Best 12-volt Portable Refrigerators For Camping: (2020)

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As camping and hiking enthusiasts, we enjoy getting creative with our cooking techniques when we’re roughing it in the great outdoors.

However, there’s one aspect of this that’s easy to overlook: How to keep cold ingredients at the proper temperature until it’s time to cook. Below, find our picks for the best 12-volt portable refrigerators for camping.

  • Dometic CFX 40W Portable Fridge Freezer
  • Alpicool C20 Portable Refrigerator
  • CIGREEN 60L Portable Refrigerator
  • Costway Car Refrigerator
  • Setpower AJ30 Portable Car Refrigerator

In A Hurry?

Our Top Pick – Dometic CFX 40W Portable Fridge Freezer

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How To Choose the Best Camping Fridge

So, you’ve determined that your camping adventures require a portable fridge. How do you go about choosing the best one? Here’s a list of factors to consider as you begin your search.

Budget

As with any major purchase, you should first determine how much you’re willing and able to spend. You’ll have a broad range to choose from in terms of price, but the quality of the units tends to fall along a similar spectrum.

Occasional campers will probably be happy with a lower-priced model. Full-time RVers, on the other hand, would be better off investing in a high-end fridge. In addition to being more reliable, the pricier units also tend to last longer, so you’re likely to get your money’s worth.

Capacity

Next, think about how much space you’ll need. Will this be your only refrigeration source, or are you merely looking to supplement an existing fridge? What foods and beverages will you be trying to keep cool? How often do you plan to shop for supplies? Will you need a freezer compartment, and if so, how large should it be?

While camping fridges come in a variety of sizes, 40L is the most common. To give you some idea of how big that is, a 40L fridge can hold 60 12-ounce cans. With a fridge this size, a family of two or three people could expect to restock every three to four days. If you’re on your own, you could probably stretch its contents over an entire week.

If you think you’ll need more space, look for a fridge with an interior capacity of 50L or more.

Freezer

Are you expecting to pack items that need to be kept frozen? If so, make sure that the fridge has a freezer compartment as well. Many units can be used as either a refrigerator or a freezer, while others feature dual zones for each.

Remember that a freezer needs to run at 0 degrees Fahrenheit or lower if the food is to be stored properly. See our Temperature Range section below for more precise information.

Compressor vs. Thermoelectric Cooling

The majority of portable 12-volt refrigerators will run off a compressor, but some of the more recent models might employ thermoelectric energy instead. There are pros and cons to each of these options. Make sure to choose the system that will work best in your particular circumstances.

Compressor-driven cooling systems are more powerful than their thermoelectric counterparts and are capable of adapting to higher ambient temperatures. As a result, they usually have a greater maximum capacity as well.

Thermoelectric energy offers a quieter and more energy-efficient experience, but these units are typically low-capacity. Their heat sensitivity makes them a poor choice in warmer weather. Because they run continuously, they’re also more expensive to maintain. Take a look at this YouTube video to find out more about thermoelectric refrigeration.

Temperature Range

A refrigerator should run in the range of 34-40 degrees Fahrenheit in order to keep food and beverages cooled to the proper temperature. As such, most compressor-driven portable fridges will offer a range of 0 to 50 degrees, especially if there’s a freezer component.

It should be noted that while 0 degrees is considered the safe temperature for frozen foods, it’s better to keep some items colder still. For example, ice cream can become unpleasantly soft at temperatures higher than -8 degrees Fahrenheit. If you’re planning to pack ice cream sandwiches on your next camping trip, seek out a unit that’s capable of achieving lower temps.

Special Features

Take a close look at the specs before you decide on a particular fridge. Features such as LED lighting, drain plugs, organizing baskets, and dairy compartments are standard. Some units, however, might go the extra mile by offering Wi-Fi capability, remote readouts, or other cool extras. There’s no need to drop additional cash if you don’t think you’d take advantage of these benefits, but it’s nice to have the option.

Warranty

The standard warranty on a portable 12-volt fridge runs from 1-3 years, depending on the brand. Sometimes the length of the warranty can vary, depending on the country in which the purchase was made, so be sure to read the fine print.

Also, find out what is and isn’t covered by the guarantee when you look up this information. Normal wear and tear usually doesn’t fall under the umbrella—the company is only responsible for replacing missing or defective parts.

Best 12-Volt Portable Refrigerators For Camping: Product Review Guide

Best Overall

1. Dometic CFX 40W Portable Fridge Freezer

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Our top slot goes to the Dometic CFX 40W Portable Fridge Freezer. If you’ve ever purchased one of Dometic’s products in the past, this may not come as a surprise. The brand has gained quite a following in the realm of camping and RV supplies, and this nifty unit stands as a fine representation of everything the company does best.

With a 38-liter capacity, the CFX 40W can easily hold 60 12-ounce cans. When it’s empty, the unit weighs in at just 41 pounds, so it’s easy to maneuver. The fridge is sturdily built and energy-efficient, owing in part to its secure closing mechanism.

Because this fridge can reach temps of -7 degrees Fahrenheit, it’s suitable for any foods that need to be kept frozen. The heavy-duty construction makes it highly resistant to ambient temperatures, keeping foods cold even in the summer heat.

