Best Fridge For Van Life: Portable 12v Fridge Options for Camping and Van Life

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Van life and camping refrigeration options are plentiful… and the choices can feel overwhelming. If you’re trying to figure out which 12v fridge option is the best, this article is for you.

I’ve used 12v refrigerators while living in an RV for two years and two different campervans, and I have experience with multiple different types. I’ve used a 12v compressor fridge, a 3-way fridge, and a 12v car fridge (thermoelectric cooler).

Whether you’re looking for a 12v fridge for a campervan conversion or just need something for weekend warrior camping and road trips, you’ll find it all here.

Some of these 12v portable refrigerators are best for short-term trips, and others for long-term van life.

I put hours of research (plus my personal experience) into this article to bring the best options to the table, no matter what your budget is.

The beginning of this article has a table comparing the top 5 picks, and later on I’ll do a deeper comparison and answer some of the top questions about 12v refrigerators.

If you’re short on time, use the table of contents below this section to jump to what you want to see.

Without further ado, here are the best 12v campervan refrigerators compared by price and features:

Best 12v Fridge Options At a Glance

Top Pick
Lowest Temp
Warranty
Digital Display
Dual Zone Options
Low Voltage Cutoff
Price
Capacity
Lowest Temp
Warranty
Digital Display
Dual Zone Options
Low Voltage Cutoff
Price
Best Value
Capacity
Lowest Temp
Digital Display
Dual Zone Options
Low Voltage Cutoff
Price
Capacity
Lowest Temp
Warranty
Digital Display
Dual Zone Options
Low Voltage Cutoff
Price
Budget Choice
Capacity
Lowest Temp
Warranty
Digital Display
Dual Zone Options
Low Voltage Cutoff
Price

Last update on 2022-05-25 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Best 12v Camping Fridge Options: Closer Look at the Best 12v Refrigerators

Let’s take a closer look at these top 5 options for the best campervan fridge. Each person has different preferences, so the fridge that works best for someone else might not be best for you!

Top Pick: Dometic CFX Series Best 12v Fridge Freezer and Best 12v Compressor Fridge

TOP PICK: Dometic CFX Series
  • Cools Down to -7 F
  • 2 Year Warranty
  • Digital Display
  • Wifi App
  • Low Voltage Cut-off
  • Many More Features and Options


Last update on 2022-05-25 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

My top pick and the fridge that I have personal experience with is the Dometic CFX Series.

The 12v Dometic Refrigerators are some of the most popular picks for van life refrigerators and it’s not hard to see why.

These refrigerators are rugged, durable, and extremely energy efficient. They come in a wide variety of sizes and styles and feature both single and dual-zone options.

The Dometic fridges feature reversible lids, a wifi app to control the fridge, USB charging ports for devices, and much more.

These 12v refrigerators come with a standard 2-year warranty, have a low-voltage cutoff feature, and other standard options.

ARB 12v Refrigerators

ARB 12v Refrigerators
  • Many Sizes and Capacities
  • Dual-Zone Options
  • Built for Overlanding and Van Life
  • Cools Down to 0 F
  • 3 Year Warranty 
  • Low Voltage Cutoff

Last update on 2022-05-25 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

ARB 12v refrigerators are literally built for van life. These 12v refrigerators were originaly designed for overlanding in Australia, so you know they’re built to last!

These refrigerators have a very low power draw and a 3 year warranty.

ARB portable refrigerators also have a low voltage cutoff, digital displays, a removable lid, and much more. ARB fridges are designed to operate smoothly at up to 30 degrees of tilt, too! Perfect for the off-grid lifestyle.

Best Value Overall: ICECO 12v Refrigerators

BEST OVERALL VALUE: ICECO 12v Portable Refrigerators
  • Best Value of Budget and Quality
  • Many Sizes and Capacities
  • Dual and Single Zone Options Available
  • Cools Down to 0 Degrees
  • 5 Year Compressor Warranty
  • Low Voltage Cutoff 

Last update on 2022-05-25 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

The ICECO 12v refrigerators are the best overall value if you’re shopping with budget at top-of-mind. These refrigerators come in a variety of sizes and have a highly efficient compressor with a 5 year warranty.

The ICECO 12v refrigerators are priced much lower than their competitors, at half or less than half of a comparable Dometic model.

ICECO 12v portable refrigerators come in both single and dual-zone options, have a low voltage cut-off, a rugged construction, digital display, and much more.

If you’re looking for high-quality van life refrigeration on a budget, look no further!

Engel 12v Portable Fridges for Van Life

Engel Portable Fridges
  • Known for Longevity and Reliability
  • Several Sizes, 40quart Option is Great for Van Life
  • Lacks Some Standard Features, But is a Great Choice

Last update on 2022-05-25 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Engel refrigerators are excellent van life refrigerators that are known for their longevity. 

