When you’re camping in a smaller rig, you might not always have the convenience of a standard RV refrigerator.
And you definitely won’t be enjoying the kind of residential fridge that you’ll find in today’s modern RVs, travel trailers, and fifth wheels.
But that doesn’t mean you won’t be able to keep perishable food items cold.
That’s where the glorious portable refrigerator and freezer can come in handy.
A 12-volt fridge freezer gives you the convenience of long-term perishable food storage in a cooler-sized package.
You won’t have to worry about fitting a bulky mini-fridge in your rig or stopping every day to fill a traditional cooler with ice.
And you’ll be able to power it with a standard 12-volt battery instead of needing a converter.
Choosing the best portable 12v camping fridge for your setup requires careful thought. There are a range of sizes and types to choose from.
To help you find the best 12-volt fridge freezer in this guide we will walk you through the process of selecting a portable refrigerator freezer, ensuring that you find the right match for Car, Travel, Camping and budget.
So let’s get going!
Three Types of Portable Refrigerators
To begin with, it helps to have a better understanding of the various types of portable refrigerator designs out there.
There are several, but these are the three main types that you should be most concerned with when you’re selecting one of these fridges.
The technology used in compression refrigerators is as close as it comes to the same technology used in residential refrigerators.
The internal compressor controls the temperature inside the unit and allows you to customize that internal temperature to your preference.
This is what allows many of these units to operate as a freezer or a refrigerator.
Precise temperature control
Works when your vehicle is level or on an incline
Can function as a fridge or freezer
Capable of maintaining lower internal temperatures
The most costly type of portable refrigerator and/or cooler
Only run off 12-volt DC power
Can be a bit noisy when first turned on
It should be noted that compression refrigerators (like all RV refrigerators) are subject to external temperatures.
As temperatures rise outside of the unit, the compressor will turn on more frequently to keep the fridge’s contents at your desired temperature.
This is one reason why many compression fridge owners wind up purchasing a separate battery dedicated just to powering the fridge.
And this can be particularly useful in keeping your other batteries fully charged when you’re camping and/or traveling in hotter climates.
That being said, modern compression technology makes these units extremely energy efficient. At most, many of them use no more than one amp per hour.
And the smartest of compression fridges today are equipped with a sensor that will shut them off if they detect your battery level drop below a certain threshold.
This will keep you from being stranded in a remote area with a dead battery.
Absorption fridges are designed to run off three different power sources: AC, DC, or propane.
This provides the added benefit of allowing you to pick and choose the most affordable power source for keeping your food cold.
Can be powered by multiple sources
Run quite efficiently when using propane
Won’t function if your rig isn’t darn-near perfectly level
Don’t allow you to set the internal temperature
Only cool to about 30 degrees below ambient outside air temperature
Require up to 10 times more electric power than compression units
Must be properly vented when running them off propane gas
The absorption technology in these units is what you’ll also find in many of the built-in refrigerators that are standard in larger RVs, travel trailers, and fifth wheels.
While their power adaptability might sound enticing, they ultimately perform nowhere near as well as their compression-based counterparts.
In addition, we still haven’t found an absorption refrigerator that’s truly portable. Most of them are larger, bulkier, and closer in appearance to a college dorm-style mini-fridge.
And, although they actually function quite well when you’re using propane as their primary power source, you’ll need to find a way to properly vent your living area to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.
The main problem with coolers and refrigerators that use absorption technology is that they are highly susceptible to external temperatures.
Even the best models can’t maintain temperatures much lower than 30 degrees below the outside air temperature.
So, if you’re camping in places where it frequently exceeds 80, 90, or even 100 degrees Fahrenheit, these refrigerators are going to struggle mightily to keep your drinks cold and your foods from spoiling.
The honest truth is that thermoelectric technology simply hasn’t caught up to compression technology.
While these coolers can be useful for keeping perishable groceries cold for several hours, they are a poor choice for keeping food safe and fresh for more than a day at a time.
Good for short-term use (i.e. day trips)
Offer cooling and warming capability
Not recommended for temperatures over 77℉
Can’t cool and warm at the same time
Cannot keep food heated at a high temperature
Require an excessive amount of battery power
Emit quite a high noise output when running
No ability to set internal temperature to the desired level
Thermoelectric coolers are also extremely inefficient when compared to compression refrigerators.
They’ll drain your internal battery quite quickly and even the best of solar installations won’t be able to keep them running properly.
In some rounds of testing, these coolers have been measured to draw up to five amps per hour. As you can imagine, this is a non-starter for multi-day trips or remote expeditions.
