Best 12 Volt Coolers & Camping Fridges

The perfect camping fridge

If you’re an avid camper or travel in your truck or caravan, a portable fridge is a great investment, as it allows you keep your drinks chilled, and food well-preserved while on the road.

Portable fridges are a much better alternative compared to conventional coolers, because they offer the same functionality as your home refrigerator, where you don’t have to refill the ice to keep your food and beverages cool or frozen for as long as you want.

The best 12 volt coolers & camping fridges can be found in a wide assortment of sizes, with 40-liters being the common choice to serve three to four campers. Buying the best portable 12 volt refrigerator can be a little overwhelming, giving the array of models available.

We’ve checked out this segment, and rounded off on four great options to ease your decision.

1. ARB Portable Fridge Freezer – Best Overall

ARB is a leading name in the 4 x 4 accessories space, and the 10800472 portable freezer is yet another great addition to the company’s product portfolio. ARB manufacture their products in Australia, and are among the worlds leading suppliers of off road and RV equipment. It is available in a choice of two different sizes — 50 quarts and 37 quarts, making it easy to buy the right fit for your needs.

The 50-quart ARB portable refrigerator measures 27.75″L x 14.96″W x 20″H, and tips the scales at just 53 lbs. It can accommodate up to an impressive 72 12-ounce cans, and a two-liter bottle of cola, so you’ve got a lot of storage space to work with.

The main compartment of the ARB portable fridge measures 13.27″D x 11.22″W x 15.79″H, and a 5.95″D x 11.22″W x 8.11″H dairy compartment. This large capacity portable cooler from ARB cools fairly quickly, and can easily maintain a minimum temperature of zero degrees.

It comes with temperature control, and can be used in ambient temperature of over 70º F. It boasts a rugged, solid build, and is fitted with a two-pole auxiliary plug that’s tucked away under the DC collar to attach it to a power source for more bumpier adventures.

The ARB portable fridge freezer comes with two power cables — a DC power cable to connect with your vehicle’s 12/24-volt DC power outlet, and an AC power cord to connect with your standard home AC power outlet.

This portable camping fridge by ARB is topped with a two-piece front opening lid, which is protected against harmful UV rays. It is equipped with a robust hinge, which allows you to detach the lid completely from the fridge for easy access to your refreshments. The ARB fridge also comes with a large EZ grip latch to secure the lid tight.

The ARB fridge comes with easily removable baskets to help you organize your food and beverages in the interior. It features drain plugs in the interior of the unit, which you can undo for easy cleaning. The interior is equipped with an LED light, allowing you to access the goods inside in low light conditions.

The front of the ARB fridge is fitted with an intuitive control panel, which provides you with easy access to several functions of the appliance including electronic temperature settings. 

With regards to noise, the ARB portable fridge freezer is fairly quiet, so you get more cooling, without the annoying humming sound. Another noteworthy feature of the ARB portable fridge is that it continues to cool your stuff even when your vehicle is turned off. It comes with a battery protection system, which prevents draining your vehicle battery.

Pros:

  • Compact and rugged footprint
  • Large capacity
  • Available in 2 sizes
  • Interior LED light
  • Front opening lid and patented hinge
  • Drain plug for easy cleaning
  • 2 power cords included
  • Quiet operation

Cons:

  • Limited to one color option ‘
  • Does not come with ARB’s insulated transit bag

2. Dometic CDF11 12v Electric Fridge Freezer – Best Small 10-Quart

Dometic is a global market leader in the food and beverage, and climate control segment. The CDF11 12 volt fridge freezer offers a 10-quart capacity, measures 21.6 x 9.4 x 14.1 inches, and weighs 19 lbs, making it easy to haul around on the go. It is an energy efficient model, and consumes power at just 0.61 Ah/h, so you don’t have to worry unduly about battery drainage.

The Dometic CDF11 12v portable fridge is engineered to keep your favorite items cool for long periods of time, and without the need for ice. It offers a refrigeration capacity between 0-degree F to 50-degree F (-18 degree C to +10 degree C), and features a quick chill function, which triggers the compressor to reach the desired temperature quickly.

