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What To Look For In An Off-Road Freezer/Fridge Or Cooler

Everything You Need To Know To Keep Your Cool In The Wild

Photography by Harry Wagner and courtesy of the manufacturers

If you are hitting the trail for more than a couple hours, you are going to want to bring something to eat and drink with you. Even if you are just planning a short jaunt on the trail, it isn’t a bad idea to bring refreshments and snacks. We have all had those quick trips that turn into night wheeling when something unexpected happens. Fortunately, there are a lot of options for keeping your food and drinks cold on the trail. Spoiler: there isn’t one perfect solution for every situation. 4WP carries a full line of freezer fridges and coolers to fit any budget, any adventure, and any space you have regardless of whether you drive a Wrangler or an Excursion.

 

Features To Look For

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The latest addition to ARB’s line of fridges is the Zero model, which is packed with unique features such as outlets on both ends and reversible hinges. Available in four different sizes and both single zone and dual zone, there is an ARB Zero fridge for nearly any application. These super-efficient fridges use reinforced corners and can even be monitored and controlled via an app on your smartphone.

Freezer fridges come with a variety of features that make them easier to use and more convenient.  We like baskets that help organize the contents and drain plugs to help wash out the inside of our fridge when we are done using it.  Removable lids are helpful when you are loading up or cleaning your fridge, and ARB’s new Zero fridges even have lids that are reversible and can be latched from either side, making them more flexible with regards to where they can be mounted.    A good freezer/fridge also runs on both 110V and 12V, allowing you to use it in your home when you need extra storage, are entertaining guests, or want to do food prep for your next trip ahead of time.  We appreciate LED displays that are far easier to read and set than the clunky analog knobs of old.  LED lights inside are also useful when digging through your fridge at night, and they draw little amperage. 

 

Battery Draw

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Smittybilt’s Artic Fridge offers a lot of bang for the buck, like LED controls and 55mm insulation to optimize efficiency. It is only available in a 52-quart size, but this is the perfect volume for the back of most Jeeps and SUVs, with enough space for all of your food without being overly bulky or heavy.

Perhaps the most important feature in an electric cooler is that it operates efficiently and does not drain your battery, leaving you stranded when you want to return home from your adventure. Both ARB and Smittybilt fridges use efficient and reliable Danfoss compressors, drawing under one amp an hour after they have reached operating temperature. Quality fridges have user-selectable voltage protection that allow you to pick what voltage they shut off at. If you have a single battery that is used to both power your fridge and start your vehicle, you will likely want to set the voltage higher; better to have warm drinks than a vehicle that will not start. If you have dual batteries that are isolated though, you can run the auxiliary battery all the way down without risking your vehicle’s starting battery.

ARB actually has a free app that allows you to monitor the voltage of your charging system and temperature of their new Zero fridges. At first we thought it was excessive, but it is actually useful if you have the fridge strapped in the back of your vehicle and want to ensure that it is functioning properly and the cord did not come loose. In addition to allowing you to view and adjust the temperature, it will also display the battery voltage of your electrical system. Need to charge your phone after using that app? ARB’s Zero fridges have a 5V, 3000 mA USB outlet that allows you to charge your mobile devices.

 

What Size Fridge?

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This ARB Classic Series II fridge features ARB’s optional Transit Bag and is mounted on their Fridge Slide to make it easy to access the contents of the fridge for loading and unloading. As an added perk, when the fridge is slid out it provides clear access to the drain port of the ARB fridge and assists in easy cleaning.

While Smittybilt’s Artic Fridge is only available in a 52-quart size, ARB offers the new Zero fridge in 47-quart and 63-quart in Single Zone, and 73-quart and 101-quart in Dual Zone. Since the compressors are shared among the different sizes, the larger fridges have more storage capacity relative to the overall size of the fridge. The bigger units are also heavier and more expensive though, and they might not even fit in the space you have available. ARB also offers their Classic Series II fridges in 37, 50, 63, and 82-quart sizes. Take note to check the dimensions, not just the volume. For instance, the 63-quart Classic Series II is actually not as tall as the 50-quart, but takes up a larger footprint, making it perfect for the bed of a truck under the bed rail. Another factor is how the lid hinges. Traditionally fridge lids have opened to the back, but the 63, 73, and 101-quart Zero fridges have lids that open to the side, requiring less height to open under a camper shell or in the back of an SUV.

 

Accessories To Consider

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You definitely don’t want your fridge moving around on the trail. ARB’s tie down system is ideal for ensuring your fridge is secured at all times. They use black powdercoated steel clamps over the handles and plastic-coated ends, matched with webbing straps and quality spring loaded clips for the Classic Series II fridges. Zero fridges have recessed mounting points that accept stainless steel tie-down mounts.

Buying a fridge is not unlike buying a Jeep. It is just the first purchase, not the only one. There are a variety of products on the market to outfit and upgrade your fridge. Some of the most popular are transit bags that provide extra insulation and keep the fridge from getting scratched up, tie down kits to secure your fridge in place and ensure that it does not move during spirited driving on the trail, and wiring kits to add an extra plug to the back of your vehicle and power your fridge even when the engine isn’t running. ARB also produces a fridge slide that ensures easy access to your fridge at all times. Heavy-duty roller bearings deliver smooth operation and prevent dust and grit ingress, and the slide is zinc plated and e-coated for long lasting good looks.

 

What About Ice Chests?

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Pack in reverse order so that the things you will need first are on top. This minimizes the amount of time you need to have the lid open, letting cool air escape from the ice chest. Pack items in your cooler in chronological order based on when you plan to use or consume the items. Put the items you will use last on the bottom of the cooler, and those you will need access to first, on top.

While freezer/fridges are great, they haven’t rendered coolers obsolete. Modern coolers do a great job of keeping food cold, cost less than a fridge, and don’t rely on any electronics. Yeti revolutionized the cooler world by offering a high-end, rotomolded cooler as an alternative to the cheap plastic ice chests found at big box stores. They have tie-down points, excellent seals and latches, and handles that are recessed to aid mounting in tight places. Yeti has a wide range of sizes and colors from 35 quarts that fits nearly anywhere up to huge 300-quart coolers designed for fishing vessels. Their soft-side coolers are also a great option to store drinks and snacks at hand without having to worry about getting bonked in the head when you are out on the trail.

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Block ice takes up more space than cube ice, but it also lasts much longer in your cooler. The problem is… well, it is shaped like a block. And air is a terrible insulator. The ice will be wasted cooling air instead of your food. Make sure that the cooler is packed all the way to the top to minimize the amount of air inside. You can add cubed ice to fill in the gaps; anything is better than air.

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Freeze meat and any other items that can be frozen before leaving on your trip to help your fridge run efficiently. If you really want to be organized you can even prepare entire meals ahead of time and vacuum pack them before freezing them. All you need to do when you arrive at camp is boil them in hot water for a delicious meal with very little prep or clean up.

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ARB’s Dual Zone Zero fridge displays the temperature for each compartment, which can be set individually from the monitor or via an app on your smartphone. The controls also let you choose between Fahrenheit and Celsius displays, and the voltage at which you would like the fridge to turn off in order to preserve enough power to start the vehicle.

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