If you have a hard enough time sleeping already, then a thermoelectric cooler isn’t going to do you any favors.
These coolers are easily the noisiest of the three types. And because they don’t function much better than a traditional ice cooler, we’re not quite sure why you’d spend the extra money on a cooler that doesn’t get the job done and will literally keep you up at night!
So, Is It A Cooler or a Refrigerator?
To be clear, the only portable refrigerators that really are refrigerators (and not just fancy coolers) are those that feature a compressor.
That’s not to say that thermoelectric coolers and absorption coolers won’t do the job for some camping applications, however.
In fact, a true 12-volt portable refrigerator could be overkill for weekend adventurers or folks that don’t like to cook a lot of perishable foods while camping.
For some people, a 12-volt fridge might take up space (and use power) that could be saved for other purposes.
That being said, a 12-volt refrigerator is the only logical choice if you plan to spend long stints off-grid or live in your camper van full-time.
Also, if you’re in need of a container to keep your favorite adult beverages chilled for days at a time, nothing will do the job better than a 12-volt compression refrigerator.
Best 12-Volt Portable Refrigerator-Freezer Reviews
The following 12-volt refrigerator models are the best that the industry currently has to offer.
As with many RV and travel trailer appliances, there are pros and cons to each of these portable fridge models.
For your convenience, we’ve outlined some specifics of what we like and don’t like about each so that you can narrow down your search.
Here are our picks for the best portable 12-volt refrigerators and freezers, whether you’re planning for a camping trip or just hitting the road.
1. Best Overall: Dometic CFX3 AC/DC or Solar Portable Refrigerator and Freezer
One of the biggest reasons why the Dometic CXF3 75DZ is our choice for the best overall portable 12-volt refrigerator is its insane capacity.
With 75 liters of space, you’ll be able to fit up to 113 standard-sized cans of your favorite soda selections.
And while that storage volume is quite attractive, it’s also important for you to make sure this unit will fit in your recreational vehicle.
It measures 35.12 inches wide, 19.49 inches deep, and 18.58 inches tall.
Keep in mind that you’ll need plenty of space above to open this top-door fridge, and it also weighs 61.29 pounds when you need to move it around.
This Dometic unit comes with up to 6.6 feet of DC power cable to connect it to your RV battery.
If you plan to set it up further away from your battery, you’ll need to pursue a safe power extension method that won’t compromise the fridge’s performance.
In terms of temperature range, this unit can be set from anywhere down to -7℉ and up to 50℉.
The polyurethane insulation in the walls of this cooler is also 55 millimeters thick and the unit is rated to draw about 1.43 amps per hour.
Some of this unit’s best features include an interior LED light for easier item location at night, removable wire baskets for keeping crushable items safe, dual-zone adaptability for freezing and refrigerating.
Also have Bluetooth connectivity that allows you to track your cooler’s temperature and energy usage from your smartphone using Dometic’s CXF3 app.
This refrigerator is also an ideal choice for full-time campers because it protects you from draining your onboard battery.
It’s equipped with a three-stage dynamic battery protection system that regulates power draw and shuts the fridge off if your battery’s charge drops below a certain level.
Things We Like
Things We Don’t Like
2. Best Dual Zone: Dometic CoolFreeze CFX-95DZW Portable Refrigerator
If you know you want the best dual-zone portable refrigerator-freezer that offers freezing and refrigerating capabilities, then Dometic’s CFX3 95DZ is a great choice.
And as you can probably tell from its name, this unit offers even more storage volume than the 75DZ model.
All in all, you’ll be able to enjoy 94 liters of storage space inside this dual-zone 12-volt fridge, which equates to enough space for up to 133 iterations of your favorite canned beverage.
And because it’s designed with two storage compartments (with a divider in between), you’ll be able to dial in separate temperatures for each individual storage space.
Speaking of temperatures, this unit is rated to hold a range from -7℉ up to 50℉.
The unit’s total dimensions also measure 37.87 inches wide, 20.87 inches deep, and 18.58 inches tall.
It weighs a total of 65.71 pounds and is rated to consume an average of 1.81 amps per hour.
It also features the same three-stage battery protection system as you’ll find in the 75DZ model, which makes it perfect for reducing the amount of time you spend stressing about whether or not your refrigerator is draining your battery too much.
Some of its other useful features include a drain plug for easier cleaning, Bluetooth connectivity for monitoring energy consumption, threaded inserts in the base for mounting it to Dometic’s sliding rack, and an interior LED light for seamless item retrieval in low lighting conditions.
