A freezer is a great item to have when you’re traveling, and a portable freezer can be even more useful. A portable freezer/refrigerator can be useful in many different ways.
You toss it in your car for a stop at Costco or Trader Joe’s and pack it with frozen foods no matter how far you may be from home. You can use it on a road trip or camping trip.
You can also use a 12V refrigerator/freezer to supplement the refrigerator in your RV that may only get as cold as 40 degrees Fahrenheit below ambient temperature (which in the dog days of summer may not be cold enough). You can use it for tailgating or at home when you’re entertaining, for college, on a boat, or for off-grid living. The possibilities are endless.
Today we’re taking a look at some of the best portable fridge/freezers on the market to keep your food and beverages cold and/or frozen.
- 1) What to Look For in a Portable Freezer or 12V Fridge/Freezer
- 2) What Are the Best Portable 12V Refrigerator/Freezers on the Market Today?
- 3) Do You Use a Portable 12V Freezer or Refrigerator for Traveling?
What to Look For in a Portable Freezer or 12V Fridge/Freezer
We all understand that the purpose of a portable freezer or compressor fridge with a freezer zone is to keep food cold. So, that’s the main function you’ll want to work well in a portable freezer or fridge/freezer.
There are also a few additional features that you’ll want to consider as you shop.
Power Consumption/Energy Efficiency
If you’re only planning to use the fridge/freezer at home or in a hotel or college dorm setting, you may not care as much about this feature. But RVers, especially those of us who enjoy boondocking, know that we have limited power onboard an RV or in a car or boat setting.
We don’t want a unit that will drain the battery supplying its power. We want a unit that will sip power. Depending on how you plan to use it, this may be one of the most important features.
So, a highly efficient portable refrigerator/freezer is what we want to look for when shopping.
It’s also very important that a portable freezer can freeze your food and maintain that status for as long as you need it to. Some portable 12V fridges have small freezer sections that aren’t powerful enough to keep frozen foods frozen solid.
If a freezer section can’t keep your ice cream frozen hard, then it’s not the portable freezer you want!
Along these lines, be careful when you’re shopping for 12-volt fridges because sometimes what you’re really getting is an electric cooler. These things barely keep foods cool and may be fine for certain uses, but that type of cooler is not what we’re talking about today.
You’ll want to determine the desired size/capacity of your portable fridge/freezer before you shop. This will allow you to search only for the units that can handle the volume of food you need it to hold.
Generally, you’ll see sizes listed in cubic feet. You’ll also want to consider how heavy the unit is before you buy one that’s difficult for you to carry if you intend to move it from place to place. For example, will you be moving the unit from the car to a hotel room or tent frequently? If so, you may want to consider getting one with wheels to offset the need to carry a large-capacity, heavy 12-volt refrigerator/freezer.
Construction (Including Insulation)
Be sure the units you look at are made of a high-quality, durable material like stainless steel, for example, or other rugged, heavy-duty materials.
You’ll also want the unit to be very well insulated as this will help with the energy efficiency of the fridge/freezer.
Single or Dual Zone?
If you’re only looking to use the unit as a portable freezer, you may prefer a single zone unit offering you one large space for your frozen goods. Single-zone units can be used as 12 volt refrigerators OR freezers, but not both concurrently.
If you want to be able to use your unit as a fridge AND a freezer at the same time, you’ll want to be sure that you’re purchasing a dual-zone model that can do that.
Let’s recap about compressor-driven 12V fridge/freezers for just a moment.
Portable freezers and refrigerators are generally compressor-powered. The good thing about this is that, unlike an absorption refrigerator, (like the 3-way fridges in most RVs), a compressor fridge can cool more consistently and to lower temperatures.
Again, RV absorption fridges tend to cool only to a certain level (usually 40℉) below ambient (outside) temperature. Compressor-driven portable fridge/freezers have a more powerful compressor motor that allows not only more cooling power but cooling that’s more consistent regardless of ambient temperature. This is why they can double as refrigerators and/or freezers so well.
We should also note here that, unlike absorption fridges that need to be level to work properly, a compressor-driven portable fridge/freezer can work well even on uneven terrain, regardless of how level your rig is.
And finally, compressor fridge/freezers are designed with 12-volt power in mind. So, while absorption fridges don’t work for long on 12V power, a compressor-driven portable fridge/freezer unit is specifically designed to run efficiently on battery power.
This brings us to the brand of compressor you’d most like to find in any portable 12V freezer/refrigerator you’re considering.
There are lots of different brands and models of portable fridge/freezers out there, and the compressors inside those units vary in quality and efficiency.
The brand of compressor inside your portable unit may be very noisy whenever it’s running, or it may be quiet. It may cool very efficiently using very little of your precious 12V power, or it may use a considerable amount of power when it’s running.
Our point here is that you want to know what compressor the 12V fridge/freezer you buy has.
