This “Gear Review” post kicks off a new series of articles for Lifestyle Overland. Expect to see more reviews like this in the future as we share our experiences with various products on the overlanding market.
We understand that product reviews can be very subjective to the application and user so we ask that you bear that in mind when reading our reviews. We will give our honest opinion on how well a product meets our needs, the quality characteristics it possess, the price point when purchased, and the level of customer service experienced. We will not review a brand new product, all our articles will be about items we have tested and tried multiple times and in various environments. Unless otherwise noted, all products were purchased by us; we have not received any compensation for our product reviews.
ARB 50 QUART FRIDGE / FREEZER REVIEW
This review is on one of the first major purchases we made for our overlanding kit; incidentally it is one of favorites thus far. The ARB Fridge / Freezer is one of those game changing products that you might not know you need… until you try. I know, coolers are a dime a dozen and ice can be had at any convenience store, so why would a person want to spend hard earned money on a glorified “cooler”? Well, if your overland trips consist of a weekend run to the edge of civilization and back, then the justification isn’t as strong for you as it would be for someone looking for the ability to go 3 to 10+ days without having to replenish ice reserves. However, if you’re like me and hate listening to cooler ice sloshing around in the back of your rig by noon Saturday, you’re not a fan of soggy hamburger fixin’s for dinner, and you hate throwing away most of your leftover food Sunday night because it got too warm… then maybe you should consider an ARB fridge / freezer.
We love to cook, and if it’s in the middle of the wilderness, so much the better. The trouble with our cooler setup was keeping food and drinks at a consistent temperature for the duration of our trip. On occasion we have returned home with packs of bacon or sandwich meat that had to be tossed because they were too warm. We have had several occasions where our ziplock bags filled with raw burger meat contaminated the cooler because the rough trails sloshing them against other contents put holes in the bag. Our cooler was large and took up a ton of space in the rig, not to mention being unwieldy to move about. As the duration of our adventures began to increase, so did the attrition rate for our food. The ARB solution had quickly risen to the top of our wish list.
On February 24th of 2015 we purchased a 50 quart unit from 4WheelParts.com due to their competitive prices and free shipping. The retail price was $877.00 shipped to our door. You will occasionally find this unit on sale or available in group buys on popular forums which will save you up to 10% if you’re willing to do the research and wait. Along with the fridge, we also ordered the tie down system and wiring harness for direct connection to our battery. You can run this unit from a factory 12V socket at the rear of your vehicle, however we wanted to minimize voltage drop to the rear location and keep our factory plug free for other accessories. We later ordered the cover to help protect the exterior of the fridge from scuffs while adding a touch more insulation (not that it needed it).
After 14 months of use the unit is still going strong and we have surprised ourselves at just how much we use the unit. With the low current draw (.87 amp-hour average) we can leave the unit on for days without worrying about battery drain. Even if we were to leave the unit powered on without recharging the rig battery, the built-in battery protection will shut the unit off if voltage levels drop to one of three customizable thresholds, preventing you from being left stranded.
We have used our ARB for vacations, grocery store trips, cross country travel, overland adventures, and even for keeping chilled water on hand for community events. We rarely remove it from our vehicle as it has proven so handy to have ready at a moment’s notice. However, when we are ready to remove it, the empty weight of 49.6 lbs seems much lighter with the sturdy handles built into the unit.
Typically we stage the ARB fridge in the camper (we are full-timers) the day before a long trip and plug it into the 120V outlet with the included power cord and load everything we need while maintaining the temp we desire. This makes it convenient for trip prep since we aren’t making multiple trips to the vehicle.
When it’s loaded and ready to go back to the rig we (again) really appreciate the sturdy handles as it’s possible to reach the 60-75 lb mark when we’re packing for a long trip. The handles are also designed to be used as securing points with the optional tie-down kit which makes cinching it down a breeze.