Things We Like
Things We Don’t Like
3. Best Dual Zone: Dometic CoolFreeze CFX-95DZW Portable Refrigerator
The ARB 10801472 Classic Series II is our choice for the best single-zone 12-volt camping refrigerator because it offers up to 50 quarts of storage space in a compact design that won’t take up as much space as some of the bulkier options we’ve reviewed above.
Overall, this unit measures 20 inches tall, 15 inches wide, and 27.8 inches deep.
It boasts a flip-up door on top for accessing the interior, so you’ll need to make sure you store it in a spot with plenty of room above for the door to open fully.
Inside, a storage rack can be used or removed to either maximize the space or to keep items well-organized.
And you’ll be able to set the internal temperature of the unit to your desired level, which allows you to utilize it as a refrigerator or freezer at different times.
The newest inclusion to the second-generation of ARB’s Classic Series is a Bluetooth transmitting module that allows you to monitor the temperature of your unit from your smartphone after downloading the applicable app from Google Play or the Apple Store.
This 12-volt refrigerator-freezer will alert you when your absent-minded buddy leaves the lid open.
And it will also display the target temperature you currently have set, the power input voltage, and the fridge compressor status.
This useful application also allows you to set the refrigerator’s temperature in Fahrenheit or Celsius and adjust the brightness on the fridge’s external display.
It also provides three-stage battery system notifications (high, medium, and low) so that you can make sure you don’t discharge your battery to a dangerous level.
Things We Like
Things We Don’t Like
4. Best For Car: COSTWAY 55-Quart Portable Car Refrigerator
If you have a smaller car or SUV that you like to use for road trips, you’ll need something a little more compact portable fridge like the Costway Car Refrigerator.
This portable car cooler measures 27 inches long, 13.5 inches wide, and 21 inches tall. It also weighs just 36 pounds.
In spite of its ability to fit in a more compact vehicle, you’ll still be able to enjoy 55 quarts of storage space inside this unit.
It also includes two separate compartments that are each programmable to your desired temperature. And this fridge can be set to temperatures ranging from -4℉ up to 50℉.
This dual-zone capability means you can keep ice or ice cream frozen without freezing your other perishable goods that will be consumed soon.
And it utilized compressor technology to keep things cool and function efficiently.
One of the cool parts about this refrigerator-cooler is that it can be used in your vehicle or at home. It comes with a plug for your car’s 12-volt outlet and another cable for a standard 110-240V home outlet.
And if you need to keep it running overnight while sleeping in the back of your vehicle, it only produces a minimal noise output of 45 decibels when running.
Things We Like
Things We Don’t Like
5. Best With Ice Maker: Dometic CFX3-55IM Portable Refrigerator and Freezer
If you can’t stand drinking lukewarm water or you prefer ice in your cocktails when camping, the best portable 12-volt refrigerator with a built-in ice maker is the Dometic CFX3 55IM.
Thanks to its built-in rapid freeze plate, you’ll have ice ready to add to your drinks without a matter of hours once you set up camp and plug your refrigerator in.
This unit also comes with silicone ice trays that feature snap-on lids so that water doesn’t spill out if you move or tip your portable fridge before the ice is fully formed.
And, in addition to its ice-making capabilities, it also gives you a total of 53 liters of internal storage volume, which is enough space to fit up to 83 cans.
Just like Dometic’s 75DZ and 95DZ models, you’ll be able to download their handy app to your smartphone to adjust the settings of this fridge.
And you’ll also be able to use that app to monitor the unit’s energy usage to ensure you don’t drain your trailer’s battery.
To help you make sure you have enough room in your camper for this fridge, it measures 28.35 inches wide, 17.91 inches deep, and 18.90 inches tall. It also weighs just 47 pounds and comes with a 6.6-foot DC power cable.
This is one of Dometic’s most energy-efficient models. It draws an average of just 1.1 amps per hour, which also makes it an attractive option for folks with the best off-grid pop-up campers. And it can be programmed to a range of temperatures from -7℉ up to 50℉.
To be clear, this is a single-zone refrigerator, but that wide range of programmable temperatures allows you to use it for freezing or refrigerating as you see fit.
And it also boasts Dometic’s standard three-stage battery protection system so that you can avoid overly discharging your truck or camper’s battery and getting stuck a long way from cell service.
Things We Like
Things We Don’t Like
6. Best For Rugged Use: Engel MR040F-U1 ABS Plastic Shell Freezer
For those of you that need a portable camping refrigerator that can keep up with your desire to frequent rugged, unmaintained roads, the Engel MR040F-U1 Tri-Voltage Fridge/Freezer is definitely worth a second look. It’s built with one of the most vibration-resistant compressors on the market.
