Maybe you are tired of dealing with messy coolers with dripping ice and melting food on your camping trips…or worse, having to search for fresh and chilled food and drinks daily while you are supposed to be enjoying nature while camping.
If so, you might have wondered if you could take a mini fridge along on your next tent or wilderness camping trip. The answer is yes! Mini-fridges can improve your camping experience so much you might never go back to fridge-less camping.
There are some pros and cons and a few challenges involved, however, so in this article we’ll explain some things to keep in mind as you plan your next camping season with a mini fridge.
What Kind of Fridge to Choose: Compressed or Convection?
Camping fridges come in two types: compressed air or convection electric fans.
The compressed air fridges come with an air compressed chamber that manages the temperature of the air inside the fridge. With these fridges you can go on longer trips and keep your food and drinks at low temperatures (at or below 0 degrees F).
Once it reaches your desired temperature you can turn it off (or it can shut itself off) and it will keep your things cold or even frozen. Used with solar panels, compressed air fridges are quite environmentally friendly.
Convection coolers run using fans that pull air into the cooler and chill it down. They use 12V power continuously, meaning they are better for shorter trips that won’t risk draining your car battery completely.
You can’t keep this type of cooler plugged in overnight, so this type of fridge will serve you best on day trips.
They don’t keep your items as cold, either – you can expect a convection cooler to reduce the temperature to approximately 30 to 40 degrees cooler than the ambient temperature. Don’t plan on bringing ice cream or ice along with a convection cooler.
An advantage of a convection fridge, however, is it’s ability to warm things up – you can flip a switch and your fridge can warm up to 120 degrees F! This can be great for winter camping, coffee, soups and your cooked meals.
Here are some things to consider when choosing a convection cooler or a compressed air fridge:
- Compressed air: more costly, more temperature control, wider temperature range, heavier, harder to clean. Mini fridges of this type will draw at least 1.3 Ah in power. Powering them with solar panels has become very popular.
- Convection: less costly, less control over the temperature, no freezer, lighter, easier to clean
Some fridges offer not only 12V but 24V DC and/or 120V AC – which means you can chill it down at home before you even leave home. Some also run on propane. To hook up your mini fridge to power on the trip, you’ll need at least a 12V power source.
Many fridges can run right off your car battery, but if you go that route, be sure to run your car for at least 20 minutes several times during the day to recharge the battery – otherwise you might be in for an unpleasant surprise when you try to start the car to go home!
Mini fridges can also run off of a portable battery or solar panels that charge a 12V battery. To go the solar route, you’ll need a 12V DC plug adapter to connect to the terminals on the battery. There are kits available like these ones that include everything you need to power a mini fridge while camping.
Your best bet is to choose a mini fridge with an automatic shutoff designed to prevent your battery from running too low – this feature can be useful for after you’ve had a few beers or a long, tiring day of hiking and you collapse in bed without remembering to shut the fridge off.
Fortunately, most modern mini fridges come with this feature.
Features of Your Fridge
There are lots of features to consider in your mini fridge, most of which depend on the people using it and the places you will be. For example:
- You probably want one that is lightweight enough to move around easily
- You can have it open from the side or from the top, and some can open both ways.
- You might consider a reversible and/or detachable lid
- Do you want a separate compartment for crisping fruits and veggies?
- Wire baskets can be included to help keep items separate from each other and prevent them from sticking to the walls of the fridge
- Make sure you find the controls easy to see and use – even at night
- Make sure the temperature range is what you expect
- Some fridges will also include WiFi and “smart” capabilities
Where to Store the Fridge While Camping
You can store the fridge in your van or RV, the back of your car, or next to your tent, preferably in the shade of course. Outside is best – and if it is powered with propane, then you must store it outside.
Putting the fridge inside your tent is not a good idea because in order to stay cool inside, it generates heat on the outside – which will heat up your tent and vent the exhaust from the fridge into your tent. Your fridge needs ventilation to work properly.
If it’s very hot outside, you can look into insulating your fridge in an insulated box designed for such purposes. If you think you might be in a place where animals (or other people?!) might get to your food, consider getting a lock for the fridge.
Also keep in mind the time needed to defrost and empty out the fridge before you head home – you don’t want it or your food leaking all over your car or van.
Things to Keep in Mind Before Leaving Home
There are a few things to consider before you leave home, to prevent problems with your mini fridge along the way. For example:
- Mini fridges are not waterproof! Be sure they are protected from rain
- They should be kept on a level surface. They will not work properly if stored at an angle.
- The lightbulb can go out, so bring a spare
- Dust and sand can damage the compressor, which is something to keep in mind for beach and desert camping
Mini fridges can most definitely be taken on your next tent or wilderness camping trip and they are likely to make your life so much easier and more pleasant than they were with just a cooler.
Particularly if you are someone who camps regularly, home cooked meals and freshly chilled breakfasts can make the camping experience so much more enjoyable than eating the same thing day after day.
For traveling in particularly warm regions, having the freezer option for ice is a big selling point for a compressed air mini fridge.