With a portable 12 volt chest refrigerator you can keep your food and drinks ice-cold. Easily load it into your vehicle and bring it with you wherever you go, without having to worry about how or what you’re going to eat or drink.
Whether you’re going camping or have to spend the entire day on the road, a 12 volt chest refrigerator/freezer combo is your best choice for keeping your groceries fresh for days. Just plug it into the 12 volt socket, and the compressor starts working. Once you’re back home or have arrived at your destination you can run the refrigerator on AC power as well, making for a great temporary food storage solution.
Our top pick is the Whynter 45-Quart Portable Refrigerator because it’s versatile, efficient, and has a tough outer casing that withstands long journeys across the country. For more options, this article covers several top picks for different purposes – see the table of contents below for more options.
Best overall: Whynter 45 Quart Portable Fridge/Freezer
Whynter 45 Quart Portable Fridge/Freezer
This Whynter 12 volt chest freezer/fridge is capable of reaching temperatures well below zero degrees, and it’s quiet as well. Perfect for the car, boat, RV, and tent.
Pros: Versatile (temperature adjusts from -8 to 50 degrees), durable exterior metal casing, works with 12/24V DC as well as AC power, lid has a single latch that keeps it closed tightly when driving.
Cons: Heavy – weighs 45 pounds, small feet with rubber pads means that you have to lift the unit to move it, display and buttons are in an awkward place at the bottom side part.
Whether you’re driving across the country in a truck or an RV, this 12 volt chest freezer is a life saver. Not only does it allow you to bring supplies for the journey, but it keeps them cold as long as it’s plugged in. You can even bring frozen foods as the temperature adjusts to -8 degrees. It goes up to 50 degrees too if you want to use it as a regular fridge, and this is only possible because it has a compressor built into the base.
The Whynter 45 Quart Portable Fridge/Freezer is big enough to hold food and drinks for a couple of days, and durable enough to last for years. The lid has great hinges as well as a metal latch that keeps it closed when driving.
We recommend this 12 volt chest freezer/fridge as our top pick because it’s relatively affordable for what you get, and it could work great for multiple purposes including camping, boating, and more.
It isn’t lightweight though as it weighs 45 pounds, but you’re not supposed to carry it around anyway – for the purpose of bringing food and drinks on a day trip, we would rather recommend a plastic cooler with a handle and wheels that you can easily push or pull.
Another minor disadvantage is the feet. Made of metal with a rubber sole it won’t easily move when pushed. This is great when you’re driving, but also inconvenient if you have to move it around often. You’ll have to lift it every time, or place it on a set of wheels.
This portable 12 volt chest freezer can be used in a garage at home too if needed – for more options, see our buying guide on small chest freezers for the garage.
Best on a budget: Alpicool Portable 12 Volt Refrigerator/Freezer
Alpicool Portable 12 Volt Refrigerator/Freezer
The Alpicool Portable 12 Volt Refrigerator/Freezer has a few very useful features that we love, and it’s one of the more affordable options on the market.
Pros: Stylish design with an internal LED light, adjustable temperature (from -4 to appx. 68 degrees), quiet compressor, lid has a chain that holds it when open, and there’s a lock integrated in the lid as well.
Cons: Control panel is on the side which could make it difficult to adjust the unit, might not keep the temperature below zero degrees in very hot weather, some parts seem a bit cheap.
If you’re in the market for an affordable cooler able to reach temperatures below zero degrees, the Alpicool Portable 12 Volt Refrigerator/Freezer is definitely worth considering. It comes with a good amount of features that we like, such as the internal LED light that illuminates the contents and gives you a perfect overview, adjustable temperature levels from below zero to approximately 68 degrees, and a relatively quiet compressor unit.
The Alpicool chest freezer does well in a car, and no model offers greater value than this one. It comes in different sizes ranging from 35 liters and up to 55 liters, which means that you can bring plenty of food for a long journey.
There is a lock integrated under the lid, but it’s a plastic lock and we worry that it might break or malfunction at some point. It isn’t of any great concern though, because it seems durable enough to withstand a good pounding.
Although the design is quite practical, the way they placed the lid means that you need a good amount of space above the chest, and since the control panel is also places in one side you have limited options when it comes to placing the chest freezer in your car, boat, or RV.
Best durable: Engel 40 Quart Portable Top-Opening Tri-Voltage Fridge/Freezer
Engel 40 Quart Portable Top-Opening Tri-Voltage Fridge/Freezer
There seems to be a general consensus that Engel is THE best 12 volt chest freezer/fridge, and this 40 Quart Tri-Voltage model has many advantages if you’re an avid camper.
Pros: Practical design allows for easy access, the Engel compressor is quiet and relatively efficient, exterior casing is made of durable ABS that doesn’t dent or rust easily, tri-voltage means that it runs on 12/24V battery OR plugs into the grid.
Cons: Latches seem a bit flimsy, lack of a digital display is slightly inconvenient for those wanting to adjust the temperature, “only” operates 80 degrees F from the ambient temperature.
Engel has an excellent reputation with the camping/RV community, and it’s easy to understand why it’s generally considered a great choice for those in need of a 12 volt chest freezer/fridge.