This 12-volt portable freezer or refrigerator offers a total of 40 quarts of storage space and it measures 25 inches long, 15.5 inches wide, and 18.5 inches tall.
It also weighs just 48 pounds and is built with an outer ABS plastic shell that’s one of the main reasons why it can withstand bumpier roads.
It also features variable temperature control for its single-zone interior and, depending on the temperature it is set to, it will draw anywhere from 0.7 up to 2.7 amps per hour.
And it has ample insulation that allows it to cool up to 80 degrees below the ambient air temperature outside.
This refrigerator is compatible with both AC and DC power and it actually boasts the internal ability to switch between these two power sources based on availability and efficiency.
So, if you have a smaller RV, it’ll register when you’re plugged into an AC connection and use that power instead of draining your coach or engine battery.
This12v compressor fridge also gives you the ability to operate off a battery that’s connected to a solar installation and it will continue to function effectively if you don’t always find a perfectly level spot to park your RV or truck.
In fact, this refrigerator will still work if your vehicle is parked up to 30 degrees off-level!
Things We Like
Things We Don’t Like
Things To Keep In Mind Before Purchasing A 12v Fridge/Freezer
In the interest of guiding you closer to the perfect portable refrigerator for your RV and camping needs, we’ll keep this Buying Guide rather short and straight to the point.
For each section, we’ll offer some specific recommendations on features and specifications that are common to the best portable 12-volt refrigerators on the market today.
Top Door Versus Side Door
When it comes to efficiency, a top door 12-volt fridge/freezer is much better than a unit with a door on the side.
That means less power draw and longer off-grid adventures before you need to plug your rig in.
And top door fridges are usually compact enough to fit between the front seats of your camper van so you can access snacks or cold drinks while you’re rolling down the road.
The downside of having a door on top of your refrigerator is that you’ll have to stack food and then unload everything if you’re looking for a particular item on the bottom.
For this reason, some folks are willing to pay the price on a less-efficient side door model that makes it easier to grab food out much like you would with your residential fridge.
While we’ve already covered the many reasons why a compression refrigerator is preferable over an absorption refrigerator or thermoelectric cooler, the type of compressor should also be considered.
The best compressor for these portable refrigerators is a Danfoss compressor. This compressor boasts an electronic control unit that helps it function as efficiently as possible.
This unit includes built-in speed control, fan speed control, an electronic thermostat, a thermostat signal, and thermal protection.
The unit also includes an automatic shut-off switch that prevents the compressor from draining or damaging your RV battery.
The only downside to most refrigerators that include a Danfoss compressor is their higher price.
So, if you’re looking for something that performs slightly below the standard of the Danfoss compressor (but still performs well) and has a smaller price tag, then something that uses a cheaper compressor (like the Alpicool or Camco 450) could be an option for you.
Most portable fridge units are going to draw somewhere between 1 and 5 amps per hour.
But when you’re off-the-grid for days at a time, the functional difference between a unit that draws 1 amp/hr and another that draws 5 amps/hr can be dramatic.
A fridge that draws too much power is going to leave you susceptible to having a drained battery when you need it for other purposes (like starting your RV!).
So, if you plan to run your portable refrigerator off the existing battery in your vehicle, we’d recommend looking for a unit that doesn’t draw any more than two amps per hour.
If you’re settled on a unit that draws more than three amps per hour, you’re not of luck.
Many people with fridges that draw a higher hourly amperage simply get an external battery that’s dedicated to powering the fridge (and the fridge only!).
This helps you maintain the battery charge for other essential batteries and your fridge battery can also easily be recharged by a simple solar setup.
Dual Zone Versus Single Zone
If you want a portable 12-volt fridge-freezer that effectively also includes a freezer compartment, you’re going to want a dual-zone design.
These designs allow you to set your preferred temperature of each compartment. So, in effect, you can use the entire volume as a freezer, as a refrigerator, or as a half-and-half setup.
While a dual-zone fridge is going to cost more than a single-zone design, we think these units are a must for full-time RVers or folks that like to take extended trips to remote destinations.
If you primarily use your recreational vehicle for weekend getaways, on the other hand, you’ll probably be just fine with a single-zone fridge (unless you really like to have ice in your cocktails!).
Many of these refrigerators also come with a 1-3 year warranty, depending on the manufacturer. Of course, the longer the warranty term you can find, the better.
