JK's Guide to Picking the Right Fridge for Your Campervan

JK's Guide to Picking the Right Fridge for Your Campervan

JK's Marketing Assistant
Published 13 April 2022
Heidi Padoin
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JK's Guide to Picking the Right Fridge for Your Campervan

As you begin to convert your van into the ultimate van-lifer’s experience pad, you will come up against challenges that will require adequate consideration before commitment. An example of this is ensuring that you’re choosing the right type of fridge, for your campervan!

There’s so many types of fridge on the market these days, and even more brands that offer competitive prices. We’ve taken the time to put together this guide, to help navigate you through the fridge jargon that you encounter on your hunt for the perfect camping fridge! We’ll explain various features, what’s actually important, the most popular fridges at the moment, and other topics to help better inform you before you make a firm decision on your new camping fridge.

Here are some fridge features that you’ll want to look for:

  • Functions on uneven/sloped ground,
  • Can easily handle vibrations from driving,
  • How their design affects their energy efficiency,
  • Quiet operation, if the fridge is powered by a compressor,
  • Accessible from the place you decide to install it,
  • The fridge features both a fridge and freezer compartment,
  • Is compressor powered, other types often require constant power or fuelling,
  • The seller and brand is well established,
  • Is fitted with circuitry to protect your leisure battery health,
  • Versatility – removable freezer compartment, changeable door direction,
  • Is covered by a warranty from a source that you trust.

Image credit: Sandrene Zhang, via Unsplash.

Drawer Vs Upright Vs Chest style fridges; how do they work?

There’s three main style of fridge which populate the camping market. They’re all suited to different styles of interior and built for slightly different situations. If you’re a small family which enjoy frequent camping trips, then you may find a chest fridge more appropriate as it will hold more food. Here’s a brief explainer of these fridges and how they work.

Drawer style fridges

These are probably the least common of the camping fridges in the UK, but they may be perfect for you. These are very similar to your average upright fridges, which open at the front like a cupboard, except the contents slide out on rails much like a drawer.

These fridges can make it much easier to see the full contents of the fridge, however they are most often much less energy efficient. This is because they let out the most cold air as they’re opened, and require the most effort to get the inside back to that cool crips temperature. Since these fridges don’t have the normal shelf layout inside, the food is instead stacked inside. This can be a little awkward when it comes to accessing the food, but it does mean that you can fit more food into the fridge, and you’re not limited by small compartments.

These are ideal if you’d prefer a chest style fridge but would also like the unit fitted under your countertop.

Chest fridges

Top loading or chest fridges open from the top, as though you were opening a massive kids toy box, filled with beers! These do have a knack for providing the largest volume for food storage, and they are quite energy efficient. However, because they open from the top, they can’t be stored under a countertop. This makes them quite awkward to store inside your van, considering you’ve got quite limited space.

Some of these fridges can, however, double up as a small bench seat, but it’s probably not a stretch to assume that few would prefer a hard plastic surface to sit on over a cushioned rock and roll bed.

Front loading fridges

These are the most common fridge choice amongst our customers, and this is in part thanks to their compatibility with the classic interiors of VW campers. They’re also popular with van lifers in general thanks to their easy placement within your interior; there’s no concern about usable space above or below the fridge.

They may not be able to store quite as much, when compared to other types sold at the same capacity, but everything is significantly easier to access. Front loading fridges are the most familiar to us as they’re basically smaller versions of the fridges we have in our homes!

They’re super easy to use; milk or drinks can be stored in the door, without fear of the bottle falling over or out. In addition, any meat can be stored at the bottom of the fridge, to prevent the risk of meat juices leaking over the rest of the food. If this happens, it’s super easy to clean. You can leave most of the contents in the fridge and simply wipe away the leaks at the bottom.

Image credit: Peter Thomas, via Unsplash.

Let’s compare them!

Energy efficiency

So in general, it’s said that the chest fridges are known for being the most energy efficient. When in an enclosed space, the air which is warmest will rise, and the coolest air will sink. Since warm air sits at the top of any space, the majority of air lost when a chest fridge is opened will be warm air. They’re also well insulated.

