Have you been looking for a portable fridge you can drag along when you go camping? Or maybe one that you can simply jam in the car on a road trip with the family?
It’s summertime and there has never been a better time to grab one as you are planning for your next caravanning or camping adventure.
Portable fridges come in different specs, shapes, and sizes; you have probably spotted several variations with people at parks and camping sites, which begs the question;
Which is the best portable fridge? What are my requirements? How much am I willing to spend? What qualities should I look out for before making a purchase?
Well, have no fear, these are precisely the questions we hope to answer in this post. We are going to review 5 of what we consider to be the best products currently in the market to aid you in your quest to find a portable fridge that matches your needs.
However, before we proceed, let’s get down to basics and discuss the two main types of portable fridges; the Compressor Fridges(2-Way) and Absorption Fridges(3-Way).
Compressor Fridges operate exactly the same way as home fridges; these portable fridges can function on a 12V battery connection or a 240V AC connection via an AC adaptor.
The 2-Way portable fridge is the more popular option of the two for a variety of reasons.
First, Compressor Fridges run solely on compressor power outfitted by either 12V battery power or 240V direct connection.
Additionally, supplementary equipment such as solar panels and insulation cover bags can be a very convenient way of setting up this type of fridge in a camping setting.
Portable Compressor Fridges also use an average of 30 amps every 24 hours when running temperatures fall between the 0°C and 4°C range.
On the other hand, these refrigerators use an average of 65 amps every 24 hours when they are used as freezers with running temperatures going as low as 18°C, making them quite economical.
Compressor Fridges are typically constructed with thick insulation, which retains the temperature in the fridge, hence enabling them to work less and keep power usage at a minimal.
Absorption Fridges (3-Way)
In contrast, Absorption Fridges operate by using heat to provide the energy required to power the cooling mechanism, which is either outfitted by 12V battery power, 240V direct power, or LPG gas.
Absorption Fridges run especially well with LPG gas, which makes it the most preferred powering option amongst users.
The only downside to using a Portable Absorption Fridges is its vulnerability to high environmental temperatures which make it harder for the fridge to keep cool.
This consequently makes it necessary for the fridge to work harder and use more power; averagely 150 amps every 24 hours when running on 12V battery power.
Now, without further ado, let us explore our top five picks:
|Product||Capacity||12/24 Volt DC or 120 Volt AC Power||Interior Temperature Range||Weight||Price|
|Dometic CFX65||106 Can/60l Capacity||12 volts DC and 240 volts AC||+10C to -22C||49.16 lbs.||$$|
|Campingaz Powerbox Plus 28L||28 Liters/ 8x 1.5 Liter Bottles||12 volts DC and 230 volts AC||18 Degrees Below Ambient Temp.||8.3 lbs.||$|
|Engel MR040||40 Liters||12/24 volts DC and 220 volts AC||+10°C and -18°C||52.92 lbs.||$$|
|ARB 10800782 82 Quart Fridge Freezer||120 x 12-ounce cans/Two-liter bottles.||12/24 volts DC and Standard AC Household Outlet||+10°C and -18°C||54 lbs.||$$$|
|Bushman Original SC35-52||35 to 52 Liters||12 volts DC and 240 volts AC||+10° to -22°||50.7 lbs.||$$$|
The Dometic CFX65 is a powerful, 2-Way, portable fridge with robust and efficient performance enabled by its extra thick insulation and its state-of-the-art compressor technology.
This fridge has a capacity of 65 liters that fits up to 106 standard-sized cans standing upright. The CFX65 has a heavy-duty design that makes it exceptionally durable, and this is further buttressed by its strong closing mechanism and reinforced corners.
This fridge also features a CFX65W USB charging port where you can plug in mobile devices to charge as well as LED lighting in the interior that allows you to easily located contents in the dark.
The fridge comes with a digital display that you can operate remotely or up-close from the control panel itself.
Apart from temperature controls, the control panel features lights that indicate whether your fridge is running or switched off. The CFX65 also features a battery protection setting that shuts down the fridge before it is fully discharged.
This portable refrigerator additionally comes with a Dual-zone compartment that allows you to set different compartments at different temperatures, which essentially means you can refrigerate and freeze food simultaneously.
