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12V Portable Camping Fridge Coolers

2 beer bottles clinking - make sure thay are cold with the best 12v portable camping fridges

A cold beer is one of the joys of a family camping trip. 12V Portable Camping Fridge Coolers provide the ultimate in freedom from ice chest coolers.  There is no need for ice – so all of the space in the cooler is available for your food and drink.  Unlike thermoelectric coolers, fridge coolers can get the temperature below freezing and can thermostatically control the temperature. Once you have tried a fridge cooler, you may never go back to your traditional, ice chest cooler.

In this post we are going to look at:

  • What is a Camping Fridge Cooler?
  • How fridge coolers work
  • Pros and Cons of using fridge coolers
  • Things to look for when buying a fridge cooler
  • Best Refrigerator Coolers

CampingSage’s Choice of Portable Camping Fridge Coolers for 2020

Best Fridge Cooler 2020

We know there are a lot of people who are only interested in the bottom line.  In this case, what fridge cooler do you recommend.  If that’s you, our choice for best fridge cooler 2020 is

LiONCooler 1st Battery Powered Portable Solar Fridge Freezer

Highly Commended Fridge Cooler of 2020

We realize that these camping coolers are expensive.  You can often buy a fridge freezer for your home for less.  The cooler that caught our eye for supplying the most for your money was:

Linsion 42 Quart RV Refrigerator/Freezer

What is a Camping Fridge Cooler?

A camping fridge cooler is a cooler that works in the same way as your refrigerator at home. To you, as the user, a fridge cooler looks a lot like a normal, ice chest cooler but with electrical connections and more controls.

How Does a Camping Fridge Cooler Work

As mentioned, a camping fridge cooler works exactly like your domestic refrigerator. In brief:

Refrigeration.png
By Original uploader was Keenan Pepper at en.wikipedia – Originally from en.wikipedia; description page is/was here., CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

  1. Electrical power is used to drive a motor which compresses the refrigerant.  The act of compressing the refrigerant adds energy in the form of pressure and heat.
  2. The compressed refrigerant is passed through a series of condenser coils on the outside of the refrigerator.  The refrigerant is cooled by the air around the refrigerator.  In cooling, the refrigerant condenses into a liquid.
  3. As the compressor continues to run, more vapor is forced into the condenser which forces the now liquid refrigerant out of the condenser
  4. The liquid refrigerant is forced through an expansion valve.  As the liquid passes through the expansion valve it becomes a mix of liquid and vapor absorbing heat from the surrounds in doing so
  5. The liquid and vapor pass through an evaporator – normally a set of coils that surround the ice box.  As the liquid evaporates it removes heat from the ice box. The cold air may be circulated around your refrigerator using a small fan.
  6. Vapor from the evaporator returns to the compressor and the cycle continues.

The refrigerator cycle is highly efficient from a thermodynamic viewpoint.  As the only essential input is power to the compressor, it is also highly controllable.  It is a simple matter to add a thermostatic switch to control the operation of the compressor.  The internal temperature can be quite tightly controlled.

RV Portable Fridge – Absorbtion

The CampingSage is all about camping comfortably in tents.  The only sort of fridge cooler suitable for use in tents is one based on the standard refrigerator cycle above.

There is another type of portable, propane gas powered, fridge that is frequently installed in RVs.  These are based on a slightly different thermodynamic cycle that uses the heat from burning the propane to power the ‘absorption’ refrigeration cycle.

The advantage of absorption refrigerators is that they do not need electricity to run.  A single cylinder of propane can keep an absorption fridge running for many days.

A variant of an absorption fridge is the 3-way fridge.  These use electricity to heat the refrigerant to power the cycle when no propane is available.  Using electricity to power these fridges is very inefficient and is not viable on battery power.

We don’t believe that burning propane to power a refrigerator is a sensible thing to do inside of a tent.  Absorption cycle coolers are not included in this review.

Why use a fridge cooler – pros

  • Temperatures as low as -20C can be readily attained (freezer mode)
  • Internal temperature is readily controlled
  • In fridge mode, the temperature can be controlled to the safe food range 22-40F
  • Average power usage is, on average, lower than for a similar capactiy thermoelectric cooler
  • No need for ice
  • All of the cooler capacity is available for your food and drink

Why you might not use a fridge cooler – cons

  • Needs external DC or AC power. 
  • Will drain your car battery.  They use less current than thermoelectric coolers so you might be able to get 2 days usage from your car battery and still be able to start.
  • Best for usage where you have electric hook up or a camping generator
  • Reliability – there are relatively few working components but there is still a lot more that can go wrong than on a thermoelectric cooler
  • If you are camping in bear country, you might not be able to use an electrical cooler.  All your food, and any scented toiletries, have to be stored in a bear locker.  Ice chest coolers are likely to be your only option.

