buy an extended warranty that may last up to three years, Dometic provides a basic 2-year manufacturer guarantee on its products in the US.

In Australia, the normal warranty is longer.

Additionally, Dometic has a strong track record of dependability and service.

Specifications and Add-ons

The features of Dometic CFX refrigerators are many.

Compared to other 12 volt refrigerators on this list, they include more sophisticated features, such as a usb connector for charging gadgets, a reversible side-opening top, and the option to manage the fridge’s settings through a wifi app.

All of the typical characteristics of a portable refrigerator, such as a low voltage cutoff, digital controls, an interior light, and a drain outlet, are all included in the CFX range.

Regarding add-ons, Dometic creates an insulated cover and a fridge slide for CFX refrigerators.

To Sum Up

Dometic CFX3 12 volt freezers come highly recommended.

They are the most effective 12V portable fridges now available, they have the most cutting-edge features, and Dometic is renowned for making high-quality 44 and mobile living products.

The CFX3 is a wonderful option for your vehicle even if it is not inexpensive, if cost is not a top factor for you.

#2: ARB 12V Refrigerators (various models)

ARB Zero 12V Fridges

ARB fridges are very tough and long-lasting since they were designed for overlanding adventures in the Australian bush.

The ARB Zero rivals Dometic’s products with ease and incorporates contemporary advancements.

Available in single and multiple zone configurations with capacities ranging from 38 to 101 quarts.

If you use this link to shop and end up spending money, we get a commission (at no additional cost to you).

#3. ARB Series II 50 qt Fridge Freezer

Reboot of the tried-and-true ARB 50-qt overlanding refrigerator, now with Bluetooth and other modern capabilities.

#4. ARB Elements Weatherproof 12V Fridge

ARB’s toughest refrigerator.

This 63-quart refrigerator has an electronic locking keypad and 304 stainless steel weatherproof construction.

ARB 12 volt portable fridge/freezers are renowned for their toughness and endurance and were created for 44 adventures in the Australian bush.

On an off-grid solar system, its sturdy powder-coated zinc steel design and very low power consumption will help you keep your food cold.

We can vouch for the 50-Qt model’s high quality and dependability since we use it often in our vehicle.

These refrigerators include a rear-hinged lid, making the ARB our best pick overall if you need a rear-hinged lid.

These 12 volt portable refrigerators have the drawback of being more expensive than many other 12 volt DC refrigerators available.

Although we have no hesitation in recommending this fridge since the quality more than justifies the price, it isn’t exactly a low-cost option.

Energy Savings

In terms of energy efficiency, ARB 12 volt portable refrigerators are second only to Dometic CFX refrigerators (based on our research).

One of the few manufacturers that openly makes accessible data from power consumption tests is ARB.

Based on a 27-hour test at 86°F ambient temperature with the fridge set to 37°F, ARB claims that the 50-Qt model draws a very low 0.87A per hour on average.

The ARB drew a meager 1.35A per hour in a comparative test with an Engel refrigerator at 90°F ambient temperature (fridge set at 37°F).

We can vouch for the ARB 50-Qt 12 volt refrigerator’s very low power consumption since we personally own one.

We assessed the ARB’s average power consumption during a prolonged power draw test at around 0.95A per hour over a period of over two weeks.

High 70s in the afternoon and high 60s at night were the ambient temperatures for this test.

Cost and Total Value

The most costly refrigerators we looked at are models made by ARB.

Other companies may provide a little price advantage, but ARB produces top-notch, durable, and effective refrigerators.

With these, you really get what you paid for.

Guarantee and Dependability

You may feel confident knowing that ARB stands by their goods since they provide a fantastic 3-year guarantee on portable refrigerators.

We haven’t had any difficulties with our ARB refrigerator, and we haven’t heard of any dependability concerns with them.

Specifications and Add-ons

All the features you would anticipate are present in ARB refrigerators, including the drain plug, low voltage cutoff, digital display, internal illumination, and detachable lid.

Additionally, they provide a huge selection of accessories, such as fridge slides, tie-down straps, a transport bag, and a remote display.

However, the accessories are not inexpensive.

To Sum Up

Excellent durability and energy economy are two main objectives while living in a van, and ARB fridges provide on both counts.

Additionally, they provide a 3-year guarantee on all of their items and have excellent customer service.

Although they are a little more expensive than some other alternatives, we have no hesitation in recommending them because of their excellent value (our own ARB 12 volt refrigerator has been a kickass addition to our van).

Cheap Picks

#1: BougeRV 12 Volt Refrigerators

BougeRV 12V Refrigerators

Vanlife refrigerators for 12V are reliable and affordable.

Sizes ranging from 30 quart (28L) to 53 quart are available (50L).

Discounts for Bougerv.com

  • GNOMAD90 Get $90 off the 53-quart refrigerator
  • GNOMAD12 for a 12 percent sitewide discount

If you use this link to shop and end up spending money, we get a commission (at no additional cost to you).

