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Ice Chest or 12 Volt Compressor Fridge: Refrigeration for VanDwellers

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This is the cooler I've been using all summer. It was large enough to put a battery box in the bottom and it holds two blocks of ice. This has worked extremely well for me all summer. As the ice melts, the water stays in the battery box where it's easy to empty.

This is the cooler I’ve been using all summer. It was large enough to put a battery box in the bottom and it holds two blocks of ice. It worked well for me. As the ice melts, the water stays in the battery box where it’s easy to empty.

While I love living in a van, in the beginning there were lots of little problems  I had to solve; one problem I had to solve right away was eating. I moved into my van in such a rush I had no stove to cook with, no water to wash with and no cooler to keep food in. Because of that, I found myself spending a lot of time and money in restaurants, or even worse eating fast food.
I’d moved into the van to save money and if I ate all my meals out that would significantly cut into my savings—I needed a solution.
When I went to Walmart to get y ice chest, I put it in the shopping cart and went over to automotive to find a box to put in it to hold the ice. You can see that their battery box fit it perfectly!

When I went to Walmart to get my ice chest, I put it in the shopping cart and then started searching to find a box to put in it to hold the ice water. I finally went over to the automotive department and found a battery box that fit it perfectly!

I’ve been a camper and backpacker all my life and I knew all about cooking on propane stoves so I bought a Coleman 1-burner propane stove and a 20 pound refillable propane bottle with adapter hose to cook on. To do dishes I bought a 5 gallon Coleman water jug (get it from Amazon here: Coleman Water Carrier (5-Gallon)) and a simple plastic wash basin. I already had all the pots and pans and silverware I needed so I was all set. It worked great! I put all the cooking stuff in a Rubbermaid tote and sat the stove on top of it to cook on and I could easily carry it in or out to cook in the van or outside. Get the Coleman stove I own from Amazon here: Coleman 1 Burner Propane Stove and the adapter hose to make it work off a bulk bottle here: Coleman Bulk Tank Hose & Adapter
I bought an Igloo Quantum, 52 quart cooler.

I bought an Igloo Quantum, Maxcold 52 quart cooler for $35. It’s dimensions matched exactly where it had to go inside the van.

But I still needed a way to keep food cold so I bought an ice chest. Having lived in Alaska all my life I was extremely aware of the importance of insulation, so I added layers of Styrofoam all around it. I used that cooler for the next 6 years while I lived in the van and it worked really well. Then I made one of the worst mistakes of my life and moved back into a house—which I hated to the very core of my being!! After 4 years of enduring the misery of 4 walls I moved back into a pickup and I used that very same cooler for another 2 years. I got my moneys worth out of that cooler!!
I wanted to add extra insulation but I didn't have much room so I couldn't add styrofoam. I'm a huge fan of closed cell foam backpackers pads. They are about the highest R-Value insulation I've ever owned. I've slept on snow with one and my back didn't get cold and the snow didn't melt. All that from just a 1/2 inch! I happened to have one so I cut it up as you can see in this picture.

I wanted to add extra insulation but I didn’t have much room so I couldn’t add styrofoam. I’m a huge fan of closed cell foam backpackers pads. They are about the highest R-Value insulation I’ve ever owned. I’ve slept on snow with one and my back didn’t get cold and the snow didn’t melt. All that from just a 1/2 inch! I happened to have one so I cut it up as you can see in this picture.

Back in 2009 I was tired of the high cost of buying ice, having to make special trips to town just to get ice and spoiling food by getting it full of ice-water. I’d recently become aware of 12 volt compressor fridges and decided it was time to save myself some time, money and aggravation by retiring the ice chest and getting one.
I found a Dometic CF25 online for $400 and ordered it. It was small but adequate (barely). I’m convinced that it paid for itself in a year in savings on ice, gas to get ice and food I had to throw away after it floated in ice water. You can get it from Amazon for $433 here: Dometic CF-025 Portable Compressor Freezer/Refrigerator
I used the Dometic for the next 4 years when I bought a bigger Whytner 65 quart 12 volt compressor fridge and moved it into the trailer and the Dometic went into the van to be used in the summers on long trips, for example, it went to Alaska with Judy and me. Its small size was a big advantage then! I highly recommend the Whynter 65 quart, you can get it from Amazon here for $504: Whynter 65-Quart Portable Compressor Refrigerator/Freezer,
Here's the cooler wrapped with the foam backpackers pad. I just used bungee cords wrapped around it at the top and bottom to hold it in pace. I cut two pieces out for it to sit on and I glued one piece to the top.