The state-of-the-art refrigerator further features a user-friendly Wi-Fi app that enables you to remotely set, regulate, and monitor temperatures in the cooling compartment from your mobile device.
During normal use, the CFX65’s cooling temperatures range anywhere between 10°C to and -22°C but it can go as low as -22°C and -50°C when it is used as a freezer.
Regardless of the ambient temperatures, even in the harshest environmental conditions, the CFX65 provides impressively hushed cooling performance due to its energy efficient compressor technology.
All in all, the CFX-65 makes for a good option when it comes to a camping or caravan trip and in the off chance that your machine malfunctions, you have at your disposal a Parts Only Warranty of two years and a Manufacturer’s Warranty of 3 years.
- A Wi-Fi enabled display.
- Built-in USB ports.
- Interior lighting.
- Deep freeze capability.
- A Quiet compressor for hushed operation.
- 3-stage battery protection.
- Repairs can be difficult to effect.
- The Dual Zone is not ‘true’, rather the refrigerator ‘bleeds’ air over the freezer compartment to cool the refrigerator compartment.
Campingaz Powerbox Plus 28L
As the name suggests, the Campingaz Powerbox is a 28-liter portable refrigerator that keeps your food and drinks cool out on the road. This portable refrigerator uses a 12V power supply that you can source power straight from a vehicle’s power socket.
The Powerbox Plus typically keeps the interior of the refrigerator at least 18 degrees below the environmental temperature.
The Powerbox Plus may not look so different from your conventional cool box, but this cannot be further from the truth.
Granted, the Powerbox Plus takes up a large amount of space in a vehicle, but once it is plugged in and running, this piece of equipment keeps your food and drinks cool for hours on end, even after it has been disconnected from the power source.
The Powerbox Plus is also quite easy to operate, all you have to do is plug it into your 12V car plug and switch the refrigerator on using the rotary dial.
For further convenience, you can also connect the refrigerator to the main socket in your home and chill the box before heading out for a camping trip.
Note, however, that main socket power leads do not come with the refrigerator; you would have to purchase one separately, which is not a problem since they are fairly cheap.
In terms of performance, the Powerbox Plus comes with a powerful motor and three distinct power settings; Eco, Max, and Night, with the Max setting keeping your food and drinks chilled in the harshest of conditions.
However, the motor, which has been built into the lid, tends to be a bit noisy, especially when you’re using the refrigerator on Max setting.
Therefore, if you are trying to get some sleep you may want to use the Night setting which is a little less noisy. All things considered, this portable refrigerator is simple, durable, and affordable accessory for the regular camper.
- Has a powerful motor.
- Thick insulation that keeps food and drinks chilled for hours.
- Easy to use.
- Three distinct settings for varying occasions.
- Is chunky and takes up a lot of space.
- Can be noisy at maximum efficiency.
The Engel refrigerators have been designed with two things in mind; Longevity and Reliability. This is enshrined in the company’s motto, ‘A legend in Reliability’, and when it comes to portable refrigerators, the Engel MR040 is the embodiment of this legend.
The Engel MR040 has forgone some of the features you would expect to find in modern-day portable refrigerators, for example, buttons and digital displays.
With the Engel MR040, you will be using a manual dial at the front of the box similar to that of the Powerbox Plus above.
However, some people actually prefer this manual interface, especially since it does not take away from the effectiveness and functionality of the refrigerator.
The MR040 was designed for marine use but the refrigerator works just as well in a van. The refrigerator has a 40-liter capacity and has been constructed using strong, durable plastic that can take the strain of life on the road for decades, making it a suitable long-term investment for the frequent traveler.
The MR040 draws an average of 1.6A per hour in 90°F ambient temperatures when the control knob has been set at ‘1’, making it perfect for harsh summer conditions.
On the downside, the MR040 does not have an automatic low voltage shut off even though Engel has claimed that the Sawafuji compressor used in this appliance lowers its power intake when the voltage is low. As a bonus, with the MR040, you also have a variety of accessories available to you, including remote displays, slides, and tie downs.
