Whether you’re new to #Vanlife and are looking to buy a fridge, or you’ve been on the road and want to improve the quality of your fridge, you came to the right spot.
One of the biggest challenges of Van Life is figuring out how to keep your food at the proper temperatures even when you’re hundreds of miles off the beaten path and running on solar.
12V DC refrigerators are one of the most popular options out there, and with advances in technology and increased demand, prices have (finally) started to drop to a reasonable point.
If you’ve been putting off buying the DC fridge to prevent your food from spoiling on the road, my guide below should hopefully help you find the best option out there-without breaking the bank.
I’ve included a range of different styles and price points, with everything from ultra-high-end models fit for a king to very budget-friendly choices that offer no-frills reliability at a price that can’t be beaten.
So let’s get started…
**If you’re in a rush, here are the top 3 options:
- Dometic CFX3 – Best Overall Quality & Can’t Recommend It Enough
- BougeRV 53 – Best Budget Option (Great Value)
- Whynter FM-45G – Best Balance Of Cost & Quality
What We Looked for in the Best Van Refrigerators
When picking out the best van fridge, I focus on three key factors
- Power draw
Capacity and power draw are closely linked, as larger fridges always draw more power than smaller ones.
If you’re trying to go with a minimal power system, the capacity of your fridge has to go down.
Likewise, if you need a larger refrigerator, you’re going to have to invest in a more capable power system.
Size is closely related to capacity but refers more to the physical dimensions of the fridge. Let’s face it, vans are pretty small spaces. Make sure you consider where and how much space you have available for a fridge before choosing.
Overall Best: Dometic CFX3 – (Overall Best 12V Fridge for Van Life and Overlanding)
If I was building out a van today, I’d go with the Dometic CFX3 45-and it’s not even close.
So if you want the best quality fridge for your campervan, I highly recommend this one.
Let me explain.
It gives 45L of storage capacity (more than enough for the campervan life), yet draws barely an amp per hour (the second best on our list).
The Dometic CFX3 is the latest series of models in a storied line of RV and outdoors fridges.
You can pick up a CFX3 in sizes ranging from a pint-sized 25L up to a roomy 100L. That allows you to extend your time away from resupply to well over a week for two people.
They rely on Variable Motor Speed Optimization (VMOS3) Compressor technology, allowing them to achieve incredible energy efficiency levels that adjust automatically to changing outdoor conditions. It runs on either 120V AC or 12/24V DC power and even offers an app to monitor the status of your food.
It absolutely sips power because of this, drawing barely an amp an hour when maintaining temps. That level of efficiency is a serious point in its favor when comparing with some of the lower cost options on my list.
You can save money on battery capacity while also extending your overall time between charges. Definitely something to think about when building out your budget.
It also leaves more power available for running things like lighting, a ventilation fan, and charging for laptops, phones, etc. That gives you a lot more flexibility in picking where and when to travel.
One of the features I love about the CFX’s is the integrated battery protection system. The CFX triggers an alarm when voltage levels drop below a pre-set level and will turn off the compressor before it can damage your batteries.
The fridges themselves are built to a very high standard, with an active gasket sealing system for superior cold retention and aluminum panels for durability.
I generally stay away from promoting specific brands where possible, but here it’s worth mentioning Dometic’s rock solid reputation.
They’ve been making RV and overlanding fridges for decades and are well known for th quality, reliability, and longevity of their products.
The only real downside to the CFX3’s is its decidedly premium price point.
You’re going to drop a serious chunk of change on even the smallest model.
In my opinion, though, it’s worth the money if you can afford it. Trust me when I say you’ll thank me later when you’re able to store a good quantity of food without using significant power.
- Capacity: 25L to 100L
- Power Draw: 1.03 Amps per hour (CFX 45)
- Dimensions: 18.74” H X 15.67” W X 27.32” D (CFX 45)
- Temperature Range: -7℉ to 50℉ (CFX 45)
- Refrigeration Type: Compressor
- Rugged aluminum body and IP65 electronics allow for go-anywhere durability
- Generous range of fridge sizes and configurations allow you to pick out the perfect model for your available space and needs
- VMOS3 compressor technology and battery protection system maximize efficiency and prevent overdrawing your batteries
- Industry-leading five-year warranty gives you peace of mind
- Able to run off both 12V DC power and 120V AC shore power
- Draws under 1 amp per hour during regular operation
- Easy to use app allows you to monitor and change internal temperatures and set up customizable alerts
- Expensive (but worth the price if you can afford it)
- Not everyone will love the ‘industrial chic’ style (although I’m personally a big fan)
Our #2 Best: BougeRV 53-Quart Portable Car Cooler (Best Value/Most Cost Effective Van DC Refrigerator)
The BougeRV 53-quart model is a portable DC refrigerator. It’s designed to provide quality portable refrigeration at a price any budget can afford.
