When you live a life on the road, your van is your home. More than just a place to rest your head at night, a campervan is your refuge from the hustle and bustle of the outside world.
However, any good campervan needs to be fully equipped with the right gear so you can maximize your time exploring the wonderful world around us. Whether it’s a solar-powered generator system or custom-built storage units, your home on wheels needs to be ready to handle life’s challenges.
That being said, more often than not, one particular piece of gear goes overlooked in a campervan: the fridge.
If you’re going to spend a lot of time cooking and eating in your van, you’d better have a good kitchen set up. However, many people neglect to invest in a quality fridge to keep their beverages and perishable food cold when they’re on the road.
The vanlife solution? A Dometic brand fridge. Coming up, we’ll walk you through the basics of Dometic fridges and explain why they’re the best fridge option for campervans so you never again have to drink warm beer on the road.
Why Dometic fridges are the best for vanlife
Okay, we get it: when you think about all the things you need to buy and build to turn a van or truck into something suitable for vanlife, a fridge might not be your highest priority. While you could just get a fancy cooler and fill it with ice all the time, however, there’s no replacement for a good fridge if you’re trying to turn your vehicle into a home.
That being said, you shouldn’t just go out and buy the first mini fridge you see, install it in your van, and hit the road. A refrigerator is a major appliance and can cost a decent amount of money, so it’s worth taking the time to research your options before you dive right in.
However, we recognize that not everyone has the time to spend on research, so we thought we’d skip right to the point: Dometic fridges are the best option for vanlife, no questions asked.
Why, you might ask? Well, here are some of the advantages and disadvantages of a Dometic fridge:
- Durability. At the end of the day, no one wants to spend their hard-earned money on a campervan fridge, only to have it break when you hit a large pothole going a bit too quickly. Instead, a quality campervan fridge should be incredibly durable, which is precisely what you get from a Dometic fridge.
- Efficiency. All Dometic fridges are what we call “compressor fridges,” which means they’re powered by a compressor similar to what you’d have in your fridge at home. When compared to other fridge types, the compressor fridge is must more efficient and don’t require any other power source than a 12V plug.
- Top-loading. If you have a fridge at home, chances are pretty high that it’s an upright fridge, with one or two large doors that swing outward. Dometic fridges, on the other hand, are “top-loading” chest fridges, which means they are more energy-efficient, can hold more food, are easier to organize, and can double as a cooler in an emergency.
- Price. It’s pretty hard to find a disadvantage to a Dometic fridge. Dometic fridges are super durable, efficient, convenient for vanline, however, we do recognize that they are quite expensive. Much like any other durable 12V powered compressor fridge, a Dometic fridge will cost you a pretty penny. That being said, they’re so awesome, we think they’re worth the investment.
How to install a Dometic fridge
Buying a fridge for vanlife is just one part of the process. Once you have your fridge, you’ll need to install it before you hit the open road. Here’s how:
Where to place a Dometic fridge in your van
Since a van is such a small, confined space, it’s important that you fully consider where you place any large appliances, such as a fridge. Of course, depending on your van’s layout, you may not have many options, but if you have some flexibility we’d recommend placing your Dometic fridge near your sink and stove.
This is the most convenient location for cooking up a gourmet meal, because it keeps your food close to your kitchen.
Beyond simple placement of the fridge, we recommend placing a top-loading chest fridge, like a Dometic fridge, in either a pull-out drawer, or integrate it into a countertop. This allows you to maximize space in your van while also protecting your fridge from any objects that might roll around in transit.
Alternatively, if you really don’t have any other space, you can install your Dometic fridge in the space between the two front seats of your van, though we like to think of this as a last resort because it’s not the most convenient for food preparation.
How a Dometic fridge is installed and connected to a van’s power system
Thankfully, installing a Dometic fridge in a van is pretty easy. Here’s what you need to keep in mind:
- Read your Dometic fridge’s installation manual. It has a plethora of diagrams to show you how to install your fridge.
- Find a suitable location for your fridge in your vehicle. Ensure that your fridge has adequate ventilation around the air vents to ensure the fridge has enough airflow to keep your food cool.
- Decide whether you can plug your fridge into your car’s 12V outlet or if you can plug it into a 100 – 240 volt AC outlet instead.
- Plug your Dometic fridge into the power outlet of your choice and press the on button. Secure the wires so that they’re not a tripping hazard.
- Voila! You have a working fridge!
