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Camping Fridge Hire – Which Fridge is Right for You?

My first camping fridge, back in the late 70’s, was a 15lt Engel.  It was all you could buy then – and at the time, it was the greatest thing ever.    It still works today despite being bounced around in the back of the old series 2A shorty Land Rover for years.

Nowadays, you have a huge choice of camping fridges in capacity, features and price.   Budget plays a major role in the final selection of the fridge that is right for you.  Hiring a fridge for your trip may be a good alternative to buying if budget calculations for your planned trip (fuel may be $1.80 per lt. or more) are watering your eyes.

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Camping Fridge Hire

Camping Fridge Hire Sydney

In this Blog, we will consider features and fridge types available on the Australian market to help guide you toward choosing the right fridge for your needs.   We are not going to discuss or recommend individual brands so much – just the elements of best choice for you.

First, why buy or hire a camping fridge anyway?   What’s the problem with an inexpensive ice chest or Esky?

In my opinion, an ice chest full of ice is the absolute best choice for cooling drinks in sealed containers quickly and safely.   Just so long as bulk ice is reasonably available to top up as the ice melts.

camping fridge hire
Camping Fridge Hire

When it comes to food storage, we need to think about the hygiene issues.

We have all seen what the bottom of an ice chest looks like after a few days – lift the lid and take a look in there – pretty grim.   Now imagine your supermarket bought steak, in shrink wrap, absorbing that liquid through the damaged plastic wrapping and marinating your meat (or veg) in the biology of EskyEbola.   Yuck!

In my opinion, when it comes to food storage you are way better off with a fridge rather than an ice chest.

Now here’s the rub.   A fridge takes up quite a bit of precious space in your 4WD or camper trailer, space that is required for other essential camping gear.   So, your final fridge choice might end up being a bit of a compromise.

The fundamental fridge type you see in the back of many 4WD’s is the generic 40lt fridge.   Every manufacturer makes one, give or take a few litres of capacity.   No matter who makes it, the form factor is pretty much the same story – smallish footprint and a tallish package.   This shape is reasonably space friendly and if yours is wagon style vehicle, you might be considering this fridge type first – regardless of how many folks are in your camping party.

In my opinion, a 40lt is a bit too small for most couples or small family camping groups.   But you can make it work by managing the contents carefully.   Take a can out, and put one in.   We will discuss fridge contents management in a future Blog.

Popular now are twin / single cab tray back vehicles with a canopy.   This vehicle type provides much more space for your camping gear and a larger fridge. 

Fundamentally, there are two main types of fridges available for the camping market.   Compressor fridges and Evaporative fridges.

Evaporative Fridges are often referred to as 3-way fridges meaning that they will work from gas (propane), mains power (240vac) and car battery (12 or 24vdc).   Evaporative fridges are most frequently used as a gas operated fridge as they are very handy when there is no other power source available.  You often find them in caravans and motor homes.  They are slow to cool down and work best when operated on a level surface.  Evaporative fridges will freeze but do not get super cold.   My recommendation is to avoid operating this fridge type on your vehicle battery as they are very power hungry.   As I said, best on gas.

Compressor Fridges are the most common type in the camping world, particularly in 4WD’s and camper trailers.   They operate from 12 – 24vdc (your vehicle or a secondary battery) but usually also operate from mains power (240vac) sometimes via an adaptor.    These fridges will quickly get very cold, often down to -18 degrees C, which is ice cream cold!

Tip – when deciding on a fridge and you are doing mental flip flops over the price differences, ask the sales guy about the compressor type.   Danfos compressors were the benchmark compressor for a long time.  There are several other good compressors fitted to portable fridges now days and a good quality compressor will be efficient with your vehicle power and also have spare parts available.   The proprietary Engel ‘swing motor’ compressor is also a very good and efficient unit.

Compressor fridges are available in sizes from 30lt up to 120lt and beyond.   Most folks find the fridge they need in the 40lt to 85lt range.   Keep in mind, the larger the fridge the bigger the compressor required and the more power it will use.   Your available battery power may be a scarce resource when camped, particularly if you don’t have a second battery or solar panel charging.

Many fridges come with multiple compartments, dairy, cold and freezer.   Some even have a small onboard battery.   Others have moveable partitions allowing you to have a freezer and a cold section but remove the partition (and adjust the thermostat) to give you ‘all cold’ or ‘all freezer’.   Alternately, some have two separate compartments that you can adjust independently for cold or freeze as you need.   These are very useful features as your frozen food capacity needs will change often over the course of your camping trip.

There are a couple of manufactures that offer a draw type fridge.   In some setups, this is a very useful configuration.   You can have a draw type fridge permanently set up in the back of the 4WD or use it in the short term sitting on the back seat (passenger side) as a handy second fridge and still have room to stack gear on top.   Some of these draw type fridges will not get very much below zero degrees so make sure you choose correctly for your anticipated needs.

Tip – your fridge will work best when it is pretty much full.   Also, a full fridge reduces contents movement inside.   If you have space in your fridge and you are worried about the contents crashing around, inflate a couple of wine goon bags with air and use these to support the contents.

In summary, get the biggest fridge you can afford and will fit in your rig.   You will not regret the advantage of a bigger fridge in the long run.   Your choice a multi compartment fridge or an adjustable compartment fridge may come down to budget but are a very useful features.

Avoid ‘no name’ fridges even though they are often a cheaper option.   You may not be able to get parts for a repair and they usually have cheap inefficient compressors which tend to be power hungry.

When setting up your fridge remember to keep good clearance for free air flow around the vents.

Tip – The case construction of your fridge is also important.   Go for something robust and a good natural insulator.  Canvas Transit Bags remain popular but are a bit of a pain to use in practise.   If you plan to take the fridge out of the vehicle, maybe around the kitchen area when camping, select a case construction type that will handle someone sitting on it.   Fibreglass, PVC blow moulded or reinforced metal are best choice here.

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We welcome your comments and suggestions on this article.  Drop us an email if we can help you with more information or with hire of fridges, battery packs solar panels and our top quality camping equipment.

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