If you love to go camping and are an outdoorsy person, then this article is a very necessary pitstop. Be it with your family and friends, a solo trip or going off the grid for a while, a trusty portable refrigerator is a must-have. Keeping your food fresh and beverages chilled is a basic road trip requirement.
You need a device that has all the amenities of your regular fridge but also the power of portability. That is what makes these fridges exactly what you need every time you go out.
Once you know what you want for your motor vehicle you have multiple options. Available from various brands with varying compressors and designs you will be spoilt for choice. What better than a 12v refrigerator that easily meets all your needs?
What is a 12V Refrigerator?
A 12v refrigerator will cover all your needs relating to portability and power. Especially when it comes to a road trip, camping, trucking, and other travel-friendly options. It is the easiest way to go when it comes to keeping your food and drinks cold. Purchasing it is the closest you can get to having a refrigerator with the power of portability.
You should check our list of best mini refrigerators if you’re looking for the ones which are small in sizes, consume slightly more power, but provide a lot of other functionality. The mini refrigerators are generally used at co-working places or as room refrigerators.
10 Best 12V Portable Refrigerators
Below we have compiled a list of 12 volt portable refrigerators. They all run on compressors and are very energy efficient. They all have a relatively rugged build for rough usage. You can purchase accessories alongside these units based on your requirements. Accessories such as insulation covers, adapters, and mounting sliders.
#1 Dometic CDF11 Portable Refrigerator
One of the top-of-the-line brands in the industry when it comes to portable refrigerators is Dometic. They also have the best compressors in the 12v range. The Dometic CDF11 Freezer is one of their most compact ones.
The storage capacity of this model is about 11 liters and can fit about 13 cans. The entire product weighs 18 pounds and uses DC to function. The fridge comes with an insulated cover which prevents any leakages. It has a memory feature that retains and maintains your presets. The Dometic CDF11 has a digital temperature display with a soft touch control panel.
#2 Dometic CFX40W 12V Electric Powered Freezer
With top of the line cooling and its heavy-duty features, Dometic CFX40W is a great purchase. The technology in CFX model is built to take on a heavy load. It has a 38 liter storage capacity with LED lights provided inside.
The stainless steel hinges and reinforced corners and well-designed lid make for an energy efficient and portable model. It has a USB port on it that can be used to charge small devices.
Temperature and settings can be controlled using an app. The cooling compartment comes with a wire basket. It can draw power from various sources including solar making it a very versatile portable fridge.
#3 Dometic CFX 65DZ 12V Electric Portable Cooler
With a storage volume of 60 liters which is 106 cans without a divider, this model is one of the most spacious ones. It can operate on DC, AC, and solar panels which makes it suitable for long off-road trips.
It has a three-stage battery protection system which protects the product and cuts off supply before the car battery runs out. The interiors have removable wire baskets and energy efficient LED lighting.
#4 Alpicool C22 Portable Refrigerator
The Alpicool C22 Portable Fridge comes with a 22 liter capacity which can hold about 30 cans. This model is great for deep freezing your perishables at a much more affordable price range. It has two separate modes which are Max mode and Eco mode.
The Eco mode is more energy efficient as long as the battery or the power source is running. Alpicool offers you two power cables each for AC and DC respectively, it can support a small solar panel system too. The portable fridge is capable of maintaining inside temperature but the battery protection mode is ineffective.
#5 ARB 10800352 Fridge Freezer
This Australian portable refrigeration brand ARB 10800352 Fridge offers 47 liters storage space. The temperature cools down to about 0°F and uses a powerful Danfoss compressor. Front opening lid with a well-designed system including front-facing panel buttons and LED display.
The products that you want to keep colder need to be placed at the bottom for better cooling because the cold air tends to escape. A thermal insulation jacket is required to maintain the temperature within the refrigerator. The better the insulation the lower the power drain.
