Choosing the best fridge for vanlife is such an important decision. Food refrigeration is one of the single most important considerations you need to plan for when you’re building out your van for vanlife.
A true off-grid experience is so much better with a fridge that meets all of your needs. Despite what you may think this decision actually needs to be made quite early on in the process. Mapping out and building of your van is no easy thing!
Along with the kinds of meals you’re going to be able to eat, and the nutrition you’ll get while you’re on the road, your fridge will also affect:
the design of your cupboards and drawers
The storage space of your van, overall
The electrical and solar needs you’ll be considering
As a result, you never want to get stuck with storing your food in a cooler and needing to replenish ice every couple of days. This is tedious, and limits your options for travel when you’re looking to truly get off the grid and into the wild.
Choosing The Best Fridge for Your Van Life
There are so many options out there these days! How on earth can you choose the best camper fridge for your van? Narrowing down the single best option for your situation will help. Consider this list of details to make a truly informed decision.
Efficiency and power draw
Now that you’re building out your van, you’ve likely started to realize just how much you’ll have to consider power and efficiency with these decisions. Power consumption is super important, and it’ll start to be a natural way for you to make decisions about your van and your travel.
Because of this, you’ll want to look at how much power the fridge is going to draw, and you’ll want to also make sure that your van has the capacity to handle that amount. The last thing you want is to build out your van, make your tiny little kitchen, and then realize that the power you have is not sufficient to fuel the fridge that you’ve purchased.
Therefore, make sure that you’re well aware of what your capacity is, and then consider that when you’re looking at the specs for your fridge.
Style and design
With so many options out there, you’ll want to choose a style that not only fits your needs and preferences, but more importantly one that fits the design of your kitchen. The main options are:
This is a more traditional style of fridge, in that you’ll be used to its form and function because of your home fridge. These ones tend to have less storage space than the top-loading fridges, which we’ll talk about below.
Top-loaders tend to fit nicely in a van layout. In addition to this, they usually don’t have to allow for access above the fridge, which is a nice consideration. In that way, you can keep your measurements more specific, and feel as though there is less wasted space.
Front-Loading Fridge (with a drawer)
The other front-loading option that you have is a fridge with a drawer that pulls out. This one is good for food organization, just like the top-loader, with the obvious difference being that it pulls out from the front.
However, you’ll want to note that these front-loaders generally don’t store as much food as the top-loading chest fridge that we’re about to talk about right now.
One of the most common fridge styles for vanlife, the top-loading fridge tends to store more food than the others. It’s generally more energy-efficient as well because when you open the door, less cold gets out. This is a huge bonus, as the fridge itself is one of the more taxing energy-consumers you’ll be building into your van. Other than the engine, of course.
How you store your food is a personal preference, and when you have a front-loader, you can use the stacking method. Many vanlifers prefer this way, but ultimately you must make this decision for yourself based on how you like to organize and store your food.
A drawback to the top-loader is that you always must allow for space above the fridge so you can open it. Similar to allowing for space for cupboards to open, you need to make sure you’ve got the space to access your goods.
You can also create a slider to move it out from its storage space, or you can find a handy spot where you’ll be able to get to it at all times.
Capacity of the Fridge
You’ve probably already realized that your van fridge is going to store much less than your regular fridge at home. In fact, you’ve likely already considered that when you’re thinking about your grocery list and the foods that you want to travel with.
Most van fridges hold between 40-60 quarts. The capacity you need will depend on how many people you’re travelling with, how long you’re going to be off the grid, and of course… how much you tend to eat.
To make this decision, ask yourself:
How much food do you need to store for your trips?
Will you need to keep frozen food as well? If so, how much?
How often do you want to / are you willing to go grocery shopping?
A good fridge for your van is a worthy investment. You may be surprised, however, at how much you’ll need to spend to get a good one!
Once you start adding up the project of doing a van conversion adding up the project of doing a van conversion, you’ll see that there are a lot of incidentals to consider. When it comes to your fridge, depending on the above variables, you’ll likely need to set aside somewhere between $300-$2000.