Among the plethora of low-cost, mass-produced 12 volt refrigerators made in China that are now available on Amazon and elsewhere, BougeRV sells the best.

BougeRV refrigerators stand out from the competition, however, since the company is dedicated to building a solid reputation as a reliable name in the vanlife, RV, and adventure markets.

This is a crucial sign of dependability, customer service, and potential product line growth.

The 12 volt portable refrigerators from BougeRV are very affordable, yet they work almost as well as premium brands and have all the standard amenities you’d expect from a 44 fridge.

Sizes range from 30 quarts to 53 quarts.

We thoroughly evaluated their 53-qt model, and we were generally pleased with both its performance and build quality.

BougeRV is worth serious consideration if you don’t have a lot of money to spend on a vanlife refrigerator (or if you just don’t want to pay one item the price of a month’s rent).

Energy Savings

Very effective refrigerators are produced by BougeRV.

They make use of Wancool compressors, which are less expensive rebadged copies of the dependable and highly efficient Danfoss compressor.

The 53-qt model’s 24-hour average power consumption was 0.97A per hour in Eco mode and 1.33A per hour in Max mode, according to our own tests.

The ambient temperature throughout these testing ranged from the mid 70s to the upper 60s.

Cost and Total Value

The BougeRV 12 volt refrigerators are by far the finest buy we’ve discovered in terms of value.

With discounts, a BougeRV fridge is less than one-third the price of our premium options.

This is a very affordable method of adding refrigeration to your vehicle.

Coupons for BougeRV: For $90 off the 53-qt model, use the coupon Gnomad90.

Gnomad12 will give you a sitewide discount of 12%.

(Including on all their other fridges, as well as solar panels and accessories).

Guarantee and Dependability

The normal guarantee for fridges from BougeRV is two years, however you may extend it to three years by registering your item.

Since this 12 volt refrigerator is more recent, there is less data on its long-term dependability.

However, the product looks reliable, and BougeRV is dedicated to building a trusted name, all of which are encouraging.

Specifications and Add-ons

All the standard features you would anticipate from a 12 volt refrigerator are included in BougeRV refrigerators, such as Eco mode, a two compartment interior with a detachable basket, an inside LED light, and battery protection.

They lack more sophisticated digital features like Bluetooth.

To Sum Up

For thrifty vanlifers or vandwellers on a tight budget, BougeRV freezers are excellent options.

For a small fraction of the cost of better quality models, they are effective, perform well, and come with all the standard features you would anticipate in a contemporary 12V refrigerator.

#2: Alpicool CF-Series 12V Fridges

Alpicool CF 12V Fridges

a lot of generic 12V fridge manufacturers’ OEM.

Features LG compressors, reliable performance, and is reasonably priced for value hunters.

Single zone only, available in 48 and 58 quart capacities.

If you use this link to shop and end up spending money, we get a commission (at no additional cost to you).

More information will be available shortly as we strive to add this area.

Options Besides

#1. Time-Tested Reliability: Engel MR040 12V Refrigerator

ENGEL MR040F 40-Qt Portable Fridge/Freezer

The Engel MR040F is renowned for its dependability and is equipped with the unbreakable Sawafuji swing compressor.

Although it’s a little less effective than our top choices, it’ll probably survive for decades.

If you use this link to shop and end up spending money, we get a commission (at no additional cost to you).

Engel 12 volt DC refrigerators have a reputation for being dependable and durable; in fact, its tagline is “A Legend in Reliability,” and they more than live up to this billing.

Many owners of Engel refrigerators have kept the same refrigerator running for years since it uses the dependable Sawafuji Swing Motor compressor.

The Engel refrigerators are still highly effective even if they use a little bit more energy than our top choices, the Dometic and ARB 12 volt refrigerators.

However, they do exclude a few features that are common on other refrigerators, most notably digital temperature controls.

If you purchase an Engel portable refrigerator, you will operate it manually and have a digital display in place of buttons (although, some people actually prefer this).

Another drawback is expense; although Engel refrigerators are similarly expensive as ARB units, they often have a smaller capacity per dollar.

The 40 Liter Engel MR040, in our opinion, is the ideal choice for vanlife.

The MR040 has a sturdy plastic structure that can withstand the demands of life on the road and is particularly designed for maritime usage.

Energy Savings

Although not as effective as the models from Dometic and ARB, the Engel MR040 refrigerator is nevertheless efficient.

The MR040 draws around 1.5A per hour at 95°F ambient temperature with the control knob set to “1,” according to Engel’s own performance statistics (the lowest refrigeration setting).

Engel claims that the MR040 “usually draws 1-2 Amps per hour” in their product specifications for this 12V refrigerator, yet an ARB comparative test revealed that this refrigerator drew 1.67A per hour in temperatures of 90°F.

As more evidence that this refrigerator consistently draws 1.5A per hour, give or take, in summertime settings, we discovered another test report showing that the Engel draws slightly over 1.6A at 91°F temperatures.