Here’s the cooler wrapped with the foam backpackers pad. I just used bungee cords wrapped around it at the top and bottom to hold it in place. I cut two pieces out for it to sit on and I glued one piece to the top. Notice that this Wenzel Backpackers Pad has a heavy aluminum foil outside surface to reflect away the sun. It proved to be very durable. Highly recommended!

Last April when I was getting ready to leave on my summer travels I was moving everything over into the van and getting the trailer ready to go into storage so I turned the Dometic on to cool down and transfer my food from the Whynter into it. Unfortunately the Dometic wouldn’t come on. I tried everything I knew to get it to run but it wouldn’t. Because it was the very last minute I just didn’t have time to call Dometic and see if they could help me. I’d also had a friend whose Dometic had died and he wrote and emailed Dometic customer service repeatedly, and they never responded. So I decided that since it was the last minute I would just go to Walmart and buy an ice chest and put up with that for the summer.
I found the top of the cooler got warmer than I liked so I started using one block in the battery box, and one bag of cubed ice at the top of the cooler over the food. I didn't want water to drip down over the food so I put it in a Sea to Summit dry bag with the roll seal top. That worked well, but the top had to be above the bag or it would leak out. It turns out they really aren't waterproof. I also had some small ones so I used them for food at the bottom of the cooler.

I found the top of the cooler got warmer than I liked so I started using one block of ice in the battery box, and one bag of cubed ice at the top of the cooler over the food. I didn’t want water to drip down over the food so I put it in a Sea to Summit dry bag with the roll seal top. That worked well, but the roll-top had to be above the bag or it would leak out. It turns out they really aren’t waterproof. I also had some small ones so I used them for food at the bottom of the cooler, they worked perfectly.

This post is a report on which ice chest I bought, how I added extra insulation, and how it has worked out for me after 5 months of use. Here is what I bought and links to get them from Amazon:
Igloo Maxcold Quantum Cooler, 52 quart
Group 24-31 Snap-Top Battery Box for Marine, and RV Batteries
Wenzel Aluminum Camp Pad (Silver/Blue)
Sea to Summit Big River Dry Bag
Dometic CF-025 Portable Compressor Freezer/Refrigerator
Whynter 65-Quart Portable Compressor Refrigerator/Freezer,
The captions to the photos tell most of the story. The Igloo Quantum cooler worked very well and I could go 5 days with one bag and one block of ice, or even longer with two blocks and one bag of ice, but that didn’t leave much room for food so I rarely did it. The battery box also worked well but it’s such a tight fit it was hard to lift out of the cooler with water in it. I solved that problem by drilling holes at the top of the box and used rope to make handles. Once you have the handles, it was very easy to lift out to dump the water.
I cut a poece of the Wenzel sleeping pad to exactly fit inside the cooler and I think it really helped to keep the cold air from circulating and being lost out the lid. As the cooler got lower, I pushed the insulation down and added a second piece when it would fit.

I cut a poece of the Wenzel sleeping pad to exactly fit inside the cooler and I think it really helped to keep the cold air from circulating and being lost out the lid. As the cooler got lower, I pushed the insulation down and added a second piece when it would fit.

I was also extremely happy with the Wenzel Sleeping Pad. I thought maybe the aluminum foil would quickly peel off but it proved very durable. My van was pretty tight so it got kicked around a lot but it lasted the whole summer and looks like new. I used a big piece to wrap around the cooler, two pieces under the cooler and one glued to the top of the lid. I also cut a piece to the exact inside dimensions and pressed it in to the inside of the cooler before I closed the lid. I think that really helps by not allowing the cold air to circulate inside the box and confining the cold to where your food is. As the cooler empties out, the pad goes down with it. As it went down, I added a second piece of the insulation on top of the first. I needed two Wenzel pads to do all that.
It’s hard to find, in fact I’ve only found it at one store, so you’ll probably need to get it from Amazon here: Wenzel Aluminum Camp Pad (Silver/Blue)
The wet bag with ice inside.

