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Best Fridge for a Campervan – here are our choices

Having a fridge in your campervan is going to be a real asset, especially in the middle of a hot and humid summer. No one likes making tea with curdled milk, spreading toast with runny butter or sitting down to a nice warm beer or glass of wine, do they? So if you want to keep your food and drink cold, you’re probably wondering which would be the best fridge for a campervan. In this post we’ll do our best to answer that question.

best frisge for a campervan

There are quite a few options available: from a simple coolbox to a 3 way absorption fridge like the ones you see fitted in many caravans and motorhomes. However before you rush out and buy either of these two options, bear in mind that a coolbox is not going to be very effective for long-term use and will only keep its contents cool for as long as the ice packs remain frozen, and a 3 way absorption fridge will require proper/permanent installation and can be temperamental (they need to be level to work effectively and their cooling capabilities are affected by the outside ambient air temperature).

So, after discounting those two options and researching other types of portable fridges, we have chosen two models that we think offer the best solution for use in a campervan, based on their practicality, efficiency, ease of installation (they are free-standing) and customer reviews…


Best fridge for a campervan – our no.1 choice:

Waeco Dometic CDF-26 21L Portable Compressor Fridge Freezer – 12v/24v

The Dometic CDF range of portable compressor fridge freezers come in six different sizes – 10.5 litre, 15 litre, 18 litre, 21 litre, 31 litre and 39 litre. They are all dual voltage, 12v and 240v, so can be used on the move and plugged into the mains.

The 21 litre CDF-26 shown above has a digital temperature display, interior light and a lift out wire basket. It can accommodate large 2 litre bottles and has a temperature range of +10°C to -18°C. The energy efficient, super -slim CDF-26 will stay cold even when the outside temperature is high, which is perfect for the hot summer months.

Stand out points of the CDF-26 :

  • Quiet running
  • Quick cooling
  • Well made
  • Built-in battery voltage protection
  • Holds x 12 500ml drinks cans
  • Maintains a consistent temperature even when the outside temperature is high
  • Very portable
  • Easy installation

All in all, the Dometic CDF range of portable fridge freezers offer a perfect solution for anyone looking for a hassle-free, simple to use and install campervan fridge that will stay cold even on the warmest of days. Check out for best prices and to read customer reviews.

Best fridge for a campervan – our no.2 choice:

Smad 3 Way Fridge – 12V – Mains – Gas

This versatile Smad three-way absorption fridge offers great value for money. It comes in two sizes, 40 litres and 60 litres. This three-way fridge gives you the option to use 12v when travelling, switch to 220v when on a campsite that has mains hookup, or use the LPG gas option when wild camping. With this fridge you can ensure that your drink of choice will always be chilled!

The Smad is an absorption fridge so is silent running, this is an added bonus especially if you’re a light sleeper as you won’t be disturbed by the hum of a compressor. This is a ‘fridge only’ unit (no freezer compartment). It is free-standing and has adjustable and removable shelves. The fridge is fitted with an automatic gas shut off safety feature just in case the flame goes out.

There are important factors to consider with a fridge that runs on 12v and gas:

  • Never operate the fridge on gas when the vehicle is moving.
  • You should not run the fridge on 12v when sited as this will drain the battery in no time. The 12v option is designed to be used when on the move, running through the vehicle’s split charge system.

It is vital that the fridge is installed correctly for gas operation:

You should ensure that there is a 10cm gap at the back of the fridge. You also need a floor vent fitted near the fridge. LPG is heavier than air and in case of a leak, gas can exit the vehicle through the vent. The fridge will need a gas flue fitted. Smad gas flu kits are available on Amazon.

One final word about safety:

If you are going to use a gas-powered fridge, then please make sure you have a carbon monoxide detector fitted in your vehicle.

The Smad 3 way fridge specifications:

  • 12v – 220v and LPG
  • Temperature range 0-10℃
  • Silent running
  • Safety gas shut-off
  • Piezo ignition system
  • Adjustable/removable shelves
  • Fridge only, no freezer compartment
  • Freestanding
  • Colour: black

External dimensions

40 Litre version

40.2cm x 45.5cm x 63.5cm

60 litre version

46.2cm x 48cm x 69.5cm


Compressor fridges

The fridge you have at home is most likely a compressor fridge. They work by using a compressor to controls the flow of fluid refrigerant. The refrigerant is forced (under pressure) through an expansion valve which makes the liquid refrigerant expand and convert into a cold gas. This is basically the same way an aerosol works.

The chilled refrigerant then flows through the coils inside the fridge removing heat from the contents of the fridge as it goes. The compressor then squeezes the refrigerant, turning it into a hot, high-pressure gas.