Cost and Total Value

Engel refrigerators are expensive, so this is not a purchase for those on a tight budget.

Additionally, these refrigerators lack several functions that are included with conventional refrigerators.

Although the price is high, it is fair to assume that Engels are recognized for their overall quality and dependability, making this a smart long-term investment.

Guarantee and Dependability

Like you would expect from a reputable company, Engel provides a 3-year guarantee on its refrigerators.

However, dependability and lifespan are where Engels truly shine; these refrigerators are renowned for surviving for decades without any problems.

Specifications and Add-ons

Engel refrigerators don’t have a ton of features.

They lack an automated low voltage cut down and instead feature a manual control knob (which some people really like) (although the Sawafuji compressor supposedly adjusts its power draw when battery voltage is low).

Slides, remote displays, and tie downs are just a few of the accessories that are offered.

To Sum Up

When looking for a dependable, transportable refrigerator that you know will endure for a very long time, you really can’t go wrong with an Engel 12 volt model.

However, Engels are falling behind in terms of technology since they lack several contemporary features like digital controls and low voltage cut off.

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

Whynter FM-Series Portable Refrigerator

A sturdy, reasonably priced refrigerator that is a good option for vandalism

If you use this link to shop and end up spending money, we get a commission (at no additional cost to you).

Vanlifers who are on a tight budget often use Whynter (also known as Edgestar) refrigerators.

The Whynter FM-Series provides portable refrigeration with many of the same basic functions for a fraction of the price of the high-end models.

Whynter 12 volt refrigerators often malfunction.

If you find a decent one, it may make a fantastic traveling companion.

However, there are several reports of products that malfunction after a few months and of customers having trouble contacting the company for assistance.

Even though Whynter refrigerators are energy-efficient, user reviews and power draw tests often show inconsistent results, raising the possibility that there may be some quality control concerns with this brand.

Furthermore, Whynter refrigerators employ proprietary copycat compressors rather than Danfoss ones, raising further questions about their dependability.

Whynter/Edgestar refrigerators are a popular choice among vanlifers and might be cost-effective if you’re on a tight budget.

But there are several unanswered questions in this situation.

Energy Savings

Although Whynter portable refrigerators are effective, they may be erratic.

The 43L FM-45G draws a meager 1.10A per hour at 90°F ambient temperatures with the fridge set to 39.2°F, according to Whynter’s own statistics.

The Whynter edges 3A per hour to maintain a specified temperature under comparable circumstances, according to this test report.

Although the majority of users claim that it draws around 1A per hour, owner reports are also patchy.

Cost and Total Value

The Whynter FM-series 12 volt refrigerators are among the most affordable models we examined and provide amazing value.

If money is truly tight for you, this is a fantastic place to spend it.

Just be aware that there are issues with this brand’s stability and dependability.

Guarantee and Dependability

The dependability and consistency of Whynter’s refrigerators are seriously questioned, and the company only provides a one-year guarantee on them.

Some owners have complained that it is difficult to have their 12 volt refrigerator fixed or replaced when problems arise.

If you decide to purchase a Whynter, be sure to do it from a store that has a generous return policy, just in case.

Specifications and Add-ons

Whynter’s units, like the majority of the refrigerators on our list, come with all the standard amenities, including low voltage cut off, internal lights, digital controls, and a drain outlet.

Although there aren’t many accessories offered, they do provide a transportation bag.

To Sum Up

If you need a dual-zone refrigerator but don’t want to spend a lot of money on a Dometic or an ARB, Whynter produces a good affordable 12 volt refrigerator (or even an Iceco).

However, there are some uncertainties about dependability, consistency, and support, so use caution.

However, this ultra-cheap refrigerator is no more of a dice toss than any other.

Conclusion

Your vanlife, camping, or RVing experience may truly be enhanced with a portable 12 volt refrigerator.

However, these items are not inexpensive, and it’s crucial to understand that the 12V

Your new refrigerator will meet your requirements.

We really hope that the information we have provided here has been useful; however, if you have any questions or feel that we have missed anything, do let us know in the comments.

Don’t allow the lack of a fridge prevent you from traveling, even though having a 12V fridge in your van makes living in a van a lot simpler! With a simple cooler, you can get by just fine; you can always improve later.

In the end, vanlife is about having the flexibility to design your own life, not about technology and HGTV-worthy furnishings.

So go outside and begin your exploration!

12V RV Refrigerator Videos Suggestions From Youtube

Why The 12volt RV Fridge is Amazing! RV Fridge Comparison. – All About RV’s
What is a 12 Volt RV Refrigerator? Tech Tip #5 – The Happy Camper
12v RV Compressor Fridge Test & Review with Haylett RV – Josh the RV Nerd at Bish’s RV

Published on

Written by Bob Matsuoka
Bob Matsuoka is a blogger and founder of RVing Beginner blog. He has been blogging for over five years, writing about his own family’s RV adventures, tips for people who are interested in buying an RV or taking their family on an adventure by RV.