A standard RV refrigerator may not always be available when camping in a smaller rig.
A modern RV, travel trailer, or fifth-wheel fridge won’t be as convenient as a residential fridge.
Perishable food items can still be kept cold despite this fact.
In this case, a glorious portable refrigerator and freezer can be very helpful.
The 12-volt refrigerator freezer provides convenient long-term storage for perishable foods.
With this cooler, you won’t have to worry about fitting a bulky mini-fridge in your rig or filling an ice chest every day.
Instead of a converter, you can use a standard 12-volt battery to power it.
A good portable 12v RV or camping fridge should be chosen carefully based on your setup. You can choose from a variety of sizes and types.
We will walk you through the selection process of a 12-volt camping refrigerator freezer in this guide, making sure you get the right one for all your RV needs or even a car, travel, and camping needs.
Let’s get started!
Portable refrigerators come in three types
The first step is to gain a better understanding of the various types of portable refrigerators available.
When buying a fridge, you should pay attention to these three types.
A refrigerator that uses absorption technology can be powered by AC, DC, or propane.
Keeping your food cold can also be accomplished by picking the most affordable source of power.
- It is capable of being powered by a variety of sources
- Propane allows the engine to run quite efficiently
- This won’t work if you don’t level your rig
- The internal temperature cannot be adjusted
- You should only cool the outside air down to about 30 degrees below the ambient temperature
- Power consumption is up to ten times greater than that of compression units
- Running them on propane gas requires proper venting
Most RVs, travel trailers, and fifth wheels are equipped with built-in refrigerators with absorption technology.
Despite their power adaptability, their performance is nowhere near as good as their compression-based counterparts.
Additionally, we haven’t found a truly portable absorption refrigerator. Typically, they are bulkier, larger, and look more like mini-fridges found in college dormitories.
To avoid carbon monoxide poisoning, you’ll need to vent your living area properly when using propane as the primary power source.
Temperature fluctuations are one of the main problems with coolers and refrigerators that use absorption technology.
Despite their best efforts, even the best models can’t maintain temperatures below thirty degrees below the temperature outside.
These refrigerators will struggle mightily to keep your drinks cold and your foods from spoiling if you’re camping in a hot climate regularly exceeding 80, 90, or even 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
Residential refrigerators use similar technology to compression refrigerators.
Your internal temperature can be customized by the internal compressor, which regulates the unit’s internal temperature.
As a result, many of these units can be used as freezers or refrigerators.
- Efficiency is excellent
- An accurate temperature control system
- It works on a level or incline surface
- Suitable for use as a refrigerator or freezer
- Maintains a lower internal temperature
- Portable refrigerators and/or coolers with the highest price tags
- Runs only on 12-volt DC power
- Initially, it can be noisy
All RV refrigerators (including compression refrigerators) are subject to external temperatures.
To keep the fridge’s contents at your desired temperature, the compressor will turn on more frequently as the outside temperature rises.
It is for this reason that many owners of compression fridges purchase separate batteries that power only their refrigerators.
In hotter climates and/or when camping, this can be extremely useful for keeping other batteries fully charged.
As a result, these units are extremely energy-efficient thanks to modern compression technology. The majority of them consume less than one amp per hour at most.
In the most advanced compression fridges today, a sensor detects when your battery level drops below a certain threshold, and it shuts them off automatically.
In this way, you will not be stranded in a remote area with a dead battery.
As far as thermoelectric technology is concerned, it simply hasn’t caught up to compression technology yet.
In spite of the fact that these coolers are useful for keeping perishable groceries cold for several hours, they are not suitable for storing food for more than a day at a time for safety and freshness reasons.
- This is a good option for short-term use (day trips, for example).
- Capable of cooling and warming
- When the temperature exceeds 77°F, this product is not recommended
- It’s impossible to cool and warm at the same time
- Heating food to a high temperature is not possible
- Battery power requirements are excessive
- When running, produce a high level of noise
- There is no way to adjust the internal temperature to your preference
Compression refrigerators are also more efficient than thermoelectric coolers.