The wet bag with ice inside.

I was not too pleased with the Sea to Summit dry bag. It turns out that they are not actually water proof. If it’s lashed to a kayak, your stuff will stay dry from spray and rain, but if the kayak rolls and the bag is submerged, it’ll soon be filled with water. It turns out that if you put ice water in it, and leave it on it’s side, the water leaks out the roll closure. If the closure stays at the top, it won’t, but I rarely had room to do that. It kept the ice confined and if I drained the water often it worked okay. I’d keep using it, but you can’t expect miracles. The little bags for food worked really well. I just kept the closure at the top and they always stayed dry. Get them from Amazon here: Sea to Summit Big River Dry Bag
There is no doubt that ice chests work and if you don’t have the money or solar power for 12 volt compressor fridge they will get the job done, but in the long run they are much more expensive and very inconvenient:

  • The ice water was a hassle: If I drained the Seat to Summit bag often, nearly all the water ended up in the battery box so all I had to do to empty it was to take all the food out, lift it out by the handles I made for it and dump it outside. Not bad, but still it took extra time and effort. If I was conscientious, I never lost any food. If I got lazy, I could lose a little.
  • Extra trips to town: the ice would last 4 days but by the 5th day it would be almost all ice water with just a few small chips of ice left.  I’ve gone for up to 7 days without buying ice and the food was still cold and I ate it without any problem, but I was uncomfortable with it getting that warm. Because it concerned me to get that warm, I always tried to get ice by the 4th day and always by the 5th day. That means that every 4 days I had to go into town whether I needed to or not. Several times I had too much ice to put more in so I went to camp and then 2 days later I was out of ice and heading to the store. All those extra trips were frustrating to me and cost me more in gas because I was always far from any towns. I could easily spend more in the gas I burned than the cost of the ice itself.
  • Cost of the ice itself: I estimate I paid $6-$10 dollars a week for ice. If I was in a major town, I could get the ice for as little as $1.99 per bag and if I averaged 3 bags a week, that’s $6 (Walmart sells it for $1.43 a bag, but sometimes it was a 7 pound bag, and I rarely had a Walmart close by). But if I was far from town, which I usually was, I paid whatever they charged, usually $2.99 per bag and sometimes $3.99 a bag. Then, buying 3 bags a week costs $9-$10 a week, $500 a year. I always tried to get blocks, but every so often it simply wasn’t available.

Conclusion: there is no doubt in my mind that a 12 volt compressor fridge will pay for itself in 18 months (and possibly in one year) just in the cost of ice and extra gas spent getting the ice. Plus, inevitably some of your food will be ruined by the ice water. And then their is the convenience factor, ice chests are simply an extra hassle. Right now, you can get the Dometic CF25 for $433 and it should pay for itself in a year. A Renogy 100 watt solar system to run it will cost you less than $200 and a Walmart marine battery will be about $100. But solar power will make your life so much better in so many ways you want it whether you get a fridge or not. Get the Renogy 100 watt kit here: Renogy 100 Watts Complete Solar Starter Kit But, let me admit that 100 watts is a minimal amount of solar. It will run the compressor fridge and a few minor devices like your phone and LED lights, but not much more.  If you are frugal with your power, it will work but with  no extras.


  1. jim

    Great info as always mr Bob I’m glad to hear your doing a youtube video I really enjoyed the without bounds video I have it save on my phone and watch it at least twice a week,I have a question to ask if a person has say a $15.000 budget to spend on a rig to get started doing what you do what type of rig and how would you set it up I can’t decide between a rig like your,slide in truck camper or a small travel trailer like Mr randy on your video I plan on doing the type of camping you do i understand it all comes down to need and want I’ve done a lot of camping so I know I want solor power I guess the main thing I trying to find out is mobile for getting around on blm and forest service land out west where I live we have a lot of forest service land but most of the roads are close now but when they wasn’t it was mud when it rain a rig like your would never work here so I’m try to match the rig with the tuff so to speak as you say everything is a trade off maybe some time you can do a piece on matching the rig to the tuff we all love picking your brain thanks so much for your time and effort

    • Bob

      Jim, this is the hardest possible question to answer, but from what you’ve said, I’ll give you my best feedback.
      I think your best choice is a diesel pickup with 4×4 and the smallest camper you can live in happily. The most important thing is ground clearance and you can add a lift and bigger tires and get all you want and the 4×4 will give you the traction you need. 4-wheel Low will do amazing things for your ability to go deep into the backcountry.
      A dodge Cummmins diesel will get 16-22 MPG with a light camper or the Ford 7.3 will get decent MPG and is a great motor.

