Advice: When Does a Fridge Become “Worth It?”

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Gone_xtrkn

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With each passing day I become more and more interested in swapping my hard coolers for a powered fridge. A failure to load enough ice packs resulting in a bit of food spoilage on our last trip has me thinking about it again.

We normally use a 25L Igloo BMX for trips of 1-2 nights (surprisingly great little cooler, got it as a gift from work) and an Rtic 45L for anything longer. We camp once or twice a month with a break in the hottest part of summer and never go more than 4 nights without resupplying.The coolers work well enough but on longer trips the Rtic takes up a lot of space and is very heavy and the occasional rush to use food before it spoils is no fun.

The cooler usually sits on the folded down 1/3 side of the backseat of our Subaru, strapped down to the child seat anchor and the back of the driver’s seat. With a fridge I’d either build a better platform for that spot or reorganize the hatch to build a slider. The plan would be to run it from the car while driving and off of the Jackery 240 at night, charging by solar during the day, though we never stay in the same spot more than 2 nights. I’ve heard that it’s better for the compressor to leave the fridge powered on, so it would likely live in the garage running as a beer fridge when we don’t travel.

I’m interested in the Iceco JP30 31L or the similarly sized Rockpals unit since that seems like an appropriate size for our rig and 31L should hold plenty for two of us when there’s no need for ice/ice packs. When we use the big Rtic it’s rarely completely full and I gather that empty space kills fridge efficiency.

My question to you fridge owners is, does the fridge seem “worth it” when it is used, at most, 5 or 6 days a month? I know the answer is yes if it makes me happy, but I’m curious what the mental calculation looks like for you.
 

Peregrine

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While a fridge is on the list, it is down there a ways. My trips range from overnighters to a couple of weeks in freezing mountains/baking deserts. One approach I have used for decades is to precook and freeze in individual sized vacuum pack bags. Then, based on the planned trip menu, stack the "frozen" ice chest in the order of consumption, first-in-last-out. I place frozen blue ice packs in and on the mess. This approach also minimized the number and time the ice chest is open. Summertime I will often also take a second cooler for drinks and other stuff. Keeping both in the shade whenever possible. If the route has me back in civilization, I can top off the chest with ice if required. Over time and a little practice this has become a no-brainer.

Under full disclosure, my diet is Keto/Carnivore based. Often only eating one meal a day. The plus side of being this way is all that "extra consumption crap" is gone along with the buying, packing, pot & pans, monitoring and time to fix. I will often BBQ packs of ribeyes, chicken, ribs, fish at once. Vacuum & freeze the extra. This keeps my freezer stocked with ready-to-go frozen food packs. A win/win in my book. Your mileage may vary.
 

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I am looking into fridges as well, mainly because I have a bad habit of leaving the cooler drain plugs open and everything around them gets wet as the ice melts. Unfortunately for me I am having a hard time convincing the wife that the space required for on would be going to good use. Our oiler is about twice as large as any fridge, an ten we still carry a smaller hard cooler a d a soft cooler for drinks. Our packing lists have changed since having a kid and even more space is required for Jr's stuff.
Higher on my list is a better roof rack, maybe some more water storage, and a better spot to put my fishing rod lol, and maybe an awning. It could be transfered between vehicles in my case for different types of trips but I am never away from civilization all that long. One vehicle doesn't have to capabilites to travel that far off grid, and the other needs to carry more fuel than food.
Basically I would say at this point if I were to go out for longer than 3-4 days ( which as of lately is all I can really get) a fridge would be handy for not needing ice but I will stick to the coolers for now because I don't seem to seethose kinds of trips that often anymore.
 
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Nomad164

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Here in Australia many 4WDers have fridges fitted in their vehicles and this is basically due to our climate with a majority of our country being in hot zones.

Yes there is extra requirements for a fridge such as having a secondary battery system but it in itself then becomes useful to run lights, battery chargers (not just for cameras) etc.

Once you have a fridge, you will never go back to eskies - I now have two fridges a Waeco 110L and an Engle 40L (which I use as a freezer in my Campertrailer).

I have my Waeco permently mounted in the rear of my vehicle and use it for everything including shopping to store the cold stuff, when I am out and about etc.

