How To Choose A Portable Fridge Or Cooler?
Ice-cold drinks and your favourite foods can be enjoyed anywhere with a cooler, ice box or camping fridge. Whether you're camping, caravanning, boating, fishing, relaxing on the beach, having a picnic or party, or doing a long drive, it's always better with the refreshments you love. This Buying Guide walks you through how to choose the best portable fridge, cooler or ice box for your needs.
- What you'll use it for (camping, fishing, parties, picnics, festivals, the beach or lunch?)
- Where you'll be using the fridge (how hot or cold it will be where you're going?)
- How long you'll be using it for at a time (a few hours, days or weeks at a time?)
- How far away from supplies you'll be (close to shops or in the middle of nowhere?)
- How much space is there in your car (for the fridge and all your other gear and bags?)
- How much control you want over the temperature (cold or just cooler than outside?)
- Where you want to store it when camping (inside your 4WD or in your campsite?)
- How easy you want it to be to empty and clean it (both essential to avoid mould)
- How long you want it to last (for a few short trips or for many years of camping?)
What is the best portable camping fridge for you?
Working out which fridge to buy is easier when you break it down into these six steps:
The size of the portable fridge you need depends on:
- How many people it needs to store food and/or drinks for.
- How many days or weeks worth of meals it has to hold.
- Whether it's going to go in a big 4WD or a smaller car.
Fridge size is measured by how many litres it can hold, and also by how many cans it fits:
To work out what fridge size you'll need for camping:
- Measure the dimensions of the boot of your car or tray on the back of your truck (you'll need a 12V socket in your ute tray or boot too).
- It might help to list everything it needs to fit (e.g. drinks, food, fishing bait and catches).
- For a four-day trip, use the sizes below as a rough guide, but factor in your own needs.
Also keep in mind:
- The bigger the fridge is:
- The longer you can go without having to get more supplies from the shops.
- The more space it takes up your car (leaving less space for everything else).
- The heavier it is to move around (especially when it's full of food and drinks).
- Anaconda's largest cooler is 111L and has the following dimensions:
- W1050 x H440 x D510 mm (external)
- W915 x H320 x D395 mm (internal)
How do you power a camping fridge?
There are a few different ways, so think about how you'd prefer to power yours:
- Electricity - the 240V power point at your powered campsite (or using your generator).
- Solar - panels collect the sun's energy and can power the external battery a compressor fridge runs off during the day.
- Battery - a 12V battery in your 4WD (use a dual battery so you don't kill the car battery).
- Compare how much power different fridges use (how fast they drain your battery).
- Drawing 3-4 amps per hour drains a battery faster than a fridge drawing 1-2 amps.
- Bigger fridges kill batteries faster, so only get the minimum fridge size you need.
- You'll need a battery charger if you're running the fridge off a 4WD 12V battery.
- A fridge in a hot spot works harder to stay cold which chews through your battery.
- Always keep the fridge in somewhere shady and cool (preferably not in a hot car).
- To avoid a flat car battery when it's home time, invest in a low voltage protector.
There are two types of camping fridges:
- Fridge/freezer - can be used as a fridge or as a freezer (but not both at once).
- Dual fridge and freezer - a big two-in-one with separate fridge and freezer sections.
The method that keeps what's inside cold, also divides fridges into two other camps:
- Two-way compressor fridges - the most efficient (but noisier) option.
- Can be powered in two ways: 240V electricity or 12V battery.
- The speed of the motor adjusts according to the temperature.
- Best option in extreme weather conditions, bumpy roads and 4WDing.
- Three-way absorption fridges - good for caravans as quieter (but less efficient).
- Can be powered in three ways: 240V electricity, 12V battery, LPG gas.
- Gas is the most efficient (100%) so the best way to power a fridge on long camps.
- 240V is the next most efficient (90%), and a 12V battery is the least efficient (70%).
- Should only be powered by 12V on your way there (then switch to 240V or gas).
