How to Get the Best out of your Camping Fridge

So much about camping fridges is based around power consumption, which cannot only be very confusing?? it can even stressful for us! I have no doubt, that part of the confusion is invisibility? it?s not like a glass of water where we can look at the power pouring in and out and being stored. We have to know how to measure the power and read the metrics that tell us through volt/amp/watt metres or the like.

But irrelevant of all that jargon above – we simply want to use the least amount of power as possible, know that our food is going to be cold, and make sure we do this to the best of our ability. That is what I hope to achieve for you today!??How to get the best out of our camping travel fridge?. I should also let you know, that the below is based on 12 volt compressor travel fridges (not gas driven refrigerators – they are a whole different animal).

Extending the life of your fridge

A travel fridge is not a cheap investment, so to get the longest life possible out of it makes pure sense. Believe it or not, the easiest way to extend the life of your travel fridge is to NEVER TURN IT OFF! It?s no different to your household fridge. In the 24 years we have been open (as I write this), I don?t know how many people I have come across that have had a travel fridge for 20+ years that is still working and in almost every case? that?s because they have run them every single day since they purchased it. Oh by the way – in most cases in Australia now, most camping travel fridge suppliers / manufacturers will void your warranty if you turn it off and store it in your cupboard between trips. Turn it on and use it as a second fridge – period!

Pre chill your fridge and food

For those of you who are bucking the trend of the above (and storing your fridge turned off), the best way to start off on the right foot when going camping is to pre chill your food/drink, in another fridge. If you don?t, your fridge will have to work extremely hard (run longer and use excess power) to cool the fridge and everything inside it – ie: pull the warmth out of your food, fridge insulation and air inside.?

Keep the fridge lid shut

Every time you open and close a fridge, you lose a fair share of the cold air inside. This makes the fridge work harder to cool the new warm air it replaces and therefore uses far more power as the fridge has to run excessively again. When new warm air enters the travel fridge, it also sucks the coolness out of the food and insulation it surrounds (cold and warm energy actually exchange / swap). So there are two simple things you can do here:

  1. Keep the lid open for as shorter period of time as possible
  2. Enter your fridge as little as possible. Sorry for the beverage drinkers and those of us with kids wanting a drink every 10 minutes!

Keep your fridge full

If you?re putting pre chilled food/drink, in a pre chilled fridge – then keep it as full as possible.. it won’t need to work as hard (wont use as much power). Even if you don?t need all the space, make sure you fill the space with something – i.e.: bottles of water or the like. As another option, there are fridges now available that you can adjust in size/volume (ie: reduce or increase the size of the one fridge). The smaller the fridge, the less power you will also use – as there is less insulation, food and air to keep cool. This is another great way to use less power, especially if you don?t require a lot of food due to a short weekend trip. Here is a link to a fridge that we have in one of Camping Country Australia?s camping packages – the fridge used has a multi adjustable volume system. Make it big for long trips and small for short trips:

Keep it well ventilated and in a cool environment

Have you ever noticed that your car air-conditioner doesn’t cool as well on a really hot day. Your camping travel fridge is exactly the same (works in a similar refrigerated system). Travel fridges love cool climates to operate in. The best place to run a fridge when driving is in an air-conditioned car for example! Try to never run them in an enclosed boot of a vehicle and never store them running in the hot sun? they love shade. The condenser (radiator) on a fridge should always be allowed to breathe, make sure you never stack anything around your fridge condenser whilst travelling or in use in a camping situation. The condenser is a crucial part of a fridge that gets rid of heat that the fridge creates – I wrote a blog on different condensers that improves efficiency a while back – click on the link to have a read:

Hot for cold food turn

This goes out to the constant beverage drinkers out there!? The best way to manage (and most efficient way to manage) drinks in a travel fridge is to replace each cold one you take out, with a hot one?? as you go! The worst thing we can do is take 10+ cold drinks out of a travel fridge over the period of a day and then dump 10+ hot drinks back into a fridge in one go? your fridge will have to work too hard for this! ? ?

Refrigerate – not freeze

The days of freezing in a travel fridge is becoming less and less important (with the exception of ice for a cold beverage – or – those who catch fish/meat and want to freeze it to bring it home). The minute we freeze, we use a considerable amount of extra power and this usually means more money spent of solar and battery systems, so basically it?s inefficient on all accounts! With vacuum sealing food becoming so easy in todays world and the fact we can refrigerate vacuum sealed for for extended lengths of time.. we now have the ability to use far less power. Vacuum sealing our food means we can be off grid for longer periods of time, away from civilisation because of it, and more self sufficient than ever before. For those of you who love to be organised – we vacuum seal our food in meal form. It?s more organised which means you are in your fridge for shorter periods of time and using less power holistically because of it.?

Here is a short video of our local butcher Cotton Tree Meats vacuum sealing our food in meal form for camping.?

I hope this helps all of you. If you have any questions at all with regards to improving the efficiency of your travel fridge, be sure to leave a comment below and I will get back to you as soon as possible!?

In the meantime? happy camping!




  • Patricia Morgan says:

    Thanks for the info on fridges.
    I can’t keep my fridge on all the time. Might only use it once a year however, it has a cover on it. My question is, will that harm it and make it work harder??

    • Matti Laakso says:

      Thanks Jarrod – too true. Whenever we return from a camping trip, the fridge is emptied, cleaned and goes on a table in the patio area and becomes the “drinks fridge” until the next camping trip. Make sure the air inlets and outlets are dust/obstruction free. Cheers.

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