No matter how good your solar installation is, they’ll drain your internal battery very quickly.
It has been measured that these coolers draw as much as five amps per hour in some tests. A multi-day trip or remote expedition with this equipment is not feasible.
It doesn’t make sense to use a thermoelectric cooler if you have a hard time sleeping already.
This type of cooler is by far the noisiest. Considering they don’t function much better than a traditional ice cooler, we aren’t quite sure why you’d spend the extra money on something that won’t do its job and will literally keep you awake!
What Is It? Is it a refrigerator or a cooler?
Portable refrigerators with compressors are the only ones that are truly refrigerators (not just fancy coolers).
However, absorption coolers and thermoelectric coolers can also be useful in some camping situations.
If you don’t frequently cook perishable foods while camping, a true 12-volt portable refrigerator could be overkill.
It may take up too much space (and use too much electricity) for some people to have a 12-volt fridge.
If you plan to spend long times off-grid or live in your camper van full-time, you should invest in a 12-volt refrigerator.
You can also use a 12-volt compression refrigerator to keep your favorite adult beverages cold for days at a time.
Our picks for the best 12-volt portable refrigerators and freezers
We have selected the best 12-volt refrigerators currently available in the market.
There are pros and cons to each portable refrigerator model, as with most RV and travel trailer appliances.
To help you narrow down your search, we’ve outlined what we like and dislike about each.
We’ve rounded up our favorite portable 12-volt refrigerators and freezers for the ultimate RVers.
- This is the best portable refrigerator and freezer overall: Dometic CFX3 AC/DC or Solar
- Portable Dometic CoolFreeze CFX-95DZW Dual Zone Refrigerator is the best among dual zone refrigerators
- The best refrigerator for single zones is ARB 10801472 Series II 50 Quart Fridge Freezer
- This is the best portable car refrigerator for your car: COSTWAY 55-Quart
- Portable refrigerator and freezer Dometic CFX3-55IM is best for ice makers
- The Engel MR040F-U1 ABS Plastic Shell Freezer is ideal for rugged use
1. This is the best portable refrigerator and freezer overall: Dometic CFX3 AC/DC or Solar
Our pick for the best 12-volt portable refrigerator is the Dometic CXF3 75DZ because of its insane capacity.
113 standard-sized soda cans can fit in 75 liters of space, so you’ll be able to carry your favorite sodas.
In addition to that storage volume, it is important to ensure that the unit will fit in your recreational vehicle.
In terms of size, it measures 35.12 inches wide by 19.49 inches deep by 18.58 inches high.
If you want to move this top-door fridge, keep in mind that it weighs 61.29 pounds and requires plenty of space above.
You can connect the Dometic unit to your RV battery with the included 6.6-foot DC power cable.
The fridge’s performance will not be compromised if you set it up farther away from your battery.
The unit can be set to -7°F and up to 50°F in terms of temperature range.
In addition, this cooler has 55 millimeters thick polyurethane insulation and draws 1.43 amps per hour.
Among the best features of this unit are an interior LED light for easier item location at night, removable wire baskets for crushable items, and dual-zone adaptability for freezing and refrigeration.
You can also use Dometic’s CXF3 app to track your cooler’s energy usage and temperature via Bluetooth.
You can also use this refrigerator as a full-time camper because it doesn’t drain your onboard batteries.
The fridge features a three-stage dynamic battery protection system that regulates power draw and shuts off the fridge if the charge drops below a certain threshold.
What We Like
- With this fridge, you can store up to 75 liters of perishable items.
- It draws just 1.43 amps per hour, which is very low.
- Dometic’s smartphone app allows you to monitor the fridge’s temperature and energy consumption via Bluetooth.
- A battery protection unit prevents your RV’s battery from being overdrained.
