Best Fridge for Van Life: Top 12v Refrigerator Picks in 2024

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Choosing the right fridge for your van not only enhances your life on the road but makes a world of difference when it comes to meal planning and overall comfort during your journey. But with so many options available, you might wonder, what is the best fridge for van life?

In this article, we’ll dive deep into the features and benefits of various fridges, helping you decide which one suits your specific needs and space requirements. After much research and personal experience, our top pick is the Dometic CFX3 55 – a high-quality, versatile refrigerator perfect for your van life adventures. Want to see how it stacks up against the competition? Keep reading!

We’ll also discuss various campervan fridge types and their advantages, giving you the information you need to make an informed decision for your mobile dwelling. By the end of this article, you’ll know everything there is to know about choosing the perfect van life fridge for your specific needs. 

Buying Guide: How to Choose the Best Fridge for Van Life

When choosing a fridge for your van life adventure, it’s essential to find one that suits your lifestyle, budget, and needs. To choose the best campervan fridge options, here are a few things to consider.

Types of Fridges

There are three main types of fridges vanlifers might come across: compressor, thermoelectric, and absorption. Each of these refrigerators comes with power options that have their own pros and cons:

  • Compressor Fridges: These are the most energy-efficient and offer excellent cooling performance. They can be pricier than other types but are typically more durable and less noisy for van living.
  • Thermoelectric Fridges: These fridges are budget-friendly but consume more power and provide less cooling performance compared to 12v compressor fridges.
  • Absorption Fridges: These fridges, also known as 3-way fridges, can run on propane, DC, or AC power but are less energy-efficient overall and can be sensitive to the level of the surface they are placed on.
My Dometic fridge doubles as seating area

Size, Shape, and Capacity

To find the right fridge for a campervan, think about the available space, your van layout, and how much food storage capacity you need. Keep in mind that chest-style fridges typically have more storage capacity due to their shape, but upright fridges might be more convenient for accessing food.

I have a chest fridge in my van build and it doubles as a seating area. The convenience of being able to open the fridge to access food and drinks while also intelligently using space in the van makes this a win-win for me.

Features and Accessories

Consider the following features when looking for a vanlife fridge:

  • Dual Zone: This allows you to have both a fridge and a freezer compartment in the same unit (e.g., Dometic CFX3).
  • Digital Display: This makes it easier to monitor and adjust the temperature accurately.
  • USB Port: Some camper van fridges offer USB ports to charge your devices on the go.

Installation and Power

Powering a fridge in your van can be done through a variety of methods:

  • Solar Panels: Harnessing solar power can help offset the energy consumption of your 12 volt refrigerator. Make sure to calculate the power requirements of your fridge and how many solar panels you need.
  • Battery Bank: Consider the power draw of your camper van refrigerator and ensure your battery bank can support it. Remember that 12V fridges overall consume less power than AC-powered ones.
  • Inverters: If you have an AC-powered fridge, you’ll need an inverter to convert your battery’s DC power to AC.

Reviews: The 5 Best Fridges for VanLife

These are the five best 12v fridges we’ve seen and used ourselves for full-time van lifers.

DOMETIC CFX3 55IM – Best Fridge with Ice Maker

The DOMETIC CFX 3 55IM is a compressor fridge that can run on both AC and DC power sources. It has a unique ice maker feature that allows you to have ice on hand wherever you go. The rapid freeze plate can make ice in just a few hours without compromising the temperature of the rest of the cooler.

It has a capacity of 53 liters (or 83 cans) and can reach temperatures as low as -7°F. This fridge also features a digital display, a USB port, Wi-Fi connectivity, and durable handles.

Pros:

  • Ice maker function provides extra convenience and luxury
  • High cooling performance and efficiency
  • Easy to control and monitor via app or display
  • Fridge is built with a rugged design

Cons:

  • Customer support isn’t great

ARB Zero Portable – Best Smart Fridge

The ARB Zero Portable is an electric compressor fridge that can run on both AC and DC power sources. It has a smart feature that allows you to monitor and control the fridge via Bluetooth-enabled devices. You can adjust the temperature, battery protection, and display settings using a free app or the digital panel on the fridge.