In general, the most efficient portable fridge/freezers have used a Danfoss compressor. Danfoss is a German-made compressor, but it’s important to know that Danfoss has been bought by Secop, another German compressor company. Both have long been among the most efficient and quiet compressors on the market.
It used to be true that if you found a unit with a Danfoss or Secop variable-speed compressor, (which many brands of fridge/freezers on the market use), you’d know you were getting a reliable, quality compressor. And that’s still true.
However, the compressor market has become a bit more complicated lately.
Dometic, long among the most highly regarded 12V fridge/freezer producers, used Danfoss compressors for many years. Now, Dometic/Waeco uses its own compressor, developed specifically for this market. Reports and reviews suggest it’s also an excellent compressor.
There are other great compressors (and other great 12V fridge/freezers) on the market now as well. For example, Truma uses a highly efficient Blue Compressor that’s also noted for its extremely quiet operation.
Another compressor known as the Swing Compressor also has an excellent reputation for durability and efficiency.
Our point is simply that not all 12V refrigerator/freezers are alike, and it’s important to know that you’re getting a high-quality compressor inside the unit. Regardless of the construction of the fridge/freezer itself, if you have an inefficient compressor that wakes you up every time it cycles on… and kicks on so often that it drains your batteries when you’re boondocking, you don’t have the fridge/freezer you need.
Lastly, there may be particular miscellaneous features that you’d be interested in having in a portable freezer/fridge.
These may include things like a user-friendly interface to set your temperatures, an easy-to-read LED display so that you can monitor the temperature easily, or an LED light inside so that when you open the unit’s door in the dark you can see the contents.
You may want your 12-volt refrigerator/freezer hinged to open in a particular way in accordance with your setup in your van or RV, or one with a hinge that can be set to open either way.
You may also want to consider whether the unit has a removable basket that allows you to open the door, remove the contents quickly, close the door while you get what you need, fill the basket with your groceries, etc.
Do you want to be able to control the temperature of your unit via Bluetooth or WiFi on your Smartphone? If that’s important to you, you’ll want to make sure that feature is available in the unit you choose.
Some portable 12V freezer/fridge units have a USB port for charging a phone or tablet. If that feature is something you’d like, make a note of it as you shop.
And finally, you’ll want to consider the design of the interior and whether it meets your particular needs, and is easy to clean.
For example, is the fridge section of a dual-zone unit very large, but the freezer section far too small? Can the sections be used in reverse (large side as freezer and small side as fridge)? Is there a removable divider that can render the unit as all-fridge or all-freezer?
All of these miscellaneous considerations may or may not be important to you, but you’ll want to note what you need and want in a portable 12-volt refrigerator/freezer, and then shop accordingly.
What Are the Best Portable 12V Refrigerator/Freezers on the Market Today?
Now let’s take a look at some of the best portable 12V refrigerator/freezers on the market, with all of the variables noted above in mind.
Dometic’s CFX line is among the most popular line of portable 12 volt fridges/freezers on the market today, and there are a number of reasons why this is so.
Dometic’s reputation for quality is excellent over the long term. They build rugged, sturdy, reliable products that last and work well. We have a Dometic fridge/freezer ourselves and love it.
Dometic’s portable fridge/freezers have a longstanding reputation for efficiency, meaning that they tend to sip power which means you can easily power them with your batteries when you’re boondocking or even with a solar generator.
This also translates to excellent portability, because a solar generator with a portable solar panel and portable 12V fridge/freezer can go anywhere.
The Dometic CFX 12V refrigerator/freezers are available in a variety of sizes from 25 liters to 100 liters. The 75-liter version (which we’ll link to below) is dual-zone which means that it can be used as fridge AND freezer, or as fridge OR freezer.
It has dual compartments, each with independent temperature control. In other words, it can serve as only a fridge, only a freezer, or as both at once. (Be sure to check to make sure the dual-zone feature is available in the size unit you’re looking at if this is important to you.)
These units will deep-freeze down to -7℉, using Dometic’s own VMSO3 variable-speed compressor. Efficient and quiet, they’re capable of being powered by AC, DC, or solar.
All Dometic portable 12-volt refrigerator/freezers are long noted to be extremely well constructed, rugged and durable across all types of travel including overlanding.
The CFX3 line we’ll link to below offers “ultra-low power consumption” and three-stage battery protection so your battery or batteries won’t drain and die. Temperature can be controlled via WiFi or Bluetooth using Dometic’s CFX3 app, and the app will even give you a performance history.
Here’s the single-zone 45-liter Dometic CFX3 which can be used as ONLY a fridge or ONLY a freezer (but not both at once). Note that this unit weighs 41 pounds.
- NO ICE NEEDED: Refrigerate or Deep Freeze down to –7 °F using powerful VMSO3 compressor cooling technology
- RUGGED CONSTRUCTION: Heavy-duty, lightweight ExoFrame construction and aluminum alloy handles will stand up to any conditions
And here’s the dual-zone 75-liter Dometic CFX3 which can be used as both a refrigerator AND freezer at once. Note that this unit weighs 62 pounds.