The Engel 40 Quart Portable Top-Opening Tri-Voltage Fridge/Freezer has many qualities, but most importantly: It’s durable and operates efficiently in most climates. The compressor is able to retain a temperature that differs up to 80 degrees F from the ambient temperature, which is very impressive.
In contrast to other 12 volt chest freezers, this one has an exterior casing made of ABS plastic. While this may sound like a cost cutting measure, plastic has many advantages over metal. First and foremost it doesn’t corrode, so if you’re camping near the ocean or boating you don’t have to worry about the salty air. Secondly, plastic doesn’t dent easily because it’s a durable and flexible material. It will get scratched however, but that’s just cosmetic damage and can’t be prevented anyway.
Like other 12 volt chest fridges/freezer combos, the Engel model runs on DC and AC as well. This means that you can power it with a car battery, and once you’ve arrived at your destination you can plug it into the grid. Or you could run it inside your house as well.
Although Engel is generally considered one of the best cooler brands on the market, this model has a few trade-offs that we would like to address: First of all we felt a little disappointed with the latches as they don’t seem equally as durable as the casing. They’re made of what seems to be cheap plastic, but so far it doesn’t seem like they’ve caused any issues. We would really like a display in order to adjust the temperature easily, but with this model there’s only a knob at your disposal. On the other hand though, this means that there’s no display and fancy electronics that could break.
Best security: ARB Elements Weatherproof 63 Quart Fridge/Freezer
ARB Elements Weatherproof 63 Quart Fridge/Freezer
The high-end ARB Elements Weatherproof 63 Quart Fridge/Freezer is the perfect 12 volt refrigerator chest for those who like a bit of extra security.
Pros: Programmable 4-digit pin lock keeps the contents cold and secure, extremely durable design, can be mounted permanently in the back of an SUV, truck, or inside an RV, gas strut holds lid open, energy efficient.
Cons: Relatively expensive, temperature display might not be fully accurate, temperature isn’t distributed evenly from top to bottom if it’s full, heavy (weights 70 pounds).
This behemoth offers ample food storage capacity, and it’s perfectly capable of reaching sub zero degrees in most environments. The durable design is a big plus for those who want to mount it in the back of a truck or SUV, and the pin lock ensures that nobody can tamper with the contents when you’re out of sight.
ARB is an Australian brand, known for their durable design and specialized in vehicle equipment for those venturing out into the backcountry. The 12 volt chest freezer/fridge combo is therefore, unsurprisingly, a great addition to any truck or RV that’s built to go into the backcountry along bumpy roads.
We appreciate that the lid stays open with the help of a gas strut, making it easier to grab whatever food you want without being bothered by a lid that doesn’t stay up on its own. Such attention to detail is what makes this chest refrigerator better than other models. It also comes with a dimmable digital display and touch-sensitive buttons for easy adjustment of temperature settings.
Unfortunately these features are also what makes this chest cooler slightly more expensive than other models. It does offer a higher capacity than other models talked about in this buying guide though, and if you’re serious about camping/RV-ing a proper 12 volt refrigerator is a great investment.
We did see a few complaints about the temperature display not being completely accurate and temperatures not being evenly distributed throughout the cooler, but we believe there’s an easy fix for that. Simply get a cheap digital freezer room thermometer, and you can easily measure the actual internal temperature.
Best high-capacity: Whynter 85 Quart Portable Fridge/Freezer
Whynter 85 Quart Portable Fridge/Freezer
If you need high capacity over anything, the Whynter 85 Quart Portable Fridge/Freezer Chest grants you a well utilized 2.8 cubic feet of cold storage.
Pros: It’s big – which means plenty of capacity for your food supplies, easily plugs into 12 volt or 24 volt DC but also AC wall outlets, Fast Freeze mode, adjustable temperature (from -8 to 50 degrees F).
Cons: It’s big – which also means heavy (71 pounds!), metal handles are small and slightly impractical if you want to carry it over greater distances, the display and control panel are in an awkward position.
The Whynter 85 Quart Portable Fridge/Freezer chest takes the prize for being the best high-capacity chest refrigerator on the market, according to our research.
With a 2.8 cubic feet capacity you can store food for a week or more, which is great if you’re living off grid for longer periods at a time. Perhaps you’re planning to live in an RV? With this 12 volt chest refrigerator you can bring along food for more than one week without stopping a single time at a grocery store, so if you want to get really far into the backcountry this is your best option.
Once you’ve reached your destination and once again have access to the grid, you can easily plug it into any wall outlet instead of draining the car battery. If you want to freeze something quickly, activate the “Fast Freeze” mode to increase the compressor performance. The adjustable thermostat allows you to set any temperature between -8 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit, making it great for many purposes.
On the flipside you’re looking at a bulky 12 volt chest freezer/fridge with a net weight of 71 pounds. For that reason it works better as a stationary refrigerator chest, and shouldn’t be carried around too much. We have our doubts about whether the handles will last or not, and they don’t seem very comfortable either.
We like that it comes with a digital display next to the control panel buttons, but they’re in an awkward position at the very bottom of one side. This means that you have limited options as to how you’re placing this cooler.
