car camping fridges - Choose the Right Camping Fridge for Your Car Camping Trip

Choose the Right Camping Fridge for Your Car Camping Trip


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Planning a car camping trip? You’ll need a way to keep your food and drinks cold. A camping fridge is an ideal solution! There are several types of camping fridges, each with its own benefits and drawbacks. Read on to find out which type of camping fridge is best for you.

Types of Camping Fridges

The most common types of camping fridges are absorption refrigerators, compressor refrigerators, thermoelectric coolers, and ice chests. Let’s take a look at each in turn:

Compressor Refrigerators

Compressor refrigerators are similar to home refrigerators in that they use electricity to power an internal compressor that helps maintain cooler temperatures inside the fridge. Most importantly for car camping, they can run on batteries if needed. These tend to be the most popular in car camping forums, right next to ice chests (cool boxes) below. One brand that is often mentioned is Alpicool compression fridges.

They are usually more expensive than absorption refrigerators but they offer faster cooling times and use less energy overall. Another major benefit of compressor refrigerators is that they can reach lower temperatures than absorption refrigerators; some models can get down to 0°F or lower! The downside is that compressor fridges are louder and take up more space in your vehicle due to their larger size.

Ice Chests/Cool boxes

Ice chests (also known as “coolers”) are the most classic form of food storage for outdoor activities like car camping. They come in all shapes and sizes so it’s easy to find one that fits your needs perfectly—just remember the bigger the cooler, the more ice you’ll need! Ice chests rely solely on ice cubes or blocks of ice (cooling blocks you freeze in your kitchen fridge beforehand) in order to stay cold; while this may seem like an old-fashioned way of keeping food fresh, it’s still incredibly effective if done correctly. Just remember that ice melts over time so you’ll need to replenish it regularly during your trip.

From experience, you can keep using it for packaged foods and drinks for more days, as long as you don’t keep it in the car during hot days, but somewhere in a shaded area, including overnight, when it gets to cool down a bit do work another day. This won’t work for dairy or meat but works for drinks and most other packaged food that’s not too temperature sensitive.

Decathlon offers a good selection of cool boxes at good prices

How to keep your ice chest/cool box cool for longer

Some users have suggested a trick to keep your cool box cooler for longer for when your ice packs run out:

  • open the lid slightly in a shade
  • place a damp towel or cloth over the entire opening
  • let the breeze and evaporation do their job

Been experimenting with the evaporation cool box thingy. Got it cold whilst driving, then covered with wet tea towel and lid propped open slightly, place in shade where a breeze can blow over the top. Works really well!!

Sarah – Small Vehicle Campers Facebook group
cool box tea towel trick - Choose the Right Camping Fridge for Your Car Camping Trip
car camping fridge ice box - Choose the Right Camping Fridge for Your Car Camping Trip
A good old cool box for car camping

Absorption refrigerators

Absorption refrigerators are powered by propane or electric power and use an ammonia/water mixture to create cool temperatures inside the fridge.

They are ideal for car camping because they require no moving parts and run quietly without any vibration. They also tend to be more affordable than other options and don’t take up much space in your vehicle. However, they do require a significant amount of energy to operate; this means that if you’re using propane, you’ll need to use larger tanks than with other refrigeration systems. Additionally, absorption refrigerators tend not to cool as quickly as other systems.

Thermoelectric Coolers

Thermoelectric coolers are great for car camping because they don’t require any power source except for electricity (which can be provided by a battery). These coolers work by using two metal plates; when an electric current runs between them, it creates a temperature difference between the two plates that help keep food cold or warm respectively. Thermoelectric coolers are lightweight, compact and relatively affordable—but they may not be able to reach very low temperatures as compressor fridges can.

Which Type of Camping Fridge Is Best for Car Camping?

When it comes down to it, all four types of camping fridges have their benefits—it just depends on what your needs are for your car camping trip. If you need something really reliable, then a compressor refrigerator is probably your best bet; if you don’t mind restocking with ice every couple of days then an ice chest could work well; if you want something affordable then an absorption refrigerator might be right up your alley; and if you need something light and portable then a thermoelectric cooler could do the trick. Ultimately it comes down to what works best for you.

What criteria to look out for when selecting a camping fridge?

Camping fridge size and shape

Each one of the camping fridges will come in a variety of sizes – capacity, usually expressed in litres and it’s shape, which matters too when car camping. Some are taller and thinner, others are shorter and wider – decide what area of the car the fridge will go into and measure it, then choose a fridge of the right size.

Make sure you also leave some room around the fridge – especially bits where the fridge needs to let the air out or pull air in shouldn’t be too cramped. Good ventilation allows for good heat dissipation and therefore optimal performance of your fridge.

What power does it run on and what plug does it have?

There are fridges that run on 12V or 240V – make sure you choose one that fits your electric setup best. For example, if you have a 12V output directly from a 12V solar panel, it’s usually more efficient to plug a 12V fridge directly than to convert the 12V through a converter to another voltage and then run a fridge on that.


Will you need to separate some food items from others? Or freeze some and cool others? Then you will need a camping fridge with two compartments (zones) and/or with a freezer. If you just need it for drinks and packaged food, one compartment is enough.

Which way does the lid open?

Everything has its place when car camping and the space is meticulously planned to fit your needs. Figuring out which way will the fridge lid open is an important factor you should pay attention to. You don’t want to buy a fancy fridge that does it all only to find out that you will have to move the seats (or your camping bed etc) each time you need something out of the fridge.

And of course, the price

To state the obvious, camping fridges come in various price ranges – depending on build quality or their brand. Price shouldn’t be the only factor though – make sure you read customer reviews, real-life use examples and experiences, check camping forums on Facebook or other places and search for the fridge brand/name. High price doesn’t always equal the best fridge, quite often a mid-range fridge will surprise you with how well it works and how long it lasts.

You can always make your own DIY car camping ice chest/cool box too

Considering that most cool boxes are just insulated plastic, you could get any box that has a tight enough lid, insulate it and create compartments to your liking. You can buy insulation boards in any DIY store, just measure & cut them to fit the interior of the box & the lid, glue them on and off you go.

Here’s how a fellow camper solved it using an old wooden chest:

All four options mentioned above have their own benefits and drawbacks depending on what type of car camping trip you’re planning on taking. If you’re looking for something affordable yet reliable then an absorption fridge might be right up your alley; alternatively, if space isn’t an issue then a compressor refrigerator could be perfect for keeping food cold throughout your journey. If portability is important then thermoelectric coolers could be a great option; finally if budget is key then get one of the good old-fashioned ice chests.

Consider factors such as the size of the fridge, the type of power source you’ll have available, what food/drinks will you need to be cooled and the level of noise you’re comfortable with when selecting a camping car fridge. No matter what type of car camping adventure you’re embarking on, there’s sure to be a suitable solution among these four choices! Good luck and happy trails!

Post author:


Founder of, avid traveler and outdoor enthusiast. Car camping and microcamping allows me to keep traveling and exploring with a much greater level of freedom & privacy – to go anywhere and sleep anywhere. I didn’t have 30K to buy a VW Multivan, so found my way to the world of everyday car camping conversions. Here I share my experiences and what I learn.

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