Portable Coolers & Fridge / Freezers
When heading away camping and touring it’s great to be able to take some of the luxuries of home away with you, whether it’s a comfortable bed, hot shower, gazebo for shade and weather protection or a fridge / freezer. Having a quality fridge / freezer as part of our kit allows us a cold drink on a hot day, an iceblock for the kids, a roast in the freezer to cook in the Cobb and the ability to freeze down a feed of fish to bring home. Let’s have a look at the options available in portable coolers, fridges and fridge / freezers and some of the features that may make them the right solution for your adventures.
Thermoelectric Coolers are ideal for those travelling and day tripping who wish to keep some snacks and drinks cool while they are on the move. These coolers are generally smaller units powered by 12V via a cigarette lighter socket, although some can also be powered by 240V so that you can have them running out on the back deck, or while you chill out watching the football. Some thermoelectric coolers are also capable of warming up to 65°C which allows you to transport a warm meal to someone or keep your lunch warm while on the job site, especially if your fridge is running on a second battery. It is important to remember that the thermoelectric cooler will draw power from your vehicle battery, so when the vehicle is running or the fridge running from an auxiliary battery no problem, it is important though not to leave the unit running for long periods while the vehicle is not running and in turn charging the starting battery.
Thermoelectric coolers are also popular among those who work from their vehicle as their vehicle is running much of time, ensuring the battery is charging and they can carry some cool drinks and meals with them. This would include taxi drivers, couriers and truck drivers.
It is important to remember that thermoelectric coolers will not freeze, with most designed to cool down to 25 – 30°C below ambient temperature, the air temperature around the unit, down to a maximum low of 1°C.This makes them perfect for keeping cool items cool on your journey and also warm items warm in some models.
2-Way Fridge / Freezers
2-Way Fridge / Freezers are similar to household fridge freezers in the way they are designed to operate, the difference being that they are portable. They can be powered by 12V (battery) and 240V (mains) power, with many models also operating on 24V for use in larger vehicles with battery banks such as trucks. They come in a wide range of sizes and configurations, with some models being fridge or freezer and others having a separate fridge and freezer compartment. They are perfect for campers, travellers, caravans and camper trailers, as well as transporting cold goods from the shops and as additional fridge space at home when BBQing and entertaining. 2-Way fridge / freezers are designed to operate extremely efficiently on 12V power and are a better option than 3-Way fridge / freezers for those wanting to travel and stop while leaving the fridge running in the vehicle.
BCF stocks a variety of quality brands including Waeco, Engel and Evakool, in a variety of models loaded with different features that include; durable cases, tie-down handles, digital temperature gauges, compartment dividers, internal lights and removable lids. The right solution to your needs may come down to available space, capacity required and the length of time you will be running the fridge.
A tip when using 2-Way fridge / freezers for camping and touring is to fill them at home and get them down to temperature on 240V, then load them in your vehicle when you are ready to go and run them on 12V. By doing this the contents are already cold or frozen and the fridge won’t need to run as much, in turn drawing less power from your battery.
3-Way Fridge / Freezers
3 Way Fridge / Freezers are often described as the ‘ultimate freedom’ when it comes to portable refrigeration as they can be powered by LPG (the same gas commonly used with camp stoves and BBQs). This allows you to arrive at our campsite, take the fridge / freezer out of the vehicle, hook it up to a 9kg gas bottle and you have about 3 weeks of run time. No concern about charging or flattening batteries, no need for a powered campsite and still capable of freezing.
This makes 3-Way fridge / freezers the perfect option for long duration stays in the one location, such as the annual two week camping holiday, just ‘set and forget’.
There are a couple of characteristics of 3-Way fridge / freezers that make them less ideal for travelling and stopping with the fridge running in the vehicle and more suited to long duration stays in the one location. Firstly 3-Way fridge / freezers need to be level to operate effectively, whereas a 2-Way fridge will operate at full efficiency on up to a 30° angle. Secondly a 2-Way fridge is extremely low draw, drawing somewhere between 2.5 and 4.5 amps per hour when running and like your fridge at home, once it reaches the desired temperature the compressor cuts out until it needs to work again. So with a 2-Way fridge / freezer the compressor is not running all the time drawing power, whereas a 3-Way fridge / freezer uses a absorption cooling system that runs continually and when on 12V it will draw a constant 10 amps an hour.
So what does this mean?
A 3-Way fridge will continually draw 10 amps an hour from your battery and needs to be level, so it is not ideal for those travelling and doing short stops, especially if they want to operate the fridge inside the vehicle without running the vehicle to keep the battery charged. However once stopped for any length of time it is a dream as you remove the fridge from the vehicle, level it, change over to gas and ‘set and forget’ for 3 weeks without thinking about a charging source.
2-Way fridges on the other hand are perfect for travelling and stopping for short periods because they can be left in a vehicle, even on an angle and will operate at full efficiency with minimal draw. Even better if you have a dual battery kit fitted, then the second (auxiliary) battery can be isolated, the fridge run from this second battery and even if it goes flat you are still able to start the vehicle from the main battery. When using 2-Way fridge / freezers for longer duration stays though, is that it runs on 12V and this means you need to run your vehicle to charge your batteries or connect a charging source such as solar panel or generator.
• Get your fridge / freezer cold at home before you hook it up to 12V and head away.
• Attach a bullseye level to your 3-Way fridge / freezer to make it easy to level. If you forget a level just use a plate or bowl half filled with water as a water level, this is especially effective if the plate or bowl has a line around the middle.
• A 3-Way fridge draws 10 amps an hour from your battery so it must be wired to your battery using 6mm wire and a plug that is capable of handling this current. Tinned copper wire is much more resistant to corrosion and using solder and heat shrink will add to the durability and longevity of the connection and minimise shorts.
Click here for the BCF TV guide to fridges and freezers!