They aren’t as energy-efficient as some of the other models in this list, but they still make an excellent choice. 

These 12v refrigerators come in a variety of sizes and have a rugged and durable construction that you’d expect in a van life refrigerator. 

Engel refrigerators don’t have a digital display like other options on this list, but they do have customizable temperature settings at the turn of a dial. 

Best Budget Option: Alpicool 12v Camping Fridges

BEST BUDGET OPTION: Alpicool 12v Fridges
  • Best Budget Option - All Units Under $500
  • Single Zone Options Only
  • Many Available Sizes
  • 1 Year Warranty
  • Digital Display
  • Low Voltage Cutoff

Last update on 2022-05-25 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Alpicool 12v refrigerators are by far the most budget-friendly option on this list. 

These are great for vanlifers on a budget, but don’t expect them to perform as well as some of the other options here.

The saying “you get what you pay for” rings true in many situations, and looking for the best campervan fridge is no exception! 

Alpicool refrigerators have less insulation and are less energy efficient, but they still make a good choice for budget friendly vanlife refrigeration. 

Every model of Alpicool 12v refrigerators are under $500 and they’re all single zone. These refrigerators get down to -4 degrees farenheit, have a digital display, built-in battery protection, and more. 

These refrigerators have great reviews. So they might be a budget-friendly choice, but customers seem very satisfied!

Why You Need a Campervan Refrigerator

Van life without a refrigerator? That doesn’t sound like my idea of a good time. 

And if I had to guess, it’s probably not yours either! 

While it’s easy enough to get by for a weekend with a bag of ice and a standard cooler, if you want to do van life or camp for an extended period of time, it’s worth it to get a refrigerator. 

The best campervan refrigerator will keep your food cold for an unlimited length of time while not drawing too much of your precious power resource. This saves you money in so many ways! 

Plus, it ensures that you can always have a cold LaCroix within arm’s reach. Or is that just me? 

While standard coolers are definitely an option and used by many van lifers today, they aren’t sustainable. And on top of that, they’re downright annoying. 

Unless you use a dry-bag to store your items in, everything gets wet, soggy, and you constantly have to replace ice. 

This isn’t the case with portable 12 volt refrigerators everything stays cold and most importantly: dry. 

If you’re of the budget-conscious persuasion of humans (like myself), you’re probably aware of how expensive eating out can be.

And if you don’t have a way to store and preserve food in your campervan, you’re going to be eating out. A lot. 

Have I made my campervan refrigerator case yet? They’re convenient, efficient, money-saving machines. 

There are many different types of campervan fridges, so let’s break down the most common options on the market today. 

Related: Best Diesel Heater for Van Life

Van Life Refrigeration Options

There are several ways to keep food cold on the road, so how do you know what’s best for you? There are many different types of portable 12v refrigerators and some that work on more than just a 12 volt system. 

Here I’ll break down the most common campervan refrigeration options and their pros and cons. 

12v Compressor Fridge Best Option for Van Life

12v compressor refrigerators are the most popular option for campervans, and for good reason.

These portable 12v refrigerators are the most energy efficient and have the most features. But, all that efficiency and amenity does come at a price! 

When you’re camping, power is at a premium. Some camper van fridge options are absolute power hogs, and the last thing you want is a drained battery!

12v compressor refrigerators are built for the off-grid lifestyle, with both durability and efficiency in mind. 

Compressor refrigerators work similarly to residential refrigerators in that they use a compressor to draw hot air out of the interior and vent it with a fan. 

Portable 12v compressor refrigerators are built to withstand many extremes, including extreme temperatures, the shaking and rattling of driving, and some even operate well on an incline. 

Pros and Cons of a 12v Compressor Fridge for a Campervan

  • Most energy-efficient and durable 12v fridge for van life
  • Great for RVs, vans, overlanding, boating, and more
  • Many styles, sizes, and holding capacities
  • Some have both fridge and freezer compartments
  • This fridge type is the most expensive option

Other than being the most expensive option, there are really no downsides to 12v compressor fridges. As far as van life fridges go, these are the absolute best option.

This is a great 12v camping fridge with no real disadvantages outside of the price range but there are more budget-friendly options too.

If you have the money, I highly recommend going with a 12v compressor fridge for your campervan. You won’t be disappointed!

Thermoelectric Coolers or 12v Car Fridges

Thermoelectric coolers (aka 12v car fridges) might seem like the perfect solution for your van life refrigeration woes.

