Compressors are at the core of fridge operation. They perform the role of both a motor and a pump and move the refrigerant through the system. A fridge using a reputable compressor is a good indicator of quality and dependability.


This should heavily influence your choice because no fridge is of any use if it will not fit in the space you have allocated.

Record the dimensions of the space in which you will be installing your fridge, taking into consideration clearance for the lid.

Then load up your kitchen bench with a heap of the food and drink you’d expect to take camping and estimate/measure the volume this food takes up, taking particular note of long or wide items such as wine bottles or ice cream containers. Make sure you consider any additional dimensions a fridge slide or cover may add as well as the direction the lid will open.

It’s highly unlikely you’ll find a fridge that fits perfectly but having these measurements ready as you sift through your options will help you eliminate the unsuitable models.


For me, I just need my fridge to keep my food cold. But for many, it’s the extras that make all the difference and these should play a significant role in your fridge choice.

Nowadays, there’s a host of tech integrated into some models with features like Bluetooth and WiFi apps, wireless temperature gauges and connectivity all included. Some models even have magnetised lithium batteries plus, additional device charging options with built-in USB ports. If these things are important to you, then you’ll quickly be able to cross off the makes and models that don’t have them.

Reversible/removable lids, handle configuration and tie-down points, nutserts in the base for semi-permanent fixing, the location of the control panel and even bottle openers are all things you’ll be glad you considered over and above brand or power consumption to make sure your fridge is functional in your personal camp setup.


If you use your fridge in a marine environment then a metal fridge casing may be prone to rust over time, otherwise, don’t stress over this.

Both metal and polypropylene cases on the high-end fridges are very strong. Cheaper models opt for lighter materials and are more prone to dents and scratches but often this is cosmetic damage only.

Fibreglass can be a good choice for boats as it won’t take on any fishy smells and can be effective without a cover, but they are prone to impact damage. Once again though, this will likely just be cosmetic and won’t impact performance.

No fridge is specifically made to withstand all that mother nature will throw at it. Although they can handle a few bumps and you often see them mounted on the back of 4WD Utes, they are an electrical appliance and should be installed in a protected space.


This accessory is a common add-on to any fridge. You don’t need them, but they do offer some benefits.

Namely, for protection of the fridge and a little more insulation from direct sun and radiant heat, plus they can also provide a few extra storage pockets.

I’d suggest asking for a package deal with any fridge that includes the cover, but if your budget doesn’t allow for this it’s not the end of the world.


If you need a fridge for a one-off occasion, then a $200 no-brand marketplace bargain is probably money well spent. But if your cheap fridge fails, the repair cost could outweigh the amount you originally paid for the fridge. 

Furthermore, reputable brands will have authorised repair agents and a good warranty behind them. These are things you are unlikely to get on a cheaper purchase.

If you are a regular camper and/or 4WD tourer and decide to buy a cheap fridge, it’s likely that you will have to replace it multiple times and carry the burden of unknown reliability on every trip. Paying a little more upfront eases stress and may end up costing less in the long run. Think… buy once, buy right!


Everyone is going to have their opinion on which brand they think makes the best fridge, and just like the Holden vs Ford debate, there is no right answer.

If you’ve never heard of the brand then do some research. Find out what compressor is used in the model you’re interested in and look for evidence of a good reputation, including product support and after-sales service. Always buy from a reputable retailer.

Approach your fridge purchase by listing any specifics you require first, then budget for as much as your comfortable spending. Then all you need to do is find a model that best fits these parameters.

Knowledge, budget, needs, wants – go!

Hopefully, now you can approach your purchase of a 12V portable fridge with confidence. Know what questions to ask and not be swayed by brand affiliations or be the victim of any commission influenced advice.

It’s a big purchase, make sure you get the fridge that’s right for you!

So, which fridge is best for you?