Ice chest vs 12v fridge


Expedition Leader
I did not see the total questions answered, so I will go a bit deeper.

Does the 12v option save space?

For a 3 day weekend Yes and No! The reason I say this is how much time is the vehicle being driven? If you are parking the vehicle for 3 days straight and not starting it = You may need a second battery. You may need a solar panel as well. = This takes up space in, on or around the vehicle with the added weight as well.

If your driving the vehicle long enough each day to get the battery charged up for the next night then you may not need the extras,

If the fridge does not have a low voltage cut off, you may need to carry a jumper battery pack.

Can you sleep near a 12v without getting woken up by a cycling compressor?

This depends on the person. Some people can sleep through almost everything, while a drop of a pin wakes up the next person. Mothers can here a baby roll over in their crib in the next room and sleep through a barking dog outside of their window.

Living on a ship with with constant noise around you, many people adjust to the noise.

What size is ideal for a couple few people on a 3 day weekend? Week long trip?

This is again subject to the eating and drinking habits of the people. Will you have a opportunity to resupply? From all of my years as a guide, what I do and have seen clients do. These are my thoughts.

It can go from one extreme to another and be just fine. I have been on 2+ week trips where a clients did not bring any cooler on purpose. By using canned food and drinking water. This was there life style. The fruits and produce were eaten as they ripened. Water was consumed at the ambient temperature.

I have also had clients that can consume a 6 pack of cold beer in a evening. They have to have a stake at dinner with fruits and vegetables every day, even ice cream. OK! Maybe the ice cream is me more then them.

When I was working I used a 80 Qt. fridge/freezer. When I retired I sold the 80 and went to 43Qt. size. It works for a 10 to 12 days for myself and about 5-6 days with 2 people.

I do cool down drinks at abut 3 to 4 at a time. Replacing the one removed with a warm one.

Without knowing your eating and drinking habits it is a guess for us to make.

Can they make enough ice to keep a beer cold in a separate cooler?

I generally have a small cooler for keeping items closer to the 45 * (degree) temp. (note; I do a lot of very warm desert temperatur traveling. I bring 4 of the QT. size blue ice and rotate them every day, into the cooler.

Again to answer you question. How cold do you want the beer. Is 33* your goal or is 40* + or - OK.?

This question again has a lot of variables. If you drink a 6 pack for yourself (group) in a day you may be able to keep it close to the 33* mark. If you have a group of people drinking a dozen or more them it may not keep up with replacing them and maintaining that temp. of the other stuff around it that cold.

I had one on a boat years ago that worked great but it was an energy hog.

That is the situation they do work and they take energy. The ambient temperature that the fridge is in makes them work harder to remove the heat from the stored goods.

Living 50 years in the San Diego area I know about the desert temps.. I have found that by putting my Fridge/freezer in the vehicle where the AC can keep it cooler around will make the more efficient.
I have a cooler cover and that helps as well.
I do have most of the time the AC blowing into the intake of the fridge cooling vent. Granted this only works when the AC is on, but it helps the fridge use less energy.
I put in cool or cold goods to save it from working as hard.
The biggest thing that helps is I keep the door/lid closed. If you have kids this is a challenge.
I have seen people with the fridges set into small compartments some may have a vent for the cabinets and others do not. It seams to me that the cooler inside air and goods of a fridge will exchange the cold with the outside air through walls faster do to the hotter air around it. This will consume more energy.

From the other side of the fence.
For a need of cold beer the use of dry ice inside of a soft sided cooler, inside of the beer cooler will keep the beer very cold.

This is just my observations and experience.

Da Frenchman
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Man On a Mission
Can you sleep near a 12v without getting woken up by a cycling compressor?

This depends on the person. Some people can sleep through almost everything, while a drop of a pin wakes up the next person. Mothers can here a baby roll over in their crib in the next room and sleep through a barking dog outside of their window.

Living on a ship with with constant noise around you, many people adjust to the noise.
You can sleep within a couple of feet from the small Snomaster, Even if you are awake trying to get to sleep they run that quite getting to sleep is not a problem, I am a light sleeper and the slightest noise wakes me, Other fridges really annoy me when it comes to getting asleep but not the 35L Snomaster, nothing comes close in that respect when it comes to the lack of noise.
No ice chest used for food or beverage consumption is going to keep ice for a week. They will keep meat cold that long if everything is sufficiently chilled and the cooler is not opened. If you have to open it 6 times a day to eat, forget about it. 3-4 days, sure. But you still have your stuff sitting in a slurry. And cold packs do not keep stuff as cold as regular ice since you can't pack them around and among the items as well.
My truck record was 9 days in Death Valley. My river record was 17 days, limited by the fact that that is the longest river trip I've ever done. It's not uncommon for people runnning 21 days in the Grand Canyon with cold beers at the takeout. Some day I'll write a post on how to do coolers but a good start is Mountain Buzz. Think river trips. Lots to learn from river theory in all aspects of overlanding. I personally think a combo of small freezer and medium cooler could get you to Tierra Del Fuego and back in style. Only practical way to enjoy ice on the road is to carry blocks, keep them out of the water and keep the air moving. Making block ice mobile is a problem I'm working on currently.