However because all the food is stacked upon itself, that makes finding that block of cheddar you threw in a couple days ago much more difficult to find. You’ll probably end up leaving the fridge door open for longer than you would with a front loading appliance, and so overall the wasted energy is about the same.

It also means you’re more likely to waste food; it’s easier forget about that opened pot of humous which has been lost at the bottom for over a week!

Versatility

If you want as much space in your fridge as possible, it may be worth considering if you really require the freezer storage space. You can purchase a fridge without a freezer compartment, but it’s nice to have the option there, should you want to store a tub of ice cream. What’s great about some front-loading fridges, is they have a removable freezer compartment. This means that you can adjust the settings, remove the freezer drawer, and hey presto – you’ve got a bigger fridge! Examples of these are the Just Kampers JKF50 and the Dometic CoolMatic CRX 65.

Fridge storage

Having a place to store your fridge is really important. It’s a bit awkward to have a box floating around the inside of your campervan and for this reason, chest fridges can be quite tricky to store.

We’ve previously mentioned their ability to double up as a seat, but if you’re taking the time to convert your camper and embellish it with a nice interior, a plastic bench seat isn’t an ideal way to complete the look. However they are portable, so if that’s an important factor for you, then a chest style fridge is ideal.

Budget

It’s everyone’s goal to get what they need whilst spending as little as possible, but when buying a camping fridge, you don’t want to cheap out. There are some camping fridges on the market which are considerably cheaper than others, but aren’t built to the same standard. This leads to risks, especially in terms of functionality and cover. The build quality of these can be questionable and they often also don’t come with any warranty cover. This is less than ideal; you’re much better off paying for a high-quality fridge with a warranty, so you’re covered if something goes wrong.

From the three different types of fridge for your camper, in general, the most cost-effective type would be a front-loading fridge.

Image credit: Want To Create, via Unsplash.

What’s the best option for the average van-lifer?

In general, the easiest fridge to use for the average van-lifer, would be a front-loading fridge. They’re convenient, very similar to home-style fridges, much more organised than the other options, and they’re generally cheaper to buy.

Specifically, compressor powered front-loading fridges are the best option. They’re quiet to run and they’re more energy efficient than three-way fridges, since they run intermittently. In addition, three-way fridges must be situated upright; they cannot function if the van is parked on a tilt, which can be limiting for those who want to go adventuring!

If storage is a concern for you and you’d prefer a fridge with a little more room, you can find front-loading fridges with a higher capacity. A popular choice amongst camping fanatics is the Dometic CRX 80, this is very similar to the aforementioned CoolMatic CRX 65, except it will store approximately 20 litres more than the average camping fridge.

These fridges are not much larger on the outside, so they can still be fitted under your kitchen counter top. There are many fridges on the market that come in a range of capacities, so you can decide which fridge best suits your needs, without compromising on storage space.

Ventilation is important!

When a fridge is fitted to your interior, it’s important that you leave enough breathing space between the walls of the fridge and the cabinet/surface which surrounds it. If not enough space is left between the fridge and the surround surface, then this can lead to problems; they require a decent gap for air to pass through, or else the fridge can malfunction.

The fridge won’t be able to expel heat to the surrounding air, in order to cool down the air within the fridge. This means the fridge may run hotter and may not be able to reach the temperature you have asked it to perform at. As a result of this, it will be unable to freeze things and the fridge will run constantly. This is because it will unlikely reach the low temperature you set, so will constantly draw power, and will therefore drain your batteries!

Overall, it’s a long series of events that any camper would like to avoid, so be sure to leave enough room for hot air to escape from the back of the fridge. If you’re unsure how much room you should leave, then you can contact the manufacturer for further information.

Image credit: Balkan Campers, via Unsplash.

How much power will I need from my batteries, to power a camping refrigerator?

You can work out how much power you will need to power all the accessories within your van, with a simple calculation. If you have a plethora of devices constantly plugged in and on the go, it may be worth using a table to work out how much power you need.

