best rv fridge

10 Best RV Refrigerator Units For Full-Time Camping in 2022

If you travel full-time or on long trips in your RV, you will need to cook for yourself most of the time and thus a fridge would be a must have appliance. 

The best RV refrigerator would keep your food fresh while consuming less power from your battery and not taking up too much valuable floor space. 

The market for RV refrigerators today offers a dizzying variety of different types and features. And fridges can get a bit technical, so many campers looking to replace the stock fridge in their home on wheels might find it overwhelming to browse and compare so many options. 

But worry not, as here you will find the 10 most fully functional, durable and reasonably priced refrigerators that would suit many camping applications, needs and budgets. 

The novice will also learn the important specifications and buying criteria, tips and tricks for maintenance as well as keeping your food cool without overburdening your fridge, and clear cut answers to many common questions. 

best rv refrigerator

Refrigerators For Home vs For RVs

Before we proceed to our review, it’s important to address a common question beforehand, that is whether it’s okay to use a household fridge in your motorhome. Technically, if you are inclined, it’s doable. However, there are good reasons why there is a special category of refrigerator designed specifically for camping applications. 

Apart from the fact that a refrigerator made for RV campers is typically more compact than a household unit so that it would take up less valuable floor space, the more important reason has to do with the limited power supply available to an RV on the open road, unless you only camp at RV parks and campgrounds with electrical hookups.

An RV fridge is typically engineered to be more well-insulated and energy efficient, so that it would consume much less power compared to your average household fridge to keep the same amount of food cool. 

Secondly, RV fridges are constructed to be extra durable and can better withstand shocks and vibrations when your RV is in motion. Many models are built without compressors or any moving parts at all, thus further making them less prone to wear and tear.

So yes, you can bring an existing residential refrigerator you already have at home into your RV, but it will most likely break down before long, not to mention all the extra weight you would be hauling around. 

Reviews of The 10 Best RV Refrigerators For The Money 

Without further ado, here’s an in-depth review of the 10 best RV fridges that offer a good balance of all the crucial criteria: price, portability, energy efficiency, cooling capacity and lifespan.

There’s something for every camper, whether you need a large fridge for a family, a compact unit for a tiny camper, an energy efficient unit that you can use on boondocking trips, or one that can reliably keep your stockpile of food and drinks fresh for longer. 

NoTop rated RV refrigeratorsPriceOur Rating
1Whynter FM-65G Portable$$$98
2BODEGA 12 Volt 100 quart$$$96
3BLACK+DECKER BCRK17B$97
4SMETA 12V/110V 36 Quart$$90
5Euhomy CF-55-H 55 Liter$$96
6Smad 1.4 Cu. Ft 12V/110V 3 Way Propane$$91
7SMETA 3.5 Cu.Ft 12V/110V 3-Way Propane$$$$91
8HBN 1.6 Cu. Ft CP-JD41 Mini Fridge$95
9RecPro RP-2012 4.3 Cubic Feet 2 Door Stainless Steel$$$$89
10NORCOLD INC NA8LXR 8 Cubic Feet 2-Way$$$$$90

1. Best Chest Style Fridge Freezer: Whynter FM-65G 65 Quart 12V DC/110V AC True Portable Refrigerator Freezer

Whynter FM-65G 65 Quart Portable Refrigerator, AC 110V/ DC 12V True Freezer for Car, Home, Camping, RV
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Specifications:

  • Type: compressor fridge freezer (12V DC/110V AC)
  • Temperature range: 8-50°F (-13-10°C)
  • Features: Fast Freeze mode, automatic defrost, 2 removable wire baskets, power low indicator, LED temperature display, reversible doors, stainless steel handles, 
  • Capacity: 2.12 cubic feet or 60 liters (63.4 quart)
  • Power consumption: 1.8 kWh per day
  • Weight: 57 pounds
  • Noise Level: 40dB

Why we love it:

If you only need a medium sized fridge but are willing to spend some extra money on the most durable and fully functional unit that can deliver superior cooling as well as freezing, I highly recommend the Whynter FM-65G 65 Quart 12V DC/110V AC True Portable Refrigerator Freezer. I can shout its praises on a mountain top. At over $600, it is quite expensive for its 65 quarts (60 liters) storage capacity, but it’s totally worth it.  

With a temperature range of 8 to 50°F (-13 to 10°C) and a Fast Freeze mode, this benchtop compressor fridge and freezer can quickly keep your food and beverages chilled, or frozen. It is super efficient at cooling, and you can rest assured that any raw protein will be kept perfectly frozen for optimal freshness. I’ve run this unit off my house battery and later on with a few solar panels. In any case, this Whynter chest style freezer is rock solid. 

Another huge plus is that it runs very quietly with a noise output of 40dB even in high power mode. If you are the lightest of sleepers who easily gets disturbed, you can dial the low power mode at night and you will forget that this fridge is ever there.

As for features, there are two  removable wire baskets inside for organizing your items. In addition to the Fast Freeze mode, this superb fridge also packs automatic defrost which I find to be a dream, power low indicator, and LED temperature display that tells you exactly how cold the interior is. 

