When you’re talking about must-have equipment to make the most of van life, what’s the one piece of gear that every adventure van enthusiast can agree on... A good fridge.
Not only does it make your van feel like home, but it also makes it easy to stock up on food without worrying about refilling coolers with ice.
When most of us were growing up, the van fridges we used on vacation weren’t great. They were bulky and ate up a lot of space and power. However, advancements in 12v refrigerator technology over the past several years have given us many amazing options to choose from. Modern van fridges are energy efficient, well-insulated, and can be charged directly via solar power.
Have a look at our list of the best fridges for van life below. By the end, you should have all the information you need on what to look for when picking out a fridge for your van conversion. We’ve even included a few of our favorite picks down at the bottom.
Important things to consider when choosing a Camper Van Fridge
Don’t overlook the fridge selection process when planning your camper van build. Many people assume they can design their layout first and fit in a fridge later. But this isn’t always the case.
The fridge is one of the essential components of your kitchen build, and you’ll often have to build around it depending on its design. So, we recommend picking out a fridge early on (or at least a fridge style and size) to maximize your space efficiency and interior flow.
Here are some of the most important things to consider when choosing your van fridge.
Fridge capacity requirements vary from van dweller to van dweller. Your choice will depend on your available space, the number of travelers, and how often you cook.
If you’re looking for a fridge that will fit into an existing cabinet, you’re limited to those physical dimensions. Measure the space and purchase accordingly. Or, you can purchase one of our 24" or 41" Galleys and use the recommended 12v refrigerator options that fit directly into them - the choice is yours!
But if you’re still in the design phase, you should plan your whole galley around the fridge. Yes, it’s that important! We also suggest that you dedicate more space to the refrigerator if you spend long periods camping or away from supermarkets.
How many people regularly travel in the van? If it’s just you, you can probably get away with a 30-quart fridge. For a couple, a 50-70 quart is more suitable for storing several days’ worth of perishable food. In the case of even larger groups, or if you require a freezer, check out dual zone fridges. These fridge-freezer combos should satisfy your space and cooling demands.
Of course, you’ll save money by cooking in your van more often than eating out. So, factor this in when you’re budgeting for a fridge. A larger, higher-quality fridge is more expensive at first but can easily save you money in the long run.
Another critical factor to consider is how much power draw your fridge will consume. A more energy-efficient fridge will save you money and allow you to live comfortably off-grid for longer.
These days, most 12v refrigerator options are pretty energy-efficient and the power draw is low. However, there will still be differences based on build quality, insulation, design, and manual controls. Also, consider whether you’ll be using batteries and/or solar power as a power source. Take a close look at the available data to determine if your van meets the power requirements before buying the fridge.
How much do Camper fridges cost?
The price factor plays a crucial role in choosing a suitable fridge. Don’t worry if you don’t want to break the bank. 12v fridges are available in a broad price range, so there’s definitely a fridge out there that fits your budget.
In general, a quality 12v refrigerator can cost anywhere between $750-2000. Higher-end options can cost even more. So it ultimately comes down to what you’re looking for in a refrigerator.
The best models use top-shelf components that are guaranteed to be the most reliable and efficient. If you’re constantly on the road and need a fridge that isn’t going to break down, it’s worth spending the extra money.
Reliability and Warranty
Good warranty coverage is essential. 12v fridges can be expensive, and you don’t want to be left with a defective model that you can’t repair. Keep on the lookout for brands that offer extensive warranty coverage.However, reliability is perhaps even more important. What’s better than a good warranty? Never having to use it. Take time to read reviews of each product. Do people have issues with this model, or does it seem indestructible? There’s nothing worse than a fridge full of perishable food breaking down in the middle of your camping trip. Make sure you choose carefully, and skip to the bottom to see 3 of our favorites camper van fridges.
Two of the most common fridge types are top-loading chests and front-loading upright fridges. Here’s a quick overview.
Chest Style Fridge
Don’t let the top-loading style deter you. Chest fridges are the fridge of choice for many adventure van lovers. They actually store more food than other types of fridges and are usually more energy-efficient. You can even use them as a spare seat!
- More energy efficient. Cold air sinks, so less of it escapes when you open the top lid when compared to the front doors on upright fridges. This means less time when the compressor is running and ultimately less energy used.
- Holds more stuff. Chest fridges allow you to pack food items tighter and eliminate wasted space.
- Easier to organize. This may come down to personal preference, but chests can be easier to organize than upright fridges when you’re dealing with limited space in the van. You can see into the refrigerator from the top without having to crouch down and move things around to get at the back of an upright fridge.
- Better for rough terrain. Gravity is your friend. You won’t be dealing with cans tumbling out when you open the door. They’ll also operate well on inclines.
