Your choices for off-grid refrigerators have never been so wide. While some of you may be team propane, others are going to want a 12-volt option that is reasonably sized.
Having a very large fridge can be expensive and challenging off-grid. I think it is worth it to go over a few ways to save yourself some space and money and then look at some of the many options you have to choose from.
How to Save Space on Your Fridge
One thing I have noticed over the years is how absolutely crammed a lot of people’s fridges are with premade condiments.
Watch Out for the Condiment & Leftover Trap
Leftovers happen too but since fridges are inexpensive and readily available used, they have become super-sized and if you have the space you will fill it just like with a storage building or house!
Leftovers are great but planning out meals where they are kept to a reasonable level and you are not just refrigerating food that never gets eaten can save space, money, and work.
Supplement With Other Methods
You don’t have to store ALL your food in the fridge, these are some other ways you can store food safely.
Plenty of fruits and vegetables can be stored for a large part of the year in a root cellar so that you can have more space in your fridge and have more food on hand.
If you have a cool spring then you can use this to keep some items that don’t require very cold temperatures. This is something the old-timers definitely used to keep butter and milk cool at times. Beverages can be kept at a decent drinking temperature this way.
It is not the easiest method but icehouses do work. In some parts of the country they make more sense than others.
You can get a few months at least of decent cooling temperatures if done correctly. There are a lot of factors to consider here, like the average temperature in your area.
Factors to Consider Before Buying
Before you head out and buy an off-grid fridge, think about the following factors to help you find the best fridge for your needs.
Propane Versus 12 volt
If you are off-grid and have solar panels then you might be best with 12 volt power. While propane appliances work great, you are dependent on a steady supply of gas. Tanks are bulky and heavy and it may be too difficult to get them if you are way out on an off-grid homestead.
In some areas where there are heavy snow loads in the winter or very cold temperatures it might be that you can’t get out all the time. Regulators can freeze up in very low temps if not protected from freezing.
12-volt fridges can get their power from the sun and your battery bank. During an emergency even keeping your fridge running a few hours a day and only opening it a few times can make a big difference.
Off-grid style fridges are a specialty item. Not many places are just going to have one in stock for you to pick up. Like any appliance they are very heavy and bulky so shipping costs must be factored in. You can easily pay $200 in shipping and you may still have to pick it up at a freight depot rather than have it delivered to your home.
If a home delivery option is available you can sometimes cut a lot off the shipping expense if you drive to the freight terminal and pick it up. A few hours time to save $100 may be worth it. Ask your dealer to see if this is an option. Sometimes freight is what it is no matter what or the cost difference is so small you might as well let them bring it to you.
It sure doesn’t hurt to ask though! If you are buying other things at once you can sometimes do better on shipping so if you think you will need another appliance in the not too distant future, it might be best to buy them both at once.
If it is just you and you want to just keep a few things cold then you will have it easier with fridge options. An RV style or 12-volt travel cooler/fridge or two may be all that is needed. If you like to get away to that off-grid cabin for the weekend then there is little use in going to crazy.
Very small fridges can also be carried into a site which at the beginning of homesteading may be the reality you have to deal with. As someone that carried 20 ft boards up a mountain when starting out on a piece of property on a dirt road, I know all about the importance of being able to carry something in or at least transport it in a wagon.
Specially made fridges can be more costly so don’t expect to get one for off-grid use with any size to it for the price you can get a standard fridge for at a big box home improvement store.
Anything close to a small family-size fridge is going to be more than double or possibly triple the cost, putting a new one in the range of a mid-priced fridge. Part of the cost difference is sheer volume as well. Mass-produced fridges cost less per unit
Off-grid Refrigerator Comparison Table
SMETA 110V 12V 1.6 cu ft Compact Refrigerator
My Top Picks
Now that you know how to save up on fridge space, and what features to look for before buying, it’s time to start shopping for one. These are my top picks for the best off-grid fridges.
For those who are setting up a bug-out cabin and are looking for something as close to normal as possible, stand-up fridges are a great option.
This 10 cubic foot fridge and freezer is big enough for a family but it can be compared to an apartment size fridge so there is not going to be a lot of extra space to waste.
You get about 2 weeks of use off of a full 20 lb propane. This fridge is said to burn 0.35 gallons per day. That is expensive refrigeration. I know propane prices can fluctuate but that is about $1.00 per day to run your fridge plus you have to have a way to get tanks filled and hauled out to your location.
These prices are not considering any extra transport costs and time involved either. This is just the base cost of buying the propane at a dealer directly in a nonisolated area.
The fridge does run off standard 110 volts though so the advantage is that you can run it off propane if electricity is not available. An inverter would be required to get the voltage up to 110 on a 12-volt system. I can see the advantage of having several options for powering your refrigerator in an off-grid situation.
This is a unique fridge and freezer combination compared to a lot of the others I have found. The space is split more evenly between the fridge and freezer. This is somewhat appealing to me as someone that lived without much electricity, space, etc. but was raising and butchering livestock at the same time.
There was a lot of the time where we had a lot of meat frozen but it had to be stored in a totally separate large freezer that was a considerable distance from our location. With this fridge, you get a 4.2 cu ft freezer compartment and a 3.3 cu ft refrigerator.
For some people and their diets, this is a lot more reasonable than just having a mid-sized refrigerator. You can easily use either 12 volts or 110-volt power.