On top of its excellent cooling capacity, what also sets this fridge/freezer apart from competitors is its unmatched solid construction with a heavy duty powder coated steel housing and stainless steel parts like the two side handles for carrying and the door latches. I also love how rugged yet Instagramable this fridge looks. Unless you’re a first time RV owner who might do better with a more affordable option, this refrigerator is a total winner in all aspects.

2. Best High Capacity Chest Style Fridge Freezer: BODEGA 12 Volt RV Portable Refrigerator Freezer 

BODEGA 12 Volt Refrigerator, RV Portable Freezer
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Specifications:

  • Type: compressor fridge freezer (12-24V DC/110-240V AC)
  • Temperature range: -4 to 68°F (-20 to 20 °C)
  • Features: Max mode, dual zone basket, wheels, retractable handle, digital control panel, app control, 3-level low-voltage protection
  • Capacity: 100 quart (95 liters)
  • Weight: 70.9 pounds
  • 5 year warranty

Why we love it:

Behold the most good looking, solidly constructed and powerful chest style fridge freezer for camping in the universe: the rugged BODEGA 12 volt compressor fridge freezer. There are 5 sizes: 37, 48, 59, 80 and 100 quart. While the first time campers and occasional campers who take short trips might not want to spend this much money on a small sized fridge, this reliable and user-friendly chest style camping fridge would be totally worth it if you often go on longer trips at a time and especially if you want to store a lot of raw protein and produce. 

This model boasts a powerful compressor that can reach 32°F or 0°C in merely 15 minutes and reach -4°F or -20°C in 1.5 hours on Max mode. I found that it really delivers such promises, and it performed admirably even on Eco mode. Even if you completely stuff it full, it will quickly freeze raw meat for optimal freshness and keep fruits and vegetables fresh for longer. No ice buildup, no soggy food. 

A special feature is app control that lets you remotely monitor and adjust the settings on the more familiar interface on your smartphone. The user-friendly LED digital control, plus the Dual Zone independent control and baskets gives you more precise customization. 

In terms of design, you will notice right away the rock solid anti-vibration and anti-shake construction that’s on another level with other models that cost less. The wheels and the retractable handle are also heavy duty, and can handle the weight of a fully loaded 100 quart unit surprisingly well. 

This 12-24 volt DC fridge can be plugged into 110-240 volt AC wall sockets as well as your vehicle’s cigarette lighter, and can be directly powered by solar panels. The kit comes complete with a  cigarette lighter connector, a wall plug, a wall plug adapter, a USB socket and a bottle opener.

3. Best Mini Fridge: BLACK+DECKER BCRK17B 1.7 Cubic Feet Mini Fridge with Freezer 

BLACK+DECKER BCRK17B Compact Refrigerator Energy Star Single Door Mini Fridge
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Specifications:

  • Type: compressor fridge
  • Temperature range: lowest 32°F (0°C)
  • Features: reversible door, leveling legs, adjustable temperature control
  • Capacity: 1.7 cubic feet or 51 quart (48 liters)
  • Power consumption: 70 watts
  • Weight: 33.1 pounds
  • 1 year warranty for parts and labor, 2 year warranty for compressor part

Why we love it:

BLACK+DECKER rarely disappoints, and the household name brand really delivers with this sleek looking, well made and well designed BCRK17B 1.7 Cubic Feet Mini Fridge with Freezer. It is small, but very functional, user-friendly and energy efficient, with a daily power consumption of around 70 watts. This little fridge is also pretty powerful and gets cold very quickly. 

Handy design features include the reversible door that can be flexibly installed to open from the left or right, leveling legs and adjustable temperature control inside the cabinet, but what sets this unit apart from other tiny refrigerators of the same size is its extra large full-width freezer that lets you squeeze in more ice cube trays for ice-creams and other refreshments. 

As with most things that BLACK+DECKER makes, this mini fridge is solidly built and can handle the shocks and vibrations on the open road very well. It comes with a 1 year warranty for parts and labor and 2 year warranty for compressor parts.

4. SMETA 12V/110V 36 Quart Compact Refrigerators 

SMETA 12 Volt Refrigerator for RV, Semi Truck
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Specifications:

  • Type: absorption fridge (12V DC/110V AC)
  • Temperature range: 32-53.6°F (0-12°C)
  • Features: reversible door (left or right), door lock, solar power compatible, 5 gear adjustable thermostat
  • Capacity: 1.2 cubic feet or 36 quart
  • Power consumption: 0.7kWh/day
  • Energy efficiency: Energy Star 4 stars
  • Weight: 40 pounds

Why we love it:

You might not have heard of this brand before, since SMETA is a new kid on the block, having been established in 2006. I once took a chance on their 1.2 cubic feet absorption fridge because I needed something affordable that fits into a particular spot in my pickup, and I was glad I did. SMETA’s customer service was so helpful, and courteous of my questions regarding this product. 

This unit is not a freezer, and when it uses electricity instead of propane, I found that it did not get very cold very quickly at first, which is understandable since this is an absorption fridge, not a compressor unit. But after keeping it running for about 8 to 10 hours on first use, it dropped down to and maintained a temperature within the 30’s Fahrenheit. Once the temperature reaches the set temperature, the fridge will cycle off. 