Let’s work out how much power you’d need for just one fridge:

Step one – Figure out how much power (Wattage) is required by your fridge. This information should usually be located on the side or back of the device itself. By the way, wattage is the unit of measurement that represents the amount of work done, or electricity consumed, per unit of time. Wattage is the product of voltage and current.

Step two – Make note of how many hours you plan to use your device a day. As the fridge would be running intermittently, you could test the fridge independently and find out roughly how many hours a day it would be working. There’s no harm in providing yourself with more power than you think you’ll need, especially if you’re going to use the van in summer.

Step three – Multiply the fridge’s Watts by the number of hours it will be used each day. This result will show the total daily Watt-hours (Wh) for the fridge.

Step four – Divide the total Watt-hours by the Voltage of your battery. Divide by 12 if you’re using a 12 V battery, and 24 if you’re using a 24 V battery.

The result will show Amp-hours (Ah). This is the unit commonly used to measure the size of your battery. This is the daily energy usage for your fridge and will help you determine how large a battery you require for your van!

As an example:

If your fridge is 55 W, and will be used for 6 hours each day, then it’s Wh will be (55 x 6) = 330.

If you have a 24 V battery, you will need to divide this by 24, to work out the Amp-hours. (330 / 24) = 13.75.

This means that your fridges daily energy usage would be 13.75 Ah.

Battery protection

Some camping fridges are equipped with technology to protect the health of your leisure battery. This is done by using a battery protection circuit.

This clever set up removes the battery from the circuit if the load or current is too high. In addition, it will prevent the battery from being drained of too much power as this can cause your leisure battery great damage.

Our JKF50 fridges are fitted with battery protection circuits to keep your batteries safe. Afterall, it’s better to have a slightly warm sandwich than to have a totally fried leisure battery, which you now need to replace!

If you’re not quite an off-grid camper, but still enjoy the odd camping trip on the weekends, maybe an electric cool box would be more your thing?

Otherwise known as thermoelectric coolers, these are cool boxes that plug into the 12 V socket of your car or van, and use a small amount of power to help keep the contents of your box cool!

This type is most ideal for short camping trips, and times when you need your cool box to be portable. You can take your food around with you during the day, and take it back to the van for a quick top up, before you return in the evening to a box full of nice cold beers.

If you’re looking for something a little bit more hardcore, then we have just the thing for you: The Just Kampers Electric Cool Box!

This spectacular cool box is much like your normal thermoelectric cooler, but with an upgrade. The box features two compartments, one fridge section and one freezer section. In theory, you could keep a small tub of ice cream cold inside your cool box, and only run it from your cars 12 V socket!

Depending on the heat of the surrounding area, and the size of the battery you’re powering the unit from, the largest compartment will function as either a fridge or freezer. The smaller section will always be moderately warmer so, it’s great if you’re looking to keep your beers ice cold and keep some fruit out of the sun.

It’s like the perfect compromise between a chest fridge and a thermo electric cooler. It has the oomf of a full-blown fridge-freezer, whilst being portable, and also offers the option to power from mains or 12 V outlet. The perfect fridge solution, for those who don’t camp too often and don’t want to commit to a fully installed fridge.

Introducing our very own front-loading compressor fridge, the JKF50

Our JKF50 Fridge Freezer was developed to make your holidays experience as enjoyable as possible! Tailored to provide practical storage solutions based on decades of our own experience, travelling in our own campers over the years. The JKF50 strikes optimum equilibrium between importance of internal storage, when compared with the importance of space within your campervan. Our JKF50 is available in two colours: silver and black, so you have the choice to pick the colour which would best suit your interior!

Our fridge has a 42-litre capacity which gives you plenty of space for essentials on a long weekend trip away, or even complete van-life living. We fitted our fridge with an 8-litre freezer compartment which can be removed to open more fridge space, if necessary.

When both fridge and freezer are in operation, you can use our super user-friendly control panel to set the temperatures of both the freezer and fridge independently. To make it extra easy for people to read, we’ve added a feature which means the display can be read in both Celsius (°C) and Fahrenheit (°F).