What to Look for When Buying a Camping Fridge Cooler

Many of the things to look for on a 12V Fridge Cooler are the similar to the items for choosing an ice chest cooler or for choosing a thermoelectric cooler.  Here’s our list of key features.

  • Large capacity to support your family.  We recommend around 50 quarts for a family camping
  • Controlled temperature range
  • Single or dual zone (fridge, fridge/freezer, freezer only).  If it is advertised as dual zone, can both zones be used at the same time.  There are a number of coolers that are either fridges or freezers but which are advertised as dual zone.
  • Dimensions
  • Weight
  • Power consumption – this is a difficult figure to estimate.  It depends on mode of operation, capacity, temperature settings, how often the cooler is opened, outside temperatuve…
  • Battery protection – settings that are designed to stop the cooler completely discharging your car battery
  • Robustness and longevity.  These are expensive with more things that go wrong.  You should look for reviews that show good reliability and toughness
  • Wheels/handle.  You won’t have the weight of the ice but these coolers are still heavy fully loaded.  Come to that, they can be pretty heavy empty.
  • Price.

The Best Camping Fridge Coolers 2020

Alpicool CX50 Portable Refrigerator 53 Quart

12V Portable Camping Fridge Coolers 112V Portable Camping Fridge Coolers 2

You can watch the short video below to learn more about the Alpicool cooler.

FeatureAlpicool CX50Comments
Capacity (Quarts)53Manufacturer claims 52 Cans. This is much lower than the claims for similar capacity coolers from other suppliers. We would expect this cooler to take at least 70 12oz cans
Modes (fridge, dual, freezer) Temp rangeFridge Freezer -4F (-20C)Set temp on control panel This is the same temperature as your home freezer
Dimensions (inches)23.1x 14.9 x 21.5 
Empty weight (pounds)30.8 
Wheels (Y/N)Trolley and wheels 
Power inputs12 or 24V12V/24V power cable supplied
Power consumption45WAverage of 3.75A
Battery protection3 stage 
Additional featuresPhone app – monitor and control the cooler from your phone USB socket – charge your devices 

Alpicool CX50 – We Like

  • Good size
  • Relatively light weight empty – we estimate that it will weigh less than 110pounds fully loaded. See table below.
  • Budget priced

Alpicool CX50 – We Don’t Like

  • Build quality and reliability seem a little lower than competitors
  • Some difficulty in getting replacement parts e.g. handle
  • A few reports on noise levels.

ARB Portable Fridge Freezer 50 Quarts

12V Portable Camping Fridge Coolers 312V Portable Camping Fridge Coolers 4

ARB is a major player in the RV/Camping Fridge Cooler market. There are many videos on Youtube showcasing their products. Check out the one below.

FeatureARB Portable Fridge Freezer 50 QuartsComments
Capacity (Quarts)5072 Cans 12oz cans
Modes (fridge, dual, freezer)FridgeSet temp on digital control panel
Temp rangeFreezer -0F (-18C)This is the same temperature as your home freezer
Dimensions (inches)27.75 x 15 x 20 
Empty weight (pounds)53That is truly heavy.  Add 72 12oz cans for a loaded weight of around 130 pounds
Wheels (Y/N)Trolley and wheels 
Power inputs12/24V and 120V12V/24V and 120Vpower cables supplied
Power consumption55W4.5-5A
Battery protectionAdjustable 
Additional featuresLed interior light 

The ARB portable fridge freezer is designed for 4×4 use.  It works great where it can be plugged into your vehicles power supply.  There is a kit (sold separately) to connect the ARB directly to your vehicle’s battery.

Fortunately, it will work equally as well as a camping fridge cooler and can be connected to your car cigarette lighter socket.  Like large ice chest freezers, these things are heavy when loaded.  You will not want to move it too far between your car and tent.