As such, this mini 36 quart or 34 liters fridge was perfect for keeping drinks and light snacks like sandwiches fresh in a truck or a tiny travel trailer, and would be suitable for the occasional campers who typically take shorter trips at a time. The fact that this unit takes a bit of time to cool down sufficiently means before each trip, you will need to plan ahead and crank it down to the lowest temperature, probably the night before, so that when you’re about to hit the road, it has already reached the desired temperature and thus can keep its content cool and fresh for longer.

What I love about this unit is its reversible door that you can install to either open from the left or right depending on your particular space, floor plan and habits. In addition, the door can be locked to prevent it from opening when you’re driving on rough terrains. 

This fridge works on both 12 volt DC and 110 volt AC power, and you can either plug it into a wall socket or a car cigarette lighter. It also works with solar power. 

Another huge perk for owners of really tiny RVs is that this little appliance is almost completely silent in operation. It’s also relatively energy efficient compared to many other 12 volt absorption refrigerators of the same size. It has a 4 star Energy Star rating and consumes about 0.7kWh or no more than 1 kWh per 24 hours in any case. 

5. Euhomy CF-55-H 55 Liter 12-24V DC & 110-240V AC Portable Refrigerator Freezer

Euhomy Car Refrigerator, 55Liter(59qt) RV Refrigerator
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Specifications:

  • Type: compressor fridge freezer (12-24V DC/110-240V AC)
  • Features: anti-shake design
  • Capacity: 59 quart (55 liters)
  • Power consumption: 45 watts
  • Energy efficiency: Energy Star 4 stars
  • Weight: 35.7 pounds

Why we love it:

If you want a medium sized RV fridge that can deliver powerful cooling and energy efficiency, check out the Euhomy CF-55-H 55 Liter compressor fridge. This portable fridge can run numerous power sources, 12-24 volt DC and 110-240 volt AC, and can hold 58 cans of Coca-cola, or 36 bottles of water with its 59 quart or 55 liters capacity. 

For its size, it is pretty lightweight at just over 35 pounds. Another plus is that being a compressor fridge, this unit can still operate without a problem at an inclination angle of 35 degrees.

The first thing to notice about this compressor fridge is its rapid cooling, thanks to its powerful compressor. There are two zone settings, Fridge and Freezer, so you can separate frozen items. The freezer of this unit is very efficient at keeping meat and seafood nicely frozen, allowing you to cook a variety of fresh dishes during your trips. 

Regarding cooling temperatures, do note that the factory default is Max mode. You need to press the setting button to switch between the energy saving and power saving Eco mode and Max mode for maximum speed cooling.

In addition to its fast and efficient cooling capacity, I love how this compressor RV fridge is designed with durability and user’s convenience in mind. This refrigerator comes with an ingenious cup and slot design on top where you can securely place your drink and a side handle for portability. The multifunctional non-slip base protects the bottom of the unit from being worn, while greatly reducing the lateral displacement. 

All in all, this model offers a decent capacity for many camping requirements, superb cooling, a freezer zone, energy efficiency and well appointed convenience features.

6. Most Quiet Propane Fridge: Smad 1.4 Cu. Ft 12V/110V 3 Way Propane Fridge for RV

Smad Propane Refrigerator 3 Way Propane Fridge for RV
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Specifications:

  • Type: 3-way absorption fridge freezer (12V DC/110V AC)
  • Temperature range: 37-59°F on electricity (3-15°C), 32-50°F on propane (0-10°C)
  • Features: automatic defrost, reversible door, leveling legs
  • Capacity: 1.4 cubic feet or 42 quart (39.6 liters)
  • Power consumption: 65 watts
  • Weight: 39.6 pounds
  • Noise level: 30 dB

Why we love it:

This unit from Smad is perhaps the quietest three way absorption mini fridge for camping out there, with an unmatched noise output of only 30 dB. You won’t hear it even if you sleep right next to it in the tiniest trailer or truck. It might be a bit more expensive than other three way units of the same size, but it conveniently comes with a free gas pressure regulator so that you can run it on propane right out of the box. 

Being an absorption model, it won’t get very cold very fast, and it is more efficient when running on propane. This fridge has a temperature range of 37-59°F (3-15°C) when running on either 12V DC or 110V AC, and slightly cooler, 32-50°F (0-10°C) when on propane. If you don’t need to keep things like raw meat strictly frozen at all times, this is still sufficient for many camping requirements. 

Handy features include the leveling legs that enable you to place it on uneven surfaces and the reversible door hinge that allows you to open it from the left side or the right side, depending on where you want to place it in your particular floor plan. 

As for the shortcomings, note that this fridge will only reliably function when placed on a slight inclination of under 5 degree, which might be hard to ensure when you’re camping, especially if you like to set up camp in remote locations off paved roads and proper parking spots. And although many campers might not find this inconvenient, I personally am not a fan of the dated mechanical control panel; I would pay a bit more for a digital control panel since it’s more intuitive for me to command. 