#6 Whynter FM-45G Portable Refrigerator
The Whynter FM-45G has a 45 can capacity and a sleek industrial design. It has the closest functionality to your household refrigerator. There is insulation provided all over the insides. Therefore there is no need for an extra thermal insulation jacket.
The DC power cord is 5 feet long and the AC cord is 8 feet long. The internal cooling distribution is even. It is a single zone fridge but a separator can be manually placed to give it the effect of a dual zone fridge. The fast freeze mode helps in rapid cooling with an adjustable temperature range of -6°F to 50°F.
#7 Norcold Portable Refrigerator
The best feature about the Norcold NRF45 is the compartmentalization. It has a capacity of 45 liters which is about 86 cans. For those looking for fridges that have separate spaces and cooling for each section, this is it.
The bottom part is for frozen goods and the wire baskets placed above can be used for the things that you need to keep cold. The interiors are stainless steel providing better cooling. The lid is removable and reversible and the exterior is durable.
#8 Engel AC/DC Portable Tri-Voltage Fridge
Engel portable refrigerators are known for their longevity and use the Sawafuji swing motor compressors. The compressor is vibration resistant. This brand is not as energy efficient as most of its counterparts but it makes up for it on the durability front.
It has a corrosion resistant ABS case making it a very marine friendly portable refrigerator. It has a top opening lid and tough exterior plastic body. The Engel MR040 has manual controls instead of digital ones which some customers prefer.
#9 Edgestar 80 QT Portable Fridge/Freezer
This Edgestar 80 QT dual refrigerator model has a capacity of about 80 liters. The easy to use and read control panel comes with an indicator light for when the power is low. It has large and small metal baskets provided to segregate foods.
The inside is metallic and the exterior has side grip handles with a latched lid. This portable fridge has a fast freeze mode that cools all the way down to -8°F in a short span of time. The AC power cord is 8 foot long and the DC power is 6 foot long.
#10 Costway 54 Quart Portable Compact Refrigerator
This portable stylish 12V refrigerator has a
It has a compressor that runs at a very low decibel and will not cause a disturbance. There is a separate shelf tray provided inside to prevent food or drinks from spilling over. It has a fast cooling process bringing the temperature from 90°F to 32°F in a matter of 30 minutes.
A good 12V portable refrigerator comes in handy during your travels. It keeps food, perishables, beverages, medicines and more safe and cold. It becomes a basic requirement for when you decide to go on long journeys, camping, trucking and in RV’s. When you have a big family even a short journey requires portable refrigeration to carry snacks and canned beverages.
The Factors we looked into
Most portable refrigerators use highly energy efficient compressors. On an average, a 12-volt refrigerator can consume from 1 to 5 amps per hour. When you plug in the fridge, it tends to draw more energy at first.
Once it cools down the energy consumption reduces. One option would be to rely completely on the power drawn from your vehicle. But regular users recommend using external batteries based on the amount of usage. Opting for solar panels can get expensive but they pay off for the long run.
Picking between the dual and single zone 12 volt
Portable compression refrigerators usually have the functionality of acting as a freezer and fridge at the same time. Known as the dual zone, this is mostly achieved by creating a partition.
The partition lets the freezer air flow through in a controlled manner creating less cooling in the fridge. But if you are sure of the purpose of your refrigerator and need the same temperature throughout, then opting for a single zone fridge should be the way to go.
Why opt for a portable refrigerator instead of a cooler?
A cooler performs the basic job of keeping your food and drinks cold. Whereas, a 12-volt portable refrigerator does all things your refrigerator at home can do. Portable fridges are more expensive but they have the advantage of storing frozen foods too.
Compression portable refrigerator
A compressor type refrigerator is a more preferred option for refrigeration in comparison to thermo-electric coolers and absorption refrigerators for multiple reasons. Compression refrigerators let you control the temperature. A portable compression refrigerator functions well even when inclined. They can be used as fridges and freezers. They have minimal power usage, unlike its other counterparts.