- For safety reasons, gas should only be used outside, never inside a caravan.
- If your 12V car lighter plug can't handle the current, get an electrician to fit a wire.
- Must be kept level otherwise it won't perform as well (so not suited to 4WDing).
- Thermo cooler
- Maintains what's already cold (or hot) relative to the surrounding temperature.
- Connects to and is powered by a car battery, so perfect for people who drive a lot.
- You can't set a specific temperature so it's best for drinks, snacks or one meal.
- Ice box - Ice blocks, cubes or packs keep food and drinks cold for hours or a few days.
- Spinchill - Spins a bottle or can around in your ice bucket so it's chilled in 1-7 minutes.
- More insulation keeps things cooler for longer and uses less power.
- Compare the type of cooling technology and its benefits (see Type section above):
- Some come with a cover for extra insulation to keep everything cool.
- If you choose a fridge without a cover, consider investing in one.
- Vents allow heat to escape, so more vents mean more efficient cooling.
- Make sure there's enough space around the vents for air to flow freely.
- Plastic - some models are made from polypropylene plastic, one of the most durable plastics you can buy.
- Metal - longer lasting than plastic but also a lot heavier and can rust.
- Fibreglass - soft so can crack easily but won't absorb odours so great for fishing.
- Check if the lid can withstand the weight of someone sitting on it.
- Find out if/how you can buy replacement parts if needed one day.
- Fixing kit - secures the heavy fridge in your car for safety if there's an accident.
- Wheels - makes moving the cooler around when it's full much easier.
- Battery protection - automatically turns off the fridge before your car battery dies.
- Drain plug - a plug you can pull out to drain the water instead of tipping it over.
- Slides - slide in and out of the car with the fridge on top so it's easy to access.
- Digital display - makes it easy to set and see the thermostat temperature.
- USB port - a handy plug socket that can be used to charge everyone's phones.
- Wi-Fi connectivity - so you can see and control the temperature using your phone.
When you're weighing up which fridge or cooler to buy, think about quality versus cost:
- Coolers are usually a lot cheaper than iceboxes and fridges.
- Some Dometic iceboxes have refrigeration grade insulation and a unique seal design that keeps ice solid for 5-10 days, so they're worth the investment if you're camping for more than a couple of days at a time.
When it comes to how much you should spend on a fridge, cooler or icebox:
- If you're only using it for a few hours at a time, a cheap one should do the trick.
- A fridge with an excellent compressor uses power efficiently (so it won't chew through your battery as fast), and will be reliable for many camping trips.
- Factor in the cost of any accessories you might need such as a cover for insulation, a fixing kit to keep the fridge secure in your car, a dual battery system, or additional wiring for your car.
- You get what you pay for, so think about how many years you want it to last for.
- If you want to ice-cold drinks and great food on camping trips for years to come, it's worth spending a bit more on a good-quality fridge.
When you go to the fridges and coolers sections on the Anaconda website (under Camping Power & Cooling), you'll see tick box filters down the left hand side of the page. Using these filters makes working out which one to buy easier and faster because you can choose to filter the fridges and coolers you see by their:
- Categories - so you can choose to only see fridges, or only coolers, or both.
- Deal - so you only see fridges and coolers that are on sale or at clearance prices.
- Brand - so you can find fridges and coolers by brands like Coleman and Dometic.
- Price - so you only see the ones that are within your budget on the page.
- Size - so you can just see the ones that will be the right size for your needs.
- Colour - so you can see all the models made in the colour you like best.
- Chill drinks and food before putting in ice so their warmth doesn't melt the ice.
- At least a third should be ice, so don't fill the cooler or icebox with food/drinks.
- Ice blocks are better than party ice, so try to use a few big blocks and ice cubes.
- Keep your cooler, icebox or fridge out of the sun so it doesn't melt the ice faster.
- Try to keep the lid on as much as possible to keep the cold air in and hot air out.