 The CDF11 portable refrigerator by Dometic features three-stage battery protection, and an electronic system to prevent the cooler against short circuiting. The multi-level battery monitor function prevents excess discharging when the appliance is connected to your vehicle’s 12 dc volt power supply.

When the ignition is switched off, the fridge will switch off automatically when the voltage supply falls below a preconfigured level, and turns back on when the battery has been recharged to the restart voltage level. There are three battery modes to choose from — high, low and medium, where high mode has the highest power consumption.

Selecting the desired battery mode is easy by switching on the fridge, pressing the Set button three times, and then using the Up or Down button to make your selection. The CDF11 Dometic is a no-brainer to use, where you either set the slide switch to high when connecting to your vehicle’s power source or low for external DC source.

Next, press the On/Off button for one or two seconds, and wait for the power LED to light up, and the current cooling temperature to appear on the display. You can also set the cooling temperature just as easily by pressing the Set button, and using the Up and Down buttons to select the temperature.

The CDF11 Dometic camping fridge features two holders in the front, which keeps two tall cans cool when the appliance is in use. It comes with a wide cushioned strap, so you can carry it around without causing strain on your arm. The CDF11 portable fridge showcases a durable construction, and is backed by a warranty against manufacturer defects.

Pros:

  • Weighs 19 lbs and comes with shoulder carrying strap
  • Easy to use controls and display
  • Adjustable temperature
  • 10-quart capacity
  • 0-degree F to 50-degree F refrigeration capacity

Cons:

  • Lacks drain plug for cleaning

3. Alpicool CF55 Portable Refrigerator – Best Budget

The Alpicool CF55 is one of the most versatile portable refrigerators you can get your hands on, given that it can be used for sports, fishing, traveling, breast milk storage, medical drug transportation, and much more.

Even though it does come with a highly affordable price tag, it does not fall short of premium features, some only seen in much higher priced portable fridges. For starters, it measures 27.2 x 13.6 x 20.6 inches, weighs 35 lbs, and offers a rather large 55-quart capacity to fit 60 – 12-ounce cans of cola.

If that’s too much storage room for your needs, the Alpicool CF55 budget portable fridge is available in 35-liter and 45-liter capacities. The Alpicool CF55 portable refrigerator doesn’t just look good on the outside with its sturdy, fully functional design, it boasts a powerful -4°F(-20°C) cooling performance.

It is vibration resistant, which protects it from damage during transportation, and is appointed with an LCD display with digitized temperature adjustment. Adding to this, the CF55 portable fridge by Alpicool is embedded with high quality thick high density foam insulation, which provides continuous cooling throughout your journey.

The temperature of the Alpicool CF55 portable refrigerator can be adjusted to serve as a fridge or a freezer. It can be powered by plugging it into a 12/24-volt DC outlet, or with a small solar system.

The interior of the Alpicool CF55 portable fridge is equipped with a removable basket for keep your stuff organized, and an LED light to see better in dark conditions. It is fitted with handles on both sides, making it easy to take with you wherever you go.

The Alpicool CF55 portable fridge runs smoothly, thanks to its onboard high efficiency compressor with adjustable HH and ECO modes. It runs quietly compared to other devices in its segment, so you can leave it running even while you sleep.

The Alpicool CF55 RV portable fridge offers three different battery protection levels to choose from — low, medium and high to protect your vehicle’s battery from rundown. The lid of the Alpicool CF55 fridge can be secured with integrated high quality door latch,

The appliance features corner protectors to prevent damage to the base. It is safe to run on angles up to 45 degrees, making it an ideal choice for 4WDing or any other rugged adventures.

Pros:

  • 27.2 x 13.6 x 20.6 inches, weighs 35 lbs
  • Available in three sizes
  • -4°F(-20°C) cooling performance
  • Vibration resistant design with adjustable HH and ECO modes
  • 3-battery protection levels

Cons:

  • Insulation could be improved

4. ENGEL MR040F-U1 Portable Fridge – Best Lightweight and Portable

The ENGEL MR040F-U1 slots in the #4 position on this list of best 12v portable fridges for several good reasons, starting with its power efficient robust and super quiet Engel compressor. This compressor draws low amps even at startup, and is regarded as the most vibration resistant in its segment.

