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, 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.
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.
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 – 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.
Available from Amazon at around £450.
Then there’s the CFX range, which were only the big boys until the arrival of the 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.
- 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.
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.
- CF11 (10.5-litre) – 358 x 540 x 235mm, 8.5kg – about £400
- CF16 (15-litre) – 549 x 366 x 260mm, 9.5kg – about £450
- CF26 (21-litre) – 550 x 425 x 260mm, 10.5kg – around £500
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
- 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.
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.
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
- 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.
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.
There are also some less well-known makes of compressor fridge. We haven’t tried these yet, but some 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).
Bluefin make a 24-litre fridge for around £300. 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.
We wouldn’t trust the IceCube range, despite being affordable. We’ve heard that the temperature read-out is very inaccurate.
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 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.