Things We Don’t Like
- A portable refrigerator of this quality comes with a four-digit price tag.
2. Portable Dometic CoolFreeze CFX-95DZW Dual Zone Refrigerator is the best among dual zone refrigerators
Dometic’s CFX3 95DZ is a great choice if you want a dual-zone portable refrigerator-freezer that can freeze and refrigerate.
In addition, as you might have guessed from its name, this unit has even more storage space than the 75DZ.
With this dual-zone 12-volt fridge, you’ll have 94 liters of storage space to store up to 133 cans of soda.
It also features two storage compartments (with dividers in between) so you can control each compartment’s temperature separately.
The unit is rated to handle temperatures from -7°F to 50°F.
It measures 37.87 inches wide, 20.87 inches deep, and 18.58 inches high.
The unit weighs 65.71 pounds and consumes an average of 1.81 amps per hour.
As with the 75DZ model, it also features a three-stage battery protection system, which allows you to spend less time worrying about your refrigerator draining your battery.
Among its other useful features are a drain plug that makes cleaning easier, Bluetooth connectivity to track energy usage, threaded inserts in the base that mount it to Dometic’s sliding rack, and an interior LED light that makes it easy to retrieve items in low-light conditions.
What We Like
- Perishable foods and drinks can be stored in 94 liters of space.
- Designed to prevent overdraining or damaging your coach or engine battery, the battery protection system keeps it safe from damage or overdraining.
- Averaging only 1.81 amps per hour, this unit is energy efficient.
- Dometic’s sliding base is made easier to access and store thanks to threaded inserts in the base.
What We Don’t Like
- This isn’t a cheap item! However, you get what you pay for!
- Some smaller RVs and camper vans may not be able to accommodate the large size of this fridge.
3. The best refrigerator for single zones is ARB 10801472 Series II 50 Quart Fridge Freezer
With up to 50 quarts of storage space in a compact design, the ARB 10801472 Classic Series II is our top pick for the best single-zone 12-volt camping refrigerator.
It measures 20 inches tall, 15 inches wide, and 27.8 inches deep altogether.
Because it has a flip-up door on top, you’ll need to store it in a spot with enough space above to allow the door to fully open.
To maximize space or to keep items organized, you can use or remove the inside storage rack.
In addition, you can adjust the unit’s internal temperature to your liking, so you can use it as a refrigerator or freezer whenever you like.
In addition to the Bluetooth transmitting module, ARB’s Classic Series’ second generation includes a smartphone app for monitoring temperature via your smartphone once you’ve downloaded the app from Google Play or Apple Store.
You’ll be alerted when your absent-minded friend leaves the lid open on this 12-volt refrigerator-freezer.
The fridge compressor status, power input voltage, and target temperature will also be displayed.
Additionally, you can adjust the brightness of the fridge’s external display and set the refrigerator’s temperature in Fahrenheit or Celsius with this useful application.
Additionally, you can receive three-stage battery system notifications (high, medium, and low) to make sure you don’t discharge your battery to unsafe levels.
What We Like
- The compact design makes it easier to fit into smaller campers, vans, or truck campers.
- You can use it as a fridge or freezer at different times due to its temperature control.
- Your phone can monitor and adjust the fridge via Bluetooth.
- The Battery Notifications feature prevents you from overdischarging your battery and running out of power.
What We Don’t Like
- You’ll find that many of the best 12-volt portable refrigerators are expensive.
- This fridge only offers one zone, so you can’t keep ice frozen and leftovers cool at the same time.
4. This is the best portable car refrigerator for your car: COSTWAY 55-Quart
The Costway Car Refrigerator is a great option if you have a smaller car or SUV that you often use for road trips.
Approximately 27 inches long, 13.5 inches wide, and 21 inches tall, this portable car cooler is designed to fit into any car. This machine is also very lightweight, weighing only 36 pounds.
Even though it fits into a more compact vehicle, it still offers 55 quarts of storage space.