7. SMETA 3.5 Cu.Ft 12V/110V 3-ways Propane Refrigerator with Freezer 

SMETA Propane Refrigerator with Freezer 3-ways Camper Fridge Outdoor Refrigerator
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Specifications:

  • Type: 3-way absorption fridge freezer (12V DC/110V AC)
  • Features: automatic defrost
  • Capacity: 3.5 cubic feet or 105 quart (99 liters)
  • Energy consumption: 150 watts or 0.6 pounds propane per day
  • Energy efficiency: 4 stars Energy Star
  • Weight: 76 pounds

Why we love it:

Another excellent choice for campers who primarily rely on propane is the 3.5 cubic feet 3-way absorption fridge freezer by SMETA. If you want a higher capacity fridge with a freezer like the previous 100 quart chest style BODEGA but need a front loading unit for your floor plan, this will be a functional and energy efficient option.

This unit is certified with 4 stars by Energy Star, and being a 3-way absorption fridge, it is more energy efficient when running on propane. It consumes less than 1 pound of propane per day in most cases and can last a bit over 20 days on a 20-pound propane tank. When operating on 12 volt DC or 110 volt AC power, this RV fridge draws about 150 watts of power. 

An area for improvement, in my opinion, is that this fridge is on the expensive side, and for that price range, I would expect a more user-friendly LED digital control panel for more precise monitoring instead of mechanical knobs. 

8. HBN 1.6 Cu. Ft CP-JD41 Mini Fridge with Freezer 

HBN 1.6Cu.Ft Mini Fridge with Freezer - Small Refrigerator for RV
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Specifications:

  • Type: 120 volt fridge
  • Temperature range: 32-50°F (0-10°C)
  • Features: manual defrost, adjustable legs
  • Capacity: 1.6 cubic feet or 48 quart (45 liters)
  • Weight: 33.9 pounds
  • Noise level: 40 dB

Why we love it:

The 1.6 Cubic feet CP-JD41 Mini Fridge with Freezer by HBN is a straightforward, energy efficient and ultra quiet tiny little fridge for the occasional campers who take short trips at a time, with a noise output of only 40 dB. This mini fridge is UL Energy Efficiency verified. 

Do note that this is a 120 volt unit, so you would need an inverter to connect it to 12 volt systems. If you want a versatile mini fridge to take on short camping trips and for use at home the rest of the time, this might make a budget friendly option. 

The 5-liter freezer is just big enough for a few ice cube trays and some ice-cream, and the remaining 40-liter cooling cabinet is sufficient for a few drinks, some fruits and light snacks. It is small, but compact and gets the job done. My complaint is that the knob for adjusting the temperature is inconveniently placed at the back of the unit instead of inside.

9. RecPro RP-2012 4.3 Cubic Feet 12V RV 2 Door Stainless Steel Fridge

RecPro 2 Door RV Refrigerator Stainless Steel
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Specifications:

  • Type: absorption fridge freezer (12V DC/110V AC)
  • Features: reversible doors, 2 doors, adjustable legs, automatic defrost
  • Capacity: 4.3 cubic feet or 128 quart (122 liters)
  • Energy efficiency: UL Energy Efficiency verified
  • Weight: 40 pounds

Why we love it:

If you want an extra large 12 volt fridge without the extra weight, the RecPro RP-2012 2 Door Stainless Steel Fridge would offer the largest storage capacity for its weight, that is 122 liters or 128 quart for a compact profile that weighs only 40 pounds. 

This unit is most similar to a household fridge, with separate cool and frozen compartments, each has its own door for access. The doors are reversible, and the front legs can be adjusted for leveling. It comes with automatic defrost, so it’s almost maintenance free. While I find that this fridge does not get as cold as quickly as some of the most expensive offerings on this list, it is a functional item for a variety of camping requirements. 

10. NORCOLD INC NA8LXR 8 Cubic Feet 2-Way AC & Propane Absorption RV Refrigerator 

NORCOLD INC 2-Way Ac/Lp 2Dr Rh 8' RV Refrigerator
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Specifications:

  • Type: 2-way absorption fridge freezer (110V AC)
  • Features: LCD display, adjustable thermostat and settings
  • Capacity: 8 cubic feet or 239 quart (226 liters)
  • Weight: 150 pounds

Why we love it:

Finally, a full sized refrigerator for big families who travel full time or for months at a time. This two-way absorption fridge runs on propane, when it’s most efficient, as well as on 110 volt AC power.

The 226 liters capacity and the efficient cooling and freezing capacity will allow you to stock up on fresh produce and raw protein. Meanwhile, the user-friendly LCD display, adjustable thermostat and settings will let you customize temperatures and modes based on the amount and contents inside for quick cooling, so that your food and drink will be fresh for longer.  

Types of RV Refrigerators

Refrigerators for travel trailers can be categorized by their power source or working mechanism as follows:

Gas Refrigerators vs Electric Refrigerators

Refrigerators for RV can be divided by power source, that is either gas or electricity, although modern RV refrigerators more commonly run on both. An RV gas refrigerator or a propane refrigerator for RV, runs on LP propane gas. 

