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6 Reasons Why 12V Fridges Are Essential for Van Life

Have you ever wondered if a 12V fridge is worth it for your van conversion? We think picking up an affordable 12V fridge for the camper van is a no-brainer with RV fridges coming down.

In this post, we go over five reasons why 12V fridges should be in every van conversion and why they are superior to traditional ice cooler chests.

So, if you’re ready, let’s get to it.

Yuko In front Of Her Dometic Fridge
Our 40L 12V Dometic fridge

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1. More Convenient Than An Ice Cooler

One of the most significant benefits of getting a 12V fridge is that you are not reliant on buying ice to cool the box. That means no more running to the closest grocery or convenience store every three days to top up on ice.

Because the fridge runs on 12V electricity, it can stay cold as long as your leisure batteries don’t run out of charge. Assuming you correctly calculated your ideal battery and solar size, your fridge should rarely run out of power.

Relying on electricity instead of ice means you can wild camp for more extended periods of time before having to drive back into town to restock on supplies. With a traditional cooler, you’re forced to leave your camp spot once all the ice melts unless you enjoy watching your meat and vegetables go bad. But with a 12V fridge, you only have to leave when your food and water is depleted.

2. RV Fridges Do Not Require Lots Of Power

Unlike traditional refrigerators, fridges designed for RVs & campers are incredibly energy efficient. A typical top-loading 12V fridge only consumes 1-2 Amps per hour, depending on the outside ambient temperature.

RV fridges are energy efficient because they operate on DC electricity, meaning you don’t have an inverter to power the fridge. It can run directly from your leisure batteries. Secondly, these fridges are typically designed with energy-saving features in mind, such as thicker wall insulation and low-power consumption compressors. Put together, these features allow campers to keep their food and drinks cold without worrying about draining their batteries.

Our van uses a 45L Dometic fridge, which uses about 18 Amps per 24-hour period. That’s only 18% of a standard 100Ah leisure battery per day. With a properly sized solar array, your battery should have no problem powering the fridge daily.

Top Fridge Recommendation
DOMETIC 45-Liter 12V Fridge

A 12V fridge is a top van life essential. It keeps food cold & fresh and allows us to wild camp for more days. We recommend getting a top quality fridge with a durable compressor, electric components, and frame. Our Dometic fridge has handled all the crappy roads we've driven on.

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How To Connect A 12V Fridge? If you haven’t started your electrical wiring, check out our 12V installation post to see how you can connect the fridge to your batteries.

Yuko pressing the controls on her 12V Dometic fridge
Yuko modeling the controls on our Dometic fridge 🙂

3. Better Temperature Control Than A Cooler

Certain foods, like meat and dairy, are essential to be stored in a cold environment where temperatures don’t fluctuate too wildly. Would you want to eat that package of ground beef if you knew it had been stored in a place that alternated between cold and warm?

Temperature control is critical for some foods, which is another reason why 12V fridges are significantly better than traditional ice coolers.

An ice cooler relies on ice to keep its contents cold. But a cooler’s inside temperature depends on how much ice remains inside. The less ice, the warmer the temperature. As a result, the internal temperature of an ice cooler can vary drastically. On the other hand, 12V fridges utilize a compressor and refrigerant system to maintain a reliably consistent temperature.

Additionally, with an electric fridge, you can easily adjust the internal temperature with a simple push of a button. This is ideal for those who require accurate and reliable temperature control for their food and drinks while camping.

For example, when our fridge is full of primarily fruits & vegetables, we like to increase the fridge to roughly 40F (4C). But with meat, we want to decrease the temperature to 37F (3C) to help keep the meat fresher for longer. It’s a minor adjustment, but one that is easy to do with a 12V fridge.

4. Perfect For Ice-Cream Lovers

A 12V fridge is essential if carrying a quart of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream is critical to your van life adventure. Many larger fridges will often have two compartments, with one section intended for storing items below freezing temperatures.

For example, this Dometic 75L fridge has two zones, allowing you to keep one compartment in sub-zero temperatures to keep your ice cream from melting and spoilage.

DOMETIC 95L Dual Zone Refrigerator and Freezer

This is a rugged 95-liter 12V dual-zone fridge capable of keeping the two separate compartments at different temperatures—a great choice for storing freezer items.

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5. RV Fridges Are Affordable

Many still believe that 12V fridges are expensive, but this isn’t always true. While high-end models, like those from Dometic and Arb, can cost more than $800, you can easily find more affordable options online.

Below is a list of three popular, budget-friendly 12V fridges that provide ample storage space and reliable performance.

6. Wiring A 12V Fridge To A Battery Isn’t Rocket Science!

Perhaps you’re hesitant to get an RV fridge because of the electrical wiring involved. And yes, installation will be required to connect the fridge to your batteries.

But you don’t have to be an electrical engineer to do this. If you follow our electrical guide, we’re confident we can get your fridge (and other electrical devices) up and running correctly and safely.

If you’re looking for electrical wiring diagrams, we provide free ebooks to help get you started.

Conclusion

In this day and age, it’s a no-brainer that 12V fridges out-compete traditional ice coolers. Fridges keep food and drinks cold longer, are better at maintaining a constant temperature, and aren’t nearly as expensive as they used to be.

In fact, an RV fridge is one of our top van life essentials.

If you have questions about van life with an RV fridge, please comment in the section below.

Happy building!

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