If you’re looking to connect your Dometic fridge directly to your solar-powered generator or to another electrical source, we recommend reaching out to a van conversion professional, if you’re not comfortable working out the wiring yourself. The last thing you want to do is destroy the wiring in your vehicle or your fridge, so it’s worth playing it safe here.
Energy draw: why 12V is important when “off-grid”
When it comes to van life, a 12V compressor fridge is pretty hard to beat. Unlike other fridges that run on 120V AC, a 12V compressor fridge is much more efficient as there is no loss in efficiency, like what you’d get by converting 12V to 120V AC. In addition to not requiring any DC to AC conversion, 12V compressor fridges have a much lower power consumption, which is perfect for living “off-grid” in your van.
How long can a dometic fridge last on battery power only?
One of the benefits of a 12V compressor fridge is that it can be set up to run straight off of a battery – whether that’s your car battery or a separate solar-powered system for your van’s domestic electronics. Many vanlifers wonder how long their fridge can run just on battery power.
However, we can’t give you a blanket statement about this because every battery is different and the efficiency of your fridge depends on a lot of environmental conditions when you travel and how you use it.
What we can tell you, however, is that most Dometic fridges have an impressively low power draw of 0.5 to 1 amps, which means they drain batteries very slowly, especially when compared to other compressor fridge types. Our advice? Test out your Dometic fridge before you take it on a major road trip. This will give you the information you need to decide if you want to invest in more batteries or more solar panels for your upcoming adventures and give you an idea of the limits of your gear.
Dometic Fridge Models
At this point, we can all agree that Dometic fridges are the ultimate campervan fridge. But, with so many models to choose from, which is best for your needs? Here are some of the options:
Dometic CFX3 Series
Dometic’s CFX3 series is designed for outdoor adventure with an innovative VMSO3 variable speed compressor and unique software that helps improve cooling, freezing, and power consumption. Plus, CFX3 series fridges have a durable ExoFrame to for added ruggedness on the road.
Oh, and CFX3 series fridges feature WiFi-connectivity so you can control the temperature and energy consumption of your fridge from your phone. With six different size options to choose from in the CFX3 series, what’s not to love?
Dometic CF Series
The Dometic CF series is a line of powered coolers that are made for a life on the open road. These durable, impact-resistant appliances come in eight different sizes and feature easy-to-use digital controls for maximum temperature control and efficiency.
Dometic CC Series
Dometic’s CC series is made to be lightweight and portable, which is perfect for people who need a fridge for their weekend warrior vanlife. With foldable handles, LED interior lights, and a built-in battery protection system, if you’re looking for a fridge that can handle short trips with ease, these energy-efficient CC series fridges just might be what you’re looking for.
Dometic TC Series
Want a fridge that can keep your food hot or cold? Look no further than the Dometic TC series fridges. Thanks to Dometic’s TropiCool system, their TC series fridges can be set to a wide range of temperatures, making them a great option for short trips in the van.
The Importance of a Quality Fridge for Vanlife
At the end of the day, your van is your home. When you live on the road, you rely wholly on your van, so you need to have the best gear possible to enjoy life’s adventures to the fullest.
Although it’s often an overlooked piece of gear, there’s really no substitute for a quality fridge in a campervan. Without a good fridge, you’ll struggle to keep food fresh and find it difficult to get enough fruits and veggies in your diet when on the road.
That being said, not just any fridge will do for your van. Our advice? Invest as much as you can into your van’s fridge. We know that Dometic fridges are expensive, but it’s better to buy one high-quality fridge than a bunch of low-quality ones that you need to keep replacing. Your van, and your budget, will thank you in the long run!
Up Next In Campervan Gear:
What do I Need for Vanlife? 25 Essentials for Life on the Road
How can I Heat my Van in the Winter?
How Much Does it Cost to Put a Pop Top on a Van?
How To Shower When You Live In a Van
David Parnell is the founder and lead editor at Trail and Summit, who enjoys writing on a wide range of topics from travel trailers to trail running. He’s an accomplished mountain endurance athlete who has completed over 25 ultra marathon races (follow on Strava). He is most proud of his finish at The Drift 100 – a high elevation, 100 mile winter foot race that zigzags along the Continental Divide in Wyoming. In the future he hopes to compete in the ITI 350 and ultimately the full 1,000 mile Iditarod Trail Invitational that follows the same path as the historic dog sled race.
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