One of the Best 12 Volt Coolers & Camping Fridges

The ENGEL MR040F-U1 portable fridge showcases a sturdy construction with a durable, corrosion resistant ABS case, and is compatible with both AC and DC power sources (12V/24V DC & 110V/120V AC). Plus, it is solar power compatible, and comes with variable temperature control, which allows you to set the desired temperature.

Further, the ENGEL MR040F-U1 portable fridge measures 4.5″ x 10.5″ x 14.4″, and weighs 48 lbs, so you can easily take it with you on your adventures with the onsite handles. It offers a rather large 48-quart capacity, and comes with an interior wire basket that can be removed at the time of maintenance.

This top opening portable 12v refrigerator from ENGEL can reach up to 80 degrees F below the ambient temperature, which means that the stuff inside stays cool regardless of outside temperature. To top things off, the ENGEL MR040F-U1 is backed by a three-year warranty against any manufacturer defects.

Engel are renowned for making products with excellent storage space and relatively low power consumption.

Pros:

  • Sturdy AB construction
  • Highly efficient ENGEL swing motor
  • AC/DC compatible
  • Interior wire basket
  • Vibration resistant

Cons:

  • Quality of latches that hold the lid could be improved

Final Thoughts

If you travel in your RV, caravan or vehicle to explore the Great Outdoors, buying a portable 12 volt cooler is definitely is a sensible investment. They come in all shapes and sizes, and different price points, making it easy to get one for your needs.

The four models mentioned on this list come with a rich set of features, unmatched cooling power, and will last you for years on end with proper care.

Portable 12-Volt Refrigerator Buying Guide

Buying the best portable refrigerator can be a big ticket purchase, but here are a few factors to consider to ensure you make the right investment.

What is A 12V Refrigerator/How Does It Work?

When speaking about a 12 volt fridge freezer appliance, the words “cooler” and “refrigerator” are often used interchangeably, but there’s a significant difference between the two. To explain briefly, a 12 volt refrigerator uses the same refrigeration components as your standard home refrigerator freezers.

So, it is cooled with a refrigerant gas, a condenser and coils, and a refrigeration pump. There are a few differences between your home refrigerator and a portable 12 volt refrigerator such as the latter do not need to be perfectly level to operate properly, and consume less power.

The reason they are dubbed 12 volt refrigerators is because they run efficiently on battery power, making them a go-to choice for camping, RVing, off-roading, etc. Just like your home refrigerator, both 12v and 24v portable refrigerators work using the aerosol principle.

The compressor is the main component of any refrigerator, and helps increase the temperature of the refrigerant vapor to extremely high levels, so that it can condense by releasing the heat via the condenser. The role of the condenser is self-explanatory, which is to condense the gas into a liquid state through cooling.

Wondering how you power up a portable 12v refrigerator? Well, there are several ways starting with your vehicle’s cigarette lighter or Anderson plug. Simply plug the electrical power cord that came with your 12v refrigerator into the cigarette lighter, and voila your refreshments will get chilled.

Some cigarette lighters have a low rating fuse, so while they may power a thermoelectric cooler, you could possibly blow the fuse by powering a mini fridge. It is advisable to use a more heavy duty plug arrangement like an Anderson type connector.

However, it is worth noting that the cigarette lighter will only provide power to the portable refrigerator as long as the vehicle is running. Most of the best portable 12-volt refrigerators come with a low battery cut-out feature. You can get extension leads for these, so you are able to position the fridge inside your tent while camping.

When triggered, this feature basically turns off the fridge when the battery power reaches a certain voltage. This prevents your battery from draining out completely, so your battery will have sufficient power to start up later on.

What to Know before Buying a 12 Volt Refrigerator?

First most important question to ask yourself is what size 12v refrigerator do I need? You can off course skip this part, and splurge on the largest model in the market, one with the largest capacity, but larger also means more power draw, more space taken up, and more money!