What I found surprising was how well they achieved this goal. It feels a lot sturdier and a lot more effective than anything at this price point has a right to.
It offers 50.1L of capacity divided into 40L and 10L compartments. You can keep both refrigerated and frozen goods without needing multiple fridges. There are some noticeable compromises in its design, however.
It’s made from less heavy-duty materials and offers fewer ‘premium’ touches than other options.
Most importantly for performance, it has significantly less insulation.
It draws about 3.5 amps per hour when maintaining temps vs barely 1 amp per hour for higher-end models. As long as you have enough battery capacity it’s definitely not a deal-breaker, especially considering it costs less than half many of the other models I reviewed.
On the positive side, it takes up less space for the same capacity as other fridges.
If you’re running a tight budget the BougeRV is going to be very attractive, but make sure you keep your solar capacity in mind. It draws up to 3X as much power as the top-end models on my list, meaning you’ll either need more frequent sun exposure or a larger battery bank to extend your time between charges.
Batteries are more cost-effective and efficient than in the past, but you should still balance the benefits of buying a more efficient DC fridge vs. adding an extra battery or more solar panels to charge from.
All in all, the BougeRV portable DC refrigerator is a low-cost yet effective option for vandwellers on a budget. It certainly isn’t the best out there, but it gets the job done and does it for a very attractive price.
- Capacity: 53 Quart/ 50.1L
- Power Draw: 3.5 Amps per hour
- Dimensions: 22” x 13” x 21”
- Temperature Range: -4℉ – 50℉
- Refrigeration Type: Compressor
- Very cost-effective way to get a workable van refrigeration solution
- Offers two temperature zones, allowing you to keep both refrigerated and frozen goods
- 50.1L capacity is ample for a week’s groceries for two
- Runs on 120V AC and 12/24V DC power, offering a lot of flexibility if you have access to shore power
- Smaller physical footprint than similar capacity DC refrigerators
- Significantly higher power draw (3X+) than more expensive models
- Lid slams down easily if you bump into it
Our #3: Whynter FM-45G 45-Quart AC/DC Refrigerator (Best Balance Of Cost & Quality)
The Whynter FM-45G is a more reasonably priced DC fridge for those looking to save without sacrificing quality and performance. It’s a rock-solid and reliable option for those not looking to break the bank.
The first thing that I thought when I saw the Whynter was, ‘Huh, it looks like just a basement chest freezer’. Where many DC refrigerators go for a particular look, Whynter focused on the internals and left the exterior all but unornamented.
Under the hood, the Whynter is packing some serious insulation. It allows for better energy efficiency, though still higher than our number one pick. Given its low cost, we were still impressed with its lower draw.
You can efficiently operate the Whynter at temps up to 90℉ without drawing over three amps per hour. Where the Whynter truly shines is in its construction.
It’s made from heavy-duty materials and includes a seriously sturdy latching system that keeps the lid locked down tight when not in use and helps preserve temperatures and reduce power draw.
If you’re looking for a 12V van fridge that can take some knocks without emptying your wallet, the Whynter FM-45G is the best option out there.
- Capacity: 45 Quart / 42.6L
- Power Draw: 2.95 amps per hour on low/
- Dimensions: 16.5” x 23.5” x 20.5”
- Temperature Range: -8℉ – 50℉
- Refrigeration Type: Compressor
- Blank design style offers lots of options for personalization
- Fast Freeze mode allows you to drop the fridge to freezer temperatures rapidly
- Highly insulated to improve temperature retention
- Low power mode draws just 35.5 watts/2.95 amps per hour
- Higher power draw than more expensive models
- Extra insulation lowers usable capacity
Our #4: Alpicool T60 63-Quart DC Refrigerator with Dual Temperature Control (Best Van Fridge/Freezer Combo)
The Alpicool T60 is a larger-capacity fridge that offers extra space for a surprisingly affordable price. It’s designed to prioritize functionality over durability and does a good job fulfilling its primary role as refrigerated storage.
It looks more like a cooler than a fridge at first glance, especially with the handy wheels on the back. They make it easy to move it around, for sure, but they can get in the way if you’re planning to mount your fridge in your van permanently.
One nice feature, especially at this price point, is the dual temperature zones. The digital control makes it easy to target the two sides independently, and the integrated LED light means you can easily find what you’re looking for without turning on your primary lights.
If you’re looking to stay out longer without breaking the bank, the T60 is a reliable option. It holds plenty of food for two to stay out for well over a week.
