Caravanning around Australia for longer time periods requires a lot of preparedness in every aspect. You need to be equipped with a lot of fresh food and beverages to last you for multiple days on end. That being said, a portable camping fridge that can run off your ute’s 12V electrical system to keep everything fresh and cool indefinitely is an absolute must. While portable fridges are more expensive than an Esky or a cooler, you won’t have to worry about replenishing the ice ever again. With the many recent advancements in cooling technologies, portable 12V fridges have become more compact and energy-efficient than ever. But with so many models available nowadays, how do you pick the right one, and how do you make sure it stays safely secured in your ute or caravan?
Fridge Size and Capacity
Having a larger 12V fridge means having greater capacity, but also a higher current draw and less space in your ute or caravan. With your entire camping party and equipment on board, a fully-stocked fridge can push your vehicle over its gross vehicle mass. Fridge sizes are measured in litres, but it can be hard to get an idea of how much space a 25L fridge, for example, offers. To get a better idea of the capacity of fridges, people have come up with a widely recognised unit of measure – cans.
- 25L fridges can hold about 27 cans of drink. These fridges are basically powered coolers – they’re compact and suitable for keeping enough food and drinks for two people on a one-day getaway;
- 35L fridges can hold about 47 cans, and they’re ideal for a weekend getaway for two people, or an entire week if you’re going alone;
- 40L fridges can hold about 60 cans. These fridges are considered the standard size, and they can hold enough food and drinks for two or three people for a weekend getaway;
- 60L-65L fridges can hold about 105 cans, and they’re ideal for families of four and five. However, keep in mind that these are on the heavier side and can take a decent amount of space in your vehicle;
- 80L+ fridges can hold up to 120 cans, and they offer enough space for a week-long getaway, for several people. However, weight and size can be a serious consideration, and it might make more sense to share the load between separate vehicles in smaller fridges.
No matter the size of the fridge you go for, robust mounting hardware is crucial to prevent the fridge from becoming a projectile in the event of an accident or from tipping when taking sharp turns. Fridge slides can help hold the unit in place, and drop fridge slides make accessing your fridge conveniently and easy, especially if your ute is lifted. The fridge slide you choose should be made of heavy-duty materials to ensure durability, and it should feature tie-down straps to ensure it is held in place securely. Additionally, you should make sure you get the correct size and weight rating for the fridge you have, in order to ensure a proper and secure fit.
Two-Way vs Three-Way Fridges
Two- way portable fridges use compressor technology just like your home fridge, except they’re designed to run on both mains electricity and a 12V battery. They’re ideal for most applications because they can be powered by your vehicle’s electrical system without drawing in too much current, and they can be switched to 240V if powered on a campground site’s mains. They offer decent performance even in high ambient temperatures and in hot vehicles, and some models can double as freezers. Further, they operate on inclined and uneven terrain, and some models can even be operated from a solar panel. On the downside, setting a consistent temperature when ambient temperatures are subjected to change can be somewhat tricky, and the compressor noise can be annoying when it’s quiet.
Three-way portable fridges run on liquid petroleum gas (LPG), 240V or 12V. Instead of compressor technology, they utilise gas flow heat exchangers, which makes them operate quietly. However, they don’t perform as efficiently as compressor fridges, and they need to be kept level at all times to function properly. These fridges are better for longer trips, as a single LPG cylinder can keep them running for weeks. Plus, they’re the more versatile type in terms of power sources, and you don’t need a complicated dual-battery system to ensure they’re powered.
It’s important to pay attention to the fridge’s current drain, simply because it’s an indicator of how long your battery will last, as well as how long the fridge will run. Depending on the ambient temperature, the fridge might be working extra hard to keep the inside temperature up. Further, consider whether the fridge you choose has in-built battery protection, especially if you’re running it off the vehicle’s starting battery. Avoid deep cycling your vehicle’s starter battery as that can reduce its lifespan dramatically and leave you stranded in the middle of nowhere. For that very reason, your best bet is installing a leisure battery and have your fridge running on it.