Size – Sizes of portable 12v refrigerators are represented in quarts or liters, where 25 liters or less can accommodate roughly 25 cans, 35 liter is good for two people over a weekend, 40 liters for three people over a long weekend, 50 liters for a whole week’s adventure for three, and 60 liters or more will serve a family of five for an entire week.

Two way or three-way 12v portable refrigerators – when on the shopping trail for the best portable 12v refrigerator, you will come across two way and three way models. Two way models use the same compressor technology as your home fridge, except that they run off a 12 volt battery as well as mains electricity.

Three way portable 12v fridges can run on 12 or 240 volts power as well as LPG. They do not use a compressor, but are powered by gas flow exchangers. But on the downside, a three way portable refrigerator does not fare that well when compared to compressor driven 12 volt portable fridges, and do need to be kept level for proper operation.

Construction – you want to buy a portable 12 volt fridge that will stand the test of time, given that they don’t come cheap. That said, you should first try and buy from a reputable manufacturer or a product that has raving portable 12 volt refrigerator reviews.

Additionally, check out the construction of the fridge to ensure it is sturdy including its hinges and casings. Portable fridges can be made from several different materials, where metal and fiberglass are strong, and a great choice for rugged applications.

Power draw – your battery will last longer if the portable fridge draws less current. For example, one amp is quite low, and five amps is quite high. And if you’re running your portable 12v fridge off a starting battery, look for a model that offers eco mode and inbuilt battery protection, where it cuts out when low voltage is detected at your vehicles’ battery to prevent your battery from draining out. 

Compressor – this component is the heart of the portable refrigerator, so look for appliances with brand name compressors such as Fuji or Sawa. If the compressor info isn’t available, then buying a fridge from a big brand should be your best option.

Insulation – the right amount of insulation or thick walls can greatly reduce the load on the compressor, resulting in long service life. Some portable 12 volt fridge manufacturers offer optional insulation packs that you can buy separately.

Controls –you want to buy a portable 12 volt refrigerator that’s easy to use, so look for a model with easy to access controls, preferably digital buttons. The best portable 12 volt refrigerators are fitted with LCD displays, so you can make adjustments such as temperature, etc. easily.

Baskets – similar to home fridge shelves, baskets located in the interior make it easier to organize your stuff, and can be removed to restock them or during maintenance.

These baskets also help to promote the flow of cold air around the storage space.

12-volt connector – this is an important aspect to pay attention to when checking out portable 12v refrigerator models, because the wrong connector means that the appliance won’t connect to your vehicle.

Most if not all 12v portable refrigerators come with a cigarette lighter plug that that can be plugged into your vehicle’s accessory socket or you can use an Anderson plug if you have one installed.

What needs to be done to keep 12V fridges in top shape?

Portable 12 volt camping refrigerators do require periodical maintenance to ensure they run smoothly while drawing less power for many years to come. Just like cleaning your home fridge, you should use a damp cloth to clean both the exterior and interior of the fridge.

But before doing so, make sure that you drain the excess water in the interior of the refrigerator via the drain plug if present. When cleaning your portable 12v fridge, refrain from using harsh detergents and soap, but instead use mild detergent, and a soft brush to remove dirt from tight spaces.

Remember to always defrost your portable fridge regularly, because frost accumulation can reduce the refrigeration capacity, and affect the longevity of the appliance. You should defrost your fridge when the frost level is roughly 3mm thick or look at the frost build-up on the condenser.

Also keep in mind that even though some manufacturers claim that the fridge comes with “auto defrost”, it doesn’t mean that it is frost free, so will have to defrost manually at regular intervals.

It is important to keep the air intakes free of dust that will build up, especially when off road. This dust will make the compressor work harder, therefore increasing power consumption. This is especially noticeable when the outside temperature is on the hot side.

Another aspect to keep tabs on is the door mechanism, because you will be left with frost build-up if that fails. Most portable 12v fridges come with a cover, but it’s a good idea to buy one to prevent damage such as scratches if yours didn’t come with one.  Since all models vary, it is best to refer to the manufacturer’s user guide for maintenance procedures of the respective model.

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