In comparison, propane-fueled units require less maintenance and tend to last longer than electric refrigerator for campers since there are no moving parts, which means no parts to wear out. They are cheap to operate, and are ideal for boondocking trips when you won’t have access to shore power at conventional RV campgrounds and don’t have a solar system in place to run an electric unit. 

RV Absorption Refrigerators: 2-Way vs 3-Way 

In addition to the RV fridges that run on propane gas only or on electricity only, there’s also a hybrid that can run on both. As such, a gas electric refrigerator for RV will give campers more versatility to operate their fridge depending on the more abundant energy source available at hand at any given time. 

This type is commonly used when propane is the main energy source and there is no solar system in place. They often have an automatic button; once engaged, they will automatically use electricity when you’re plugged into shore power or use propane when a supply is connected.

A propane electric refrigerator RV can be further divided into a 2 way RV refrigerator or a 3 way RV refrigerator. A 2-way unit can run on propane or 120-volt AC, while a 3-way unit can run on propane, 120-volt AC or 12-volt DC. 

This type of camper refrigerator is commonly called absorption refrigerators because of their working mechanism. Most of the stock refrigerators that come with RVs these days are absorption units. 

Propane mode: When propane is used, a propane gas burner is used to boil a compressed solution of water and ammonia. Thanks to the low pressure in the chamber, the amount of heat required for this liquid solution to evaporate is low. The ammonia gas will pick up heat from the interior of the fridge, transfer this heat to outside the fridge, then goes to the condenser, where it cools back into a liquid and the cycle starts again.

Absorption mode: In the absorption mode, either 120 volt AC power or 12 volt DC power is used for heating up the water and ammonia solution. What’s important to note is that no matter which is used, the control circuit boards of an absorption fridge is always powered by 12 volts DC from your RV house battery. The control circuit boards will continuously draw a slight current even when in storage. 

Therefore, when you’re not using your fridge for a while, make sure to disconnect it to prevent this parasitic draw from draining your battery or use a battery trickle charger. This is especially important during extended storage.

Cooling capacity: In general, an absorption fridge is more efficient at cooling when using propane but not very much so while in absorption mode, as above. Furthermore, their cooling capacity is directly dependent on ambient temperature, so they pale in comparison compared to the other two types when it comes to the ability to keep things cold. 

Energy efficiency: Another major downside is that this type tends to consume more power, which means they are not ideal if you like to boondock but don’t have solar panels installed. 

camper fridge freezer

RV Compressor Refrigerators

Compressor refrigerators rely on compressed refrigerants, which is a liquid cooling agent, for cooling. In a nutshell, this refrigerant can turn to a gas at fairly low temperatures thanks to the low pressure, allowing it to absorb heat from the air inside the fridge’s cabinet. This is similar to how an absorption unit works when using propane. 

Cooling capacity: In general, this type is highly efficient at keeping its content cold, and note that it doesn’t require a DC-to-AC inverter. If you want to store a large amount of food and drink items and need to keep them fresh for as long as possible, a compressor fridge would be an excellent choice, especially if you camp in the summer or in hotter climates. 

Unlevel ground: Another major advantage of compressor refrigerators is that unlike some other types, they can work on unlevel ground, which might be hard to avoid when you’re camping. If you often camp off the beaten path, where level ground is not always ensured, a compressor unit will give you a longer service life than other options. That said, you must always try your best to make sure you park your RV on the most level place you can find to maximize your fridge’s lifespan. 

Cycling: Another advantage is a compressor fridge is energy efficient. They don’t run all the time but instead cycle on and off when needed. Most units of the type only run between 30 percent and 40 percent of the time; you can find this information in the manual or its nameplate. You can connect your compressor fridge to a thermostat so that it will cycle on and off in the most energy efficient manner to keep temperatures within your desired range.

RV Thermoelectric Refrigerators

This type doesn’t use a liquid cooling agent like the compressor type but instead uses solid metals to transfer heat. They employ the Peltier effect, that is applying electrical current to two conductors made from different materials, for instance zinc and copper. Heat will transfer from one electrical junction to the other, that is the temperature will drop at the joint where the zinc wire meets the copper wire. 

In other words, there will be a cold side and a hot side. The cold side goes into the cabinet of a thermoelectric fridge, while the hot side goes outside and excess heat is dissipated by metal fins. 

Cooling capacity and efficiency: The major downside to this type of fridge is that they are not as energy efficient as their compressor counterparts, and they won’t be able to make ice or keep their contents as cold, although they can keep the temperature tens of degrees below outside temperature. 

This means you should only use a thermoelectric unit to store drinks and items that are not too easily perishable. If you want to store a lot of raw meat, this is not the best option. 

Compactness: The working mechanism of thermoelectric refrigerators takes up less space, allowing them to be more lightweight and compact than their compressor counterparts. So if you often go on shorter trips in a tiny trailer, a thermoelectric unit would be just right, especially if the climate is moderate or rather cool. A thermoelectric unit is also cheaper than a comparable compressor unit, making them more suitable for the occasional campers. 