  2. JanisP Not in Ecuador

    Great post with tons of good ideas, thanks! I live in a 58.5 sq. ft. camper and I was just trying to figure out how to supplement my tiny fridge space, and this will be perfect!

    • Bob

      Thanks Janis, glad to help.

  3. Tomek

    Hi! I’ve been lurking for a while. I’m going to comment on one tiny thing: just that unless you’re simply reusing the hiking pad, it’s probably not the best insulation to use for the cooler.
    I was pretty sure hiking foam wasn’t a great insulator (it has to balance comfort and insulation), but I looked up the numbers on a few pads. I found Zlite sole, and Gossamer gear to be two 3/4″ hiking pads, and they offered R2.6 and R 2.27 respectively. A higher R value means better insulation.
    A few common construction materials are much better, and so is styrofoam [but the construction stuff is best.]
    Foamular, (“pink foam / extruded polystyrene”) is 0.75″ and 4R. I believe typical styrofoam is a little less, like R3.2 for 3/4″. I didnt find the numbers on styrofoam bc it’s not really used for building insulation.
    Super Tuff-R 3/4″ (“shiny metal foam insulation / Polyisocyanurate) is the best cheap insultaion, at 4.95R for 3/4”. Foamular is probably better to use because the polyisocyanurate is a decent amount more expensive and is less resistant to water.
    All things considered, it’s also about whatever you have on hand, especially if you’re into saving waste. Don’t get me wrong about that.
    Finally, I also am not sure if insulation on the side of the cooler is nearly as valuable as finding some way to “cap” the cooler. The cooler lids are always big thermal leaks because they have a thick plastic connection that conducts much more heat than the insulation foams.
    So I realize this post is about way more than just insulation, but I caught on to one detail in the beginning and realized it was my rare moment that I might know a couple things and wanted to share.

    • Bob

      Tomek, I’m really glad you did! Very good info. I’m a big fan of polyiso and it’s what I have wrapped around my Whytner in the trailer. But you’ve got it right that I had the sleeping pad on hand so I used it. Plus it was temprorary, now that the summer is over I’m giving the ice chest to GoodWill. I also didn’t face extreme temperatures, only one time was I aware of it getting over 90
      I also agree about a cap over the lid. I always get cheap fleece blankets at thrift stores and fold them over so that they drape over the sides so they hang down about 6 inches all the way around, then I put a large pillow on top. You can see the blankets draped down in a few of the shots. The good thing about this trip was the cooler was in a small space so it was tight enough to hold the blankets in tight around the lid.
      Thanks for the good info!

  4. Dan, phx.

    Hi Bob, have you ever used a iceless cooler. I can`t find much Info on them. Mostly, If connected to a battery with solar, how long they would last, and If turned off at night, would they stay cool until the sun comes up.

  5. joe

    Good thinking I always got feed up with ice but it really is all to do when you are on the road they make this cooler in town where I live it is called yeti coolers not cheap at all but I hear they hold ice for 7 days or more maybe check to see if amazon has them

    • Bob

      Joe, I don’t recommend the Yeti or the other super-premium coolers. They cost as much as a compressor fridge and they barely hold ice longer than a good Igloo or Coleman. It’s true you can run over them with a tank, but I just try not to drive over my coolers.
      I’d a lot rather buy my Igloo for $35, spend $20 for a sheet of polyiso, and it will keep ice longer than any Yeti. I can put the other $400 in my pocket which is where I prefer it.

      • joe

        Just something I looked at yes they are overpriced of course I knew you knew about them maybe others that read might look into them

        • Bob

          Thanks Joe, they are a much cheaper option.

