When you are out camping you don’t want your beers to go warm or your food to spoil quickly. Esky’s are good for short trips (and hubby swears beer tastes better on ice) but it can be a pain to keep things cold after a few days, especially if you want to go off the beaten track and have to keep replacing your ice.
For these reasons, you might choose to carry your own fridge for camping. That’s why there are portable fridges and/or freezers that you can use if you want to keep things as cold as possible. But with so many our there, we are here to help you choose the right portable fridge to suit your needs.
Fridge, freezer, or the best of both worlds?
So, you might be wondering if you need a fridge or if you need a freezer. Most camping fridges can be set to be either a fridge temperature or a freezer temperature. However, there are a few (genereally bigger ones) that come with both a fridge and a freezer compartment. Well, if that’s on your mind, here are some things you need to consider:
- If you are only looking for something that can keep your food and drinks cold and are not planning on carrying meat that needs to be frozen, a fridge would be enough for you for a few days of camping, probably even up to a week.
- A fridge that comes with a dual-compartment fridge and freezer can be the most convenient type of camping fridge because you can keep your lunch and drinks cold while storing meat that you can cook for dinner. These also allow you to camp for longer as you can keep stuff frozen to use for later in your trip.
- There are some people who probably only need freezers while some may only need a fridge. Have a think about what you are actually wanting to take with you on your camping trips and how long you go away for on typical trips.
- If you need both, it can be nice if you have a portable freezer as well but carrying around two fridges is not always practical due to space. In that case it might be better if you can go for a bigger portable fridge that also comes with a freezer so that you don’t have to bring two different large items for your camping trip. These are known as dual zone or combination fridges.
What size camping fridge do I need?
So, you’ve figured out what you want from your portable fridge, but the next question is what size do you need? A lot of things can depend on a camping fridges size including the features you get as well as the price you will need to pay and this might also determine the kind of fridge you want to buy.
If you want fridges that have a higher capacity, you would naturally go for the larger ones, but keep in mind that these are going to take up more space in your car or your caravan and are going to have a higher current draw. The size can be a problem if you are a large family or group of friends and you already have plenty of things packed in the caravan.
The sizes of portable fridges are usually listed in litres, which will make it difficult for you to imagine how you can fit food and drinks in them. Luckily, we are here to help make it easier for you to visualize how big a fridge is in terms of litres and the cans of drinks that can fit inside.
Fridges that are 25 litres or under such as this one can usually fit 27 cans of drinks. This is essentially a smaller portable fridge that can be compared to an esky or cooler. They are compact enough that they can help keep your lunch and drinks cold if you are flying solo or if there are only two of you.
This sort of size is really more designed as a day trip fridge for the car. It will fit some drinks and a couple of meals worth of food but is not going to last any more then a day or two.
A portable fridge that is at least 35 litres can fit 47 cans of drinks. This is an ideal fridge for a small family that is planning to go camping for only a day. However, if there are only two people on the trip, it can fit an entire weekend’s worth of food and drinks.
Barely bigger than a 35L, a portable fridge that is 40 litres can fit 60 cans of drinks. This size portable fridge, like the Engel 40L is very common sized fridge for use on camping trips because it is neither too small nor too large for a small group of people camping out for a few days.
If you are intending on going out camping for an entire week when there are only two of you, a portable fridge that is around 50 litres should be good enough. It can fit 72 cans of drinks, which also makes it perfect for the entire family if you are planning on camping out for the weekend.
This is also the size of fridge where fridge / freezer combos become more common. Keep in mind if you are buying a dual zone fridge, that the size in litres is for the entire fridge, so you might want to check how big each compartment is for the different brands.
Can fit about 106 cans of drinks, which makes it the best for a larger family that is planning on going out for the weekend or a week. If you’re a family and wanting to fit food and drink for a camping trip more than a day or two, you are probably going to be needing to look at a fridge this size.
Finally, we have the bigger portable fridges that can fit 80 litres or above. These can store more than 120 cans of drinks, which makes it perfect for an entire big group that is planning on staying out camping for a long weekend, or a family that wants to camp for a week or two. However, these are quite large and can take up a chunk of space in a car or in a caravan. They are also quite heavy, weighing 30-40+ kgs before you put any food or drinks in them.