It has a capacity of 47 quarts (or 65 cans) and can reach temperatures as low as -7.6°F. This fridge also features a USB port, a removable lid, and recessed carry handles. The ARB Zero Portable is a great vanlife refrigeration option inside your van.

Pros:

  • Smart function offers more convenience and control
  • High cooling performance and efficiency
  • Easy to use and adjust via app or panel
  • Sturdy design

Cons:

  • Expensive compared to other fridges
  • Heavy and bulky

ICECO VL60 Pro – Best Single Zone Fridge with Multi-Directional Lid

The ICECO VL60 Pro is a compressor fridge that can run on both AC and DC power sources. It has a single-zone design that can be used as either a fridge or a freezer. It has a capacity of 63.4 quarts (or 96 cans) and can reach temperatures as low as -7°F.

This fridge also features a digital display, a USB port, Bluetooth connectivity, and a multi-directional lid that can be opened from four sides.

Pros:

  • Single zone function offers more space and simplicity
  • High cooling performance and efficiency
  • Easy to control and monitor via app or display
  • Innovative and convenient lid design
  • On the affordable side

Cons:

  • Takes some time to get to cold temperatures

ARB Elements – The Best Weatherproof Fridge for Van Life

The ARB Elements is a compressor fridge that can run on both AC and DC power sources. It has a weatherproof design that can withstand exposure to the elements, such as rain, dust, and sun. It has a capacity of 63 quarts (or 83 cans) and can reach temperatures as low as -7.6°F. This fridge also features a digital display, a USB port, Bluetooth connectivity, and an electronic locking system that is passcode-protected.

Pros:

  • Weatherproof function provides more durability and security
  • High cooling performance and efficiency
  • Easy to control and monitor via app or display

Cons:

  • Most expensive fridge we reviewed

Whynter FM-65G 65 Quart Portable Fridge/Freezer

The Whynter FM-65G is a portable fridge/freezer that can operate on both AC and DC power sources. It has a single compartment that can be set to either refrigerate or freeze for your food and drinks. It has a capacity of 65 quarts (or 107 cans) and can cool down to -8°F. It also has an LED temperature display, a power-low indicator, and two removable wire baskets. Whynter is another option for one of the best refrigerators for your van.

Pros:

  • Single zone function makes it simple and easy to use
  • Reliable and consistent cooling performance
  • Versatile and adaptable to different power sources
  • Sturdy and durable outer casing

Cons:

  • Temperature control is not very precise
  • Power cord tends to wiggle out of the socket
  • May freeze water if not adjusted properly
  • Heavy and noisy

Fridge Maintenance Tips

To ensure your fridge will last and perform effectively throughout your van life adventures, follow these tips:

  • Clean your fridge regularly to avoid odors and maintain hygiene
  • Check the seals periodically to ensure they’re not worn or damaged, which could lead to energy inefficiency
  • Avoid overloading your fridge, as this can strain the compressor and reduce its efficiency
A quality fridge makes cooking so much easier on the road

Our Verdict

Having a reliable and efficient fridge while living the van life is crucial for keeping your food cold and reducing food waste. You need to consider factors like energy efficiency, storage space, and the availability of dual-zone compartments to make the best vanlife fridge choice for your unique needs.

After carefully evaluating various options, our recommendation for the best overall fridge for van life is the Dometic CFX3 55IM Fridge. This fridge is one of the best pieces of vanlife gear due to its dual compartments that can function as a fridge and freezer, or any combination of the two. It’s not only versatile, but also energy-efficient and provides ample storage.

Happy travels!

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AUTHOR

Robert Johnson is the founder of Van Simply. He spent eight months traveling full time in his converted camper van and takes frequent shorter trips to explore the world. He enjoys taking his van on surf trips, visiting national parks, and meeting up with the wonderful people he has met on his travels.

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