Karl
 

Rath

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I thought about doing a fridge, but Cooler always works for me. I have a 65L cooler for longer trips of 5+ days, and I have never needed to add ice to it on a trip yet, so I see no benefit of adding a fridge, really. would take up a lot of living space, as it's not something that can be moved around like a cooler can. Uses a lot of power I could be using for other things, expensive, etc. Just doesn't make sense for me personally. They work great for a lot of people, just really depends on what you want.
 

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I use mine a lot more than 5-6 days a month, though have to say that even if I didn't and went out only a couple weekends here and there, yes, it is definitely worth it.

More room to keep food and drink cold and overall a game changer in the way I camp and stay out. The time saved in not going for ice regularly and draining water, the space saved in not packing ice, the cash saved in not buying ice repeatedly all add up over time to make it well worthwhile to me.

Most people who get a 12v fridge find how handy they are and keep them running 24/7, even when home. It's actually better for the fridge, most say. Some move their fridges into the family room or workshop and plug them into 110; some leave them in their vehicle hooked up full time. Mine stays in my van full time. Keep overflow food or drink in it; always cold and handy for backyard bbqs; makes grocery trips easier in summer and means you don't have to go right home because you have meat or fish or frozen goods you need to get in the fridge at home.

All around easier and more convenient.

If you get a good 12v fridge, you may find you can leave it un-powered overnight. Even in summer, I've done that. If you keep it out of the sun, keep an insulating jacket on it if the brand provides one, and keep it full (they work harder if they have empty space to chill), you'll be surprised how efficient they can be.

I've had mine almost four years and love it.

.
 
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Rath

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I don't get the whole argument that you will be buying ice, draining water, etc. from coolers.

Does no one else fill old milk jugs to freeze? Is that just me? lol. No mess, no buying ice... Just fill, freeze, and throw in the cooler. Even better, fill with filtered water so you can drink as they slowly melt. It's a giant chunk of ice so it melts a hell of a lot slower than bagged ice from the store does too. No water to drain because it's in jugs.
 

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i used to freeze jugs of water, make runs to the store for ice, tried just about every trick under the sun to keep my ice lasting longer. Then last year I decided to break down and buy a fridge, mainly as a secondary fridge in my RV that I full time in and can’t keep enough food for a family of 3 to sustain a week.

Now that I own a fridge, I can never go back to collets again.
 

Trail_pilot

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I don't get the whole argument that you will be buying ice, draining water, etc. from coolers.

Does no one else fill old milk jugs to freeze? Is that just me? lol. No mess, no buying ice... Just fill, freeze, and throw in the cooler. Even better, fill with filtered water so you can drink as they slowly melt. It's a giant chunk of ice so it melts a hell of a lot slower than bagged ice from the store does too. No water to drain because it's in jugs.
I don't remember the last time I saw a milk "jug" in a store. I guess I could use orange juice jugs or something but I really don't drink much else other than water, coffee and beer lol. I have thrown a few frozen water bottles into the mix but they don't last as long as a big chunk of ice.
 
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We plan to eventually get a fridge, probably next year. We gotta keep our food cold for about 3-4 days. Last trip we stuck a thermometer to the inside of the lid. Hottest it got was 42 on the last day. Was between 35 and 40 for 3 days. We use 6 shop rite blue ice packs as dividers between the food. We then bought 2 bags of ice and distribute the ice on top in ziploc bags.

No water. No soggy nothing. Food stays cold.

Note, the cooler is a fairly large cheap one from Walmart I got about 5 years ago. I filed the lid with foam and lined the inner walls with some reflective bubble wrap that was used in some blue apron type deliveries.
The ice will melt after about 5 days. Afterwards you can dump the water out of the ziploc and refill with ice again (from the store etc)
The cooler isn’t exactly pretty and it’s a bit of work. So eventually I d like a fridge
 

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I don't get the whole argument that you will be buying ice, draining water, etc. from coolers.

Does no one else fill old milk jugs to freeze? Is that just me? lol. No mess, no buying ice... Just fill, freeze, and throw in the cooler. Even better, fill with filtered water so you can drink as they slowly melt. It's a giant chunk of ice so it melts a hell of a lot slower than bagged ice from the store does too. No water to drain because it's in jugs.
.
If you have a home base you return to regularly and aren't out more than a few days at a time, you bet, frozen water bottles done at home are the way to go.

