Buying a Camping Fridge Freezer or Coolbox for Your Next Adventure
In the UK, our camping adventures are often overshadowed by rotten weather and regret. However, catch the weather on a good day and it allows memories to be created between families, friends, couples, and colleagues. As long as the basics are in place, everything should be covered and this includes a tent, tools to make a fire, and food.
If you’re currently storing your food in a backpack, you’ll know how it looks far less appetising after hours in the warmth than it did when you packed it. Therefore, we recommend investing in some form of camping fridge or coolbox. This way, your food and drink can stay cool and your evening meal is something you can enjoy rather than endure. How do you know what camping fridge to buy? Luckily for you, we’ve been thinking about this a lot recently which has led to this guide. By the end, you should know all you need to make a decision for your next trip!
Before we launch into the different designs you can buy these days, you need to consider your needs very carefully. Too often, we see people make sacrifices by buying camping products that don’t really suit their needs and this leads to a less enjoyable experience. If you put your needs before everything else, you can buy a camping fridge that suits you and your guests.
Space - Most commonly, this will be the biggest concern for you. If you already own some form of coolbox, this is a great starting point because you’ll know how close or far away you are from your needs. If you don’t have anything to work with, grab a cardboard box and do a mock pack to see what items you need. Ultimately, the biggest factor deciding the size of your fridge will be the amount of people you typically take on a trip. If you go alone most of the time, your needs will be very different to those of a family.
Generally speaking, we suggest 40 litres for a family of four whereas a couple could probably utilise a fridge half this size. Once again, think about your needs; for example, how often will you eat, how long are your typical trips, will it fit into the car, will you bring bottles of wine, what food do you plan on bringing? After answering these questions, you should have a base for what size coolbox you need.
Coolness - As strange as it sounds, how cool do you want your food and drink to remain? With this question, there are two main components;
Do you need it to stay cool or do you need it refrigerated?
Are you camping in warm or cool climates?
If you plan on camping in Greece, your coolbox will go through considerably more pressure here than in the Lake District for a few days. If you do most of your camping in the UK, you’ll have more options available because more products can cope with the conditions; in fact, you probably need fridges with strong sealing in the UK to prevent rain from getting inside.
Of course, the outside temperature will play a huge role towards the temperature inside the coolbox with most models. This being said, there are some compressor coolboxes (which you’ll see later) that keep a constant temperature. As you might expect, these will be more expensive so it’s a case of balancing your needs and finding the one that best suits your typical trips.
Power - As you drive, you’ll normally be able to keep your camping fridge plugged in to keep the contents cool but do you normally have access to electricity when camping? If you’ve taken an interest in Glamping recently, this won’t be an issue but it could prove a stumbling block for traditional campers.
In order to keep the contents of your coolbox at a good temperature, there are two things you can do; buy a product with good insulation and keep the fridge door shut as much as you can. Although you can probably plug the fridge into the 12v supply of your car, this will eventually drain the battery and cold food probably isn't a good trade-off for no ride home.
If you camp regularly and have some money to invest, you could look towards the expensive side of the market since they offer solar power fridges but this will require a solar setup on your tent or camper van. If you cannot justify the cost, we recommend looking for fridges with good insulation and keeping the door shut.
Noise - Finally, we have a consideration that won’t directly affect the performance of the fridge but will certainly have an impact on your experience. At first, this decision seems a little trivial but we’ve seen (and heard!) some models that provide a constant hum through the night. Not only will this annoy the campers around you, it also takes away from the camping experience when it should be about getting away from the electronics and immersing yourself with nature.
With absorption coolers, these are generally silent but they should remain well away from your sleeping area since they can run off gas. To maintain temperature, compressor coolboxes will turn on/off as required while thermoelectric boxes will offer a constant fan noise. Ultimately, we recommend reading previous customer reviews before you buy and ask if you can test the fridge in the store. This way, you can see how loud a model is when in use.
Types of Camping Fridge /Coolbox
With these considerations in mind, you’re now in a better position to understand the different types of coolbox and what they’ll offer you on a trip.
As insulated boxes, these products can be powered using the 12v adapter in your car which also means they can be hooked up to the mains at the campsite (if you have this available!). In terms of temperature, this will completely depend on the warmth outside so the British weather can actually help. If the engine isn't running, these coolboxes will drain your car battery but they’re typically cheaper than most types and they can keep food and drink relatively cool. As another negative, we should note the noise since this can be a little disruptive.
As the cheapest option we have here today, these coolboxes are designed to keep food and drink as cool as possible without using electricity. Instead, you can use ice blocks and everything should remain at a good temperature. If you plan on camping for anything longer than a couple of days, you might have to refreeze the ice block but they’re available in numerous sizes and kind to the bank balance.
Starting at around 30 litres, these are considered the biggest option for camping and sometimes have the name ‘three-way fridges’. As silent as can possibly be, these units will run off 12v adapters or 230v electricity and are designed for big families on long trips. If you’re powering the box using gas, you’ll have to keep it in a well-ventilated area. All things considered, the lack of noise and huge size makes them a perfect option for long trips away but the cost can put some people off if there isn't enough need for it; £200 compared to the £15-£30 of the previous two options.
As the most expensive option of the four, these are seen as the premium option because you can actually set a temperature for your food and this won’t be affected by the weather outside in any way. If the weather is hot, the unit will certainly have to work harder but the temperature inside should remain the same.
Running on the mains and car battery, many high-end units will allow for power-saving features which is a great bonus. If you have the money and you camp frequently, some models will offer solar power catchers. Since the fridge will only turn on when the temperature starts to drop, these models tend to be less energy-intensive and there’s a fantastic range of sizes available depending on what manufacturer you choose. Starting at £250, they’re mainly designed for those who camp regularly since this will see them used often and the cost is more justifiable.
To finish, let’s look at some suggestions based on typical camping scenarios since this should allow you to get a better picture for what you’ll need. However, don’t take this information as fact because you still need to consider your own needs as we’ve discussed all the way through.
Family of Four - If you take long weekends and short breaks around the UK, 35 litres should be your minimum and you can choose between thermoelectric or a passive coolbox. As long as the coolbox has good insulation, you should be in a good position. If you prefer to go for a longer break around Europe during the summer, absorption coolers or large compression fridges will be your best options. Unfortunately, the absorption model will not work when tilted so be sure the model can fit in your car upright before purchasing.
Couple - If for you and a partner or perhaps a best friend, a couple of weekends per year in the UK would work just fine with a passive or thermoelectric coolbox (18 to 25 litres). If you don’t go too often but like to experience Europe during the summer months, a thermoelectric or small compressor cooler would be advised.
Finally, what if you want to leave the country for several weeks? Ultimately, a compressor coolbox of 18 to 25 litres would be our suggestion. If possible, go for a model with a freezing function. If not, an insulated passive coolbox could work if you can regularly freeze the ice packs.
Solo - If you prefer to venture the world alone, weekend trips and extensive European tours would probably require you to own a small compressor coolbox.
If you had questions regarding camping fridges before, they should all be gone now and we hope you enjoyed our guide. Although not the most exciting topic, it can be the difference between enjoying refreshing food/drink and making your trip memorable for all the wrong reasons. Remember, your needs will always be the most important factor and, if you meet these, you’ll be set for the coming years!