Note, however, that the Engel MR040 is on the higher end of the price range, so do not expect this to be a budget buy. Nonetheless, Engel has, for over 50 years, built a reputation for reliability, so even if the price may be high, you are guaranteed quality service and functionality for years to come.
Furthermore, the MR040 comes with a 3-year warranty, which insures you against any form of arbitrary malfunction you may experience with your appliance.
- Has a simple design.
- An efficient compressor.
- Interior lighting.
- Has a low voltage cutout.
- Minimal interior space in comparison to external design.
- Is quite bulky.
- Forgoes modern features common in other portable refrigerators.
The ARB 82 Quartz portable refrigerator is a ‘true’ Fridge/Freezer that keeps your food and drinks simultaneously refrigerated and frozen in the harshest of ambient conditions.
With the ARB’s water draining outlet, you never have to worry about shifting ice or finding your food water-logged. This portable refrigerator also comes with two separate power cords, one for 120V AC connection and the other for 12/24V DC connection.
The refrigerator only draws an average of 1.3 amps per hour in the sweltering summer heat (90°F) while still maintaining sub-freezing temperatures, which is quite impressive for a portable refrigerator.
Additionally, the 82 Quartz has been built with an extreme terrain in mind and, as such, the refrigerator can stay fully functional even at a 30-degree tilt. The model is further equipped with steel handles that have been strategically placed close to the unit to deter flexing of the external body over time.
Moreover, this portable refrigerator has a digital control panel that is positioned under an overhang which protects it from easily being bumped into or being damaged in transit.
As a testament to the quality of the 82 Quartz, the ARB brand found its roots in the harsh Australian outback back in the mid-1970s. The rugged terrain attracted 4×4 enthusiasts from around the world and due to the harsh driving conditions, only 4×4 accessories could suffice, and in that extreme environment, the ARB brand was born.
Although the brand is globally recognized today, they have maintained the same philosophy of practicality and reliability that flourished in that unforgiving environment.
The 82 Quartz is one of the most durable portable refrigerators in the market and as a show of good faith in their product, ARB has warranted the refrigerator from any defects in materials for a period of two years after the sale.
The refrigerator also comes with accessories such as EMU suspensions, Sliders, and Air Lockers, which can carry warranties of up to 5 years.
- Has a sturdy design.
- Has a water draining outlet.
- Remote monitor.
- Removable lid.
Bushman Original SC35-52
Bushman is an Australian-owned family company that has been manufacturing off grid fridges since 1982. Their catalog consists of well over 35 portable fridge options, but their original SC35-52 model is arguably the best product that they have, and quite possibly the most versatile portable refrigerator in the market.
The SC35-52 model has an adjustable internal volume and an exceptionally hardy build. Numerous users have attested to the hardiness of this outdoor appliance, some having owned theirs for almost two decades now, using it regularly in rugged terrain without deterioration in performance.
This model comes with three interchangeable lids as well as an extension collar that allows you to choose between 35, 45 and 52-liter capacities depending on your needs. Additionally, this model can run on both 12V and 240V power sources regardless of what capacity you choose to use.
The refrigerator also has a full-sized fridge condenser that gives the SC35-52 outstanding power and performance. The SC35-52 further comes with a complimentary accessory kit that includes a flat lid, 4 tie-down brackets, 3 internal baskets, and a protective cover.
When all three baskets are used simultaneously, the SC35-52 functions as both a fridge and a freezer, which you can regulate from a digital thermostat. To top it all off, the Original Bushman comes with a 3-year warranty for the fridge itself and a separate 5-year warranty for the compressor.
- Separate fridge and freezer compartments.
- Comes with a complimentary accessory kit.
- Has an adjustable internal volume
- Capacity to operate even at a 30o angle.
What to Look Out for When Purchasing a Portable Fridge
Price and Warranty
Price is definitely one of the most important factors to consider when making your purchase. The general trend is that higher-priced refrigerators have a higher quality, are more efficient, and are more technologically advanced.
Also, refrigerators with longer warranties tend to be more durable and have better, easily accessible customer support.
Regardless of whether you intend to go camping as opposed to caravanning, your portable fridge will spend a significant amount of time in your vehicle, and seeing as vehicles have a limited amount of space, the dimensions of your potential refrigerator is something you have to keep in mind.