  6. Al Christensen

    When I want to keep food or anything else dry, I use zip-closure freezer storage bags. When I was a diver, I’d go out with people who’d bought fancy/expensive dry bags. I’d whip out my jumbo freezer bag and the other divers would say, “Oh, man, why didn’t I think of that?” I usually repackage whatever I need to refrigerate. The original packaging usually takes up more room than necessary. I’ve stopped using rigid containers for leftovers. I just use zip-closure bags of various sizes and weights. They pack into the fridge more efficiently (no half empty cubes wasting space) and I can toss them instead of washing.

    • Bob

      Al, you’ve had better luck with them than I have! I buy Ziploc freezer bags and then double or triple bag them and I still consistently lose food. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong but I don’t trust them in water.

  7. Vern M

    Bob, you never mention the wonderful little Engel rotary compressor refrigerator/freezers. What I found was a rugged and reliable top-lid 12 or 120 refrigerator or freezer that runs all day and night on my 180 watts of solar on the van and a Type 29 WalMart wet cell. Cost $600 in my size and worth every penny of it. Web site is mentioned in my write-up on converting the conversion van. Mine’s been in use much of the time since 2007. Takes about a half hour to get it ready for refrigeratin’. They come in 17-80 quart sizes. Controls on top.

    • Bob

      Vern, they’re one of the most expensive models, and you got an incredible deal to get one for $600. They are the best, but I think the premium is pretty high for them.

  8. jim

    Think you mr Bob a 4×4 3/4 ton or dulley has cross my mine I’ve always drove 4×4 and know what you are talking about in low 4 wheel drive

  9. Xeph

    Great post and perfect timing! I moved full time into a VW California T4 a month ago, and I still havent decided how much solar I need to run my Westfalia 40 litre compressor fridge, charge i-gadgets and power interior lights? Your post has answered that for me, thanks!
    Yesterday an RV store guy offered flexi solar panels, 80 or 120 watts (160€ and 210€ respectively), 32€ for the convertor. I will order the 120 watts to charge my 800A/75Ah leisure battery and finally say goodbye to buying ice (1€ a bag every 2 days!).
    PS. I have been an avid reader of your site since a couple of years now, and you are definately a big influence in my decision to ditch house life, live in a van, and share my adventures on a blog (dont worry, I wont hold it against you if it all goes tits up, lol!). Thanks for so many informal posts, and keep doing what your doing 🙂

    • Bob

      Xeph, I’m glad I’ve had an influence in helping you follow your dreams! If you’re careful, 120 watts should take care of you.

  10. Cae

    Ecellent review. And timely as I am considering a solar fridge set up.

    • Bob

      Cae, there is no doubt in my mind that it will quickly pay for itself. I’ve never regretted getting one.

  11. Omar Storm

    Hello Bob & Jim,
    I have always been interested in truck campers, but I also wonder how much twisting and torquing a truck camper can tolerate before something cracks when on the back roads that aren’t leveled. On the other hand, I know that it wouldn’t be an issue with a van, but I guess you’d need a 4WD van to get into the back country. Any thoughts?

    • Bob

      Omar, I don’t think that’s a problem. There is a lot of flex between the bed of the truck and the cab of the truck but I’m unaware of it every impacting the camper. That might be true of the monster campers with 3-4 slides–I’d never own one of those!! I’d suggest getting the smallest and lightest camper you can imagine yourself living in.
      You don’t need 4×4 to get into the backcountry unless you want to go further back than most people. The more privacy you want, the more you’ll want 4×4. Colorado is a perfect example. It is full of old mining roads that you can easily do with 4×4 but are iffy without it. It opens up a whole new world of incredible mountain beauty with 4×4, but there is still a ton of backcountry you can get into without it. It’s really a choice you have to make.

  12. jim

    Omar that’s something to think about but the bed of your truck has some give to it if you mounted your camper to the frame I would think you would have more problems,what I keep trying to figure out on the truck camper is where do you put your batteries for the solor and the propane without having it in the camper with you I agree with Mr Bob on the 4×4 truck because some times you need just that little bit of help getting out the trick to a 4×4 is if you even think you might need 4 wheel drive is to put in it in before you get the back end stuck because then the front end can’t pull you out but if it all pull before you go through a bad spot 99% of the time you will be ok,really I’m leaning towards a 4×4 with a topper on it for storage and a 10 or 12 foot cargo trailer one reason is I already have the truck and as mr Bob said the cargo trailer is hard to tare up

    • Bob

      jim, I can’t recommend you keeping your propane bottles inside your vehicle for fear of being sued. There is a real risk with it inside.
      I can tell you that I believe the risk is well within my comfort zone. For the last 13 years I’ve had a proapen tank inside the camper with me, and I always will.
      You do so at your own risk.

