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keeping your food and drinks cool


  • having nice cool drinks and having the confidence your dairy products and meats have not gone off and give you food poisoning is an important part of car camping although not really attainable for hiking trips in the Australian summer
  • there are four main options for the car camper:
    • have a vegan road trip
    • esky-type ice box coolers
    • portable car refrigerators
    • caravan gas-run fridges
  • for hikers, other options are required as carrying heavy cooler gear is not fun:
    • foods that won't spoil readily
      • go vegan
      • dehydrated foods
      • cured meats
      • vacu-packed foods
      • frozen food to thaw en route
      • milk powder instead of milk
    • no beer (although some take red wine or a whisky but that is a bit of a luxury!)

The vegan road trip without a cooler or fridge

  • most vegan foods do not need to be stored cold, although storing cold will make many of them stay fresher for longer
  • example vegan foods for road trips:
    • celery with peanut butter
    • rice crackers with peanut butter, marmite, vegemite, or other spread
    • wraps stored in an airtight container last a few days
    • cereals eat dry, with water or long life plant-based milk
    • fresh fruits and salad vegetables
    • nuts and dried fruit
    • snack bars, chips
    • tinned foods such as sweet corn, pineapple
    • noodles / rice
    • green tea

Esky-type ice box coolers


  • relatively cheap, although good coolers with excellent insulation can be quite pricey
  • do not require electricity or gas
  • great for a day trip or an overnight trip


  • require ice to keep it cold and this melts resulting in:
    • having to replace the ice frequently (usually every day or so)
      • ice supplies may be hard to get at peak periods of demand or in more remote areas
    • risking your foods ending up in the water melt and making it inedible (water-soaked chocolate is NOT nice!)
    • have to empty the water out each day - this can be very heavy to lift a large cooler filled with water and your drinks and food
    • ice takes up perhaps half the space in the cooler leaving much less room for your drinks and food
  • adequate temperature maintenance of less than 4degC is unreliable risking food spoiling and food poisoning especially on longer trips more than 1-2 days duration

portable 12V car fridges

  • once you have bought one of these you will wonder why on earth you ever bothered with esky type coolers


  • far more reliable in maintaining temperature to keep you foods from spoilage
  • you don't need to waste space with ice although this is offset by the need for the motor and the 12V battery
  • no need to keep emptying out water
  • many have the ability to dial down the temperature to freezing
  • if you run out of electricity or it fails, you can still use it with ice as an esky type cooler
  • most also come with a 240V AC power cord so you can get it cold before your trip and you can also use it as a bar fridge for your home BBQs.


  • requires relatively constant 12V power hence requires a 2nd 12V battery - see 12V batteries, battery boxes and power stations
    • a 100Ah battery should give several days of power for the fridge as long as the fridge is cold to start the trip and not being constantly opened and is kept in a relatively cool place
  • requires some ventilation space to be kept free where the motor fan outlets are
  • expensive, especially when you also factor in a 100Ah 12V LiFePO4 battery at around $AU500-700 and a battery box for about $AU100
  • you need to understand the temperature variability within the fridge, for example, you may dial in 0degC and this may result in:
    • foods, even soft drinks, next to the wall of the main compartment freezing
    • foods in the middle of the main compartment being at desired temperature
    • foods in a section without direct access to coolers such as that above the motor on Dometic models being some 5-7degC warmer than the set temperature - good spot for fruit/veges/chocolate but not great for your cold beer, meats or dairy
  • often only come with 12V cigarette lighter cord as the 12V option
    • cigarette lighter connections are not reliable and can disconnect easily
    • strongly advise converting to or buying an Anderson plug version (your battery box should have an Anderson plug or 4)

choosing a car fridge

  • do you need single compartment (which can be set to either fridge cold or freezer, but not both at the same time), or do you need a fridge/freezer type one with separate compartments?
  • how big do you need it
    • family sized, long trip size or can you be more minimalistic?
    • 35L ideal for 1-2 people when they can re-stock every few days with food/drinks
    • you will need much larger if re-stocking period is much longer or you need to take much more food/drinks for a family
  • will it fit in your vehicle?
    • cars with small boots will generally fit a 35L fridge and a 2nd 12V battery but have little space for anything else and the boot hide will not be high enough to slide over the top.
    • a Subaru Outback with its longer boot and higher boot hide will allow a Dometic 35L fridge plus a large 12V battery box and a 45L esky all to fit in the boot (the esky in this case can be used as a way to arrange your cooking gear, foods not requiring cooling but avoiding higher temperatures is nice (eg. chocolate). And all this will fit under the boot hide!
    • many models of fridges are quite tall and won't fit under a boot hide
  • build quality
    • check the reviews, many of the budget level fridges either have a habit of breaking (especially the lid locking system) or use very heavy materials making for a very heavy fridge

caravan gas fridges


  • most caravans will come with one of these and most can also run from 12V power
  • generally have a freezer section as well as the main fridge section
  • usually have a door and are sized similar to a bar fridge albeit a bit smaller and this allows easier strage and access


  • you must take the caravan and gas cylinder
  • the fridge door can accidentally open especially on those corrugated roads running a real risk of food spoilage
  • generally do not work well on very hot days over 40degC but then most other options will struggle too
  • cannot easily be used as an esky type ice cooler
  • can be temperamental
  • can leak gas
  • can fail to work
australia/coolers.txt · Last modified: 2023/12/07 17:34 by gary1

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