They’re cheap, portable, and plug right into a cigarette lighter! But these little coolers really aren’t all they’re cracked up to be, and they can leave you stranded with a dead battery before you know it. 

Thermoelectric coolers are 12v refrigerators that can plug into your cigarette lighter socket. They’re designed for truckers and road trips to keep food and drinks chilled. 

A major problem with these coolers is they only cool the interior space by 40 degrees. That means if it’s 100 degrees where you are, the interior of the cooler will only chill to 60 degrees. 

Pros and Cons of Thermoelectric Coolers for Van Life

  • Cheapest electric cooler you can buy
  • Good for road trips or constantly being plugged into shore power
  • Huge power draw: should never be plugged in when battery is not charging/vehicle is running
  • These coolers only cool down to 30-40 degrees less than ambient temps.

Thermoelectric coolers might seem like a great choice. They’re super cheap (as far as van fridges go) and they look great.

But you might want to think twice before choosing one of these for van life.

Thermoelectric coolers draw a ton of constant power, so they’re not a great choice to use when you aren’t plugged in to supplemental power.

However, they’re great to plug into a cigarette lighter while the vehicle is running.

And they don’t cool like a regular fridge, either, so you can’t rely on them to keep perishables safe to consume.

Thermoelectric coolers only cool down to 30-40 degrees less than ambient temps. That means if it’s 100 degrees, your cooler will only reach 60-70 degrees.

I personally used a thermoelectric cooler for a while when my RV refrigerator quit working, and I will never do that again. I used it while boondocking and destroyed my batteries! Of course, I didn’t know then what I know now, and hindsight is 20/20.

3-Way Absorption Refrigerators

3-way and 2-way absorption refrigerators are the kinds of refrigerators commonly seen and used in RVs of all sizes.

These refrigerators are created to run off of AC electric, Propane gas, and with the 3-way versions, DC electric as well. 

These fridges are not recommended for van life for a few reasons. 

First of all, these refrigerators are incredibly inefficient when run on a DC (or 12v) power system.

And if you wanted to run it on propane, like is done in an RV, you’d have to run propane lines and have your refrigerator vented to the outside. 

And finally, 2-way and 3-way refrigerators must be kept level at all times in order to work properly. Failure to do so can cause a fire… Making that another strike against these being good fridges for van life. 

Pros and Cons of 3-Way Fridges

  • Great for RVs and RVing
  • Runs on 3 different “power” sources: propane, 120 AC, and 12v DC power
  • Come in many sizes, up to residential fridge size
  • Not a practical fridge for van life
  • Inefficient on 12v power
  • Very technical install
  • Expensive

3-way refrigerators are typically what come standard in most RVs and travel trailers these days. These types of fridges also come standard in many “manufactured” campervans or class B RVs.

But they’re not a great option for the DIY van lifer looking for a 12v refrigerator for van life.

These fridges can be expensive, but they’re also very technical to install.

And as far as energy efficiency goes, these refrigerators are not efficient on 12v DC power.

Standard Cooler

Lastly, we have the standard cooler. Many people do just fine with a standard cooler. 

Regular coolers are cheaper, don’t require power, and can hold quite a bit. Here are the pros and cons of standard coolers. 

Pros and Cons of Standard Coolers

  • Cheap
  • Yeti and Orca coolers hold ice for several days
  • No power required
  • Comes in many sizes
  • Great for road trips or weekend camping trips
  • Constantly need to buy ice
  • Everything gets wet and soggy, requires frequent draining
  • No controlling temps
  • Not a great long-term solution

I feel like a standard cooler really needs no explanation.

Regular coolers rely on a constant supply of ice to keep your stuff cold, which also means frequent draining.

These are great for weekend warriors, but not a great long-term van life refrigerator solution.

What To Consider When Buying a 12v Refrigerator For Van Life

A 12 volt refrigerator is a big purchase it’s likely one of the most expensive things you’ll buy for your van build! For my van build, the fridge is the most expensive single piece of equipment I have, aside from the van itself.

With this being such a big purchase, there are several factors you’ll want to take into consideration when choosing the perfect 12v fridge for you. 

Pricing and Budget

12v refrigerator pricing and your specific budget will heavily determine which fridge will be best for you. If you can’t afford one of the pricier options right now but have time, I highly recommend saving up for it. You will, in my personal opinion and experience, have a much better experience with something along the lines of a Dometic fridge when it comes to energy efficiency and performance. 

Energy Efficiency

Energy efficiency is one of the top considerations you should be aware of when shopping for a 12v refrigerator. Some brands and fridges are way more energy efficient than others, and that will make all the difference for your van life power setup! 

Batteries are another very expensive component of your van build, and if your fridge is constantly draining them, you’ll ruin your batteries quickly. 

