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 Indel/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

Waeco CDF25

Waeco CDF26 camping fridge. Even freezes!

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.

Waeco CDF25 in car

Fits behind the seats in this car.

VW California Beach

The fridge fits nicely in this campervan.

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 the CF/CFX range.
  • 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. Again, this is taken care of on the CF/CFX range.
  • Some of the range have carrying handles, but the CDF25 has integrated grab-handles, which some people may struggle with.

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…… A step 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 on this CFX35

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.

What we liked

CF26

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

  • A very efficient compressor fridge (can freeze too.
  • Reinforced corners and solid carrying handles.
  • Works on mains or 12v without the need for a separate transformer.
  • Digital temperature display.
  • There’s also a USB charging socket on the rear.
  • The top is flat rather than rounded. So, in fact, it seems to get around all the slight issues we had with the CDF26.

Cons

  • Marginally less quiet than the CDF26, but it’s still only a gentle hum, which goes off when the box is at temperature.
  • Basket can be a bit ‘tricky to remove when full unless you’re standing right over it.
  • It’s quite deep, so there will be some organising to do to avoid having to take everything out to find the butter!
  • Not cheap at around £550, but a solid investment.

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.

 


Waeco/Dometic absorption coolers

Lots of people like the versatility of an absorption cooler. They’ll run on gas or on either 12v or 230v electricity. They tend to be quite large and boxy, but the Dometic/Waeco ones have a nice aluminium housing. We tested the 31-litre ACX 35 and there’s also a 40-litre model. The ACG 40G works with a standard gas cartridge. By the way, the ACX series used to be called the RC series. From around £250 to £450.

What we liked

  • Cools to 30C below ambient
  • Box-shape with a flat lid makes it useful for putting things on.
  • Silent running (love that film!).
  • 12 volts in the vehicle, 230 volts at home or campsite and switch to gas for outdoor use.
  • Fairly light at 14kg

Cons

  • Takes up a lot of room.
  • A bit unwieldy to carry.

Steer clear of the absorption coolers made by Royal and Tristar. We found them unreliable and not very robust, but are around the same price as the Dometic.


Indel/Webasto Travel Boxes

The Webasto TB31

The Webasto TB31

Webasto's TB18.

Webasto’s TB18

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

They make five sizes of Travel Box – from 13 to 51 litres. We tried the TB18 model. 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.

Slightly noisier at first (that wears off) than the Dometic/Waeco, but relatively affordable – around £300 for the TB18.


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). The newer TCX range offers mains and 12V and better electronics in the same sizes.

The TCX21 – holds two-litre bottles and pretty good at cooling though you do get fan noise. Around £220.

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 £220 from Amazon


Waeco Mobicool coolbox

Mobicool thermoelectric coolboxes

Now this is a tricky one to review because the model we were supplied with has now been replaced by a MUCH-improved version. So, we’ll focus on the one we’d recommend – the U32.

Although it’s a fairly entry-level electric coolbox and many camping kit manufacturers have similar models, the advantages are a double fan, and the fact it can run on both 12V and mains. It will cool to around 18-degrees below ambient.

The Mobicool range offers 26 to 40l models from £45 upwards.

Mobicool coolbox

What we liked

  • More affordable
  • Very lightweight – just 4kg.
  • Plenty of space (in the U32).

Cons

  • Constant fan noise.
  • Unlike the compressor fridges, they can’t cope with very hot outside temperatures.

 


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 range would measure up.

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

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. There’s something very appealing 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.

  • We liked the Cool-Ice for being lighter (4.2kg) and for its more useful shape – a flat-topped box that you can use as a side-table or stool.
  • It has good hinges and latches, low heat absorption and is supremely sturdy. There are spares available too.
  • The Cool-Ice 22 costs around £65.

Our choice? If budget isn’t an issue, we’d definitely always opt for a Waeco/Dometic compressor fridge.

Alternatives? 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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4 Comments

  1. I love the price point of the Indel B/Webasto stuff. But why in the world would you put the display where someone can’t see it if you’re using a slider?

  2. Hi I am new to Campfire Magazine.
    I really enjoy the outdoors and I would like advice on where to ‘safely and without upsetting national park land owners’ wild camp.

    I am primarily looking at the Yorkshire Dales and North Yorkshire Moors. As I live in Kingston Upon Hull and work in Newcastle. My plan would be to travel back to Hull via the Dales so I would be in thr Dsles Thursday evening, tea out under the stars and be ready for a walk in the Dales all day Friday

    I have started to make a list/itinerary but at the moment the list is all theory. I would be sleeping in my car.

    Any advice on areas covered would be greatly appreciated.

    Ed: Hi Steve and welcome. Have a look at our article on apps and online tools that help you find places to wild camp or stop overnight. The one we use all the time is Park4night, and you can see more about that and alternatives in the article. Have a look at the article on Britstops too – a scheme where you can stop over in pub car parks, farmshops and so on, with plenty in the Dales to choose from. Also nip over to Camping and Campervan Chat on Facebook – you can ask questions there and members may have some specific suggestions for you. Good luck.

  3. 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.

  4. 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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