This unit is also Wi-Fi compatible, so you can control the temperature via your tablet or smartphone. The temp is clearly displayed on the exterior, via digital readout. An LED interior light affords you a full view of the contents at any hour of the day or night. If you can afford it, the Dometic CFX 40W is an excellent option.

SizeCooling SystemTemperature Range
38LCompressor-7—50+ degrees Fahrenheit
Pros
  • Durable construction
  • Digital temperature display
  • Able to achieve and maintain cold temperatures in all types of weather
  • Wi-Fi capability
Cons
  • Relatively high price point

Best Budget

2. Alpicool C20 Portable Refrigerator

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Casual campers are sure to appreciate the Alpicool C20 Portable Refrigerator, especially if they’re on a budget. While this 20-liter unit is considerably smaller than most of the other units listed here, it has plenty to recommend it.

The construction is both durable and lightweight, with an interior that can hold up to 25 12-ounce cans. Because it’s capable of reaching temps as low as -4 degrees Fahrenheit, it can easily double as a freezer. The compressor is compatible with solar-based power systems, so you can easily take it along on off-grid RV expeditions. A reliable and efficient battery protection system is also included.

SizeCooling SystemTemperature Range
20LCompressor-4—68+ degrees Fahrenheit
Pros
  • Affordable price point
  • Multi-setting battery protection system
  • Lightweight and portable
Cons
  • On the smaller side
  • Spotty return policy

Best Runner Up

3. CIGREEN 60L Portable Refrigerator

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If you can’t find the Dometic CFX 40L, the CIGREEN 60L Portable Refrigerator is also a good bet. While it has a slightly larger footprint than the Dometic offering (not to mention a less elegant design), it’s similar in enough respects for us to recommend giving it a try.

With its 60-liter capacity, the CIGREEN can hold up to 85 12-ounce cans. This makes it a good fit for larger families or couples who don’t want to shop that often. Because of its dual zone design, it can be used as a fridge and freezer simultaneously. Sturdy handles make it easier to transport, although we would nevertheless recommend doing so only when the fridge is empty.

The CIGREEN is an especially quiet fridge, with a noise level below 40 decibels. Another convenient touch? The unit offers two cooling modes: ECO for energy saving and TURBO for rapid cooling. The battery protection system is impressive, too—the system will automatically shut off if the input voltage reaches the minimum limit.

SizeCooling SystemTemperature Range
60LCompressor-0.4—50+ degrees Fahrenheit
Pros
  • Dual zone unit
  • Generous capacity
  • Great battery protection
  • Runs quietly
Cons
  • Slightly pricey
  • Bulky design

4. Costway Car Refrigerator

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The Costway Car Refrigerator is a good middle-of-the-road option. Like the Dometic offering, it features a digital readout display and is capable of maintaining cool temperatures even in hot weather. However, the price tag is much lower, making this a more feasible alternative for budget-conscious shoppers.

The Costway has a 52-liter capacity, putting it on the larger end of the spectrum. If this will be your primary refrigeration source, the extra space is sure to come in handy. It’s also shockproof, so you won’t have to worry about the contents suffering damage when you travel over rough terrain.

With this fridge, you have the option of choosing between an energy-saving (ECO) or rapid cooling (MAX) mode. The digital readout makes it easy to adjust the temperature. Aside from the Dometic CFX model, this is likely the most user-friendly fridge on our list.

SizeCooling SystemTemperature Range
52LCompressor-4—50+ degrees Fahrenheit
Pros
  • Reasonable price point
  • Convenient digital temperature display and controls
  • Cools quickly and efficiently
Cons
  • Some shipping issues reported
  • Unreliable customer service department

5. Setpower AJ30 Portable Car Refrigerator

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If a low profile and a cool design rank high on your hit parade, take a look at the Setpower AJ30 Portable Car Refrigerator. With two rugged handles and four can-shaped indentations set into the lid, this is a fridge for the intrepid adventurer.

The system is designed to maintain function on inclines up to 30 degrees, so it can handle the tough mountain roads. If the compressor should quit within two years, Setpower will replace it free of charge. All other parts are covered for one year from the date of purchase.

This unit reaches the desired temperature in a fast and energy-efficient manner, especially when it’s set to ECO mode. The compressor is fairly quiet, but we think it’s more noticeable than some of the competition. Although the lowest temperature is advertised as 0 degrees Fahrenheit, we’ve had good luck keeping ice cream cold on several journeys.

SizeCooling SystemTemperature Range
32LCompressor0-50+ degrees Fahrenheit
Pros
  • Clever design
  • Generous warranty on compressor
  • Impressive insulation system
  • Energy efficient
Cons
  • Slightly noisy
  • 12-volt connection can be erratic

In Conclusion

Is a portable refrigerator a vital component of a successful camping expedition? For most people, no—you might be able to get by with a few well-equipped coolers. If you’re like us, however, you’ll find that proper refrigeration will go a long way toward turning your ordinary cookout staples into memorable meals.

Best of luck, and happy camping!

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