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Truma, a strong name in the RVing industry for the past 70 years, has a line of portable 12-volt refrigerator/freezers which they refer to as “Truma Coolers” or “coolboxes”. But don’t let that fool you. These are heavy-duty, rugged, highly efficient, and highly capable refrigerator/freezers.
Truma’s single and dual-zone portable fridge/freezers are available in multiple sizes. All use the small, lightweight, and very quiet Blue Compressor which contributes to the efficiency of every Truma fridge/freezer.
Truma freezers are efficient down to -8℉, regardless of high ambient (outdoor) temperatures. Truma 12-volt refrigerator/freezers uses high-quality insulation which also helps with the low current consumption.
On the interior of the units, you’ll find removable baskets that can be arranged in various ways, depending on the unit. All units have an interior LED light.
There are 12/24V AC/DC connections on both sides of the Truma units, allowing you to store them in whatever way works best for your application. Some also offer a two-way opening lid, allowing the unit to open on either side.
Truma 12V refrigerator/freezers have a USB 3A port for charging your devices and you can use Truma’s Bluetooth app to operate the fridge from your smartphone in the vicinity.
You can see all of Truma’s “Coolers” on Truma’s site, and Amazon offers a number of Truma portable 12V refrigerator/freezers as well.
Here’s a single-zone Truma fridge/freezer weighing in at 52 pounds:
- POWERFUL COOLING PERFORMANCE – Our long-lasting Truma compressor coolers reliably cool or freeze down to -8ºF(-22°C), even at high outside...
- HIGH CAPACITY – 11.5 Gallons/46 Quarts of usable volume. The cooler has space for upright standing bottles and includes a versatile removable basket...
Here’s one of Truma’s dual-zone portable freezer/fridge units. This one weighs 69 pounds.
- Rugged construction with reinforced corners and lids
- Energy Efficient compressor cools down to -8F (-22C) @ 0.8 (A) average hourly amp draw
Iceco Portable Fridge/Freezers
Iceco uses a Secop (Danfoss) compressor with a 5-year warranty.
Iceco offers 12V refrigerator/freezers in a wide variety of sizes. These are well-constructed units (with high-quality compressors) that come in at a bit of a lower price point than the Dometic and Truma units.
Iceco even offers a tiny (by comparison) 21-quart dual zone unit. The size of this unit leaves it somewhat limited, but it’s one of the smallest units on the market that can serve as a dual-zone fridge/freezer. It could be just the size you need for road trips with the kids or for bringing frozen items home from a trip to Costco, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, etc.
Iceco’s little 21-quart portable freezer can be an all-freezer unit or it can be split using a provided divider, with a freezer section on one side and a little fridge section on the other.
Like all of Iceco’s portable fridge/freezers, the 21-quart has 3-stage battery protection, low-voltage battery protection, and low energy consumption.
Iceco offers a number of larger portable freezer/refrigerators, both single-zone and dual-zone, from a 47-quart capacity to a 95-quart dual-zone unit. All use the Secop (Danfoss) compressor, are well constructed, and come with AC and DC cords.
You can even buy a portable lithium battery pack from Iceco for operating the unit without a connection to any other power source (think on the beach or at the kids’ soccer game).
Cooling in the Iceco units ranges from 0℉ to 50℉.
Here’s a look at the little 21-quart dual-zone unit:
- ※【High Quality】Cooling ranges from 0°F to 50°F (-18℃-10℃). SECOP Compressor has fast cooling mode, using limited power to maximize the...
- ※【Flexible Dual-zone Design】Automatic switching between single and dual zone mode by removing detachable partition, providing 2 separate zones...
One of Iceco’s larger single-zone 12V refrigerator/freezers:
- ※ 【SECOP Compressor】 - Cooling range from 0°F to 50°F(-18℃~10℃) to meet all your freezing or refrigeration need. Fridge cooling rate can...
- ※ 【Car and Home Use】 - Each portable refrigerator is equipped with a DC cord and an AC cable. Independent 12V/24V DC and 110-240V AC output port...
Here’s one of Iceco’s dual-zone fridge/freezers:
- 【Multi-opening Lid Design】 You can change the opening direction of the lid without assembly. Access to cold storage can become very easy even in...
- 【Convenient Plugs】 12/24V DC ports are installed on both sides of the fridge. 2 USB outlets designed for charging mobile devices (Only available...
Have a look at this little mobile lithium battery pack from Iceco – a nice thought, including the four USB ports for charging other devices as well. It’ll give you 250 watt-hours and weighs about 6 ½ pounds:
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Do You Use a Portable 12V Freezer or Refrigerator for Traveling?
If you’ve used a portable freezer or refrigerator when you travel, we’d like to hear about your experience. Which unit do you have and how do you use it? How do you power it and how have you found the power consumption to be? Shoot us a comment below!
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