Can You Use a Mini Fridge Camping?


Anybody that’s gone camping on a hot summer day has thought about bringing a fridge along. Keeping your meals fresh in a way you could never do with a traditional cooler. You obviously can’t bring a full sized refrigerator, but what about a mini fridge? How would you power it and is it really that good of an idea? Can you use a mini fridge for camping?

Yes, you can take a mini fridge camping, but you need to find a way to power it. Most tent sites don’t have electrical hookups so you’ll need to bring along a generator or buy a 12 volt camping fridge that works off your cars cigarette lighter. Just watch for excess heat and lock the door to keep wild animals out.

You can definitely take a mini fridge camping, but should you? It all depends on whether or not you can find a power source. A dedicated 12 volt camping refrigerator (like these) might be a better option if you don’t have a generator, but keep reading to learn a few tricks of the trade. I’ll go over the difference between a mini fridge and give a few potential alternatives that use less energy.

Can You Use a Normal Fridge For Camping?

Yes you can definitely take a mini fridge camping, but you’ll need to find a power source. That’s not a big deal if you’re camping in an RV, but it becomes a problem for tent campers since most tent sites won’t have electrical hookups.

Filling a cooler with ice isn’t a big deal on short trips, but it can become a serious hassle after a week or two. Bringing a small fridge on extended trips is really helpful. You don’t have to worry about constantly buying ice, and your ice melting getting all the food soggy.

It doesn’t matter how well you prepare, after 2-3 hours some of your food will be soggy. There are ways to keep your food dry, but it’s still guaranteed to get a little wet. So how can you take a mini fridge camping?

You need to start off by finding a power source. That either means bringing a generator, using your trucks power inverter (not recommended), or using an electrical hookup at the campsite. Look for sites designed for RVs if you really want to bring a refrigerator.

Are Mini Fridges Good For Camping?

You probably won’t want to go backpacking with a mini fridge, but it’s not a bad idea for car campers. Finding/Dealing with a power source is a minor problem, but you should be able to figure something out. I highly recommend calling ahead to see if you can find a site with electric hookups. Most campgrounds will find a place for you to camp that’s near the toilets and showers if you’re tent camping (especially if you have kids).

Buy a Camping Refrigerator To Use Less Energy

Personally, I would consider purchasing a refrigerator that’s made for camping. Most of them work off of 12 volt DC (car cigarette lighter) and use far less power. You can find a cheap thermoelectric camping fridge on Amazon that’s basically a portable plug in cooler. I’ve been using the old Marlboro cooler pictured above since the mid 90s.

You can run the fridge in your car while driving to the campsite and unplug it overnight so you don’t drain the car battery. Repeat the process in the morning to get the cooler to the right temperature and consider using a generator during the day.

On longer trips you’ll want to use 1-2 external deep cycle batteries at night and plan on recharging them a few times throughout the trip. You might want to look into a solar setup for dedicated camper vans, but that’s a difficult setup.

Consider an Absorption Fridge (Propane Works Best)

An absorption fridge would be a better option, but they’re way more expensive. The only downside is they take a while to reach the perfect temperature so plug them in the night before your trip. These are the types of refrigerators you usually find in RVs and Travel trailers.

They don’t use as much energy and they can even be powered off of propane. The electric ones are great on shorter camping trips, but you’ll want a propane one if your going for more than a week.

I’ve been using a propane camping fridge (this one) in my RV for a few years. They’re kind of pricey but you can get through about 3 weeks of camping on a single 20lb propane tank. You can save some money with a smaller 1.4 Cu. Ft model, but it’s seriously tiny.

You Should Still Bring a Cooler For Drinks

I always bring a traditional cooler for my drinks and anything that can get wet. A mini fridge will have a hard time getting your drinks cold enough. You would have to run it off a generator during the day or have access to an electrical hookup. I don’t know about you, but I like my drinks freezing cold. There’s nothing better than drinking an ice cold beer after a long day of camping.

How To Power Your Mini Fridge

There are 3 main ways to power your mini fridge while camping. You can’t just plug it into your trucks power inverter and call it a day. A mini fridge will quickly drain your vehicles battery. Don’t end up stranded with no way to jump start your car.

  • Electrical Hookup: Finding a camp site with electrical hookups is by far your best bet. Most RV sites will have access to power and sewer. Just make sure you can tent camp on the sites, because they’re designed for RVs. The main downside is you might not have a lot of privacy.
  • Generator: A generator is another great solution, but they can be noisy. Some campgrounds make you shut off your generator at night. That’s not a big deal on cooler nights, but you might run into problems during the summer.
  • External 12 Volt Batteries: A pair of external deep cycle batteries can supplement your generator at night to keep your fridge powered on hot summer nights. You will still need to find a power source during the day to charge your batteries.

Look For Sites With An Electrical Hookup

Finding a site with an electrical hookup is easily your best option. Most RV sites have access to an electrical hookup, but you might run into problem in tent camping sites. If you plan on bring a mini fridge I would call ahead and see if you can find a site with hookups. It’s so worth paying the extra $5-10 to get an RV site if they’ll let you.

Bring Along a Generator (External Batteries Also Help)

So what if you’re staying in a primitive site without hookups? You can typically bring along a generator to use during the day, but some campgrounds have restrictions using generators at night. I’ve found that it’s rare for people to complain about generators even during quiet hours (unless it’s extremely loud). Just make sure you call ahead to ask if it needs to be shut down at night.

You’ll need a deep cycle battery If you can’t run the generator at night. On colder nights you can probably get away with just unplugging the refrigerator, but you’ll need batteries in the summer. I recommend using a power inverter (like this one) with a pair of 12 volt deep cycle batteries ran in a parallel circuit. Look at the picture below for more info.

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