Compressor, 3-way or plug-in coolbox? Camper refrigeration
There is no one “ideal”, all encompassing fridge. On the bright side, with the advantages and disadvantages laid out below, it shouldn’t be too difficult to discover which side you fall in the great Compressor vs 3-way debate.
Though it’s often overlooked, we also consider the 3-way coolbox a strong contender. With assets like reduced price and portability, it’s worth considering if you aren’t set on having fitted kitchen units.
We use: Webasto Cruise 49L Elegance (with ice/freezer box)
The most frequently fitted of the camper refrigerators, this many-named fridge comes in a number of sizes (up to 90L while still fitting in the conventional layout). “Compressor”, refers to the small unit with which it generates its cooling power; drawing heat from within, compressing it into a high-pressured gas before releasing it through the condenser on the back. In a camper there are 2 methods of powering this unit; 12V battery power or 240V mains hook-up (provided you have a charging system) hence the label “2-way”.
A firm favourite with converters for its ease of installation, the compressor fridge is also popular with campers for its simplicity. It’s built with 12V operation in mind, running efficiently on battery power (compared with a battery draining 3-way) and cutting out before flattening your leisure battery, so that the lights never go out on you.
We use: Dometic 60L fridge RM 5310 piezo ignition
Travellers who spend lots of time away from power are the first customers of the flexible 3-way fridge, named for its 3 means of power: 12V battery power, 240V mains power, and LPG Gas.
These fridges trade compressor units for a gas flow heat exchange system, burning a small flame and emitting CO2 which requires an exhaust through the side of the van.
With typical use, connected to a 2.9kg Campingaz butane bottle, a 3-way fridge will stay frosty for around 2 weeks when used together with your cooker – ten times longer than a 85Ahr battery could ever power a compressor fridge on a single charge. These are commonly found in old campers and caravans, still working smoothly 20 – 30 years down the line. While units are themselves more expensive to buy and install than smaller 12V fridges, they can work out more economically than a compressor/solar combo if you already have a gas system in place.
3-way fridges tend to be terribly inefficient when run on 12V power so are generally wired only to run on 12V whilst driving. They can be run on 12V for a few hours at a time if needed, but the heating element must have a minimum voltage of 11.8.v to operate, so your leisure battery will need to be fully charged.
Cooling capacity: Refrigerator +7°C, freezer compartment down to –12°C at ambient temperatures up to 32°C
We use: Dometic ACX40 3-Way Coolbox
It’s amazing that the coolbox provides practically the same fridge capacity as a 3-way or compressor, is handily portable, and yet so much kinder to the budget. Standing by with icecreams under the awning or a steady supply of cold beers out on the beach, it also frees up valuable cabin space when it’s out and about. We like to pair these with our Cambee Pod unit for a great outdoor kitchen, just the setup for big groups and families.
These use the same versatile technology as the 3-way fridge, plugging into the 12V (while you’re driving), 240V (on hookup) and gas (the rest of the time outdoors).
“But coolboxes are so power hungry!” critics say. It’s actually only when a coolbox is poorly insulated that it needs to wolf down your Campingaz to maintain a steady temperature. We know for a fact that a Dometic ACX40 can last for around 2 weeks on one 2.9kg bottle.
We liked the portability of the coolbox so much, we designed the Cambee trolley to take any effort out of transporting it. Once you’ve unloaded the unit, the sides of the trolley fold down to provide a handy table for cups, plates and board games.
Whichever fridge you plug for, optimum performance will incorporate the following pointers into your regimen: – Matt
1. The day before travelling, give your fridge a hand getting started by plugging it into the mains electricity at home.
2. Try to fill it with food and drink you’ve pre-chilled, at least for the first load.
3. Avoid loading lots of items for cooling all at once.
4. Keep a few freezer packs in the freezer and move them into the bottom of the fridge when out and about and parked on a slope.
5. Be strict with door opening!