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A campervan refrigerator should be one of your top investments when looking at your van build. Having a refrigerator changes your entire build and allows it to feel more like a home. When going to look at refrigerators though there are many options and it can feel super confusing when you are trying to pick one out for your van build. I have done the research and looked into the best campervan refrigerator options.
Why You Need a Campervan Refrigerator
Having a campervan refrigerator is essential when you are a full-time vanlifer. Having a refrigerator allows you to keep all kinds of food cold for an unlimited amount of time which helps you save money. Chances are you also will want to go out into the woods or into nature for a few weeks and without a refrigerator, this is much more difficult to do. A campervan refrigerator is going to be different than the refrigerator that you have in your home. It’s size and the way it draws power needs to be different since both are limited when you live in 60sq feet or less. This means everything you think you know about buying a fridge is going to change when you are purchasing one for vanlife.
I highly recommend investing in a refrigerator for your van build, save the money and use it in your vanlife kitchen. Having a functioning vanlife kitchen is going to help while cooking on the road which will save you so much money in the long run. Not to mention it’s much more enjoyable to be able to head out for weeks at a time and live off of more than just dehydrated camping food!
Types of Campervan Refrigerators
There are a few options when it comes to popular campervan refrigerators. From a 12 Volt refrigerator, 100 Watt Dorm Style refrigerator, and a propane refrigerator. However, to be transparent, the most vanlife friendly and low maintenance option is a 12 Volt refrigerator. For the rest of this guide I will be solely talking about 12V refrigerators but just in case, below are the most popular campervan refrigerator options for your reference.
12 Volt Campervan Refrigerator
As mentioned above the 12V refrigerator is the most common campervan refrigerator used by people in vanlife. It uses less power than the 100 Watt refrigerator and therefore is less maintenance. On a given day you likely will not need to monitor your solar power to make sure you don’t need to shut off your fridge. The downside is that 12V fridges typically cost more than a 100 Watt fridge and range in price from $300-$2000.
100 Watt Campervan Refrigerator
Did you ever have a dorm-style fridge? You know the really short one with one door and a tiny freezer up top? Likely you kept beer in it and half the time forgot it existed. Well, that is a 100 Watt fridge. It usually has 2-4 cubic feet of space and runs around $100-$200. It is a great option if your main priority is saving money. Shawn and I originally had a 100 Watt refrigerator in our van build and we loved the space. The main drawback is that it pulls a lot of power when you are already limited on stored battery energy.
We found that in the winter or days when we didn’t get enough sun, our system was constantly low and we were always stressed it was going to shut off our solar. On top of that, we had an induction stove which meant we couldn’t cook or our refrigerator would shut off. We have since gotten a 12V fridge and frankly, we don’t recommend getting the dorm-style refrigerator. There are options around $250 which is around $100 more and is well worth it. Save your money and get a 12V.
Propane is very popular in the RV and trucker world and has some great advantages if space allows. They are typically larger in size cheaper to buy and use minimal power since the cooling system is based on propane. These refrigerators come in a 2 way and 3-way power source, the 2 way can be powered by propane or AC shore power while the 3 way can be powered by DC / solar in addition to AC and propane.
Now you may be confused about how propane that is typically used to create heat cools your food but don’t worry I will explain. Propane refrigerators do not use a compressor therefore they use propane to heat up ammonia, hydrogen gas and water stored in various tubes inside the refrigerator to keep your food cool. By heating up these fluids they start to move through the tubes causing evaporation and condensation which in return cools these tubes inside the case of the refrigerator cooling your food through absorption. I personally wouldn’t recommend a propane refrigerator unless you have room for extra propane tanks dedicated just for your refrigerator.
Styles of Campervan fridges
Chest Style: The Chest Style refrigerator is one of the most common campervan refrigerator options for vanlife as it stores more, is easy to install and is often cheaper. It is what we have and we love it! I thought the chest style would bother me but I actually prefer it over the upright.
Upright: The upright campervan refrigerator is going to feel more like the refrigerator you would have in a home. It opens from left to right and everything sits on a shelf. It is nice that you don’t have to bend over necessarily to open things but typically it is smaller than a chest style refrigerator.
Drawer: The drawer refrigerator is similar to the chest style except that it is on wheels and comes out like, well, a drawer. It is typically more expensive and is not easy to install since you have to build it into your campervan.
7 Things to Look for in a Campervan Refrigerator
The dimensions of each refrigerator are going to be completely different and so are your needs. This is why it’s super important to plan out your vanlife build before purchasing a campervan refrigerator. Once you have decided where you want it to go you can begin looking at options.
2. Power Draw
Look at how much power the refrigerator is going to draw. Not every refrigerator is made equal and this includes 12V campervan refrigerators.