- Portable. Many chest fridges are designed like coolers and can easily be carried around. They might also have drain plugs at the bottom for easy cleaning and double as an ice chest if your power goes out.
- Harder to incorporate into a floor plan. Since they open from the top, you’ll have to get creative with your fridge placement. For example, you can’t just stick it under the sink unless you have it on a shelf that slides out to allow access.
- Some people don’t like the top-down organization. This is more of a personal preference than a drawback, but some people just prefer having their fridge organized more like a conventional household unit.
These fridges are basically mini versions of household refrigerators. Their most significant advantage is their adaptability to a wider range of layouts. And we all know that space is king when it comes to van life.
- More space-efficient. Since they can easily be mounted inside cabinets or under shelves, they take up less space than chest fridges. You don’t need to allow for overhead space to open the lid, and they fit perfectly into many pre-built kitchen units.
- Can be lighter and cheaper. If weight and price are two of your primary considerations, an upright fridge might be your preferred option.
- Conventional loading style. If you don’t like the thought of stacking all your food on top of each other, then an upright fridge with organized shelves has you covered.
- Not as energy-efficient. Due to the front-loading door that lets cold air escape each time it’s opened, these fridges require more energy keep food cool.
- Less holding capacity than chest fridges. Shelf organization also means more wasted space.
- Not portable. Usually, upright fridges are mounted in place and can’t easily be moved around. You might also have a hard time accessing the refrigerator unless you mount it up off the floor.
- Items move around. If you drive on a bumpy road, your food items will shift around a lot and may fly out the door the next time you open it. Drawer-type fridges can help solve this problem.
What type of camper van fridge do we recommend?
We always recommend buying 12v compressor fridges over other options like 100-watt dorm-style fridges or propane-powered fridges. While each option has its place, a 12v fridge offers the best benefits for van life.
12v Fridges (Best Option)Pros
- Built for van life and able to withstand rough treatment
- Most energy-efficient option
- It can be used on uneven terrain
- Comes in a range of configurations: chest style, upright, dual-zone
- Can be run on solar power
- More expensive
3-Way Absorption FridgePros
- Can run on 12v DC, 110v AC, or propane
- Only functions properly when on level ground
- Not efficient on 12v or 110v power
- Requires ventilation
- Harder to set up, especially if running a propane line
100-Watt Dorm-style FridgePros
- May save space
- Not durable enough for frequent road trips
- Uses a lot of power
Popular 12V Refrigerator Options
These are a few of the options that we think are the best fridges for van life.
The Engel brand is synonymous with reliability, and this fridge is no different. Featuring a galvanized steel exterior, this fridge-freezer combo is built to withstand extreme conditions. You don’t have to worry about its performance when it comes to rough terrain – the fridge is built to operate on inclines up to 30 degrees. In terms of power consumption, it’s solar compatible and has a low power draw between 0.7-2.8 Amps on 12v DC.
It fits our 24” and 41” galleys and even has a reversible door to suit any interior configuration. The Engel SR70 fridge-freezer is an excellent option for anyone looking to save space with a time-tested fridge that can easily fit into existing van builds.
Configuration: Upright, fridge-freezer
Capacity: 60 quarts
Warranty: 3 years
The Isotherm Drawer 65 is actually made for boats and features highly durable construction built to keep supplies safe during rough weather. When adapted for van use, you can be sure that all your food items will stay in their place thanks to the handy organization system of storage bins and bottle racks. It doesn’t have a freezer, but it features frost-free operation and an internal fan to keep everything cool. This is a definite upgrade from your old dorm room mini-fridge.
This fridge fits our 24” and 41” galleys and can be installed in most standard van kitchen configurations. The slide-out drawer style combines the versatility of upright fridges with the top-down visibility of chest fridges.
Price: $1500 - $2,000
Configuration: Drawer, fridge
Capacity: 65 liters (68 quarts)
Warranty: 5 years for the compressor, 2 years for the parts
If you’re looking to invest in a quality chest style fridge, you can’t go wrong with Dometic. They build some of the best-in-class portable fridges on the market. All the details, from construction quality to energy efficiency, are outstanding.
The CFX3 line features rugged, yet lightweight construction with aluminum alloy handles and reinforced edges. A weatherproof interface displays the operating status alongside buttons for adjusting the settings of both fridge and freezer zones. You can even control the temperature and monitor performance through Dometic’s mobile app. For power, you have the flexibility to draw from AC (110-240), DC (12/24V) or DC solar power. Needless to say, this fridge is built to impress.
Price: $715 - $1,450
Configuration: Chest style, fridge-freezer
Capacity: 25 liters (26 quarts) to 99 liters (104 quarts)
Warranty: 5 years limited