Noise and lifespan: Due to the many moving parts that it has, a compressor fridge vibrates when running and thus can be quite loud when it cycles on. Meanwhile, a thermoelectric unit has no moving parts at all, unless a fan is added to improve air circulation. This means that they are generally very quiet in operation and will in most cases last much longer than a comparable compressor model. 

12 Volt Portable RV Refrigerators

A 12 volt portable RV refrigerator is an extra compact and lightweight fridge that consumes much less power than a household fridge, all else being equal. 12 volt fridges are available in all of the aforementioned types, namely 2-way absorption, 3-way absorption, compressor or thermoelectric. These mini fridges can run on propane, electricity, or a combination of both. 

Most 12 volt refrigerators for camping can also be powered from 120V AC. They have a built-in inverter that converts 120V AC to 12V DC, which means even if your RV is plugged into shore power at the campground, your fridge would still work with 12V DC. For maximum energy efficiency, you should look for a model with no such inverter, should you opt for the 12 volt type. 

12-volt refrigerators for RV have a similar working mechanism with standard household units, namely the aerosol principle. They absorb heat from inside and transfer this heat outside, thanks to the side vents that blow the heat off. The cool gasses continue to circulate inside the coils instead of evaporating for better efficiency.

What To Look For In A Camper Refrigerator 

There are several technical specifications you need to be aware of as well as other buying criteria to keep in mind. The best RV refrigerator needs not be the most expensive unit with many fancy smart features but one that offers the best balance of everything, based on your priorities and camping situations. 

Type

In general, if you’re a boondocker and don’t have a solar system in place, a 12 volt absorption fridge would be ideal as you can run it primarily on propane.

Otherwise, if you can run your fridge using electricity only, opt for a 12 volt compressor fridge if you often go on long trips or travel full-time, thus needing a larger fridge that’s also better at keeping things cold and fresh.

Meanwhile, campers who only go on occasional short trips at a time might find a more affordable and more portable 12 volt thermoelectric fridge the most sensible investment.   

Power Consumption

Power consumption is of particular importance when you’re camping, especially if you like to take boondocking trips from time. The power consumption of a fridge is measured in the number of amps it draws from your deep cycle house battery per hour. Most camping refrigerators on the market today typically draw between 1 amp and 6 amps an hour when running, with 2.5 amps being the market average. 

We know that refrigerators for campers are engineered to be more well-insulated and energy efficient, but your RV fridge would still be one of the most power-hungry appliances in your motorhome.

Therefore, when buying a camping fridge, it is essential that you take some time to estimate your average daily energy consumption and where you often camp or how often you would get access to shore power.

You need to estimate whether your house battery plus any solar panels or generator you have would supply enough power to operate the fridge that you’re eyeing, plus all other electrical appliances that you need on a daily basis. 

How To Calculate A Fridge’s Power Consumption 

To calculate a fridge’s daily power consumption, first check its nameplate ratings for its voltage and current demands. For instance, a fridge may read 120 volts and 5 amps. Multiply these two numbers and you’ll get the appliance’s power demand in wattage of power per hour: 120 x 50 = 600 watts per hour. 

An alternative way for estimating how much power your fridge will consume in relation to your house battery capacity is to calculate its daily energy demand in ampere hour. Let’s say the fridge in the previous example pulls 5 amps and has a “40-percent cycle”, then it will consume: 5 amps x 24 hours x 40% = 48 ampere hour per day.

Let’s say you have a 200Ah battery bank. This means that roughly a quarter of your usable battery power would be used to run the refrigerator daily, which is quite a lot. You might not have a lot of room for powering many other appliances at the same time when your RV fridge is running.

To make sure you’re not overtaxing your power system and over-depleting your battery, make a list of all the appliances that you would likely use at any given time and add up the wattage or ampere hour to check if your system can meet it.

Chest-style vs Front-loading

In terms of access, there are two types of fridge: chest-style and upright, or front-loading. Depending on your RV floor plans and where you would like to place your fridge, one would allow easier access to its contents than the other. 

In general, if you need a large fridge to store produce and food as well as some milk and drinks, a front-loading unit would be the best choice. Meanwhile, if you only need a compact fridge to store cool drinks near your driver seat so you can refresh yourself during long drives, a chest-style unit would be more convenient. 

Size, Storage Capacity and Weight

A small RV fridge would be more lightweight and take up less space within your already confined travel trailer, but size here directly means storage capacity, so you might need to make tradeoffs. I generally prefer units that are slimmer but taller rather than shorter and more”chubby”, since they would take up less floor space while not sacrificing too much storage capacity, and they look sleeker. 

One thing that’s often overlooked but will influence how much stuff you can squeeze into your small RV fridge is the placement and design of different storage compartments, like shelves, dividers and lift-out organizer baskets and separate dairy compartments. Some units might be small but come with space maximizing designs and accessories that would let you store more while still ensuring easy access to everything. 

And remember that you can maximize both horizontal and vertical spaces in your fridge while easily accessing contents at the back of the fridge by putting produce in long plastic trays or boxes that you can pull out; these you can buy separately online and offline. 

Features And Designs

For me, the most important feature that I want from my RV refrigerator is dual zones or compartments to separate the frozen items and those that only need to be kept cold.