It's what I did for years, then refroze them whenever I stayed in a motel with fridge/freezer if I hadn't used the water for cooking or cleaning. When out longer than it took for my frozen jugs and water bottles to thaw, I'd have to run for bags of ice and deal with the water, or put the ice in sealed containers to make it easier with less mess. Took up a lot of room in my cooler.

Now that I've had a fridge for a long time, and stay out for a long time, it's a hell of a lot less hassle to keep my food and drink cold, and I can store far more.
.
 

Rath

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I don't get the whole argument that you will be buying ice, draining water, etc. from coolers.

Does no one else fill old milk jugs to freeze? Is that just me? lol. No mess, no buying ice... Just fill, freeze, and throw in the cooler. Even better, fill with filtered water so you can drink as they slowly melt. It's a giant chunk of ice so it melts a hell of a lot slower than bagged ice from the store does too. No water to drain because it's in jugs.
.
If you have a home base you return to regularly and aren't out more than a few days at a time, you bet, frozen water bottles done at home are the way to go.

It's what I did for years, then refroze them whenever I stayed in a motel with fridge/freezer if I hadn't used the water for cooking or cleaning. When out longer than it took for my frozen jugs and water bottles to thaw, I'd have to run for bags of ice and deal with the water, or put the ice in sealed containers to make it easier with less mess. Took up a lot of room in my cooler.

Now that I've had a fridge for a long time, and stay out for a long time, it's a hell of a lot less hassle to keep my food and drink cold, and I can store far more.
.
Very true. Long term, couple weeks, fridge would be nice. Thankfully cooler and ice had always worked for me, granted longest trip I've done with this has been 7 nights, 8 days. Still had half my ice left.

I personally do not have any room for a fridge in my rig, which is why I love the cooler even more.
 
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Road

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Very true. Long term, couple weeks, fridge would be nice. Thankfully cooler and ice had always worked for me, granted longest trip I've done with this has been 7 nights, 8 days. Still had half my ice left.

I personally do not have any room for a fridge in my rig, which is why I love the cooler even more.
.
I always found it a fun challenge to see how efficient I could be and how long I could make my ice last when I had to get it.

I'd get solid blocks, try dry ice (you used to be able to get dry ice at most Wal-Marts), bagged cubes I'd put in containers, etc. Simple refrig bubble wrap (blue on one side, reflective on the other with ice-cube shaped bubbles) over the top of everything. I still use the same piece of that bubble wrap I had years ago with my fridge now. Just fold back the part covering what I want and keep the rest covered.

I tried the Coleman 12v thermoelectric coolers, too, that you could find at truck stops and such for $99.00. You can use them upright or chest style. They're not worth it in the long run, for me anyway. It's basically a cooler with a fan. They generally chill things about 35-40 degrees F less than ambient (though users report widely varying results), which in the summer means spoiled food and warm drinks.

My 50 qt fridge now takes the same amount of room my cooler did and less room than the Coleman thermoelectric cooler did.
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Rath

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Very true. Long term, couple weeks, fridge would be nice. Thankfully cooler and ice had always worked for me, granted longest trip I've done with this has been 7 nights, 8 days. Still had half my ice left.

I personally do not have any room for a fridge in my rig, which is why I love the cooler even more.
.
I always found it a fun challenge to see how efficient I could be and how long I could make my ice last when I had to get it.

I'd get solid blocks, try dry ice (you used to be able to get dry ice at most Wal-Marts), bagged cubes I'd put in containers, etc. Simple refrig bubble wrap (blue on one side, reflective on the other with ice-cube shaped bubbles) over the top of everything. I still use the same piece of that bubble wrap I had years ago with my fridge now. Just fold back the part covering what I want and keep the rest covered.

I tried the Coleman 12v thermoelectric coolers, too, that you could find at truck stops and such for $99.00. You can use them upright or chest style. They're not worth it in the long run, for me anyway. It's basically a cooler with a fan. They generally chill things about 35-40 degrees F less than ambient (though users report widely varying results), which in the summer means spoiled food and warm drinks.