Deciding between the top door and side door refrigerator
Both the designs have their own pros and cons. Your pick needs to be based on your specific requirements. Top door fridges are more energy efficient and easier to install. They are rugged and can be used as seats. Side door fridges are generally lighter and work well depending on the space that you want it to fit into.
The external size and weight of the portable refrigerator
Sizing is a very important factor to consider when buying a portable fridge. It is necessary to know where you will place it before you purchase the unit. Measure the space where it will be placed and accordingly purchase a refrigerator.
The weight of the fridge should be a deciding factor too, in case you will have to move it around a lot. Make sure there is enough space for the handles to open up and for you to lift it in and out of the space. Enough room for the cooling vents to function at its best is crucial.
The internal storage capacity of the portable refrigerator
This is solely based on the user’s requirement. If you travel solo for short periods then it would be advisable to go small. If you go camping with your family and friends then a bigger capacity fridge would be the way to go.
Keep in mind what type of foods you will carry which will help to decide the storage capacity you need. Frozen and cold foods require separate compartments. Most portable fridges have wire baskets or separate trays in them. This helps in separating certain foods; placing dairy and beverages aside where they will not spill.
Insulation within the refrigerator
Insulation is crucial to the smooth functioning of the unit you will be purchasing. The better the insulation the less cold air will leak out of the fridge. Most top of the line fridges has well-insulated insides preventing the increase of temperature.
In case the insulation does not function well, there are insulation covers or jackets available that you can cover the unit with. The insulating cover helps when the outside temperature is high or if the portable refrigerator is placed in the sun.
The pricing of the portable refrigerator
12-volt portable refrigerators are always pricier than the other options such as coolers and absorption refrigerators. But, these 12-volt compression refrigerators give you your money’s worth. If your wallet does not let you buy higher end fridges like Dometic, there are more budget-friendly options.
The budget-friendly options allow you to experience and utilize almost the same features with a difference in quality and standard. If you travel extensively in your personal vehicle then the 12-volt portable refrigerator is a much-needed investment.
Battery settings and usage
Most portable fridges have three-stage battery protection systems. They offer systems with automatic switch off before the battery drains out completely. They are much more energy efficient in nature.
Monitoring temperatures of the refrigerator
A lot of the 12-volt portable refrigerators have digital displays of the temperature and settings. This makes it very user-friendly as the fridge does not have to be opened to check temperatures. The displays are usually LED and LCD. Some also have a manual knob for settings. A lot of old-school campers prefer manual settings instead of digital displays.
Research on the ratings and reviews of the product
Like most electronic products, 12-volt refrigerators should also be purchased from verified online stores only. Before purchase ensure that the fridge you purchase meets all your requirements.
Online ratings are the easiest way to shortlist. User reviews are a trusted way to ensure the quality of products. Customer reviews help in taking that final leap of product selection. Most websites give you a user rating and reviews alongside the product.
Warranty and customer service
A valid warranty when you purchase a portable fridge is very important. This warranty ensures a written guarantee that the manufacturer will replace or repair your product. Provided the damage happens within the warranty period.
If your unit is manufactured within the country of purchase, it helps during repairs. It could be accessing the customer service centers or the availability of the parts that need to be replaced. Research on this will ensure that the product has a valid warranty and meets all the specifications of the industry.
Since 12v portable refrigerators are not cheap it is important that you know your requirements. Once you have made your pick based on your needs, these portable fridges are a great investment. The most expensive portable fridge does not necessarily have to be the right fit for your use. The unit you choose for yourself should be based on the features, size, and price that you desire.
Deciding if you want to invest in a Danfoss compressor or a regular compressor. Is a dual zone fridge important to you or a single zone with a makeshift separator occasionally will suffice? Factors like storage and how the unit fits into your vehicle are more crucial than you think. We hope this has simplified what you are looking for in a 12v portable refrigerator and made the selection process easier.