The unit also comes with two separate temperature-programmable compartments. You can set the temperature of this fridge anywhere between -4°F and 50°F.
By maintaining two separate zones, ice or ice cream can remain frozen without freezing other perishable items that must be consumed quickly.
As well as keeping things cool and functioning efficiently, it utilized compressor technology.
Cool thing about this refrigerator-cooler is that you can use it in your vehicle as well as at home. This socket comes with two cables: one to plug into the 12-volt outlet in your car, and the other to plug into a standard 110-240V outlet in your home.
During operation, it only produces 45 decibels of noise, so it is quiet enough to sleep in the back of your car overnight.
What We Like
- This portable fridge is one of the most affordable options on the market.
- When empty, it weighs only 36 pounds.
- Both compartments can be controlled at your desired temperature.
- There is a dual-zone feature which allows the fridge to be set at 32°F up to 50°F and the freezer at -4°F up to 32°F.
- If you need to leave this device running overnight, it produces a minimum amount of humming.
Things We Don’t Like
- It has been reported that this fridge draws up to four amps an hour, based on tests.
- The fridge isn’t covered by any manufacturer’s warranty, and that makes it one of the few without one.
5. Portable refrigerator and freezer Dometic CFX3-55IM is best for ice makers
Dometic CFX3 55IM is the best portable 12-volt refrigerator with ice maker for those who can’t stand drinking lukewarm water or prefer ice in their cocktails.
The refrigerator’s built-in rapid freeze plate allows you to have ice ready in hours once you plug it in and set up camp.
A snap-on lid is included on the silicone ice trays to prevent water from spilling out if the unit is moved or tipped.
Aside from its ice-making capacity, it also has an internal storage volume of 53 liters, which is large enough to fit 83 cans.
To adjust this fridge’s settings, you can download Dometic’s handy app to your smartphone, just like with the 75DZ and 95DZ models.
Additionally, you will be able to monitor the unit’s energy usage to prevent your trailer’s battery from draining.
This refrigerator measures 28.35 inches wide, 17.91 inches deep, and 18.90 inches tall, so be sure you have enough space in your camper. Also included is a 6.6-foot DC power cable and it weighs just 47 pounds.
Dometic’s energy-efficient model is one of the most popular models on the market today. This makes it a great option for people with off-grid pop-up campers that draw just 1.1 amps per hour on average. The thermostat can be programmed for -7°F to 50°F.
While this is a single-zone refrigerator, it is equipped with a wide range of programmable temperatures, so you can use it for freezing or refrigerating as you please.
Also, it’s equipped with Dometic’s standard three-stage battery protection system, so you won’t overdischarge your camper or truck’s battery and end up stranded.
What We Like
- Having an ice maker at your campsite reduces the need to stop and pick up ice.
- Ice trays made of silicone include lids to prevent spills if you move the tray before ice is fully formed.
- Only 1.1 amps are drawn by this unit on average.
- Ensures that your battery won’t be drained or damaged by the excessive running of your refrigerator.
What We Don’t Like
- It’s a Dometic, so it’s not cheap! In order to have a high-quality refrigerator that will last for a long time, you will have to pay top dollar.
6. The Engel MR040F-U1 ABS Plastic Shell Freezer is ideal for rugged use
You will definitely want to give the Engel MR040F-U1 Tri-Voltage Fridge/Freezer a second look if you are looking for a portable camping refrigerator that can keep up with you on rugged, unpaved roads. Compressors built into this unit are among the most vibration-resistant available.
With a total capacity of 40 quarts, this 12-volt portable freezer or refrigerator measures 25 inches long, 15.5 inches wide, and 18.5 inches high.
One of the main reasons why it’s able to withstand bumpier roads is because it weighs only 48 pounds and has an outer ABS plastic shell.
Additionally, it features variable temperature control and, depending on what temperature it is set to, it can draw anywhere between 0.7 and 2.7 amps an hour.
