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 compressor fridges – Dometic (was 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 for camping fridges, do check measurements before buying. Companies aren’t consistent in what they call ‘depth’ – sometimes it means length! Also, there are a lot of older models around, which might be fine for you. But, if you want the latest, do check the model numbers. All Dometic’s new models will say Dometic rather than Waeco on them.

(Latest update: August 2019)


Waeco CDF Coolfreeze compressor fridges

We tested the CDF36. Despite its name, this is actually a 31-litre fridge/freezer that’s 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 LED 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 -15, 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 too.

For bigger, you need to look at the CFX A** and A* rated range, which hold up to 60 litres.

What we liked

  • 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 (DC@5/25°C – 0.59 kWh/24h).
  • 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.

What could be better

  • It’d be nice to have smaller models in the series (there used to be a small version and you might still be able to find that in old stock).
  • Some of Dometic’s fridges have carrying handles, but the CDFs have integrated grab-handles, which some people may struggle with.

Prices range from around £300 to £525.


Dometic CFX35

Dometic 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.

Then there’s the CFX range, which were only the big boys until the arrival of the Dometic CFX35 (32-litre). These models are the top spec in the portable family-sized options and definitely some of our favourites.

CFX models come in 32, 38, 46 and 60 litres. Plus there are some giant ones after that with dual cool zones, up to 88l.

What we liked

  • A very efficient compressor fridge (can freeze too).
  • Reinforced corners and solid carrying handles.
  • Works on mains or 12v.
  • Digital temperature display – and even an app to control temperatures!
  • There’s also a USB charging socket on the rear.

Cons

  • Marginally less quiet than the CDF36, 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.


Dometic CF compressor fridges

In the CF range, the CF11, 16 and 26 are superslim and compact. They work on 12V and 100-240V AC, so plug them straight into the car or at home with no extra leads or boxes etc. All have digital temperature displays and can go from +10 to -15. The CF16 and CF26 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.

To be fair, the CDFs are probably a better bet now and some are actually cheaper.


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 ones have a nice aluminium housing. We tested the 31-litre ACX 35 and there’s also a 40-litre model. The ACX 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, but relatively affordable – around £300 for the TB18.


Dometic Tropicool high-end thermoelectric coolboxes

The Tropicool range differs from the usual electric coolboxes in that the fan is at the bottom rather than in the lid. They also have some clever power-saving electronics to improve performance and offer 12/24V and mains operation. There’s a display panel to set the desired temperature level. And they refrigerate down to -7°C below ambient temperature and heat up to +65°C.

The TCX models (14, 21 and 31) have capacity of 14, 20 and 33 litres.

What we liked

  • Lightweight (7kg for the TCX21).
  • There’s plenty of room and a removable partition for flexibility.
  • The control panel was easy to use.
  • It got cold quickly, though we weren’t operating it in Mediterranean conditions.D

 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.

Dometic Coolfun range

Another range of thermoelectric coolboxes – this time more traditional with the fan in the lid and a lower performance of around 18C below ambient (so not good enough for long stays in warm climates).

There are three sizes. The smallest (the SCT26 25l) runs only on 12/24V. The next two up (29 and 37l) work on mains too. All have a USB charging port for your phone or tablet.

From around £70.


Other portable compressor fridges

There are also some less well-known makes of compressor fridge, such as the Ice-Cube. We haven’t tried these yet, but they get good reviews on Amazon (real reviews as far as we can see….beware the all-five-stars, the over-gushing reviews that repeat everything the seller said and the ones that sound like they’ve been put through Google Translate).

The 20-litre Ice-Cube portable compressor fridge and the 30-litre variamt (with wheels) look a bit ugly, but cost between £300 and £350. They come with a 12V plug and an AC mains plug.

The Bluefin 24-litre fridge

Bluefin make a 24-litre fridge for around £350. It has a digital temperature display and claims to keep a cool temperature range of -18°C to 10°C. It’s designed for 12, 24, 100, and 240V power. Also available in five sizes up to 80 litres.


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.

