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