  13. Omar Storm

    That’s a very good point. I wanted to install a pop up camper on the truck frame and bolt down. However, if I opted to use tie downs I would have more flexibility, but would have to deal with adjusting tie downs regularly.

  14. Omar Storm

    Yes, I also like Bob’s idea of a cargo trailer. Nearly indestructible compared to traditional trailer and you install only what you use and need. I imagine even if someone is not as handy as Bob, a carpenter could be hired and would finish such a small build quickly. Lots to think about, indeed.

  15. Ming

    Thanks for the examples for an electric fridge. I want to save up for one, but finding space for batteries and a bigger cooler will be tricky in my present little truck canopy. I would also have to factor in the cost for the entire electrical system as well as the fridge.
    I use a container for my ice too, to keep the water out of my food. I used to have a 10l (2.5 gallon?) clear soft water container that wore out from years of use. I repurposed it by cutting off the top, and cutting some handle holes on the side of the resulting square backpacker’s “kitchen sink” that I had created.
    It also is the right shape and size to slip a bag/ block of ice into. It is soft, so can be squished smaller as the ice melts, and the handles on the side are good for lifting it out of the cooler to pour out the melt water.

  16. Kirk

    I know space is super important. But, I have considered getting a ice maker like this one|2276204|2276226|2276242|2276243&id=2383926
    Taking advantage of prime solar charging during the middle of the day
    Though, I have not found anyone that has tried it.
    Just seem logical to reuse water for making ice
    Just a thought..

    • Bob

      Kirk, would you then use it in an ice chest or would you just use it as ice?
      An idea I’ve had was to set the compressor as a freezer and freeze milk jugs of water to go into a cooler so that the one unit would be a solar powered freezer and the jugs of ice would swap in and out of the ice chest as a cooler. The ice would be free, no trips to get it and no melt water. And I’d have a freezer as well.
      If I had room that would be worth considering.

      • Ming

        Bob, I’d had that thought as well. Do you know anyone who has done this? Does this work in real life?

        • Bob

          Ming, I don’t know anyone who did it. It’s just theory. There’s no question it would work, two drawbacks is the freezers draw more power and two cooler will take quite a bit of room.

      • Kirk

        In theory it should work.
        But as life has taught me, theory goes out the window when reality hits it

        • Bob

          Kirk, it’s a lot of space in a van and he freezers draw quite a bit more power.
          But, neither of those things would matter to you!

  17. Aldrin

    Hi Bob,
    I’ve seen some off grid living use converted chest freezer with temp controller for their food storage? Just checking if you consider this before.

    • Bob

      Aldrin, I am aware of it but don’t know anybody who did it directly. Most of them are too big for vans and I have questions about their durability under the abuse of being in a van. I also don’t know how much power they draw.

  18. Omar Storm

    Thanks for the info. on the truck camper.

    • Bob

      You’re welcome Omar.

  19. hotrod

    Thanks Bob for the info about ice chests. Food storage and preparation is a great concern of mine. All info available on camping and hiking around bears tells that one should have two camps of some distance from each other. One to store & prepare food and one to sleep/live. Cooking in a rv or some other vehical just seems like trouble when the stove has the food smell all over it.
    So I would be concerned that a 12v frig or ice chest, kept in a car, filled with food in bear country (mostly black bear) would be an invitation for disaster. As in a door of your car ripped open and the inside all torn to hell. Obviously you are not getting attacked by bears tearing into your van when you’re out for walk so why not? Are you just not staying in high density bear areas?
    I guess you have to judge where you’re camping at as to the threat level of bear invasion. Obviously some camps are more risky than others but, if you really want to get out there in the wild at max durations allowed, as I do, it is a concern.
    A thought I was kicking around was to have only non perishable foods when out for two weeks at a time.
    These dry goods and cans foods would be stored in a bear proof food cash, hidden from all at a safe distance from my sleeping camp. Meals would be prepared there, eaten then re-stored in the food cash. Then I go back to my sleep camp.
    Then in the in-between times, when moving to a new location, I could go into town, restock and then I could enjoy buying, cooking and eating perishable foods. This would be done at a safe camp site/park then once again get the hell away from people and back to my solitude. thanks