The space needed is not just for your convenience but for the functionality of the appliance; when the refrigerator is kept in a confined space, the additional heat causes the fridge to work harder to keep the products cool, consequently using up more energy.
Luckily, because portable refrigerators don’t necessarily need ice to keep food and drinks cold, most portable refrigerators take up less space than traditional coolers.
Additionally, consider the internal dimensions of your potential refrigerator. Due to the unique positioning of the compressor in different models, some will have more internal space than others.
Note also, most manufacturers do not consider the space occupied by the external handles, so you may want to take that into account when choosing suitable dimensions, especially when you are making a purchase online.
Opening Direction of Doors
This is easy to miss but, a portable refrigerator that opens from the top is much more efficient than a side-door or sliding-door refrigerator. This is not only due to the space-factor, especially when you are in a vehicle, but also due to cold air convection.
Cold air slips easily out of the sides and the bottom of a refrigerator when it is opened from the side while most of it remains contained inside when dealing with a top-open refrigerator.
Additionally, with a side-door refrigerator, food and drink packages are more likely to fall off when opened while a top-open refrigerator will keep packages securely stacked against each other even when opened.
You also need to decide whether you are looking for a fridge, freezer, or both in your portable refrigerator.
Some portable models are only built to be one or the other and if eating ice cream on the road is a priority for you then a refrigerator with no freezing capacity may not be convenient.
Concurrently, if you do not intend to store any frozen products, a refrigerator with freezing capacity may not be necessary.
Nonetheless, we recommend a portable refrigerator with Dual-Zone compartments that can separate temperatures and perform both functions simultaneously because you never know when you might need either.
The fact that it is a portable refrigerator automatically implies that it should be easy to move around; you need to be able to easily move your appliance from one location to another.
Also, with an extremely heavy refrigerator, you may not be able to enjoy the comfort of placing it on a slider and it may also affect the functionality of your vehicle.
Significantly heavier fridges can affect the gas mileage of your vehicle and although the cost may be insignificant per use, it will definitely add up in the long run.
On a more technical note, the compressor layout and motor type can affect how long a portable refrigerator can stay on. Furthermore, with some models, you will be able to adjust temperatures more easily than others.
Additionally, some refrigerators have battery cutoff switches that automatically switch the refrigerator off when the battery life is too low to preserve its competence.
These are all factors you should discuss with your retailer prior to making a purchase to really understand how effectively each model will serve your particular needs.
Earlier models of portable fridges had a reputation for being high energy consumers but with advancements in technology, that narrative has changed.
To guarantee that your mini fridge is energy efficient, we recommend that you check for an energy rating that falls between A and A+++ in each potential purchase, which will guarantee you an extremely economical product.
If we had a say in it, all our appliances would be as quiet as the breeze, don’t you agree? Therefore, it is absolutely important that you look into the decibel output of your potential purchase.
The most hushed portable fridges emit anywhere between 40 and 50 decibels, which guarantees that you won’t be losing any sleep due to the constant whirl of the motor.
As we have established, not all portable fridges are portable freezers as well. Some have the capacity to keep food and drinks perfectly chilled but have no capacity to store perishables for extended periods of time.
As such, if you plan on purchasing a model with no freezing capacity, it is important to find a product with an adjustable temperature range, preferably one that can go as low as 1°C for maximum efficiency.
Considering so many companies and brands have come up with their own versions of portable fridges, and with the varying and unique needs of each consumer in the market, the most important thing to do as a potential consumer is to understand your individual needs and find a product that matches them perfectly.
Keep in mind that as much as some of the products on our list may be expensive, higher-priced portable fridges tend to serve you longer, and for the frequent road warrior, an expensive product is a long-term investment that will be your companion on the road for decades to come.
We hope we have provided you with sufficient tools and information to help you make an informed decision in your purchase. Remember, a portable fridge is simply an accessory, a tool for travel convenience.
So, no matter what your needs are, or what your price range is, or what your choice may ultimately be, you can always upgrade later; but the true spirit of the outdoors lies within you.
So use the information above to grab your own portable fridge today and enjoy the world around you. Happy Travels!!