On The Road: Overland Fridges Vs. Coolers

Nothing beats spending time outdoors exploring great destinations while testing your courage, resourcefulness and endurance, and limitations. There’s something incredibly liberating about leaving civilization behind and heading to the wild.

Whether you’re an avid off-roader who lives for the thrills of rugged trails or you’re an overlander who loves nothing more than traveling, adventure, and discovering the world, you’ll need to think about how to keep yourself fed throughout your trip.

Relying solely on dehydrated food and bottled water can get monotonous and tiring after a while. You also can’t depend on stopping by bed and breakfasts, motels or restaurants because these are few and far between where you’re going. Besides, you can’t keep pausing your adventure by stopping at towns every time you’re hungry.

This leaves you with one choice- carrying your own food and beverages.

The main problem that arises when packing food for such a trip, is how to make it last longer. After all, nothing’s better than a delicious steak and cold beer enjoyed at your campsite at the end of the day.

When it comes to food and drink storage, there are two major options – coolers or fridges. Both of these have their pros and cons. This is one area of constant debate among overlanders and off-roaders with some preferring one to the other.

So let’s pit the virtues of the fridge against the trusty cooler and see which option you should go with.


Coolers have come a long way since the days of our fathers’ iceboxes. Nowadays, the availability of rotary-molded coolers has changed the game. These modern coolers are made from thermo-molded plastics with foam insulation which increases their ice-retention time. They are available in a variety of sizes with heavy-duty latches, purge valves, or O-rings to help keep hot air out and seal cold air in. This way, the ice can last about 3-4 days before melting.


  • Now let’s come to the pros of coolers.

  • Coolers can be easily loaded or removed from your rig, moved around the campsite, and are durable enough to be left exposed to the elements.

  • Some come with spots that allow you to easily lash or anchor them to the storage space in your rig.

  • They are sturdy enough to be used as a step, extra seat or additional food preparation surface.

  • They don’t need electricity to function and hardly ever require maintenance.


  • The biggest disadvantage that coolers have is their reliance on ice. This can be a real pain to deal with especially when it melts and reduces your food to a waterlogged mess. It’s hugely inconveniencing having to stop for ice runs at gas stations or corner shops during your trip.

  • Ice also takes up space and is quite heavy, adding to the overall weight of the cooler and the vehicle.

Handy cooler tips:

If you don’t want to end up with your food swimming in a slurry of water and ice, ensure you wrap all your food in waterproof bags or keep it in airtight containers. You can also choose to have two coolers. One for vegetables, meats, and other perishables while to other one’s for beverages and other items you might frequently need during the journey. This way you’ll minimize the time the coolers are opened and closed, thus increasing the lifespan of the ice.


The other option, if you don’t want to deal with the hassle of ice is purchasing a fridge. These modern overlanding fridges are a scaled-down version of the ones in our kitchens. Most of them are portable 12-volt refrigerators that are designed to plug into your ride’s cigarette lighter and you’re ready to go.

They offer unparalleled convenience and peace of mind so you can stay out in the wild for as long as you wish without worrying about your food going bad. These fridges do need a constant source of power so it’s a good thing that the average four-wheeler has an alternator and battery to power them.

Additionally, these fridges are well-constructed with top-notch insulation, complex thermostatic regulators and electronics to not only reach really cold temperatures but also maximize their energy efficiency. However, if you’re worried about draining your battery, stop by one of our auto shops either in St. George or Moab, Utah and one of our 4×4 experts will recommend some long-lasting ones.


  • Fridges offer the following advantages over coolers:

  • They don’t depend on ice. With a steady power supply, they can keep cooling food indefinitely.

  • Thanks to their thermostats, fridges make it easy to regulate temperature and store food at optimum temperatures.

  • You can load your overland fridge days in advance as you plan for your trip.


  • Most quality fridges in the market are pricey and this might put off most people.

  • If you’re going to park your vehicle for a few days, power supply to the fridge might be an issue. However, there are solar solutions, battery storage, or generator options that you can use, although this adds to the cost.

  • Most fridges are not weatherproof so watch out if you want to store one at the back of your Jeep or on your truck bed, exposed to the elements. A few weatherproof ones are available though and these can take a lot of abuse from the weather without breaking down.

  • Overland fridges are quite heavy and it can be a chore to load and unload them from your rig. However, this can be solved by bringing it to the Dixie 4 Wheel Drive auto shop where we can install a slider system on your custom truck build to make it easier to access your fridge.

What’s the Verdict?

Well, it depends.

If you intend to go on short trips for 2-4 days, then a cooler would be ideal. If you’re planning on a longer trips to remote areas, then a fridge would be perfect.

Make sure you take your desired comfort level, trip duration and budget into consideration.

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