Cool-Ice coolbox

The Campfire team has used a Yeti Roadie passive coolbox in the past, so we were interested to see how Dometic’s Cool-Ice range would measure up.

We tested a 20l model (the new range spans 43 litres to 111, but you can find them from 13l upwards here.). Dometic’s tests have shown that if you filled one with 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 10 days. This was on a constant 30-degree temperature. That looks impressive, but it’s not how people use a coolbox, of course.

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 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. ‘Labyrinth’ seals ensure no cold can escape. There are spares available too.
  • The Cool-Ice 22 costs around £75.

The Coleman Extreme coolbox range

Lots of Campfire Mag readers have told us they love their Coleman passive coolboxes. Prices start at around £55.

They have great insulation both in the walls and in the lid and can keep things cool for days (providing you fill the box and don’t open it too much).

The standard coolboxes come in five sizes – from 33 litres to 91. We tested the 47l wheeled version by completely filling it with ice packs and bottles of frozen water. We found we still had ice inside after four days. Not bad at all. Unlike compressor fridges, however, performance will vary if it’s super-hot outside. Keep your coolbox out of the sun, if you can.

There’s also a nice 26-litre model with a single carrying handle.

We liked:

  • The flat top and sturdy construction mean you can use them to sit on. There are cup-holders on the lid too.
  • Fairly lightweight – until you fill them, of course.
  • Excellent cooling.
  • BPA-free plastic.
  • We weren’t so keen on the handles as they were a bit sharp to hold and carrying the bigger sizes feels a bit awkward.

Don’t forget the iceblocks

The best we’ve found for maximising space and coldness are the Thermos Freezeboards. Around £7.


If you’re wondering about power for your fridge, read our guide to power for camping and campervans. This is the fantastic Goal Zero Yeti – a top-notch lithium powerbank for laptops and coolboxes.

Our choice? If budget isn’t an issue, we’d definitely always opt for a Dometic CFX35.

Alternatives? There are quite a few cheaper thermoelectric coolboxes by Dometic, Campingaz, AmazonBasics and so on. Our advice for these and passive coolboxes is to 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.


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Comparison charts for Dometic fridges and coolers


 

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8 Comments

  1. Thank you for your reviews – I have found them very informative.
    However, one thing struck me (it may be a missing decimal point, but…..)

    Waeco compressor fridges: quote “59 kWh per 24 hr” of operation would be a killer for a domestic freezer let alone a portable battery operated device!
    For comparison, a high capacity 96Ah 12V leisure battery has only 1 kWh power capacity.ED: Well spotted, Mike. Thanks so much for pointing that out. It’s actually wrong on the Dometic website and should be 0.59. We’ve altered it in the main text now. Thanks again.

  2. Robert Jackson

    Thank you for this article. Very useful!!!

  3. Rich HEADEY

    Thanks for the reviews. And the price guide.
    A date on the article would be really helpful.
    And a little chart for each showing
    -cooling method
    -thermostat yes\no
    -volume
    -power consumption
    ED: Thanks for the suggestions, Rich. All our articles are updated at least twice a year (every two months for our best-read articles, such as the fridge guides), which is why we don’t add a date. Point taken, though, so we will include a ‘last updated’ mention from now on. On the comparison chart, there are so many models that it’d be quite a feat. However, we have asked the guys at Dometic if that’s something they could help us with.

  4. how many hours for a cdf26 or CF11 to fully freeze the water bottles WITH 30 CELCIUS OUTSIDE ? ED: Interesting question, Bill. It really depends on how low you set the thermostat on the fridge. The CDF is discontinued now but the replacement CF-26 can be set to -18C (the same as a home freezer). So, it’ll freeze a bottle of water just as your home fridge would (unless you leave it in direct sunlight, when it might struggle to maintain the lowest temperature. Same goes for the CF11. The CFX range will go slightly colder than that. If it is going to be in the sun a lot, you might want to consider an insulated cover that fits over the top. Best bet is always to put already frozen things into the fridge – that way you give it a headstart.

  5. 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?

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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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