The fridge is on the top and the freezer on the bottom so this fridge is going to remind you of the fancy style fridges that are huge and cost a mint to buy. I like that this company doesn’t skimp on racks, drawers, and door storage solutions.
The freezer drawers are amazing and actually make me wish my fridge freezer was set up like that. With these drawers, you can see what you have and not have to dig around with items falling everywhere.
Trucker and RV Style Fridges
The 12-volt fridges used in 18 wheelers can make an excellent choice for off-grid use and they are widely available. Here are a few 12 volt RV and on-the-road fridges that can be shipped to you within days and offer a small solution for pretty affordable.
This little fridge is a bargain. It is like a large dorm fridge and keeps foods cold down to 32 degrees Fahrenheit but can be adjusted up to 50 degrees for minor cooling purposes. At this price, this is a good bet for small off-grid use. I love that it can be used with 12 volts or 110 volts so if you want to use it in multiple locations throughout the year you can.
So if you spend a month or two every summer at an off-grid cabin you could take this home with you and use it there or in an RV the rest of the time. The whole unit is about 38 lbs so it is not so large that a single person cannot move it. For some that are going it alone, this could be important.
I remember back in college having the 0.7 cubic foot fridge and wishing I had a bigger one. This fridge is at least twice the size of the very small dorm fridges.
When my husband and I were living in a camper that nothing worked in and that was older than us we had the smallest dorm size and while we made to with it and used a few ice chests here and there, this 1.6 cu ft size would have allowed us a lot more capacity for fresh food storage and that would have been nice.
For small-scale off-grid use for 1-2 people, it is hard to beat this fridge for the money and the fact that the shipping is included to your door, not just a freight depot.
For those that want the biggest variety of power options for their refrigeration needs, there is the SMAD RV Fridge. You can choose between 12 volt or 120 volt power or run off of propane when no electricity source is available at all.
This is another option that comes in at about the price of a standard full-size fridge at Lowes or Home Depot. 60 Liters is close to the size of 3 standard 5-gallon buckets or 2.1 cubic feet so that is quite a lot of refrigeration really, especially if you are just using it for 1-2 people or a couple with a few small kids.
There are two weights listed due to the amount of packaging required during shipment. Once unwrapped this fridge is a mere 48.5 lbs so about like lifting a large sack of dog food. This is all fridge space though, there is no option for freezing or a freezer so that may be a limiting factor for some when making a final choice about what off-grid fridge to buy.
Chest Style Fridges Or Freezers
While some may like the organization and style of a standard upright fridge, others may find they like a chest-style fridge that has a deep freeze option.
This unit will provide subzero temps of -8 F if you set it to that. For those that hunt and fish, this could be quite convenient.
You have to love the versatility and the size for the price you are paying. This is another one that can be shipped easily and can be used with multiple power sources. The large 85-quart capacity will hold 120 standard soda cans.
So that is an amazing 10 packs of 12 cans! This a lot of refrigeration and versatility for your money at less than half the cost of similar-sized uprights. The LED temperature display and push buttons make it easy to set a precise temperature.
Cowin Solar Powered Fridge
First off it is pretty cool that this fridge also comes with a 150-watt solar panel included in the price and delivery charges too. For the price, this is a quality fridge designed with the 12-volt solar user in mind.
You can run it off the solar panel during sunny parts of the day but have the option of switching over to battery storage or even using 110-volt power. When light levels are low you can still use the panel to reduce the amount of electric or battery power that is being used so you get maximum efficiency.
The manufacturer makes a note of the compatibility of this fridge with charged 12-volt batteries that have a capacity of 80-200 AH. A 100 AH battery will continuously power the fridge for 31 hours of run time.
Remember that this is minimum running time. If conditions are cool where it is running, then you may get more hours than that. Freezer space size is 1.483 cubic feet while refrigerated space is 5.862 cubic feet.
Small Thermoeletric Coolers & Warmers
These small 12 volt coolers offer supplemental refrigeration at a low cost. These are great for those that want to have a little extra cooling capacity in an RV, vehicle, or while car camping. Even just one of these in an off-grid getaway would be a lot nicer than doing without refrigeration at all!
How well they function is dependent on the temperature that they are operating in. There are a lot of these on the market in different sizes. Always double-check the actual level of cooling listed before purchasing.
Please note that this small unit cools to about 45 F below the ambient temperature. That means if it is 80 degrees inside your cabin, this unit is going to be able to cool to 35 F which is plenty cold.
During really hot temperatures you may want to make sure the unit is in operation in a cooler area of your place or perhaps in a shaded outbuilding. It is hard to beat the price and the retro look is pretty snazzy.
This unit also can be used to keep foods warm! With the flip of a switch, you can set the temperature to up to 150 F! I could see how this could be excellent for incubating yogurt!
So What Is Best?
While I have tried to offer up some suggestions at different sizes, price points, and with different features, there are far more options out there than I can list in a post. The important thing is addressing your own unique needs and family size.
You may need to use several types of fridges or freezers to meet your complete needs off-grid. You also may want to have some smaller units that are made just to keep drinks and other things cool and use little power like those that hold a little more than a 6 pack.
What I can say is that we are lucky to have so many options now for off-grid use and that prices are as good as they are. Those trying to get “back to the land” in the 60s and 70s did not have this level of convenience to get it to them!