Expedition Leader
I love my fridge. Poor ice chests are just taking up room in spare room. I will take an ice chest for a long trip.

Happy Joe

Apprentice Geezer
Everyone is different but for me, and how I (base) camp; a modern high efficiency cooler works best.
The 12 volt fridge means the battery needs recharging every day or 2. ...Tried solar but I like shady cool camping spots so solar is more trouble than its worth (although I do bring a mini solar setup to recharge the tent (lights and tunes) battery if necessary). Even bought a small propane generator just to recharge the fridge battery; adds enough (too much) bulk that it is far from optimum for me.
The cooler ice lasts nearly a week and by then I am ready to do a resupply run to town for bread, munches, ice etc. .. or the weekend is over and I am heading back home.
On the road, for longer trips, I have to stop for fuel every 300 miles or so so resupply is never an issue.

I would say for people that are driving every day, doing road trips, the 12 volt refrigerator may be a fair choice.

The "stuff sitting in a slurry" issue was solved several years ago through the use of baskets or steam table trays..

The refrigerator, solar and genny were all moved to long term storage several years ago and haven't been used/needed/considered since.

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Well-known member
I have sat for 3 days with no issues and that is with a crappy jeep wrangler battery. Looking at the above cooler reminds me again why i love my ARB 50 so much. using my Yeti basket left about zero room for anything.

Happy Joe

Apprentice Geezer
I can sit in a partially shaded spot and my solar will run my stuff indefinitely.
I must have been doing some thing wrong, using the 2x50 watt Renolgy panels, or the mini system or multiple 75 watt panels etc. etc.; I got/get reduced output output with as little as 30% shading of the panels; resulting in having to babysit the solar and moving it every 45 minutes or so to keep adequate sun exposure... my preferred close camping (Pike National Forest primitive sites) might have 20 percent (often less) solar exposure (80 percent shading).
It is likely that if I ran the system in an open pasture or near treeless desert it would work (they all work fine and to spec in my unshaded driveway).... I refuse to camp in/on driveways... and rarely get to the desert anymore.

Everyone is different; I prefer to keep my lead acid batteries near peak charge to maximize longevity. Running the vehicle to recharge the batteries every couple of days works, but often/usually uses as much or more fuel than making a resupply run to town once a week (hence my experimental use of the (too bulky) propane genny to recharge).

Personally; I selected the small cooler because I don't need a bigger one, it is adequate for me, size wise, for several weeks. IMO, just having a cooler is a luxury; went from long distance backpacking to four wheeling and vehicle camping when my knees gave out .... I keep the gear volume small so that I can use a Jeep TJ both to get there and have an option to wheel/explore after it is unloaded & camp is setup; I don't really care to pull a trailer or to drive a bigger vehicle off road ... done that.

...Not trying to convince or convert anyone; the above is just what I have found works best for me; your results may be different... use what works best for YOU.



I've been contemplating the same questions. But mind you, we can't really set aside financial considerations totally can we?

Compressor fridges will require electricity to run, coolers will require ice to stay cool. Buth need ample insulation.

A fridge will heat up whatever space it is in unless it is vented to outside air, so if you have a fridge inside your camper / sleeping space and it isn't vented outside, it will dump its heat INTO the sleeping area. This could be a big problem if you are travelling in hot climates. At the very least, lead toward a need for air conditioning just to be able to sleep.

For up to a week, I use a Coleman Extreme 50 something quart roller cooler that rolls sort of like a rolling suitcase. Similar to the one pictured, but the colors are different. I filled the lid, which from the factory for some unknown reason, is merely an empty void, with expanding foam insulation, and capped the holes that I drilled to put the insulation in with epoxy. I keep my food in water tight containers so as to avoid contamination, and keep my ice containerized as well. The system works well for me, and will keep food cold for a 5 day trip before I have to start thinking about civilization, by which time I am having to think about being home and going back to work anyway...

So back to the subject of budget. Not the cost of the fridge itself, or cooler. Let's say you have a choice between a $500.00 electric portable fridge, or a $500.00 cooler, same size. WIth a cooler, you have to stop, get ice, you lose capacity for food storage from the ice, but there is very little, next to nothing basically that can go wrong aside from being crushed, hinges or clasps breaking, that's about it. A fridge draws power, typically enough to require a deep cycle batter, and some means to top it off, it pushes heat from inside the box to outside, filling the surrounding air with heat, it has operational heat generated by the compressor itself to dissipate as well, that electrical energy is being converted to heat after all, so if you keep it in your living space, and you are travelling in a hot climate, count on adding the cost and maintenance issues of air conditioning, and a generator if you haven't already factored that in, or a REALLY big solar system and batteries to support it, and hope and pray you get your full solar input every day.

With that being said, I know of some folks using home built campers, with small "dorm room" fridges built in that are vented outside, they don't draw THAT much power themselves, and are at least reasonably tolerant of moderate off road use. As much so as any 3 way fridge would be I suspect. A fellow I hunt with rebuilt an old truck camper and is using a dorm fridge in it for the last 5 years. It's ugly, but it works, and it is outside vented...
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