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I notice that many people opt for refrigerator/freezers in their van builds.

Like this: https://www.engel-usa.com/products/fridge-freezers/portable-top-loading-models/engel-mt45-ac-dc-fridge-freezer

This is at least $600 more than one of those expensive but very high quality coolers plus they require a significant and steady source of electrical power.

Example of a cooler that is supposed to keep cold for 8-10 days:

https://www.engel-usa.com/products/deepblue-coolers/white-engel-coolers/engel-deepblue-65-cooler

There are also several other brands. Care to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of going with either type?
 

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I bought a $79 dorm fridge from Walmart to run off my inverter. The last one I had lasted for 7 years and was still working fine when I sold the Sprinter. If this one dies in a few years who cares I'll just by another one!
 

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My experience with super coolers on boats and in RVs over 40 years is that they are not worth the price. Draining water and buying ice is a pain. I achieve better insulation and longer lasting ice by using an Igloo "marine" cooler (at West Marine) (slightly better insulation than Igloo's cheapest). I then put 2 inches of rigid foam under it and drape it with a form fitting, four sides and top, insulating cover made from two thicknesses of the padded "blanket" used by movers to protect furniture. The cover should fit tightly. Ice lasts better. Super coolers may advertise very thick insulation but study carefully as the wall thickness is often thinner where there are handles, etc. I would strongly consider the Engle electrical or similar; they don't use much power and can be improved by a padded cover except over the areas that must have air to cool the compressor/condenser.
 

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DISCLAIMER: I have TWO fridges in my van. One a fridge only, the other is used as a freezer. Obviously I like my food and drink.

If you don't already have (or plan to install) an electrical system capable of running the "stuff" you plan to have on board - then the cooler is the way to go.

If you've already invested in the electrical system (solar, gen or both) what's a few bucks more for a fridge. Plus getting ice is a REAL pain.

Hope this discussion doesn't get overheated. :D
 

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....cut..... Care to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of going with either type?
I've had both and while either can get the job done, both choices have very different pros and cons.

A cooler (mine was 5-day and relatively inexpensive) is very simple and reliable. As long as you put ice in it the food will always be cool. No fear of whether there was a power interruption while van was unattended. Coolers can also be removed easily when not in use, or used for other purpose. Coolers are also very quiet and don't add heat to van -- actually help cool van by a very slight amount that is not worth measuring. The two biggest disadvantages are having to buy ice every couple of days, and that if you add more ice to last longer then there is less space for food and drinks. Water in cooler can also get food wet. And of course coolers don't have freezers.

RV fridge come in compressor and absorption type. They store more food in dry shelves and it's much easier to access food because it's much easier to organize and see stuff inside. Freezer sections are nice too. Downside is that they require electricity or propane. All-electric give off a little heat inside van that has to be removed by air conditioner, and propane type has to be vented to outside. Propane absorption type also require van to be parked fairly level. Electric compressor type can be on a slope.

Coolers are simplest and lowest cost and are great if used occasionally. I would avoid propane absorption. All-electric compressor type is great if you have enough power to run it.
 

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Discussion Starter #6 (Edited)
coolers vs. refrigerator

Thanks for all the responses!

I have a cheapo dorm refrigerator in my handbuilt cabin and it is just barely ok. It makes noise when the compressor turns on that disturbs my sleep. I worry that would be even worse in the space of my van.


I had forgotten about the problem with food getting wet in a cooler - because I generally use 2 liter bottles that have had water frozen into them. Getting anything but bags of ice would be difficult while travelling. Are any made with racks inside to avoid the ice?

I'll look into the Igloo coolers.

I can see where getting ice to a boat would be problematic but if I am driving around, it seems pretty easy to find.

I am curious about the noise level of the Engle refrigerators (or the like).
 

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I used a high quality Yeti before I got my Engel45. I really liked my standard cool but once I got used to a nice fridge I will never be able to go back. The main advantage I see with a brand like engel or national luna is that they are made to withstand the demands of serious overland travel and they do not draw as much power as some of the other brands. I have not had one issue with mine and its been in my car for the past 5 years.
 

