Our Favorite Vanlife Accessory
We didn’t make the decision to buy a fridge (or this specific one!) lightly. We debated the pros/cons of getting a fridge versus a fancy cooler (like yeti, canyon cooler, etc). We read through TONS of blog articles and reviews on sites like REI and Amazon. We considered many factors including our needs, our space limitations, and our solar system constraints to determine if adding a D.C. fridge to our setup made sense. After multiple months of research, we settled upon the ARB.
We’ve now owned and used this fridge daily for a full year and consider it the top “large” purchase we made.
Why do we love our fridge so damn much? The following review discusses the reasons we chose the ARB 50 quart fridge and our experience using it over the past year.
Fridge VS. Cooler, Which Is Better?
When we first began our search for the best food cold-storage solution for our RV, Amanda and I considered both high-quality coolers (like Yeti) and 12V DC refrigerators. We knew we would be cooking multiple meals a day and preferred more off-grid stops along the way, so whether we went with a fridge or a cooler, we knew we were looking at a significant investment – starting around $300 for a cooler and $500 for a DC fridge. We considered the trade-offs (for us mainly, cost, and time/convenience):
High-quality Cooler: You’ll initially spend less on a high-quality cooler. A cooler DOESN’T require a continuous electric power source (which means you can save money by forgoing a solar setup, or using a much smaller one) , but it does require ice. Will you be a vanlife weekender or a full-timer? On a long enough timeline, you’ll spend enough money on ice to negate your initial savings. There is also the investment of your time: if you opt for a cooler, you’ll need to purchase ice weekly to keep your food fresh. Although people come up with creative solutions here, you’ll also spend a bit more time cleaning your cooler, including emptying the melted water, and wiping the inside down.
DC Refrigerator: You’ll initially spend more on a DC refrigerator. The ARB 50 quart fridge costs roughly $800 (we managed to get ours for about $700, including tax). You’ll also need a continuous power source (for some this means installing solar power in your vehicle). Aside from spending more money up-front, a DC refrigerator will save you time/money. You won’t have to buy ice and you won’t have to clean out or dry your fridge nearly as often as a cooler.
Some questions to help you think through this decision:
How long will you be living in your van or RV (i.e. weekend and shorter trips versus long-term travel)?
What kinds of places do you prefer to visit and stay at (i.e. off-grid/BLM versus places with amenities or cities)?How often will you be cooking in your rig?
How important is convenience to you (do you always want ice-cold beverages and fresh food at arm’s reach in 100-degree heat or are you okay without)?
Pros & Cons Of The ARB 50 Quart Fridge/Freezer
Pros: Size/capacity, automatic shut-off, runs on DC or AC power, drain plug, quality/craftsmanship, doubles as a seat, digital display, adjustable from 0-50 degrees F, works on uneven terrain, low energy needs.
Cons: Lid opens upwards, food must be stacked (no shelving), makes noise when running, cost ($$$), cannot use as fridge/freezer simultaneously.
Size & Capacity: The ARB 50 quart fridge is perfectly sized for two people. With careful purchasing and packing, we’re able to fit FIVE to SEVEN days’ worth of fresh food (for both of us) into our ARB fridge.
Doubles As A Seat: ARB doesn’t explicitly state this, but we’ve found that our fridge makes great additional seating. Our RV has a very limited amount of space and being able to use our refrigerator for food storage as well as a seat is an added bonus.
Low Energy Needs: The ARB 50 quart fridge/freezer is an extremely efficient refrigerator. It uses a fraction of the electricity required to run a conventional refrigerator. For short-term trips, you can run the fridge off your starter battery on your vehicle, but this is not a suitable long-term solution (over time you will likely draw your starter batter too low and run into problems!). Any DC refrigerator like the ARB 50 quart model requires a separate power source.
Amanda and I designed and installed a solar-powered electrical system in our RV, which provides us with a continuous 12v power source. If you want a refrigerator in your van or RV, you will need continuous power.
We started with some simple math to determine how much electricity we’d need for the fridge. ARB states on their website that the 50 quart model has an ‘average DC power consumption of 0.7 to 2.3 amp/hour’.
At the maximum estimated power usage of 2.3 amps/hour, the fridge will use approximately 55.2 amps per 24-hour period. Our solar battery bank has a capacity of 200 amp-hours, which means that the fridge uses roughly half of our available electricity on any given day.
Food Must Be Stacked: If you choose a refrigerator like the ARB 50 quart model or any DC refrigerator with a lid which opens upwards, you’ll have to stack your food.
This means that if you need any of the items in the bottom of your fridge, you’ll have to remove everything on top to get to the contents at the bottom. While initially annoying, we’ve gotten used to this difference and it seems like a small concession for the added efficiency of a refrigerator that maintains its temperature by preventing cold air from ‘falling out’ every time it is opened.
Cannot Simultaneously Freeze/Refrigerate: The 50 quart ARB fridge does a great job of freezing OR refrigerating but it CANNOT provide both functions at the same time. The interior of the 50 quart model is just one compartment and it can only maintain one temperature. If you want to freeze, you’ll have to freeze EVERYTHING.
If the ARB doesn’t sound like the perfect DC fridge for you, here are some alternatives:
A Year And Still Loving It!
We’ve had our ARB 50 quart fridge for a year now and we’re extremely happy with our decision to purchase it. From day one it has been working flawlessly, keeping our food and drinks cold and fresh. Having a DC refrigerator in our RV helps Amanda and I to be our healthiest selves by keeping lots of fresh vegetables on hand at all times. Our fridge allows us to enjoy luxuries like cold drinks, condiments, and chocolate bars that aren’t melted messes!
If you are considering a DC refrigerator, we can’t recommend the ARB highly enough. It’s tough, electrically efficient, simple to use and it just works.
If you end up purchasing an ARB fridge of any size, let us know how it works for you!
***Disclaimer: We are not sponsored by ARB to write this post. (yet. heyyyy ARB) We just honestly love this fridge that much after using it daily for over a year.***
We use affiliate links in this post. If you feel so compelled to click through our amazon product links and make a purchase, you’ll be graciously contributing to fund time we can commit to this blog, our gas, unexpected repairs, ice cream, kombucha, or something equally awesome on our journey.