ARB Portable Fridge Freezer 50 Quarts – We Like

  • Very well built.  Outstanding reputation for reliability
  • Multi-power options built in and supplied with 12V/24V leads and 110/120V connection
  • Designed to hold 2-liter bottles as well as up to 72 12oz cans.  You can get some food in there too
  • Multiple internal compartments to keep your drinks, meat and salad/diary separate

ARB Portable Fridge Freezer 50 Quarts – We Don’t Like

  • Very heavy.  Fully loaded weight likely to be over 120 pounds.  You cannot move this far from your car
  • Some confusion over power usage.  ARB publish 80W surge power and 55W steady state.  That equates to around 4.5A steady state.  Elsewhere, ARB claim it uses 0.7 to 2.3A.
  • Price – it is an expensive unit.  Arguably, you get what you pay for.

Dometic CFX3 55L Powered Cooler – Portable Refrigerator/Freezer w/Ice Maker

12V Portable Camping Fridge Coolers 512V Portable Camping Fridge Coolers 6

Dometic is one of the leading brands in the camping fridge cooler niche. the CFX3 is part of their flagship range.

FeatureDometic CFX3 55LComments
Capacity (Quarts)5883Cans 12oz cans
Modes (fridge, dual, freezer)Dual zone. Has ice making shelf that can be used while the majority of the cooler is working as a refrigerator
Temp rangeFreezer down to -7F (-22C) 
Dimensions (inches)17.91 x 18.92 x 28.35 
Empty weight (pounds)47 Like the ARB, we estimate a fully loaded weight of about 130 pounds
Wheels (Y/N)N Do not attempt to move this on your own
Power inputs12/24V and 120V 
Power consumption1.1A AverageExtremely low current usage.
Battery protection3-stage dynamic protection 
Additional featuresControl/monitor via phone app 

ENGEL MR040F-U1 40 Qt AC/DC Portable Tri-Voltage Fridge/Freezer w/ABS Plastic Shell, Grey

12V Portable Camping Fridge Coolers 712V Portable Camping Fridge Coolers 8

Tale a look at the video below to get a better understanding of the Engel offer.

FeatureENGEL MR040F-U1 40 Quart  Comments
Capacity (Quarts)4060 12oz cans
Modes (fridge, dual, freezer)Single mode – fridge or freezerSet temp on control panel
Temp rangeFreezer -0F (-18C)This is the same temperature as your home freezer
Dimensions (inches)25.00 x 15.50 x 18.50 
Empty weight (pounds)48 Despite being only 40Qt capacity, this coolers estimated loaded weight is still a hefty 112 pounds
Wheels (Y/N)N 
Power inputs12/24V and 120V12V/24V and 120Vpower cables supplied. 
Power consumption1-2A – on 12V supplyLow current even on startup.
Battery protectionYes 
Additional featuresQuiet 2 year warranty 

ENGEL MR040F-U1 40 Quart – We Like

  • Hugely energy efficient Engel compressor
  • Exceptionally low current usage

ENGEL MR040F-U1 40 Quart – We Don’t Like

  • A few people complain of low quality latches
  • Some claims of noisy units
  • Reports of poor customer service

Linsion 42 Quart RV Refrigerator/Freezer

12V Portable Camping Fridge Coolers 912V Portable Camping Fridge Coolers 10

The video below is for the slightly larger 54Qt versions of the cooler

FeatureLinsion 42 Quart  Comments
Capacity (Quarts)4260 12oz cans
Modes (fridge, dual, freezer)Single mode – fridge or freezer 
Temp range-13℉~68℉Freezer temperature of -13F is much lower than a domestic freezer
Dimensions (inches)22.6 x 14.3 x 17.4 
Empty weight (pounds)46 We estimate this cooler will weigh about 110 pounds fully loaded
Wheels (Y/N)N 
Power inputs12/24V and 90v to 250V AC12V/24V and ACpower cables supplied. 
Power consumption4A – on 12V supplyNo average consumption figure provided but assume 50% running and you get 2Ah. You’ll be able to safely run this off your car battery overnight
Battery protection3 settings 
Additional features  

Linsion 42 Quart – We Like

  • Price – for the specification and features this is the cheapest cooler reviewed by some margin.
  • We love that some common temperature settings are provided: Red wine storage (10℃),Fruit (4℃- 6℃), Beverage (2℃- 5℃), Meat (-10℃), Ice cream (-15℃)
  • Low current usage.  You can run this off a normal car battery overnight without undue worries about the car not starting the next day
  • AC options cater for worldwide electrical supply voltages

Linsion 42 Quart – We Don’t Like

  • A few customers have reported they received coolers that were dead on arrival.