Our 12-volt compressor fridge was designed specifically to provide you with the best quality possible at the lowest possible price. Our JKF50 has been fitted with the highest quality components, previously reserved for more expensive fridges on the market, so you can take pride in the knowledge that you have the best of the best looking after your drinks and snacks.

JKF50 Fridge/Freezer.

Did we mention that we’ve made our fridge as versatile as we possible could, for the most convenient use possible? It features an adjustable interior shelf which can be set at 3 different heights, the front panel can be customised to suit the interior of your camper, and you can even switch up which direction your fridge door opens! Our front door is also fitted with a locking handle, which means you can stay rest assured that sharp corners won’t result in an ambush of corn cobs flying out of your fridge! The fridge weighs in at just 16.8 kg, so it won’t weigh down your camper or even your boat. Yes, the JKF50 is perfect for use in all types of vehicles from vans to motorhomes, to river boats, and all sorts!

You can sleep soundly through the night too, as we’ve fitted our JKF50 with our super quiet, highly efficient LG compressor. This keeps our fridge as cool as possible and works hard to keep those greens crisp. T fridge temperature roughly stays between 0°C to +8°C (32°F to 46°F) and between -12°C to -20°C (10°F to -4°F) in the freezer.

Lastly, you can be sure that your battery will remain healthy and won’t lose too much power, thanks to our previously explained built-in battery protection system.

If you’d like to check out the product page for our JKF50 fridge yourself, please follow this link!

The JKF50 compressor fridge/freezer in silver.

We sell other front loading fridges by various brands!

The Dometic CRX50 – This Fridge is one of the most commonly spoke about camping fridges on the market and for good reason. It’s plethora of features are well explained and easy to use, much like our JKF50. The fancy control panel allows you to adjust the speed of the compressor and the internal fan will change accordingly.

The fridge works effectively and quietly to keep your food and drinks cool, without humming away in the corner. The Dometic CRX50 provides five different temperature settings and battery protection. As this is a Dometic product, you can be sure that you’re well covered by their warranty procedures, as well as ours.

The small size allows the fridge/freezer to be easily fitted into the interior of many different camping conversions, and works with both 12 V or 24 V batteries. Much like our JKF50, the freezer drawer can be removed from the fridge to allow for more fridge space, if you don’t feel it necessary to keep a few ice lollies stowed away.

The Webasto Cruise Classic CR49 – Another one of our front-loading fridges is the CR49. This fridge is very similar to our JKF50 and the Dometic CRX50; it has a slightly different look about it as it doesn’t have a front facing control panel and displays the handle in the upper centre of the door. This fridge is available through our website in silver.

The fridge is built will highly insulating materials which allows for a smaller sized fridge, without compromising on the internal capacity! The fridge can be mounted within your interior incredibly easily thanks to the integrated internal fixing system. This allows you to attach screws through the inside of the fridge wall itself, for quick and easy fixing.

The freezer compartment has a full capacity of 4 litres and will do an excellent job of preparing a tray of ice cubes for your drinks later in the day. The fridge comes with door storage, so that you can keep your drinks upright, and you can also move these shelves, as well as adjust the shelves inside the fridge.

The CR49, much like the other two, has a low power draw. You needn’t worry about the fridge pulling too much power from your batteries, so long as the fridge is well ventilated! Ideal for short trips away or consistent van-life use.

Trusted products backed by us

All the fridges and coolers that we sell are made and developed by trusted sources, reputable brands and are covered by warranties. We work hard to provide you with the best quality products and have high standards for the products which we supply you with.

Not to mention, we’ve done our absolute best to look at the best features from all fridges we’ve previously sold and owned, to calculate the overall design for our JKF50’s. Years of camping and VW passion have equipped us with the experience and knowledge, to discern what most important qualities should features on the JKF50.

Our aim is to provide our customers with a catalogue of high-quality products, that will make your camping experiences more enjoyable; we do our best to help you get your home on the road and live the life you want!

If you’d like to improve your current camping setup with a new fridge or cooler, then take a look at the wide variety of products we have to offer on our website!

You can view the various cool boxes and fridges via this link.

6 months ago