But you should also make sure to read into the fine print of each manufacturer’s specific warranty policy to make sure you know exactly what kinds of repairs and/or replacements are covered.
So, Which Is Best For You?
If you’re a full-time RVer or you spend several months out of the year living out of your rig, look no further than the Dometic CXF3 75DZ.
It can freeze down to temperatures of -7℉ and it’s built with the kind of rugged ExoFrame construction that you’ll need when you’re living in your camper van or truck bed camper full-time.
But if your RV travels typically consist of quick weekend getaways or week-long trips at most, you’ll probably do well to save a little money and go with something like the Costway Car Refrigerator.
It’ll cost you about one-third of the price of the Dometic CXF3 and still give you a high-volume of internal storage space for your perishable foods or a healthy stash of your preferred adult beverages.
Frequently Asked Questions
To further assist in your quest to choose the best portable refrigerator for your recreational vehicle, let’s address some of the most frequently asked questions about portable refrigerators to provide a little more information that we haven’t yet covered.
What’s the best portable Camping refrigerator brand?
There’s a reason why our choices include three different fridge models from Dometic. Dometic is the best portable refrigerator brand because they make the best products. It’s really that simple!
But Dometic is also one of the most trusted names in the RV appliance industry as a whole.
If you own an RV, travel trailer, or fifth wheel, the chances are pretty good that you already have at least one Dometic appliance somewhere inside in your rig.
When it comes to portable refrigerators, however, they are the only brand that manufactures refrigerators that are capable of holding temperatures down to -8 degrees Fahrenheit (-22℃).
While ice cream might not be the most critical item on your food buy list, Dometic refrigerators are some of the few on the market that will actually keep ice cream frozen solid.
Another thing that Dometic’s refrigerators are known for is their climate control.
They are the only manufacturer that offers a true dual-zone refrigerator and freezer that allows you to set the temperature of the freezer and refrigerator boxes independently.
And the final factor that leads us to the conclusion that Dometic is the best portable 12-volt refrigerator brand is the price of their products.
While some manufacturers do produce designs that can almost compete with the performance of Dometic’s models, they rarely sell them at the same affordable prices that you’ll find Dometic’s fridges offered for.
Do I need any accessories to go with my portable refrigerator?
Yes! There are a few important accessories you should consider purchasing along with your 12-volt freezer or refrigerator.
The first is an insulated cover that encases the entire refrigerator and provides an additional layer of temperature insulation.
By improving your fridge’s cooling capability, an insulated cover will also reduce the amount of battery that the refrigerator consumes to keep your items cold.
The second accessory that you should consider is a sliding base upon which you can mount your refrigerator.
This is incredibly handy for camper vans, truck beds, and popup campers because you won’t have to physically lift and move the entire weight of the fridge every time you need to grab something out of it.
A sliding base mounts to your vehicle and then you connect the fridge to it using straps or screws (for applicable fridges with holes pre-drilled in the bottom).
What size 12-volt fridge do I need?
The easiest way to answer this question is simply to measure the spot in your RV, truck bed, or camper, where you plan to place your new refrigerator.
Of course, you’ll also need to estimate the amount of space you’ll need to effectively store all of the food and/or drinks that you plan to load into it.
The sizes of most portable refrigerators are typically measured in quarts or liters.
To help you visualize the size of some of these coolers before buying, 20 liters is about the size of three standard NBA basketballs, 30 liters is roughly equivalent to four standard NBA basketballs, and 50 liters is about the same size as seven NBA basketballs. Oh, and one quart equals roughly 0.95 liters.!
Also, keep in mind that you should always leave a few inches of open space around the vent fan on your refrigerator.
This allows the amount of airflow needed for your refrigerator to function efficiently.
And you’ll also need to account for enough space to flip up the carry handles on the ends of the fridge when you need to move it.
What’s the most affordable type of portable RV refrigerator?
The absorption refrigerator is the most affordable type on the market these days.
That’s largely due to the fact that compression and thermoelectric technology is much more complex than absorption tech.
However, absorption refrigerators don’t perform nearly as well as in the kinds of camping situations you’ll need your fridge to perform well in.
Unless you plan to survive on dry goods only, you’ll need one of these portable 12-volt refrigerator models if your smaller RV, camper van, or truck bed camper doesn’t come with its own pre-installed fridge.
We hope that you’ve learned a lot about these refrigerators and how they work in our guide today.
And it’s also our aspiration that you now have your eye on at least one refrigerator that’s going to work well for your specific rig.
As always, we wish you the best of luck finalizing your selection and safe travels on your upcoming RV adventures!
Last Updated on by Aaron Richardson