RVhometown is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more

Icebox vs. Refrigerator: Which is Better for RV?

Writen by Dane Heldt

Fact checked by Robert Clark

icebox vs refrigerator

One of the challenges in RVing is to keep your beverages cold and food fresh even when you’re in the middle of nowhere. Among RVers, the common debate is icebox vs. refrigerator. So, the question is, which is a better cooling option?

An icebox works without gas or electricity, but it can be a hassle to constantly look for ice on the grid. On the other hand, refrigerators are more cool-efficient, but they tend to drip on the floor when defrosting. Let’s do more icebox vs refrigerator comparison below.

First, What is an Icebox?


An icebox is usually a compact box commonly used to keep something cold. This portable equipment was publicly known as a refrigerator before the electric refrigerators were developed. So, when was the icebox invented?

This non-mechanical refrigerator was made by Thomas Moore in 1802. Moore used this equipment to move his butter from Georgetown to his Maryland house.

The modern ice box is well insulated, so it can keep items cold with a bag or block of ice for about 5-7 days. The colder the weather, the longer the icebox can cool your perishables. Once the ice starts to melt, you can still retain the freezing temperature as long as you add new ice.

Top Recommendations

  • Igloo 52 Qt BMX Cooler: This portable device can keep your food and other perishables cool in as much as 4-5 days. I love the UV inhibitors because they help protect the device from sun damage. Also, the blow-molded construction seems pretty sturdy to last on the bumpy road.
  • