What type of refrigerator is right for your van?

What type of refrigerator is right for your van?

May 9, 2022

Cold beverages and a hot meal usually go hand in hand with outdoor adventures. Keeping food and drinks chilled and stored safely has always been a challenge, but fortunately advances in technology have given us many great options for cold storage.

When looking for a solution to your refrigeration needs, the short list of variables to consider can be summed up with the following:

  • How big? – Feeding a family of four, or just one guy on a protein-shake diet?
  • How cold? – Cold beer or ice for cocktails?
  • Power limitations – Is your van equipped with auxiliary power, and if so, how much? Refrigeration can be one of the biggest power consumers in your van.
  • Portable or Built-in? – Do you want a fridge built into a galley cabinet, or a cooler-style unit that you can move around?

Let’s take a closer look at the last item on that list – Portable or Built-in?

Built-In Fridge – Small fridges have been used in RVs and conversion vans for decades. They usually range in size from dorm-room style 1.5 cubic ft. to slightly larger, up to 4 cubic ft. or more. Popular models are made by Dometic, Engle, and Isotherm and all have small freezer options. All run on DC, some also have an AC/shore power option, and all are about as energy-efficient as their portable counterparts.  Propane fridges are not often used in modern van builds but are still an option. Depending on the power set up in your van, you may be able to keep it on all the time and stocked with cold beverages for after the kids’ soccer practice or day of skiing. Going this route forces you to commit to a cabinet for installation and usually permanent mounting in a single location in your van. This cabinetry takes up more van space but may also provide benefits such as more storage and complete kitchen galley set up. Fridge cabinets are almost always custom-built, adding time and cost, but Flatline Van Co and Trail Kitchens both make pre-built cabinets ready to accept the fridges above. In summary, a built-in fridge offers more options in a kitchen-like finished cabinet, but at added cost and reduced ability to adjust the van configuration.

Portable Powered Coolers – The biggest leap in off-grid refrigeration in the last decade is DC powered coolers that have the same size and shape as your old Igloo, but without the ice. Say goodbye to soggy food, and digging through freezing water to find those dinner ingredients! And without ice, you can carry more food and drinks in the same size cooler. Many options are out there from Dometic, ARB, Snowmaster, and others. There are a broad range of size, options, and prices to choose from. All will run on van DC as well as household current, and at least one off solar. Some have a dedicated, separately controlled freezer section, but this usually reduces the overall capacity for a similarly-sized cooler-only unit. Those with only one compartment can be set at below freezing turning the whole cooler into a freezer if needed. These coolers are often more costly than the built-in units of similar capacity, but without the custom mounting cabinet, the price is more comparable if not less expensive, and you get the added benefit of mobility. 

 The double-hinged Dometic CFF 45 opens from either side

What we offer - After some careful consideration, we decided the best fit for us were the portable powered coolers. More specifically, we chose Dometic because of its wide range of powered cooler options and its reputation of superior quality and performance in the RV and camper van industry.

Sticking with our concept of modularity, we wanted our fridge options to follow suit. The CFX3 45 and CFF 45 both fit the bill for their overall footprint (15.67in. x 27.3in. and 15.67in. x 28.15in. respectively) as well as their ability to be accessed from either side. The CFX3 45’s lid opens from the back, assuming the fridge is placed in the van length-wise. The CFF45 has a unique lid that allows it to be opened from either side. For either cooler, this means you can place it just about anywhere in the van and not have to worry about being on one side to access it, or orient it in a way that other components in the van block access.

For those of us who have more mouths to feed, or just a bigger appetite, we chose the CFX3 75DZ. This large cooler boasts 75 liters of interior space, split into two separate zones. Cold drinks, yogurt, veggies, cheese, frozen treats, or ice for cocktails…the 75DZ has you covered.

Efficiency is also important to us. We assume that most people will be camping off-grid sometimes, which means battery usage is a major concern. Dometic’s entire line of CFX3 powered coolers offer an energy-saving compressor that minimizes power consumption without sacrificing performance. These fridges can maintain an internal temperature of 39 degrees F even when the ambient temperature is quite warm, and they can do this while only drawing about 1.0 – 1.5 amps per hour. This means that even relatively small battery banks should be able to run your fridge for a couple days.  

The Dometic CFX3 75DZ, CFX3 45, and CFF 45 are now available to order through our web store, or add to your Adventure Wagon Interior Conversion kit!

CFX3 75DZ:

  • Dual zone cooling
  • Ample space….like, really ample!
  • Efficient
  • Controlled by CFX3 App

CFX3 45:

  • Efficient
  • Ample space with small footprint
  • Controlled by CFX3 App
  • Fits on Flatline or Shuksan pull-out trays

    CFF 45:

        Two people sitting in outdoor chairs around a campfire with their Adventure Wagon modular van behind them

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