    • Bob

      hotrod, I was a campground host in the Sierras and Rockies for 4 years and lived in Alaska for 45 years. I’ve always been in places with high concentrations of bears and seen many bears when I was out for a walk, often closer than 30 feet and sometimes within 10 feet. The risk is greatly exaggerated almost everywhere. Basing your life on it is not a good idea as far as I’m concerned.
      Take reasonable precautions and live your life. If you want extra safety steps, always have bear spray on your person or very close by
      The one place where extreme precautions like you are talking about may be a good idea is in the National Parks, especially Yellowstone. They used to train bears to attack people there by constantly feeding them and they don’t allow hunting. In places where bears are hunted, they are much more respectful of humans.
      Bears are an extremely low and unlikely risk to you. On the other hand, fear of bears can make your life pretty miserable.

  20. Vern M

    You’re sure right on Engel prices, Bob! I hadn’t looked since I researched and bought mine way back when. This here livin’ is getting kind of expensive, isn’t it? And never let the health care providers find you or it’ll be “how to live on nothing.”

    • Bob

      No doubt they are the best Vern, but they are pricing themselves out of most peoples reach.

    • Daisy Millett

      I was very lucky and found an Engel 13 qt. freezer/fridge at an outdoor shop that they must have had for a while… priced at $400 but marked down to $150. It came home with me!!! Not a lot of room but when you don’t have to put ice in it, it can be made to work. It stays plugged up in my car all the time!

      • Bob

        Daisy, that’s an incredible deal, you were very lucky!

  21. Dave s

    Arbys sells ice for $1.39 for 7 lbs and 99cents only store sells 7lbs for $1.00,

    • Bob

      Thanks Dave. My problem is I’m never very near either of those. The ice where I go is much more expensive.

  22. LaMarr Harding

    When using a chest type cooler I always cut a grid to keep food out of any water from melting ice or condensation from evaporator plates and of course spills of other stuff. Clean up is easier, and not as frequent.
    My Engel and Dometic compressor refrigerators both have a basket that keeps things off the bottom of the cooler for easier cleaning.
    I know that some rigid foam coolers are foamed in a vacuum, rather than just expanding foam with some expanding gas, giving an exceptional R value for a very thin wall, similar to the vacuum thermos.
    I’ve recently started buying frozen foods such as Walmarts frozen egg patties, precooked sausage, frozen burritos, etc. If they are going to be used in less than a week, thawing them in the refrigerator takes less time in the microwave.
    And for the small ice machines, I’ve had four of them they last about 5 months, one developed a crack in the tray that holds the water to the fingers, the other three seemed to loose refrigerant and not form the ice. They do need to be filled with water as soon as you use the ice. (the ice just melts into the reservoir if you don’t pull the ice out) They need to be somewhat level and I wouldn’t try running one in a moving vehicle. When the basket is full of ice it will not fill a 64 oz soda mug let alone fill a cooler. The water does need to be changed and the reservoir cleaned every week or so. I have a new one but ice cube trays in a freezer is a lot less hassle. (if I’m road tripping I fill my mug from a convenience store twice a day.)

    • Bob

      Thanks LaMarr, those are all super tips! Hope to see you again at the RTR!

  23. jon.

    I have experimented a bit with Peliters solid state cooling transistors. Now, they are quite efficient and cheap. A 2”
    iT SEEMS THIS WAY OF COOLING/HEATING IS ABOUT 1/3 AS EFFICIENT AS a compressor drive unit,but weights maybe 3
    lbs with a heat sink and little fan. Complete comerical units are available, but its easy to make your own custom cooker and cooler, all in one.. Heat your dinner and freeze your Ice at the same time..I can get free elect from public parking (every garage seems to have a outlet) so its cheap for me to operate . I live in a SUV and plan to get a full size Van when I can afford it.

    • Bob

      Thanks for that great info jon.