Due to its ample insulation, it can maintain a temperature up to 80 degrees lower than the outdoor ambient temperature.
With this refrigerator, you can use AC or DC power depending on availability and efficiency, and the refrigerator even switches between the two power sources internally.
You can use the power from your coach or engine battery if your RV is small and plugged into an AC connection.
A 12 volt compressor fridge can also be used with solar-powered batteries, making it ideal for those who do not always park their RVs or trucks on a level surface.
In fact, this refrigerator will work even if you park it 30 degrees off level!
Things We Like
- With its vibration-resistant compressor and ABS plastic shell, it can handle bumpy adventures with ease.
- The unit will be able to cool up to 80 degrees below the outside air temperature with the help of insulation.
- You can adjust the internal temperature of the unit by using temperature control.
- You can park your vehicle up to 30 degrees off level and this refrigerator will continue to work.
Things We Don’t Like
- For extended off-grid trips, this refrigerator’s 40-quart volume may be a little small.
- Some previous buyers have complained that, while their fridge works as advertised, contacting Engel and filing a warranty claim is cumbersome and confusing.
A Few Things To Consider Before Buying A 12v Fridge/Freezer
To make this Buying Guide more concise and direct, we’ll stick to the essentials in order to help you choose the perfect portable refrigerator for your RV or camping needs.
Our recommendations will cover features and specifications common to portable 12-volt refrigerators in each section.
Side doors vs. top doors
The efficiency of a top-door 12-volt refrigerator/freezer is much higher than a side-door model.
You’ll be able to enjoy longer off-grid adventures before you have to plug in your rig.
Your camper van’s top door fridge will usually fit between the front seats, so you can enjoy cold drinks or snacks on the move.
Stacking food and then unloading everything from the bottom of your refrigerator is a downside of having a door on top.
This is why some people are willing to pay for a less-efficient side door model so that they can get food out more easily.
Compression refrigerators offer many advantages over absorption refrigerators and thermoelectric coolers. However, the type of compressor should also be considered.
This type of portable refrigerator works best with a Danfoss compressor. In order to maximize efficiency, this compressor is controlled by an electronic unit.
Thermal protection and an electronic thermostat are all included in this unit, along with speed control and fan speed control.
Additionally, the unit features an automatic shut-off switch to prevent battery drain or damage.
Price is the only downside to refrigerators with Danfoss compressors.
It is possible (though not recommended) to use a cheaper compressor (such as the Alpicool or Camco 450 ) if you need something that performs slightly below the Danfoss compressor standard (but still performs well).
The average portable fridge unit will draw between 1 and 5 amps.
You can notice a large difference in function between a unit that draws 1 amp/hour and another that draws 5 amps/hour when you’re off-grid for days at a time.
If your fridge consumes too much energy, you’ll end up with a drained battery when you need it for other uses (like starting your RV!).
Our recommendation is to look for a portable refrigerator that does not draw more than two amps per hour if you plan to run it from the battery in your vehicle.
There’s no hope for you if you’ve decided on a unit that draws more than three amps per hour.
It’s common for people with high-draw fridges to simply get an external battery that’s dedicated to powering their fridge (and only their fridge).
A simple solar setup can also recharge your fridge battery, as well as other essential batteries.
Single zone vs. dual zone
You’ll need a dual-zone design if you want a 12-volt fridge-freezer with a freezer compartment.
Each compartment can be set to your preferred temperature. Therefore, you can use the entire volume as a freezer, fridge, or a half-and-half setup.
For RVers and people who take extended trips to remote locations, a dual-zone fridge is a must, even though it will cost more than a single-zone model.
On the other hand, if you primarily use your RV for weekend getaways, you might be fine with a single-zone refrigerator (unless you really like ice in your cocktails!).
The warranties on these refrigerators vary from one to three years, depending on the manufacturer. If possible, look for a warranty with a longer term.
