Which camping fridge? We put fridges and coolboxes to the test

Waeco CFX35 compressor fridge

If you’ve already read our buyers’ guide to camping fridges and coolboxes, you should have a good idea of what kind of coolbox is best for particular scenarios. Now it’s time to look at some actual models to see how well they perform.

All our reviews at Campfire Magazine are independent and honest, and we have no ties to any manufacturers. There are, it seems, just two options for make of compressor fridge – Dometic/Waeco and Webasto. These have grabbed the market for higher-end options and it’s their ranges you’re most likely to come across.

Have a look at our reviews here and share your views too! Remember, where we’ve given sizes, do check measurements before buying. Companies aren’t consistent in what they call ‘depth’ – sometimes it means length!


Waeco CDF26 compressor fridge

Despite its name, this is actually a 21.5-litre fridge/freezer that is high enough to take upright wine bottles and two-litre bottles. There’s a cold section and a smaller area equivalent to the salad drawer in your home fridge, and even an interior light. A pull-out basket makes it easy to transfer things from the fridge to the cooler when you’re packing. Its temperature range is +10 to -18, and, being a compressor, it’ll achieve those temperatures whatever the heat outside.

It works on the 12V car or leisure battery and can be used on mains with a separate adaptor (we used the CoolPower EPS100). It weighs 12.5kg.

The range also includes 11-, 16- and 18-litre models. For bigger, you need to look at the CFX A** and A* rated range, which hold from 26 to 85 litres.

What we liked

  • It’s very quiet indeed, and the compressor switches off when it’s at temperature, so you also get complete silence (unlike the continual fan noise of a thermoelectric).
  • The slim shape makes it easy to fit behind the front seats or in the boot (remember that you need to allow a bit of space for ventilation around it). And the flat top is useful.
  • It uses very little power (0.67Ah on 12V when it’s 32-degrees outside).
  • A battery-saving cut-off makes sure you always have enough car battery left to start the vehicle.
  • It was very cold within 15 minutes.

Cons

  • We weren’t keen on the sliding knob thermostat controls, which looked a bit ugly and old-fashioned. There are digital displays on many of the other models.
  • There’s no indicator for what temperature the fridge is at, so it’s a question of guesswork for how far along you slide the control.
  • Some of the range have carrying handles, but the CDF25 has integrated grab-handles, which some people may struggle with.
  • You have to take care fitting the 12V connector into the mains adaptor, as the connection isn’t very positive.
  • After a few weeks of use, it started to get too a little noisier. Not anything you’d notice normally, but quite disturbing at night in a silent tent. That seemed to be the case only when using the mains adaptor, by the way.

Available from Amazon at around £440.


Waeco CF and CFX compressor fridges

Waeco do like to confuse us with their product names – CF, CFX, CDF…… Next up from the CDF range reviewed above are the CFs, which have the same capacities but more sophisticated features.

Waeco CFX35 compressor fridge

We liked the sturdy carrying handles and the internal basket.

Then there’s the CFX range, which were only the big boys until the arrival of the new CFX35 (32-litre). This is the top spec in the portable family-sized options and it’s definitely one of our favourites.

CF26

The CF26 – AC/DC with no need for a transformer

It’s a very efficient compressor fridge (can freeze too) with reinforced corners and solid carrying handles, the lack of which was something we felt was lacking about its slightly smaller sister, the CDF26. It works on mains or 12v without the need for a separate transformer, has a digital temperature display and the top is flat rather than rounded. So, in fact, it seems to get around all the slight issues we had with the CDF26.

It doesn’t seem quite as quiet as the CDF26, but it’s still only a gentle hum, which goes off when the box is at temperature. There are some good battery-saving features too, and we like the way the inner basket can be partitioned. It’s quite deep, so there will be some organising to do to avoid having to take everything out to find the butter!

There’s a USB charging socket on the rear, but we’re not sure how useful that it. Whether you’re hooked up to mains or the car/campervan, you obviously have power, so why wouldn’t you plug your phone in directly? Ah…we get it now. If you’ve only got one socket in the car, you don’t want to be unplugging your fridge to charge the phone!

In the CF range, the CF11/16 and 26 add the dual 12v and 100-240v AC (no need for transformer) to the CDF models of the same capacities. This means you can plug them straight into the car or at home with no extra leads or boxes etc. The CDF18 is the only version that doesn’t have the mains feature now. All have digital temperature displays too. The 16 and 26 are designed to go either between the seats of a vehicle or behind the driver/passenger seat. They have the finger grips rather than handles to minimise their size.


Webasto Isotherm compressor Travel Boxes

The Webasto TB31

The Webasto TB31

Indel Webasto are the only competitors to Waeco when it comes to decently efficient compressors (let us know if we’re wrong!).

We’ve tried the Isotherm TB18. Around £360 from www.shopwebasto.co.uk. This is DC-only (so uses the car socket). The TB18 is very compact and boasts a new BD micro compressor with integrated control electronics, which regulates the speed according to the temperature set, so consumption is reduced to a minimum.

We found it to be properly portable – very light and with an included carrying strap. There are no carrying handles, however. We liked it for portability, but weren’t so keen on the chain that holds the lid open or the fact that the power cable connects at the front. The chain didn’t feel as if it would last very long. A good option for a couple, though, and it would fit easily between or behind seats. Slightly noisier at first (that wears off) than the Dometic/Waeco, but relatively affordable – even the big TB51 is less than £500. Given a choice between a thermoelectric coolbox and the Webasto, we’d rather spend the money on the Webasto.

Webasto's TB18.

Webasto’s TB18.

The Travel Boxes are available as 15-, 31-, 41- and 51-litre options. The 31-litre variant at around £435 is the best comparison for size and price with the Waeco CFX28 we tested, and does have both AC and DC options, plus sturdy handles.

