Camping Fridges – They’re Not All The Same!


Buying a camping fridge can seem like a daunting task, they are not all the same, so many brands, confusing technical information.

How do you choose one?

It depends on how you plan to use your portable fridge. Camping, 4wdriving, fishing, or is it going to live in the shack for 2 months?

In this blog we break down the differences between camp fridges, look at how they work and which one is best for you.

Thermo-Electric for short trips

Waeco TC-14 Cooler

A thermoelectric fridge is more of a cooling box as it doesn’t usually get cold as a fridge.

These work using the Peltier effect, which is the ability to create heating or cooling when electricity passes through two different conductors.

The “Peltier Effect” means that if you pass electricity through a special metal plate in a certain direction, you will make the plate hot, or if you pass it through in the opposite direction you will make it cold. A fan then blows air across the cold plate and into the box to cool it down.

Pro’s – small and inexpensive

  • Generally cost under $200
  • With the absence of a compressor, these cooling boxes are often quite small, with plenty of space inside

Con’s – high power consumption, limited cooling ability

  • Can only cool to 20 – 30 degrees below ambient temperature
  • Consuming power at around 4 – 5 amps per hour, you can’t leave these running off your car for more than a few hours

Best Use – day trips

Great for picnics and short road trips. Popular with courier and truck drivers to keep lunch and drinks cold.

3 Way Fridge for long stays

Can be run on lpg gas, 12 volt and 240 volt power supplies. When used correctly, they are a very efficient and reliable.

Primus 3-Way Camping Fridge

A 3-way fridge uses an absorption method which is a fully sealed system that relies on heat to get it started. Water and ammonia are heated in a ‘generator’ and rises to a ‘separator’ where the water and the ammonia gas are separated. The gas rises to a ‘condenser’ where it cools and forms liquid ammonia which mixes with hydrogen and evaporates, removing heat from the cabinet. The mixture then heads to an ‘absorber” where the ammonia mixes with water again and the cycle continues.

Pro’s – very, very efficient, on gas

  • Around 1kg of gas can give you up to a week of operation and drop temperatures to the point of freezing items in the cabinet
  • Gas, 12V or 240V makes them very versatile
  • Can be bought new for as little as $300 but beware, as with anything, you get what you pay for!

Con’s – Need ventilation and large current draw

  • On 12V, a 3-way fridge will use up to 6amps an hour which is a huge current draw
  • These fridges often come with a bubble level to make sure you keep them flat, or they won’t work!
  • Cannot safely run on gas inside a car or caravan, good ventilation is required. This means you will need to take it out of your vehicle every time you want to stop and run it on gas, which will be every night due to its current draw.
  • Produce a lot of heat which needs to rise out of the back and top of the fridge. You will need to pack carefully giving it lots of room, which means it really shouldn’t be used in an enclosed boot or box.

Best Use – long stays

Extended stay’sat a shack or if you intend on setting up camp for long periods. Also suitable for 4wdrivers and and as a caravan fridge.

Compressor Fridges are popular all-rounders

These are the most popular camping fridge due to low current draw and high cooling efficiency.

Common names such as Waeco and Engel are famous for their compressor driven fridges.

Engel MTF45 Camp Fridge

I’ll try and keep it simple – a compressor is used to pump refrigeration gas around the system. The gas is compressed to a liquid and sent to the cooling elements where it evaporates, removing heat from the cabinet. The gas then gets pumped through outer fins releasing the heat before returning to the compressor.

Pro’s – efficient, robust and versatile

  • Will cool very effectively and can often reach temperatures of -18degrees even on hot days
  • Efficient operation on 12V, 24V and 240V power.
  • Depending on internal and external temperatures, power consumption averages out to around 1amp per hour.
  • Built strong and are designed to handle the harsh outback environments.
  • Safe to leave running in the car, but still, need some ventilation to keep the compressor cool.

Con’s – expensive

  • Expensive, although the introduction of cheaper generic brands has helped to bring the price down. “You get what you pay for” is definitely a principle that should be applied here
  • Only operate on electricity. Most will have the option of having a 240V transformer built in but the smaller sizes are often 12V only.

Best Use – does it all

Camping, 4wdriving or an extra fridge/freezer at home, they will do it all.

Check out our range of fridges here, or for immediate answers to your questions contact us at Snowys.

About the writer...

David Leslie

G’day! My name is Dave and there is nothing I enjoy more than getting out in the bush and enjoying the challenge and serenity of travelling around this beautiful country of ours.
After 6 years working as an Outdoor Ed Instructor, I’ve joined the team down at Snowys to help others get geared up and head to the outback!
As an enthusiastic photographer and freelance writer for 4WD Action magazine, I love to get out and capture God’s stunning creation and share it with the world.
After getting married at the end of 2010 and having our first child January 2012, I’m looking forward to seeing more of this beautiful country with my family.

Joined back in December, 2011

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