- Capacity: 60L
- Power Draw: 3.75 amps per hour
- Dimensions: 28.46” x 14.17” x 21.65”
- Temperature Range: -4℉ – 50℉
- Refrigeration Type: Compressor
- Wheeled design makes it easy to move if you want a more portable option
- Adjustable battery protection system prevents the fridge from draining your battery bank
- Dual zone design allows you to use both a fridge and a freezer easily
- Very affordably priced, especially for its capacity
- Lower energy efficiency than top-ranked models
- Wheels can get in the way if you plan to mount it in your van permanently
Our #5: ARB 10810602 Weatherproof Portable Fridge/Freezer (Best Heavy Duty/High-End Van DC Refrigerator)
If you want to take your van into some seriously gnarly tracks and traces, the ARB 10810602 is the DC refrigerator for you. Made from durable stainless steel with all-weather capability, you can take this fridge anywhere without having to worry about damage.
It’s designed from the ground up to take everything Mother Nature (or acquisitive neighbors) can throw at it. The lid attaches to the main body with lockable bolts and includes a 4-digit PIN that limits access to temperature settings and the interior.
It can be permanently mounted to a hitch basket or the interior of your van and even includes gas piston lid assist features that prevent it from closing accidentally. All that while still incorporating a reliable and highly effective refrigeration system.
The downsides to all this performance are price and ease of installation. It’s a beast, clocking in at 70lbs and boasting larger dimensions for its capacity than the vast majority of other fridges. It also costs well over $1,000.
If you’re looking for a fridge that will perform perfectly anywhere you want to go the ARB 10910602 is the best van fridge out there.
- Capacity: 63 quart / 59.6 L
- Power Draw: .9 Amps per hour
- Dimensions: 37” x 24” x 22”
- Temperature Range: 0℉ to 50℉
- Refrigeration Type: Compressor
- Extremely rugged and reliable
- Built to withstand hard knocks and bumps, such as when going overland in the backcountry
- Weatherproof stainless steel shell allows you to mount it to the exterior of your vehicle if desired
- Infinite position gas strut will hold the lid open at any position safely
- Extremely energy-efficient, particularly for its size
Do You Need a Refrigerator in Your Van?
You need a way to keep food to temp in your van but a fridge isn’t the only option. Many people go with a cooler like a Yeti or RTIC and pick up ice as they go along.
It’s a cheaper way to do it upfront, but bags of ice can add up over time. You also have to deal with keeping your food dry, draining out the meltwater, and checking periodically to make sure temps are maintained.
I went with a secondhand Yeti cooler when building out my van, but if I were doing it over again, I’d go with a 12V fridge.
How Much Power Do You Need for a 12V Refrigerator?
Modern 12V refrigerators drink power in tiny sips once they’re at temp, many draw under an amp per hour, easily sustainable by even modest battery banks.
To put that into perspective, a 100Ah battery bank could reliably power an efficient DC fridge for up to three days without going below the 70% safe discharge level. Keep in mind that temps will rise every time you open your fridge.
Van DC Refrigerator Buying Guide
Here are some of the critical factors to consider when picking out the best 12V van fridge for your needs.
Storage Capacity and Dimensions
Deciding on storage capacity for a van fridge can be challenging. You have to balance the groceries you want to keep on hand vs. the price and physical space you have available.
Keep in mind that 12V fridges have significantly more insulation than standard home fridges. Make sure to check the outer dimensions of the refrigerator to confirm that it’ll fit in the space you have available within your van.
Chest Vs. Upright DC Refrigerator
Depending on the space available in your build, you may not have a choice when it comes to upright or chest-style fridges, but there is an important consideration to take if you do. Chest fridges are more efficient on average than upright fridges because of the thermodynamic properties of cold air.
Power Draw and Energy Efficiency
Balancing refrigerator size and capability with power draw can be a tricky balancing act for vandwellers. Generally measured in amps per hour at 12V, power draw affects everything from how much battery capacity you need to the capacity of your inverter.
If a fridge draws two amps per hour, you’ll need at least 48 amp hours to run it over a single day. That means you’ll need a battery bank capable of supporting it, plus solar panels that can provide enough charge to cover that level of discharge.
My list contains a mix of the highest efficiency fridges plus more cost-effective options for those on a tighter budget.
Single or Dual Temperature Zones
Dual temperature zone DC fridges allow you to set multiple storage temperatures in a single refrigerator. If you like the idea of keeping ice cream or other frozen goods in your van they can be worth the investment.
Keep in mind that running a freezer will draw more power than just a refrigerator.
While there are other options for keeping your food cold, I highly recommend you pick up a 12V fridge for your van if your budget allows. They’re far more convenient, reliable, and easy to manage than anything on the market.Every fridge that made the list is a decent choice, but like I mentioned earlier, the 45 liter Dometic CFX is hands down my top choice, because of its high storage capacity combined with its low energy use. I am yet to find a better fridge on the market, and if I were to get back on the road today, it’s the one I would choose. If you’re looking for a budget option (that still has solid quality), I strongly suggest the BougeRV 12v volt fridge.
For more information please see the list of Best overlanding fridge