  • TB18 – (18-litre) 405 x 235 x 565 mm, 8.6kg – about £360
  • TB31 – (29-litre) 380 x 350 x 585 mm, 18kg – about £435

Waeco Tropicool high-end thermoelectric coolboxes

Waeco Tropicool TC21

Lots of space inside the Tropicool TC21

These differ from the usual electric coolboxes in that the fan is at the bottom rather than in the lid. They also has some clever power-saving electronics to improve performance. There’s a soft-touch display panel to set the desired temperature level.

The 20-litre A** rated model (TC21) we tested had plenty of space and weighed 6kg, but there are also 14- and 35- litre options (plus a seven-litre with slightly lower spec).

Waeco Tropicool

The Waeco/Dometic Tropicool family.

What we liked

  • Lightweight and a good carrying handle.
  • There’s plenty of room and a removeable partition for flexibility.
  • The control panel was easy to use.
  • It got cold quickly, though we weren’t operating it in Mediterranean conditions.

 Cons

  • We didn’t like the constant fan noise and wouldn’t want it next to us in a tent (or in a neighbour’s tent!). Unfortunately, that’s what you get with any thermoelectric box.

The TC21 is available at around £130 from Amazon


Mobicool TC23 thermoelectric coolbox

Mobicool toolbox

Mobicool thermoelectric – at the lower end of the price and features range.

Now this is a tricky one to review because the model we were supplied with has now been replaced by the U32, which seems to have been improved somewhat.

Both are fairly entry-level electric coolboxes and many camping kit manufacturers have similar models. This one has a double fan, can run on both 12V and mains and will cool to around 18-degrees below ambient.

Mobicool coolbox

What we liked

  • It’s cheap.
  • It’s very lightweight – just 4kg.
  • There’s plenty of space.
Mobicool thermoelectric coolbox

A nasty switch on the model we tested

Cons

  • Constant fan noise.
  • We really disliked the very dodgy Eco/Max switch in a slot at the back. It barely looks like a switch and seemed very cheap and unreliable.
  • We also hated the sharp-edged gaps at the back designed for pushing the mains and DC cables out of sight (this looks to have been redesigned in newer models).

Waeco Mobicool coolboxThe nearest to the model we reviewed is the £60 Waeco/Mobicool U32


Pro grade passive coolboxes

There are hundreds of non-electric coolboxes out there that simply work by filling with ice or ice-packs. The level of insulation is what matters here. The Campfire team has used a Yeti Roadie passive coolbox in the past, so we were interested to see how Waeco’s Cool-Ice would measure up.

Yeti coolbox

Good at Rubiks Cube? Then you could probably get all this inside the Yeti.

We tested a 22-litre Waeco Cool-Ice (the range spans 13 litres to 110). The official test results on the Waeco website show that if you filled it (they used a slightly larger model) with 30kg of ice, only opened it for a minute a day and removed the melted water, you’d still have enough ice left to make it effective after 11 days. This was on a constant 30-degree temperature. That looks impressive, but it’s not how people use a coolbox, of course.

Waeco CoolIce coolbox

Sturdy, efficient and very affordable. Slightly beaten by the Yeti on performance, but MUCH cheaper

We froze a two-litre bottle of water, left it in the box in a sunny porch and checked on it three times a day. We got three days of useable coolness. With the Yeti, we got four. Now, this isn’t a true reflection of actual use either, because so much depends on how full the box is, what temperature you get it to before you start to fill it, what temperature the food is when it goes in and how often you open it. For ideal cooling, you’d have twice as much ice as food – but we doubt that would work for many campers who don’t want to give up food space or carry around an extra-large box.

There’s something very appealing, though, about the simplicity of a passive coolbox. No need for electricity or adaptors, but you do need to top up the ice or refreeze the blocks, and it’ll never keep things as reliably cold as a compressor.

  • Apart from the better performance of the Yeti, we preferred the Cool-Ice for being much lighter (4.2kg compared to 7kg) and for its more useful shape – a flat-topped box that you can use as a side-table or stool.
  • Both have good hinges and latches, low heat absorption and are supremely sturdy. There are spares available too.
  • The Yeti Roadie 20 (18-litre) costs around £220; the Cool-Ice 22 around £60.

Alternatives? Webasto make compressor coolboxes between 15 and 55 litres, although you don’t get mains power below the 30-litre model. We haven’t tested them yet, but we will! There are lots of cheap thermoelectric coolboxes by CalorGaz, Outwell and so on. Our advice for these and passive coolboxes? Check the insulation, because that’s what counts.

You can read our buyers’ guide to camping coolboxes and fridges here. It’s a handy checklist of what to look for and what to expect from the different types available. If you’ve found a great coolbox, we’d like to hear about it. Either comment below or drop us an email.

 

 

 

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2 Comments

  1. Highly recommend the WAECO CFX65DZ.

    Pricey and heavy but if you like ice with your G&T whilst camping, it’s the only option. Amazingly quiet and even left in our tent on a recent trip to South West France in May/June, happily kept the fridge cold and the freezer section at -18. AC, DC or solar and it really feels like quality.

    Just contemplating the WAECO TCX-35 (2016 version) as a weekend fridge as the CFX65DZ is a tad bulky.

  2. Warren Howes

    Just to say we have a TC21 and the fan is noisy but only while initially getting down to temperature. Once there it is whisper quiet; we have it in our tent and I can’t hear it in the dead of night.

    Have never used any of the others so cannot offer a comparison to them, but it’s much quieter (and more effective) than a cheaper fan-based one owned by friends.

    We have used it in fairly warm (40 deg) temperature with food safely cold.

    Main downside for us was cost, but it was cheaper and more compact than the compressor-based alternatives.

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