Large fridges like the My Coolman 96L can be a great way to keep a family fed for a week or more, but ensure you have the room in your gear and the weight limit allowable for a fridge this size.
Features to look for in a camping fridge
Once you’ve decided what size is best for you, here are some features to look out for when you are choosing the right portable fridge for camping:
The best portable fridges are the ones with low current draw. Look for the power consumption on 12 volts only because this is a good indication of how long the fridge will run on a battery or in your caravan. Manufacturers will normally give you a range of amps, the maximum being when it is trying to cool the fridge down, with the lower amount being when the fridge is cold and not working as hard to maintain a temperature. Remember that your fridge will end up working hard and draining its battery more if it is exposed to a hot environment.
Most camping fridges do not have their own battery and will need to be connected to a power source. It can be good for your portable fridge if it has the correct connector that allows it to connect to a car or caravan battery with 12V as well as being able to plug it in to 240V. Some portable fridges come with cigarette lighter plugs but it would be ideal if you were to have an Anderson plug installed because some portable fridges tend to have a high current draw and can easily unplug when connected to a cigarette lighter plug.
The portable fridge needs to come with good mounting hardware that will allow it to stay on its feet and to prevent it from tipping over suddenly when you hit a bump on the road or if you suddenly come to a quick stop. That’s why there should be good mounting points on the fridge so that it will stay in place and will not easily move regardless of how bumpy the ride may be.
Most fridge manufactures add tie down points so you can use straps to keep your fridge in the one place, and not end up with a fridge on its side and food everywhere.
The best portable fridges come with the best insulation. After all, portable fridges are usually exposed to high temperatures while you are driving or when you leave them at your campsite. As such, look for a portable fridge that has thick walls for insulation because this can greatly reduce the workload on the fridge’s compressor in keeping your food and drinks cold. The outer material of the fridge should also be a good indicator of how well insulated it is because metal tends to conduct heat very well compared to plastic.
Of course, you can never forget about a portable fridge’s durability because you are going to be exposing it to the rough conditions of the outdoors. The more durable a portable fridge is, the better suited it will be for the Australian conditions especially when you are on your way to a campsite with a bumpy road or if you are camping out in an area that tends to experience weird weather conditions. That’s why your portable fridge should be durable enough to handle any bumpy road or weather situation. Before purchasing look at reviews of the fridge you are thinking of buying and see how it performs in real life situations.
The compressor is the one that keeps the fridge running because this is what allows it to produce the cold air needed to keep your stuff cool. Look for a fridge that has a good brand of compressor because that is when you will know that it’s going to last longer and run efficiently. Some compressor brands that are good Sawafuji, or SECOP.
Portable fridges should have controls that will allow you to adjust the temperature and the settings quite easily. This should be a factor for you to look out for because of how you need to be able to easily change the fridge’s temperature settings without the need to tinker through the controls just to figure out how things work. These days there are even fridges that connect to an app on your phone so you don’t even have to get up to check on the temperature or make adjustments.
Some portable fridges do have covers that you can place on the fridge while you are still on the road travelling. The reason why these covers are important is that they add extra insulation to the portable fridge. You don’t want your drinks or food to go warm just because they were exposed to heat while you were still travelling or while you leave the fridge on your campsite with the warmth of the sun shining on it.
No matter how expensive or highly rated your portable fridge may be, it may end up breaking down sooner or later due to wear and tear. That’s why you would need to make sure that the fridge you are using has available spare parts you can buy online or in stores near your locality. This will allow the repairman to easily replace the broken parts.
Some cars or caravans tend to have limited space. If that is the case, you might find a drawer fridge is more suitable or you could find a portable fridge that allows you to go bespoke in the sense that you can choose and customize the build yourself. This can be great if you want to make sure that everything fits well enough in a caravan or in a camper, especially if you are looking to maximize the camping space you will be needing.
The world of camping fridges is immense. Go to your local camping store and you will literally find aisles of fridges that look the same. Hopefully now with these tips you can decide what you really need and look for the differences to choose the right one for you.