  24. Ken Lumley

    Just wonderin’…….I’ve seen those portable ice makers for $100-125 and they state they make up to 26 pounds/day( in batches of +/- 2 pounds each).Has anyone tried just using one of these to keep an ice chest full, continually ? I assume you could even recycle the melted ice (i.e WATER) back into the ice maker….(?)
    I was thinking of this in conjunction as a Prius as the power source.

    • Bob

      Ken, I’ve heard of people trying it but don’t know how it went. You could do the same thing with a 12 volt compressor fridge freezing milk jugs of ice. I think that would work better.

  25. Deb

    Why not just use a little 110 fridge

    • Bob

      Deb, because they draw too much power and are fragile, they often fail under the vibration of being in a van. By the time you add an enough extra solar, batteries and inverter to run a 110 fridge, a 12 volt would have been cheaper and lasted longer. Bob

  26. Rick

    Hi Bob, just purchased the dual zone 62 Qt for the van. It’s not much larger than the Coleman 50 Qt ice chest and the best part is no ice. Thanks for the great review and now I’m wondering if I should have purchased the $80 extended 3 yr warranty? How long have you had yours? And last question, should I turn it off when not in use to extend compressor life?

    • Bob

      Rick, you probably should have bought the warranty. But be sure who pays for shipping–that would be VERY expensive. The compressor is driven by the thermostat, it only comes on when it gets too hot and needs to run. Otherwise it does not run even when turned on.

      • Rick

        Thx Bob
        After some thought I have chosen to set aside $25 a month to the repair kitty to replace it in 3 yrs (one of which is the manuf warranty and nearly a third of the cost). Paying me sounded better.
        Keep it up Bob, really appreciate the knowledge you share.

        • Bob

          Thanks Rick, that sounds like a perfect solution!

  27. Sean Adams

    With solar being as affordable I can get a 200 watt panels set with charge controller for $310 that can be expanded to 400 if I buy the other 2 panels. Fridge freezers well that is all up to you but I want to share my way because others might be in my way. I am a homebody that when I want to go I want to hook and haul. So I am going to get the panels then get a small freezer that will fit both the car and camper. These dorm fridges are so prevalent and affordable you can find them for $50. But that 1.1 freezer well you gotta buy that unicorn new. Like the man that had a runaway with his jeep using a freezer I would freeze water and put it in the 30 quart ice chest that I have. Since I don’t really want to go boondock far away from sam’s club or planet fitness I can go without nearly as much food. But I like to cook at home and have a lot of food stored in the freezer I know I could save a lot more money if I carried food I myself cooked. I don’t want to cook in the camper but heating it up not a problem. I hardly call cooking rice cooking you push a button if you have electric?
    My plan is to leave the freezer plugged in grid tied when I am ready to haul I can switch to solar and burn on that once in the field. I can keep the gallons in the freezer ready to put in my 30 quart I will use as a fridge. Reason?
    Well I have grid tied most the time might as well use good PSW electric provided for a song. Batteries will last longer being topped off and they will serve me when I go I keep my camper in the shade at home anyway. I like it that way because a lot of the time I sleep in the camper. Just easier to control the climate in that camper than it is in the house.
    Like I said what solar is costing these days I think I can get my needs met with a small freezer that will be active during the sunlight and probably dormant over night. My plan is not to have near as much storage since I have the Prius to act as a generator. This way allows me to buy a more affordable freezer and I can make ice with my IGLOO countertop ice machine.

    • icemakerchoice

      I also prefer mini ice making machine for the summer days. Easy to carry to anywhere.

  28. John

    Bob, I’ve been lurking around your videos and blogs lately, love the info! Just curious, why aren’t 3-way refrigerators mentioned? Unnecessary complication, or just not practical except for larger trailers?

  29. Seandepluto

    I have a yeti cooler which I have enjoyed for trips and being on the road for a couple of weeks, and am thinking of/planning to go full-time in the next year or so. I am wondering if getting one of the portable ice makers to make ice for the cooler would work better or as well as a refrigerator. Ice lasts a long time in my Yeti and I have insulated it even further, yet I wonder if those little, wet looking cylindrical ice cubes will work well and if the ice maker over fridge is a good idea. Anyone have any info on this?
    Would love to know.
    Thanks for all the great insights and communication here!!!

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