The hot refrigerant gas then passes through the coils on the back of the fridge, expelling its heat and turning back into a liquid. The liquid refrigerant is then forced back through the expansion valve and the cycle starts all over again.

(Source of information)

What are the advantages of a compressor fridge?

  1. Ease of installation – no need to cut holes in the side of your vehicle for ventilation to expel heat
  2. Lower power consumption than an absorption and thermoelectric fridge (a compressor fridge runs intermittently)
  3. Doesn’t need to be dead level to work (like an absorption fridge does)
  4. Usually bigger on the inside, compared to an absorption fridge of the same external dimension
  5. Virtually maintenance free and durable
  6. Usually cheaper than an absorption fridge
  7. Can be powered by a suitable sized solar panel and leisure battery
  8. Less affected by high ambient air temperature
  9. Easy to use

What are the disadvantages of a compressor fridge?

  1. Can be expensive
  2. They are not silent

Absorption fridges

An absorption fridge works differently to a compressor fridge due to the fact that it has no moving parts. They work by the laws of chemistry and physics, rather than mechanics like a compressor fridge. An absorption fridge converts the liquid refrigerant into a gas using just a heat source. This can be supplied by 12v, 240v or LPG gas (hence the term 3-way fridge).

Using the heat source, the refrigerant evaporates into a gas in a low-pressure vessel and then collects heat from the interior of the fridge. The now hot gas passes through a heat exchanger and any heat is then dissipated to the ambient air outside the fridge. The loss of heat causes the refrigerant gas to condense back into liquid form to then repeat the cycle all over again.

What are the advantages of an absorption fridge?

  1. Can run on 12v, 240v and LPG gas
  2. Available in larger sizes
  3. Silent

What are the disadvantages of an absorption fridge?

  1. More involved installation, unless used in an awning
  2. Cooling efficiency affected by ambient air temperature
  3. Needs good ventilation with vents and a flue to the outside, unless used in an awning
  4. May need periodically servicing
  5. Needs to be level to work
  6. Expells more heat than a compressor fridge
  7. Can have difficulty staying cold in hot weather
  8. Not all are suitable for permanent installation

Thermoelectric fridges

Apart from a fan to help with airflow, a thermoelectric fridge has no moving parts. They usually have no refrigerant fluids, which make them more environmentally friendly than a compressor or absorption fridge. Thermoelectric fridges are solid-state devices and work by passing an electric current through two plates made of different materials. These plates are then sandwiched together to create an element. When an electrical current is passed through the element, one side gets hot and the other side gets cold.

The side of the element that gets hot is attached to a heat sink (this is a row of aluminium fins designed to dissipate the heat, much like a heat sink that sits on top of a computers CPU). The cold side of the element is fitted inside the fridge. Any heat from the inside of the fridge is absorbed and passes through the element into the heat sink, and is then released into the surrounding ambient air.

What are the advantages of a thermoelectric fridge?

  1. Simple design
  2. Long life
  3. No moving parts apart from a cooling fan
  4. No hazardous chemical refrigerants, which is good for the environment
  5. Ease of installation – no need to cut holes in the side of your vehicle for ventilation to expel heat
  6. Can run on 12v, 240v
  7. Available in small sizes
  8. Quiet

What are the disadvantages of a thermoelectric fridge?

  1. Must constantly be running to keep cool, unlike a compressor fridge
  2. Not very efficient, so high running costs
  3. Cooling efficiency affected by ambient air temperature
  4. Can find difficulty staying cold in hot weather


In our humble opinion (and based on our research) a compressor fridge (like the Domestic CDF range of portable compressor fridge freezers) offer the best solution if you want to have a fridge in a campervan. Why? – Well they work very well when the ambient temperature is high, they are energy efficient, and there’s no tricky installation required. You can even run one using a solar panel (see my ‘Fitting a solar panel to your campervan‘ article for guidance).

We’ve had personal experience using a 3 way absorption fridge in mid-summer, and when the outside temperature got too high the fridge just couldn’t keep the food inside cold enough, so we ended up having to throw the food away! The fridge was only as good as a coolbox for the rest of the holiday… still, we had great weather. 🙂

3 way absorption fridges (12v, 240v and gas) that are commonly fitted in caravans and motorhomes, need to be extremely well ventilated to work effectively. They can give off a lot of heat, so proper ventilation is a must. Due to the fact that this type of fridge also runs on gas, it is highly recommended that the fridge is installed by a professional.

Be warned: In researching this article, we found that some small compact fridges that are advertised as camping fridges are not suitable for permanent installation inside a campervan. So be sure to check with the seller/manufacturer before buying!

Need more choice?

If the two recommended fridges in this article are not what you are looking for then try They have a wide range of fridges to choose from.

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