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I have two in my camper van. A propane fridge that has no freezer that was in it when I bought it and a Dometic cool/freeze cf18 that I use as a freezer. The cf 18 was $400($350 +$50 for insulated cover) from adventurerv.net. works great but had to up my battery bank to 220 amp hrs and put 155 watt panel on roof.
 

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I just love my Engel electric cooler (I have the MT45).

Very efficient, quiet and I just love the fact that I don't have to run around for ice and n my things are not floating in the water anymore..

The Ice Age is over for me ;)
 

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....cut......


I had forgotten about the problem with food getting wet in a cooler - because I generally use 2 liter bottles that have had water frozen into them. Getting anything but bags of ice would be difficult while travelling. Are any made with racks inside to avoid the ice?

I'll look into the Igloo coolers.

I can see where getting ice to a boat would be problematic but if I am driving around, it seems pretty easy to find.

.....cut.....
Our cooler has a lip on inside about 2/3 way up that can support tray(s) above ice. That way if we didn't drain cooler often enough there was much less chance of getting food or its packaging wet. Of course things like Coke, beer, or anything in plastic bottle doesn't matter if it gets wet. We packed/transferred things like milk and orange juice to empty (and washed) GatorAid bottles so they could stay in ice.

As to getting ice, I agree it can be very easy. We don't camp in remote locations at all. Since we mainly "travel" almost every day which requires buying gasoline, we get ice at same time. I'd guess we average one small-to-medium bag of ice every other day. On a week trip we might buy three bags on the road. We leave with plenty of ice from home plus pre-cooked meals that are frozen, and return almost empty. Cost of ice is just not a factor. Not having a freezer is. I even looked at dry ice but decided against it -- wasn't worth the hassle.

A couple of times we stayed at a campground for an entire week that did not sell ice. I had to walk a couple of hundred yards to a gas station to buy ice two or three times during the week. Not that big a deal for me, plus it was the exception more than the rule.
 

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Here are two hints I have found help when using ice in a cooler: A grate, wire rack, or Dri-Deck plastic material sold by West Marine raises food about 1/4 to 3/8 inch off the bottom so it does not get so wet if water is drained frequently. Also I use in the cooler a couple of small plastic waste baskets (bathroom size) with holes drilled in the bottom to hold the ice thus keeping the ice at one end beside the food in stead of mixed in with the food permitting better organization.
 

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You can buy a lot of ice for a long time for $500! Personally my $79 dorm fridge works perfectly and if I shut it off at night it stays cold till morning, no problem.
 

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You can buy a lot of ice for a long time for $500!
Yes you can! Of course, you can also buy a lot of nice comfortable hotel rooms for the money WE spend on our ProMasters. :)
 

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I was just thinking the same thing. But then you have to put up with someone else's bedbugs:laugh:
 

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....cut......
Also I use in the cooler a couple of small plastic waste baskets (bathroom size) with holes drilled in the bottom to hold the ice thus keeping the ice at one end beside the food in stead of mixed in with the food permitting better organization.
Interesting idea, thanks for sharing. I'll have to try it next time I use a cooler. Do you notice if the cooler stays a little warmer due to ice being segregated inside containers?

On our last long 3-week trip with family in rented RV we used our cooler to supplement refrigerator capacity. In cooler food and drink remains very close to 32 degrees, while in absorption RV fridge we were lucky to hold 40 F.


I forgot to mention in earlier post another advantage to coolers is that they don't require time to precool. We dump ice in it and food can go in immediately. With our own RV we had to precool fridge overnight -- thus it took more planning for quick unplanned trips.

Now that I think about it another advantage to cooler is that we can load it in kitchen next to our home's refrigerator and then carry it all out in one trip (although a little heavier). With our RV we ended up making many trips back and forth. In fairness we also took much more stuff with us since fridge was much larger than cooler.
 

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To answer the question above: Placing the ice in thin walled plastic container(s) at one end of the cooler does not seem to cause the other end to be warmer. Natural internal air circulation keeps it all the same and there is a slight advantage in that some foods should not freeze which happens if the ice is directly on top of that food.
 
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