Best compact: AstroAI 16 Quart 12 Volt Chest Freezer
AstroAI 16 Quart 12 Volt Chest Freezer
Weighing just over 20 pounds, the AstroAI 16 Quart 12 Volt Chest Freezer is a great choice for those seeking a compact cooler spacious enough for a day trip.
Pros: Relatively quiet – no unpleasant noise has been noticed, easily adjusts from freezer to fridge with temperatures between -4 and 68 degrees F, choose between ECO or Max mode and Celsius or Fahrenheit, handy USB charging port available.
Cons: Black top and sides contract heat from the sun if used outside, having the display on top is not always practical, lid does not lock into place.
The AstroAI 16 Quart 12 Volt Chest Freezer cools down to -4 degrees Fahrenheit, but it works with different temperatures up to 68 degrees Fahrenheit depending on your preferred settings. It’s a great compact refrigerator for short day trips, and it’s big enough to keep supplies for a couple of days if you organize your foods properly.
Despite the affordable price you get a great little digital display with a few useful options such as an ECO mode or a Max mode, which allow you to run it in a power saving mode or a more intensive mode respectively.
Most buyers thought it was relatively quiet too, which is great if you’re planning on running it in an RV, and it offers a USB charging port on top for easy charging of your electronic devices.
One small thing worth noting is that the top and sides are all black, and as you know these will contract heat if it’s placed directly under the sun. We aren’t sure how or if it will influence the internal temperature, but we do think it will impact the performance significantly. Fortunately this is easily fixed by simply not placing it directly under the sun – which in most cases won’t be an issue anyway.
We do miss the ability to lock the lid so it won’t open by accident while driving, and because the display and control panel are located on top of the cooler you can’t place anything on top of it. These are only small inconveniences though, and not at all dealbreakers in our opinion.
What to look for when buying a 12 volt chest refrigerator
A 12 volt chest freezer/fridge is a vital part of any kind of off grid living, whether it’s permanent or temporary. As avid nature enthusiasts ourselves we enjoy spending days and weeks in unity with nature, and a proper cold storage enables us to do so for days without going back to civilisation at all.
In order to pick the best 12 volt chest refrigerator, we defined the most important factors and how they impact the overall experience with the product. Read on below if you’d like to learn more about the most important things to look for when buying a new chest refrigerator:
Durability – 12 volt chest freezers/fridges are not always as durable as we’d want them to be. One way to tell them apart is to look at the exterior design: Does it appear rugged? Are corners reinforced? Does it have a robust locking mechanism and heavy-duty handles?
Capacity – capacity is clearly indicated on each chest refrigerator, but you need to look at the measures of the internal room to determine whether it’s properly laid out or not. The capacity also depends on your needs of course. Generally speaking, food items that are above sub zero degrees are easier to distribute than foods than are frozen solid.
Performance – this is especially important in a hot climate. You need a chest refrigerator that is capable of standing up against intense heat on a hot summer day, without causing the internal temperature to rise. You’ll have to look at how powerful the compressor is, and whether it has a “super freeze”-feature or similar.
Temperature settings – most chest refrigerators would be categorized as “coolers” because they’re able to keep your foods cold for extended periods of time. However, not all chest refrigerators are able to operate as freezers. If this is a big deal for you, go for one with temperature settings between -4 to 50 degrees at the very least.
Energy efficiency – when you’re plugged into your car battery, you want a chest refrigerator that won’t drain the battery too quickly. While energy efficiency can’t be guaranteed (because it depends on the ambient temperature and other factors), you should choose one that draws as little power as possible – and don’t choose a unit that’s larger than what you need. Go as small as possible to save power, but also space.
Insulation – this goes hand in hand with energy efficiency. You want your 12 volt chest refrigerator to be properly insulated around the sides, bottom and top, in order to save as much power and retain the lowest temperature possible regardless of the ambient temperature.
Security – while most 12 volt chest freezers/fridges aren’t bear proof, it could potentially discourage a bear if it’s locked properly and sealed tight. A bear is generally attracted by human food, especially if it lays out in the open. Another important feature to consider is a lock with a pin number or key hole, which would discourage strangers from opening the cooler and tamper with your foods or drinks.
Low battery shut-off – this is a great feature, because it prevents the cooler from draining the car battery entirely. With this feature the chest refrigerator shuts off by itself, if it gets a low battery reading. This could save you from getting stranded in a remote area with no battery power, far from anywhere.
Reliability – we appreciate products from certain brands with a proven track record, especially when it comes to essential equipment such as a refrigerator to store our food in. This is definitely not the right place to cut corners, unless you’re just looking for a small cooling unit to bring along on a relaxing day trip.
Overall value – this is important. Of course the value proposition has to go hand in hand with your actual needs, and you have to consider whether a particular product provides the right value for your needs.
For instance, if you want a cooler for a fun day at the beach, you don’t necessarily have to buy one that costs over a thousand bucks.
On the other hand, if you’re looking for a proper refrigerator that will keep your food cold for weeks, you shouldn’t get the cheapest one possible.
The goal is to find the perfect balance between price, value, and features.