Other than that, you have a variety of advanced features to choose from, including digital controls, wifi apps control, solar panels compatibility, floor drain plug for easy cleaning, a low voltage cut off to protect your batteries when the unit it senses low battery pow, and adjustable hinges so that the unit can fit into the nooks and crannies in a small RV.

The market for camping refrigerators is diverse, with anything you would need for your specific camping requirements. 

Insulation and Construction

These two criteria are something that’s harder to judge just by looking at the product description and specifications.

You will need to dive deep into the online reviews to have an idea of whether a particular product is indeed solidly made to be able to withstand all the physical abuse associated with open road driving, many a times on rough terrains, and whether it comes with effective insulation that allows it to keep its content cold for longer once it is unplugged or the power is cut.

I have personally experienced shortages of power supply ample times since the day I hit the road, and during these occasions that you would see very clearly the value of a well insulated fridge. 

Noise Level

Thanks to technological advancements, household and camping refrigerators these days are becoming more and more quiet in operation. Noise output is measured in decibel or dB, and an RV fridge can produce anywhere from 32 dB to 47dB. A unit with a noise output of under 42 dB is generally considered as quiet. In real terms, this is about the same as a library.

That said, some campers who travel in very tiny travel trailers might still want an extra quiet unit, since within an extra confined space, the sound of a running fridge might appear louder at night for the lightest sleepers. 

Tricks To Keep Your Fridge Cold While Driving

A common question by travelers is whether it’s safe to keep an RV fridge running while driving. This is a legit concern, since sometimes it can take half a day to get to your next campground, and during this long drive your food might become spoiled.

The short answer is, if you prioritize safety while driving, it’s best to turn off your RV fridge when you’re in motion, since it would draw a lot of power from your house battery bank. 

You might come across some blogs that tell you it can be done, but the second reason why you should not feel tempted to do so is that most portable propane refrigerators today use an electric ignition that can create a spark and trigger an explosion if there is a break in the propane line. So it’s strictly not recommended.

Do not despair, as you can combine various methods to keep the contents of your fridge cold and fresh for much longer if you’re heading for a long drive with the fridge turned off:

  • Crank it down: Try to get your fridge to the lowest temperature possible before you have to turn it off by cranking the temperature down the night before or at least 4 hours before hitting the road.
  • Keep it closed: And once you turn your unit off, do not open it as you’ll lose precious cold air. If you need food and drinks during the long drive, simply pack a small separate cooler with whatever you need.
  • Use ice packs: A handy trick to passively keep the contents of your fridge colder for longer is to prepare  ice packs or if you don’t have these at hand, several frozen beverages and try to fill the open space with these freezing containers. Frozen beverages won’t spoil as they thaw, but do not freeze full glass bottles as they will break. 
  • Run the generator: If combining the above three methods is not sufficient for an extra long drive, then if you have a generator, the last resort can be to run your generator and plug the fridge directly into the generator while you stop for a short break. As you won’t have a lot of time running your fridge, remember to crank the temperature down to the coldest level possible.

Other Usage and Maintenance Tips 

As with any type of machinery, periodic inspections and cleaning are always crucial. In addition, if you want to enjoy more years from your RV fridge, remember to perform the following maintenance jobs regularly:

Avoid direct and prolonged exposure to sunlight

You might have heard from seasoned campers that you should keep your RV portable air conditioner away from direct sunlight, as this would interfere with the unit’s cooling performance. The same is true for your fridge. 

In particular, while parking at the campground, you need to keep the side of your RV with the fridge vent in the shade or at least away from direct sunlight as much as possible. If the vent is exposed to direct sunlight for too long, the condenser coil will warm up.

This is the one component that needs to stay cool to work more efficiently, so prolonged sun exposure will reduce your fridge’s capacity for keeping its contents cold.

Defrost the freezer regularly

If evaporator fins are covered in ice, the evaporator will work at suboptimal efficiency. Furthermore, frost buildup will reduce your freezer space.

Therefore, at least once a month, or better twice, turn off your unit and let it thaw completely. This might take a while, so you should use a hairdryer or simply place a bowl of boiling water inside to thaw your freeze faster.

Level parking

The best compressor refrigerators these days are designed to run even on unlevel grounds, but of course you should not subject your precious camping fridge to such less than ideal operating condition if you want it to last as long as possible. Leveling is crucial to the performance and lifespan of your RV refrigerator.

You can keep your RV level when parking using leveling blocks, which are affordable, versatile and easy to use; you can stack them up like Lego blocks.  

Let the unit run periodically during storage

This is the rule of thumb for most electrical as well as mechanical appliances and equipment: use it or lose it. Prolonged inactivity in many cases would make your machine malfunction or completely die prematurely.

So if you only travel occasionally, you should keep reminders to periodically turn on your fridge every once in a while during storage.

Inspect the coil and vents regularly

As above, regular inspection is essential. The most important components that require closer attention are the outside condenser coil and the propane components, which you must check at least once a year, especially if you haven’t used your refrigerator in awhile.

