Refrigerators are an important part of a van build, but also take up take a large amount of space and power. 12 volt RV and boat specific refrigerators are going to be the best choice for vanlife because they are well constructed and insulated to withstand the bumps and high heat of a mobile lifestyle.
We’ve built a list of the best 12 volt portable refrigerators for a vanlife to help you decide what’s best for your camper. Each refrigerator on this list is a 12V DC energy efficient fridge that will work seamlessly with a solar panel setup.
There is no right way to live the vanlife, but if you want to purchase a fridge, we’ve done a lot of the legwork for you here.
Overview Of Portable Fridge Models:
What To Look For When Purchasing A Portable Fridge
Compressor refrigerators (rather than 3-way) make the best choice for small campervan conversions because of their ability to withstand the tight twists and turns of road trip adventures. 3-way refrigerators run off propane which can easily cease operation if left at a steep angle.
12v portable refrigerators have also been built to handle temperature extremes and rattling during transport. This makes them a better choice than a typical AC powered mini-fridge.
Check For Appropriate Dimensions
In the confined space of a van, purchasing a portable fridge with proper dimensions is going to be key. Because you will not have to store ice to keep food cold, a refrigerator can take up less space than a cooler. Internal dimensions are also important. Depending on where the compressor is located, some models have more space on the inside than others.
Keep in mind that most portable refrigerators do not take into account the size of the handles that stick out. It is also important to leave a little extra room for ventilation. If a refrigerator is kept in a confined space, the heat from the compressor will make the fridge work harder to keep cool.
Direction The Door Opens
A top-open fridge will naturally be more efficient than a side-door or slide drawer refrigerator. This is due to the way cold air convection, spilling out the bottom and sides of the fridge as soon as it is opened. A top-door refrigerator will require you to stack food. With a side-door refrigerator on the other hand, food can spill out if not properly secured behind a barrier after a long drive.
Determine whether you are looking for a refrigerator, a freezer or both. Some portable fridges can only be one or the other. Others have dual-zone compartments where you can set separate temperatures for each compartment. Is eating ice cream on the road important? Or are you satisfied with storing a few blocks of cheese but having more space?
Door swing direction is not the only thing that affects efficiency. Motor type and layout of the compressor can make a difference in how often and how long a refrigerator has to be on. Some refrigerators have temperatures that are easier to adjust than others.
Most refrigerators come with a battery cutoff switch, but the most advanced ones will allow you to control this with a remote as well.
Weight can have a major impact on a vehicle and also affect how you use the refrigerator. With an extremely heavy fridge for example, you may not want to add it to a slider or move it at all. Extra weight can also affect gas mileage so it’s something to consider.
Pricing and Warranty
When it comes down to it, pricing might be the most important thing determining which refrigerator to purchase. More expensive refrigerators will generally have a higher quality. You can expect more technological advancement and durability with a higher price.
Refrigerators with longer warranties tend to last longer. Good customer support is also a key feature of refrigerator satisfaction. Not all RV repair shops will work on refrigerators that are so small. A refrigerator with components that are easy to find can make or break your decision.