To ensure you know exactly what kind of repairs and/or replacements are covered, make sure you read the fine print of each manufacturer’s warranty policy.
What’s the best option for you?
The Dometic CXF3 75DZ is the perfect RV for full-time RVers or those who live out of their vehicle several months out of the year.
Designed with rugged ExoFrame construction, it can withstand temperatures as low as -7°F and is built to last when you’re living in a truck bed camper or camper van.
You might be better off saving a few bucks and getting something like the Costway Car Refrigerator if you usually travel in your RV for weekend getaways or longer trips.
For about one-third of the price of the Dometic CXF3, you can get a high-volume of storage space for your perishables or a healthy stash of your favorite alcoholic drinks.
Here are some frequently asked questions about portable refrigerators that will provide you with a little more information that we haven’t yet addressed in our guide to choosing a portable refrigerator for your recreational vehicle.
Which brand of portable camping refrigerator is the best?
The Dometic refrigerators we chose are among the best on the market. It is because Dometic makes the best products that they are the best portable refrigerator brand. That’s all there is to it!
Additionally, Dometic has a solid reputation in the RV appliance industry.
There is a good chance that you already have at least one Dometic appliance in your RV, travel trailer, or fifth wheel.
Their portable refrigerators are the only ones capable of cooling to -8°F (-22°C) when it comes to portable refrigerators.
There are a few refrigerators on the market that can keep ice cream frozen solid, but Dometic refrigerators are one of the few.
The refrigerators from Dometic also have climate control.
Their dual-zone refrigerator and freezer are the only ones that allow you to set separate temperatures for the freezer and refrigerator.
Last but not least, Dometic’s price makes them the best 12-volt portable refrigerator brand.
There are some manufacturers who produce refrigerator models that can compete with Dometic’s models in terms of performance, but rarely do they offer them at the same affordable prices as Dometic’s.
What accessories do I need for my portable refrigerator?
In addition to a 12-volt freezer or refrigerator, there are a few important accessories you should consider buying.
Firstly, there is an insulated cover that encloses the entire refrigerator and provides an additional layer of insulation against the temperature.
Adding an insulated cover to your refrigerator will also improve its cooling capacity, thereby reducing battery consumption.
You may also want to consider a sliding base for mounting your refrigerator.
When you’re in a camper van, truck bed, or pop-up camper, you won’t have to physically lift the fridge every time you need something from it.
With a sliding base mounted on your vehicle, you can attach a fridge to it using straps or screws (for refrigerators with pre-drilled holes at the bottom).
How big should my 12-volt fridge be?
If you plan to install your new refrigerator in your RV, truck bed, or camper, the easiest way to answer this question is by measuring the area.
To ensure that all of your food and/or drinks are stored effectively in the container, you’ll also have to estimate the amount of space you’ll need.
Most portable refrigerators are measured in quarts or liters.
If you want to see how large some of these coolers are before buying, 20 liters is approximately equal to three basketballs of standard NBA size, 30 liters is approximately equal to four basketballs, and 50 liters is about the same size as seven basketballs of standard NBA size. A quart is approximately 0.95 liters.
It’s also a good idea to leave a few inches of space around your refrigerator’s vent fan.
Your refrigerator can function efficiently with this amount of airflow.
You should also leave space for flipping up the fridge’s carry handles when moving it.
What are the most affordable types of portable RV refrigerators?
A good example of an affordable refrigerator is the absorption refrigerator.
The reason for this is that compression and thermoelectric technology are more complex than absorption technology.
In camping situations, however, absorption refrigerators don’t work as well as they do at home.
In case your smaller RV, truck bed camper, or camper van does not have its own refrigerator, you’ll need one of these 12-volt portable refrigerator models.
We hope that this guide has helped you gain a better understanding of these refrigerators and how they work.
Furthermore, we hope you now have at least one refrigerator in mind that will fit your specific needs.
Best of luck with your selection and safe travels on your upcoming RV adventure!