These are also the most common culprits for malfunction. Remove the outside vent and clean any dust or general buildups with a soft brush or use compressed air to blow it clean.

RV Refrigerator FAQs

Can I use a standard household refrigerator in my RV?

Technically you can, but you should not, as your household fridge would most likely break down before long, not to mention it would take up more valuable floor space, consume more energy than a fridge made for camping, and you would be hauling around a heavier load when you could have brought along more gears or supplies.

This is because a motorhome refrigerator is typically constructed to be more compact and lightweight than a household model while can better withstand shocks and vibrations associated with open road driving. Furthermore, camping fridges are typically engineered to be more energy efficient, so they would draw less power from your house battery. 

How much propane does an RV refrigerator use?

In general, a new RV refrigerator would use a minimal amount of propane for cooling. In fact, you can keep your RV fridge run on propane for 24 hours straight without using barely any propane at all. In most cases, your fridge would need to run for several weeks before the propane gauge even shows any notable decrease. 

Older models of propane refrigerators would burn more propane than newer, more technologically advanced models. A unit with a storage capacity of around 10 to 12 cubic feet will typically consume around 1.5 pounds of propane per day or approximately 1,400 BTUs per hour.

How much electricity does an RV refrigerator use?

Most camping refrigerators on the market today typically draw between 1 amp and 6 amps an hour when running, with 2.5 amps being the market average. In terms of amp hours, a small 12 volt RV refrigerator uses between 30 and 55 amp hours per day, depending on not just the amount of amps it draws per hour but also its cycling percentage. 

Meanwhile, an RV’s house battery bank most commonly has a capacity of 100 amp hours or 200 amp hours, so your RV fridge would take up a large fraction of your house battery capacity in most cases. 

Can I run an RV fridge with a solar panel?

In general, as long as you get a solar system with a large enough capacity to handle your power needs and the right solar power configuration, you should have no trouble running any type of camping refrigerator using power from your solar panels. Do note that you will need an inverter to store excess solar energy in your house batteries for use when the sun is down.

To estimate how many wattages worth of solar panels you would need for your RV fridge and all other appliances that you use, you will need to add up the total daily power consumption in ampere hours of all these items. For instance, including the fridge, you typically consume 100 ampere hours per day, which means you draw this much power from your house battery per day and thus your solar system needs to be able to produce at least 100 ampere hours daily to restore your battery to full charge. 

Let’s assume you have about 6 sunlight hours each day, then you will need a solar system with a capacity of: 100 ampere hours x 12 volt / 6 hours = 200 wattage

As always, when you’re dealing with power consumption, you should add at least 10 percent or better yet, 20 percent safety cushion on top of your final calculation. This means in our example, you would need to return 240 watts to your battery. Therefore, you would need at least three 100 watt solar panels or a total capacity of 300 watts to run your RV fridge plus other needed appliances.

Can I use an RV fridge while driving?

This is strictly not recommended, since an RV fridge draws a lot of energy from your house battery, so keeping it running when you’re driving will be highly dangerous, especially if you plan to do so on a long trip or to some remote locations. In the best case, you might get stranded in the middle of nowhere, or in the worst case, your RV might break down on the road and cause an accident. 

Does an RV refrigerator work better on gas or electricity?

Gas power would cool down your food and drinks faster, but electricity is more efficient at maintaining this cold temperature. 

Should I leave my RV refrigerator on all the time?

The most energy efficient RV fridges today would not work all the time but instead cycle on and off as needed to maintain an optimal temperature while reducing power consumption, so you can leave it on during your trips, as long as you make sure your power system can handle the load. If you only camp occasionally though, the best practice is to turn on your fridge 24 hours before you hit the road to give it enough time to cool down sufficiently.

How long would an RV refrigerator keep its contents cold once unplugged?

RV refrigerators are engineered with superior insulation, so provided that you do not open it and thus let the cold air escape, your RV fridge can still keep your food and drinks cold and fresh for several hours after the power supply is abruptly cut.

What are the best RV refrigerator brands?

The market for portable refrigerators for camping is increasingly vast and diverse, with quite many small, young new brands having a limited product portfolio but offer some highly functional and reasonably priced models. But if you want the safest investment, grab a best selling RV fridge from tried and tested brands like Dometic, Igloo, Engel, Wynter, ARB, Wagan, Koolatron and Danfoss. 

How much does a RV refrigerator cost?

Camping fridges start around $1,000 and go all the way up to $3,000 or more, depending on the cooling capacity, construction and technology. This might be more than you would expect from their smaller size, but keep in mind that most RV fridges today are made from stainless steel and other heavy duty yet relatively lightweight materials instead of plastic parts like many cheaper household units. Such a solid construction is to make them capable of withstanding many years of constant beating on the open road without breaking down.

How long does a  RV refrigerator last?

Refrigerators for camping use can last up to 15 years, and if you got a top of the class model and care for it properly, it can last you well up to 20 years, sometimes more. In terms of usage and maintenance, the checklist includes periodic inspection, proper ventilation on all sides, level parking, avoiding exposing the vent to direct sunlight, and letting it work periodically while in storage during the off-seasons. 

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