Absorption vs Compressor Refrigerators
Your preferred power method is one of the most important considerations when choosing the best fridge for your van life. Most people doing a van conversion end up weighing two main types of fridges against each other to make their decision: Compressor fridges and Absorption fridges.
This is the recommended fridge type — it’s powered by your compressor. Also known as “two-way” refrigerators, they use a small compressor unit to cool the refrigerator.
The compressor fridge is the most common type of fridge for van life. It’s the recommended way to go for anyone that is looking to be on the road, camping, or doing whatever it is you’re going to do, for extended periods of time.
You can power your compressor two ways:
With a 12V battery (this is recommended) or
12V fridges tend to be more low-maintenance, and are the most common fridges used in camper vans. If you choose to go the route of the 110V, you’ll need to run an inverter. Using a device that operates at 12V will give you a longer battery life, because any time you convert power you’ll have a loss.
3-Way Absorption Fridge
Instead of relying on a compressor, 3-way absorption fridges rely on a gas flow heat exchange, and can be powered three ways:
If space allows, propane is commonly used in the RV world.
If you don’t want to worry about propane in your van, you may want to have a single fuel source.
The main reason an absorption fridge isn’t’ suitable for vanlife is that it needs to be in a specific position to work properly. If it’s not level, which can happen when you’re traveling and parking on rough terrain, this becomes an issue.
Now that we’ve talked about all of the considerations for choosing a fridge for your vanlife, let’s review two of the top contenders when it comes to brands:
Vanlife Fridge Brands to Consider
The Dometic CFX3-series is the top of the line option when it comes to vanlife refrigerators. They’re very energy efficient, they come from Dometic’s well-known history of rugged and high functioning mobile living appliances, and they’re also full of advanced digital features.
If you want the best of the best for your van, this may be the way you want to go. It comes at a higher cost, but reviews are great, and it could be a worthy investment for your buildout if you’re willing to put out the extra money.
Dometic fridge sizes
The Dometic features best in class energy efficiency, cutting edge technology, overall reliability, and rugged build quality. The CFX3 fridge is the top choice of many van-lifers.
The 12v regriation Dometic refrigerator comes in sizes from 24 to 99 litres. They’re available in both single and dual zone.
Iceco VL-Series 12V fridges have everything you need for life on the road, and they cost about half of the other units.
These refrigerators tend to be the best overall value for portable refrigerators in the vanlife world. They combine top quality components, rugged construction, affordable pricing, and performance that rivals the more expensive models.
Iceco units also come in a wide variety of sizes that will fit your needs, from smaller single-zone options, to larger dual-zone. They also offer different form factors in their JP-series.
Iceco fridge sizes
With ultra-efficient Danfoss SECOP compressor and stainless steel construction, the Iceco fridge offers so much at a great price.
This brand is available in sizes from 45 to 74 litres, and are both single and dual zone.
Conclusion: Dometic Vs Iceco
When it comes to comparing the Dometic and the Iceco fridge, the conclusion is challenging. They are both great quality, and offer many options for your life on the road. With a wide variety of options to meet many of your needs, they’re both are a great choice for the vanlife.
According to the research, and all of the considerations we’ve covered in this article, we conclude that the best fridge for vanlife is the ICECO VL-Series 12V Fridge.
Because of its lower price and comparable features, this model ranks at the top of the list for overall quality for the money spent.
Bonus Tip for Vanlife Refrigeration
Keep your fridge full! A lot of van-lifers don’t realize that the more food you keep in the fridge, the less energy you’ll regret going waste trying to keep the fridge cool. The items in the fridge help to retain the lower temperatures, so you’ll notice a difference in how much time your fridge has to run, and draw power.
We hope this article has been helpful in your decision on which fridge to use for vanlife. Best of luck with your buildout; we wish you safety and adventure for your life on the road!
Indie88 (CIND-FM) is Toronto’s New Alternative. Launched on August 3rd, 2013, as Canada’s first indie music station, Indie88 provides a platform for emerging artists while paying homage to the classics that inspired them. Indie88 is where new music belongs. It’s also a multi-media hub for news, local lifestyle, and pop-culture content focused on unique and engaging stories.