What things are important to you? Do you want a freezer compartment? Is it important that you have dividers to keep things separate? Which way do you want the door to swing open?
Always check to see what kind of warranty is offered and consider the extended warranty whether that is from the manufacturer, store, or amazon. Most warranties are worth the extra money for peace of mind. When we purchased our Costway refrigerator we went ahead and opted in for the Amazon warranty. It was simply worth the extra money to know we are covered if something goes wrong.
Always check reviews for well, everything. Anything I buy I make sure that the reviews are mostly positive. A pro tip is to skim past the 5-star reviews and look at the 3-star reviews which in my opinion hold more truth to them.
Once you have looked at all of these then you need to narrow down which refrigerators you can purchase. Look at the price and decide which of these are important and which you are willing to give up. You can get a dorm fridge as cheap as $100 and a Dometic refrigerator priced at $2000. Remember though there are a ton of options in between those prices such as CostWay for $350.
A Comparison of 12V Fridges for Your Campervan
|Model||Costway 54 Quart Compressor Travel RV||Dometic CFX 50W||ARB Portable Fridge Freezer 50 Quarts||Alpicool CF55||Whynter FM-45G|
|Size||54 Quart||49 Quarts||50 Quarts||58 Quarts||45 Quarts|
|Price Under $500||Yes||No||No||Yes||Yes|
|Price||Check Amazon||Check Amazon||Check Amazon||Check Amazon||Check Amazon|
|Dimensions||27 x 13.5 x 21||28.5 x 17.9 x 18.5 in||27.75 x 14.96 x 20||27.2 x 13.6 x 20.6||28 x 18 x 20.8|
|Approximate Power Draw Per Hour||3-5 Amps||0.77 Amps||.7-2.3 Amps||5-6 Amps||3-5 Amps|
|Warranty||90 Days||2 Years||3 Years||Unclear||1 Year|
|Weight in Pounds||36||45||50||36||45|
Where to Buy
Our Choice: Costway 54 Quart Compressor Travel RV
We love our Costway 54 Quart Campervan refrigerator. It was a great price and so far it works really well. Even with a limited warranty, you can purchase the Amazon Extended warranty and still save money.
Pros: Great Value, Possibly fits between seats easily.
Cons: 3-month warranty, draws more power than most 12V fridges for vanlife
Dometic CFX 50W
Dometic is a popular refrigerator brand in vanlife for good reason. They are known for their quality and reliability.
Pros: Low power draw, 2-year warranty, and reliable brand
Cons: High Cost
ARB Portable Fridge Freezer 50 Quarts
ARB is another brand that is known for its reliability and popular use among vanlifers. It was designed with vanlifers and RVer’s in mind and is made with super durable material to keep intact during travel. They also use a Danfoss compressor which is known for reliability.
Pros: Low power draw, meant for travel, very reliable
Cons: High price
The Alpicool is a lower cost 12V refrigerator that offers a high capacity refrigerator in similar dimensions as competitors. This is another brand that I would purchase an extended warranty alongside. I do NOT know anyone who has purchased it so I not giving it my recommendation BUT I would consider for purchase.
Pros: High capacity, low cost, freezer section
Cons: High power draw, Amazon reviews reflect poor build quality
Whynter is another popular low-cost 12V fridge for vanlife. It seems to last 2-3 years before the compressor goes out according to Amazon reviews. This is another I would recommend an extended warranty and probably the last one that I would purchase.
Pros: Low cost
Cons: Smallest of the competitors, compressor issues according to Amazon reviews
Where to put your Campervan Refrigerator in your DIY Van Build
Between the two front seats
If you have a 2008 Dodge Sprinter then I have good news, a Costway 54 Quart refrigerator will fit between your two front seats. If you have a different model, I recommend measuring and then double-checking to see if your chest-style refrigerator of choice will fit. It’s a great option when you don’t have a spot that is built into your campervan.
Underneath a bench
One of my favorite ways I have seen vanlifers build in their fridge is into a bench. If you are opting for a chest-style refrigerator then you can create a bench that houses it and your benchtop simply is the lid or is attached to your refrigerator lid.
Under the kitchen cabinet
Our first upright refrigerator sat below our kitchen countertop under our induction stove. This worked perfectly for us at the time but once we decided to upgrade to a propane cooktop we had to come up with a new place for our refrigerator.
Under your bed
If you have a fixed bed in the back of your campervan then a popular place to put your refrigerator is underneath it.
Buying your campervan refrigerator is going to be one of the items you do the most research on and take the most time with. I hope that this comparison guide helped you make a decision! Are there any 12V Refrigerators that I missed? Let me know in the comments!