Try to find the fridge with the best energy efficiency within your budget. 

Interior and Exterior Dimensions and Weight

Van builds tend to take up every inch of available space, so chances are you already have an idea of where your 12v portable fridge is going to go. Besides the exterior dimensions and weight, there are a few other things to keep in mind. 

  • Power Cord Location: Where is the power cord located? Will it reach the area that you need it to? 
  • Ventilation and Vent Location: Will you have enough clearance around the vent location to allow it to properly vent? 
  • Door direction: which way does the door open? Will you have enough room to get the door open without having to hold it or move something out of the way? 

Fridge Type 

There are 3 main styles of 12v refrigerators. The most common is the chest-style refrigerator. 

For van builds, the chest style portable refrigerator is the most energy efficient, and also the best design for the lifestyle. 

Other styles include upright 12v refrigerators and drawer-style. Upright refrigerators save a lot of space, and drawer style refrigerators are also convenient with the drawer design. 

Dual or Single Zone 12v Fridge/Freezer

Dual zone means that the refrigerator has two separate temperature zones. They could both be used for freezing, or one could be a freezer and one a fridge, or both used as a refrigerator. 

This comes down to budget, size, and personal preference. Dual-zone refrigerators are usually bigger and more expensive, but it is super convenient to have both a fridge and freezer. 

Warranty

Typically, 12v refrigerators with a longer warranty tend to last longer. Plus, when you’re making such a large purchase, you want to make sure it’s protected in the rare event you get a faulty unit or something happens along the way. 

Features

Most portable refrigerators come with standard features, but there are other things that make the fridge more convenient to have and use. 

Other features to look for include the ability to operate on an incline, low voltage protection to protect your battery in the event that it gets low, the ability to connect to a phone app, a floor drain plug, dual-zone, and much more. 

How to Power a 12v Fridge in a Campervan With Solar Power

If you’re considering putting a 12v refrigerator in your van build, you need to have a power source that is not your starter battery

If you aren’t going to go the route of a full solar setup, that’s fine! 

You can still purchase something like a Jackery or Goal Zero to charge your electronics and keep your refrigerator powered on. These battery devices can be charged in public places, while you’re driving, or with detachable solar panels. 

Power solutions like the Jackery and Goal Zero are expensive, but they save you so much time and energy. If you have a device like this, there is no need for an extensive solar setup. All you do is plug into your battery pack and you’re good for hours or days!

You do not have to understand van life solar in order to have power on the road. 

There are power solutions for every van lifer out there whether you’re ready to get down and dirty and technical with a full solar setup, or just purchase a portable battery. 

But do yourself a favor and save your starter battery. You should never run your fridge off of your car battery. Ever. Getting yourself stranded just isn’t worth it!

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Last update on 2022-05-25 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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Last update on 2022-05-25 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

12v Fridge FAQ

How much power does a 12v fridge use?

Different types of 12v refrigerators use different amounts of power. A 12v compressor fridge will draw just 1-4 amps per hour, making 12v compressor fridges the best choice in terms of energy efficiency.

Is a 12 volt refrigerator worth it?

Whether you’re just looking for a weekend camping fridge or want a fridge for a campervan conversion, a 12v compressor fridge is your absolute best choice. They’re a bit pricey, but so worth it!

What is the best 12v campervan fridge?

In my personal experience and through my research, I firmly believe the best 12v campervan fridge is any of the Dometic CFX series. These 12v refrigerators are portable, energy efficient, and some even have a 12v fridge/freezer option plus they come in many sizes and shapes.

How do you power a fridge in a van?

The best option for powering a fridge in a van is by using a 12v battery bank connected to solar panels for solar power. This easily run a 12v compressor fridge in a campervan all day and night.
Not all van life refrigerators are the same, so be careful when you pick out a fridge! Some draw much more power than others. My top pick for energy efficiency is the Dometic CFX series.

Will a 12v fridge drain my car battery?

Yes. If you’re not careful, a 12v fridge will quickly drain your car battery. You should never run a 12v fridge off your car battery when your car isn’t running. For long-term power for your 12v fridge, consider using a portable power bank like a Yeti Goal Zero or Jackery power station. If in a campervan, consider a solar power setup.

Is a 12v Refrigerator for Van Life Worth It? 

In my opinion: absolutely, without a doubt! 

Having a 12v refrigerator in your van makes all the difference. The ability to store your own perishable foods, keep coffee creamer on hand, and have cold beverages without the hassle of ice is a total game changer on the road. 

A portable refrigerator is a worthwhile van life purchase, and one that shouldn’t be taken lightly. 

Make a list of your must-haves, check out the available options on the market, and perhaps most importantly: read reviews! 

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