LiONCooler 1st Battery Powered Portable Solar Fridge Freezer

12V Portable Camping Fridge Coolers 1112V Portable Camping Fridge Coolers 12

This is such an innovative cooler that the video is an essential element of understanding what you are buying.

FeatureLiONCooler Solar Powered  Comments
Capacity (Quarts)4260 12oz cans
Modes (fridge, dual, freezer)Single mode – fridge or freezer 
Temp rangeFreezer mode down to -4FMore than cold enough.  Not clear how long battery will last in this mode
Dimensions (inches)25 x 15.9 x 20 
Empty weight (pounds)38.7Light empty weight gives the lightest estimate of 100 pounds fully loaded
Wheels (Y/N)YLong pull handle and 6inch wheels helps maneuverability
Power inputsRechargeable and replaceable battery providing 10hours of use at 32F.Battery can be charged in place by solar, car port, or AC adapter.  Internal battery is not discharged while connected to an external power supply
Power consumption173Wh battery lasts for 10 hours in fridge mode.  Implies a current draw of 1.5A at 12VShould be able to run this cooler for around 20 hours from a car battery.
Battery protectionNA 
Additional featuresPhone app USB charging port – use the power of that 173Wh battery to charge your devices 

LiONCooler Solar Powered – We Like

  • Innovative concept – the only battery powered cooler
  • Could be used in bear country – would have to check with the park rangers on policy of putting this cooler into a bear locker.
  • Low power requirements
  • Lightest estimated fully loaded weight of all the fridge coolers in this review
  • Wheels and handle – easier for maneuvering

LiONCooler Solar Powered – We Don’t Like

  • It is not solar powered.  Just like many of the other coolers in this roundup, it can be powered by solar power but this needs to be bought separately

Estimated fully loaded cooler weights

Estimated fully loaded weights for 12V portable camping fridge coolers
Estimated fully loaded weights

Other coolers

It is inevitable in a roundup review such as this, that we only show a snapshot of the products available.  This is a very competitive niche and there are many other products that are worth a look.  Here are some alternatives:

  • COSTWAY Car Refrigerator, 53-Quart Portable and Compact RV Fridge, -4°F To 68°F
  • XtremepowerUS 52-Quart Bluetooth Function Portable Camping Refrigerator
  • Whynter FM-45G 45 Quart Portable Refrigerator
  • Norcold NRF45 Portable Refrigerator/Freezer
  • ICECO JP50 Portable Refrigerator Fridge Freezer

All the fridge coolers listed above are highly rated and could have made it into the main review of right.

Conclusions

As you will have seen, the camping fridge cooler niche is highly competitive.  The attraction of cold, temperature-controlled food and drink is very strong.  The diehards will always say that the only good cooler is an ice chest cooler.  These fridge coolers say they are wrong

The major drawback with these coolers is the power demands.  Although fridge coolers draw less current on average than their thermoelectric equivalents, you can still only fun most of them on a car battery for about a day.  For that reason, both fridge coolers, and the simpler thermoelectric coolers, are best used where you have an external power supply.

External power is getting to be less of an issue with improvements in solar power units, camping power packs and camping generators.

For this review we have looked at coolers with a similar capacity to those of our ice chest cooler review.  That is misleading. In an ice chest freezer, half to tow thirds of the capacity is taken by ice.  As fridge coolers don’t use ice, much more of the capacity is available for your food and drink.  You are likely to be able to pack as much into a 30Quart fridge cooler as in a 60 or 70 Quart ice chest cooler.

One thing we know for certain, once you overcome the issues with getting reliable power, you will never want to go back to an ice chest cooler.

Camping Sage Camping Fridge Cooler 2020

We are suckers for innovative, useful technology.  Our Camping Fridge Cooler of 2020 is:

LiONCooler 1st Battery Powered Portable Solar Fridge Freezer

CampingSage – Highly Commended Fridge Cooler of 2020

We realise that these camping coolers are expensive.  You can often buy a fridge freezer for your home for less.  The cooler that caught our eye for supplying the most for your money was:

Linsion 42 Quart RV Refrigerator/Freezer

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Keith Longmire

Keith Longmire

I’m the guy that loves camping, insists on family camping trips, and the editor and owner of Campingsage.com

I love camping and the outdoors. Through this site I hope to help you enjoy it too.

About CampingSage

CampingSage is all about comfortable family camping in tents.  It is written by campers, for campers.

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Clicking on some links and images on this site may take you to Amazon.com. As an Amazon Associate the Camping Sage earns from qualifying purchases.

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