Initially we thought the disadvantage of choosing the ARB fridge/freezer over a cooler would be the overall weight. This thought was quickly dispelled by the fact that the 74 quart cooler we previously used weighed in at 27 lbs, when we added a 20 lb bag of ice to that we were right up there with the ARB’s weight. Another surprise was the storage capacity; when you don’t need ice, you can pack things much tighter, so in the end there was no storage disadvantage either. Note: A handy trick for helping with the capacity is to limit your non-perishable items (water, other beverages, etc.) in the fridge, and simply cycle the room temperature items in as you use the chilled ones up.
Another really ingenious feature is the LED fridge light. No digging around in the dark since the unit lights up just like your fridge in the kitchen. We also like the removable lid, though with our current configuration we haven’t had to remove it very often. Those folks with tighter spaces, like with a custom storage area, will appreciate this feature.When it’s time to clean the fridge (or if you have a spill), ARB kindly installed a drain plug in the bottom so there’s no need to tip it over.
A couple issues we have found are that the lid removal doesn’t always work as designed. You’re supposed to be able to pull it forward to remove with a slight tweak side to side, springing the hinge detent and allowing it to be removed. However, the springs are quite strong and it feels as if the lid will snap the frame before freeing itself. This is likely due to the fact we haven’t had to exercise it very often, but still something to be mindful of.
The next issue is one we experienced when packing for our Death Valley trip. We had packed the unit to its capacity, (there was hardly a cubic inch left) and we found after a couple days that the food was losing temperature in the center of the stack. We later determined that we had literally insulated the food from the cooling coils in the outer walls. The food near the walls was maintaining temperature just fine, but it was also keeping the cool air from transferring to the center. We created space by removing some of the non-perishables and the issue corrected itself.
These are very minor complaints, but still issues we felt should be mentioned here.
Two separate power cords are included, one for AC operation (120 volt) at home, and one for DC operation (12/24 volt) in your vehicle. All sized models are able to maintain sub-freezing temperatures in 90° F heat, while only drawing 0.87 amps per hour (50QT model) from a 12 volt power source.
- 100% CFC free
- Ice free operation
- Three year warranty
- Powder coated zinc steel cabinet shell. Zinc steel provides excellent corrosion resistance
- Recessed powdered coated steel fixed carry handles
- Two piece injection molded lid, UV stable
- Convenient on/off power indicator
- Integrated battery protection system (12/24V DC)
- Solar panel & generator compatible
- Deep storage capacity for large upright bottles
- User friendly, forward facing thermostat control
- Built-in 12, 24 and 120 volt facility, making it ideal for use as a second fridge
- Rounded corners & edges to protect vehicle upholstery
- Fully removable lid & basket for easy access & cleaning
- Ventilation grills allow operation even in the most confined cargo areas
- User friendly, right angled plug-in point from cord to fridge
- Operates at extreme angles (up to 30°) without affecting operation or reliability
- Recessed front mounted digital control panel
- Internal LED cabinet light
- Separate dairy/fruit compartment
- Interior drain plug
- Unique stainless steel detent hinge with quick release mechanism
- Integrated battery protection system (12/24V DC)
- Integrated power system – No external power transformers required to operate the fridge on 12V DC, 24V DC or 110V AC
Direct Connection Wiring Harness (Highly Recommended)
Remote Temperature Monitor (We don’t really have a use for this since we set the temp and forget it.)
Temp Sending Unit
Fridge Slide with Tie-Down Kit
While admittedly the initial investment is quite higher than a basic cooler, and nearly double the cost of a high-end cooler, we believe it was well worth the investment for our family due to the low maintenance use and overall convenience it provides. It has become a mainstay for our overlanding adventures, and surprisingly, our every day life as well. The construction quality and user-friendly controls are the finishing touches to a great product, by a reputable company. The included 3 year warranty provides piece of mind that they are willing to stand behind their product, which is very impressive considering the use and abuse the offroad/overland community can dish out.
Overall, the ARB 50 Quart Fridge/Freezer has been an excellent addition to our overlanding kit and we would highly recommend it to anyone looking to expand their food storage abilities.