Who doesn’t love the idea of a portable camping fridge? Roughing it on a camping trip can be fun, but if a little bit of luxury in the wild is permissible, then easy access to a coldie shouldn’t be passed up. However, as with all conveniences, costs need to be considered. This is why you should take a moment to weigh up whether a portable fridge, or just a good ol’ fashioned ice box might be appropriate for your next outdoor adventure.
Generally, a good quality ice box is going to be a lot less costly than a good quality portable fridge to purchase
More economical for a weekend getaway, no power required — just add ice
A well-insulated ice box will keep already cold food and drinks cold for a good 3-4 days even as the ice gradually melts - Dometic Patrol boxes can even last up to 5 days.
Generally lighter than a portable fridge, as well as creating an overall lighter load for your car, since you won’t need to carry an extra power source.
If you intend to use it for more than a weekend, you’ll need to be close enough to somewhere to buy more ice to keep food well stored
Probably not the most convenient way to keep food stored if you’re away for long periods of time in the middle of nowhere with no access to extra ice
Generally speaking, an icebox should be 1/3 filled with ice for optimum performance, resulting in potentially lost space needed for food and drinks
Cleaning in terms of emptying the melted ice slush and drying is required
If food isn’t stored correctly in sealed/waterproof containers, then it could be ruined by the moisture
Portable Fridge Pros:
Round the clock cold food and drinks for as long you need (as long as power is available)
Usually contains compartments for keeping certain foods separate
No need for ice, so food is kept nice and dry
Ice doesn’t take up valuable space
Not just good for camping, but makes a great spare for keeping extra drinks for parties with most also being able to hook up to a standard 240v power socket
Portable Fridge Cons:
The initial outlay for the fridge and associated mounting accessories and power supplies can be substantial — a portable fridge itself will generally cost more than an ice box
Requires power to work effectively
The wear and tear and accessibility of power supplies — recharging batteries or finding available power on campsites
Power needs for a portable fridge/freezer:
Most portable fridge freezers are designed to be powered by simply plugging into your vehicle’s 12v socket/cigarette lighter, or into a standard 240v power outlet.
Deep cycle battery:
If you’re going to be using your car to power your fridge, then a dual battery setup is ideal to ensure your fridge doesn’t get damaged, or your car doesn’t go flat. If you don’t have an auxiliary battery, it will be okay to plug your fridge in during transit, while your car is running. However, don’t keep using the battery while the car is off as this will quickly flatten the car battery and will not keep your fridge running for long. Companion has recently come out with their range of lithium battery powered fridges which means you don't have to stress about cords. They can even charge your devices. Lithium battery technology has significantly improved therefore you can even rely on a portable power pack like the lithium Rover battery bank if you feel a dual battery system is overkill.
In a dual setup, a deep cycle battery is usually installed for the purpose of keeping portable appliances powered. Be mindful of your battery’s specs and its condition before setting out on your adventure. Deep-cycle batteries will self-discharge if left without a load over an extended period of time and storing in an uncharged state can cause damage performance. The lifespan of a deep-cycle battery will be significantly decreased if it has been discharged too low — they should never really be discharged to below 60% of their full capacity. Overcharging can be detrimental as well. Consider a smart charger for optimally recharging your deep-cycle battery.
As long as it has a 12v or 240v power outlet, a generator will also keep your fridge powered for as long as it can last. Alternatively, use it as a way of recharging the battery that will power your fridge.
In the Aussie outdoors, we’re generally blessed with abundant sunlight, so why not take advantage of it? Solar panels are a great way of keeping your battery charged. Consider the wattage required as well as the setup i.e. mounted or portable panels. Make sure you are plugging your solar panels into a battery box first as they are not designed to be attached directly to a battery. Always use a solar regulator and an anderson plug to connect your solar input to a battery device.
What Size Do I Need?
Think about how often you're going to require an ice box or portable fridge and how you will normally use it. Do you tend to enjoy weekends away with a partner, or are school holiday weeks spent away with the family?
25L = 27 cans: Or in food terms, good for a picnic for you and a friend or a day’s worth of munchies for a single person
35L = 47 cans: Ideal for a weekend away for a couple or a week’s worth of provisions for an individual
40L = 60 cans: Because of its popularity, this has unofficially become the standard size of fridges/coolers. This is perfect for a couple or a small family for a long weekend away.
50L = 72 cans: Head out with enough food for a week-long trip for you and a mate, or cater to a family of four for a long weekend
60L = 106 cans: These cooler/fridges start getting much bigger and heavier so consider the space that it’ll take up in your 4WD. Look after a family of four or five for a little longer than a long weekend, or cater a kids’ sports game with snacks and drinks
80L = 120 cans: You’re looking at keeping a family or group of friends fed for about a week but size and weight definitely needs to be considered. If at least one other vehicle is accompanying you, best to share the load amongst smaller fridges/ice boxes with a load in each car. However, this size is also good for businesses who may need to transport cold/frozen goods around.
Based on all of this information, you can probably figure out what will be the best option for your needs. For the most part, an ice box will always be a great choice for short weekends away and day trips. If you’re a hardcore adventurer who finds themselves away for long periods of time then a fridge should seriously be considered. While more expensive in setup costs, it can be quite the investment in your trip, adding the necessary comforts of home while on the road. Once you've decided on which fridge or ice box to get, take a look at our range of fridge slides and accessories for easy access to all of your chilled goodies.