My 50 qt fridge now takes the same amount of room my cooler did and less room than the Coleman thermoelectric cooler did.
.
See, thing is, my truck doesn't house my cooler, it goes in the trailer. So, even though size wise yes a fridge can be smaller or the same size, you so have to have it semi-permanently mounted in your rig. I just cannot do that with my setup. No room in the tiny lil ranger lol. I did think about making my trailer for trip specific usage, and mounting one in it and just running a plug. But decided against it as I like being able to use the trailer for general utility things as well. Cooler wins for me every time.
 

Road

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See, thing is, my truck doesn't house my cooler, it goes in the trailer. So, even though size wise yes a fridge can be smaller or the same size, you so have to have it semi-permanently mounted in your rig. I just cannot do that with my setup. No room in the tiny lil ranger lol. I did think about making my trailer for trip specific usage, and mounting one in it and just running a plug. But decided against it as I like being able to use the trailer for general utility things as well. Cooler wins for me every time.
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Yep, coolers are way more agreeable to being moved whenever you want. When I first got my fridge, I took it out of the van and carried it over to a table to use, then lugged it back to the van when done.

I only did that once. It's lived right inside the back doors of my van ever since.

What kind of cooler have you found over the years to be the most efficient? 65L is almost a third more capacity than I have.
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Yep, coolers are way more agreeable to being moved whenever you want. When I first got my fridge, I took it out of the van and carried it over to a table to use, then lugged it back to the van when done.

I only did that once. It's lived right inside the back doors of my van ever since.

What kind of cooler have you found over the years to be the most efficient? 65L is almost a third more capacity than I have.
.
I have a 65L Whynter... it’s set at -4 degrees F... I’m not sure how much of a load it draws... I only run it during the day, and when I turn it on in the morning it’s only warmed up to about 0
 
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Billiebob

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My question to you fridge owners is, does the fridge seem “worth it” when it is used, at most, 5 or 6 days a month?
YEAH !!!!

Definitely.
Add up the cost of ice and suddenly a powered cooler becomes the best financial investment ever.

Add in the freedom to just keep exploring, rather than finding ice..... and your vacation becomes 7 or 8 days rather than 5 or 6 days a month.
Plus the lack of soaked bread.... or the lack of needing to manage melting ice to avoid water soaked bread.
AND yer wife and kids will love you, especially if you can now carry ice cream.

There are NO downsides to refrigeration.

Even the cheapest off brand fridges are a great buy.

I use a Kooltron I bought in a garage sale for $10. It has been flawless altho I get sritics saying it is not cold enough.... still I'm alive and no food goes bad.
$10 for 6 years is pretty freaking cheap compared to 10 blocks of ice.

I want a real fridge with a real door, but they all start at $2K. so I keep using the 40 year old $10 Kooltron.

This pic was taken on a week when the daily high was over 30C, 90F.

IMG_1425.jpg
 
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Gone_xtrkn

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i used to freeze jugs of water, make runs to the store for ice, tried just about every trick under the sun to keep my ice lasting longer. Then last year I decided to break down and buy a fridge, mainly as a secondary fridge in my RV that I full time in and can’t keep enough food for a family of 3 to sustain a week.

Now that I own a fridge, I can never go back to collets again.
This is the main reason I’m considering it. The coolers work fine provided I plan ahead, pre-chill, pack intelligently, and limit time with the lid open. I like the idea that a fridge would eliminate some or all of that extra fuss and make it easier to just toss stuff in the Subie and go.

It seems like I have the basics electric-wise that I’ll need to run a small unit. Maybe it’s time to start saving.
 

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Yep, coolers are way more agreeable to being moved whenever you want. When I first got my fridge, I took it out of the van and carried it over to a table to use, then lugged it back to the van when done.

I only did that once. It's lived right inside the back doors of my van ever since.

What kind of cooler have you found over the years to be the most efficient? 65L is almost a third more capacity than I have.
.
The cooler I have is a "Woods boreal 65L cooler". It's a $120 cooler, that I got on sale for $50. Couldn't pass it up at that price. It claims to keep ice frozen for 5 days, which in my usages I've had 4L milk jugs of ice still 75%frozen after said 5 days, and still kept me going for 7 days till I got home. It's a very well insulated cooler, has wheels and a nice handle for pulling it around as well. Previously I've used just a cheap basic smaller cooler, and the ice definitely doesn't last quite as long in that one. So having something well insulated is key.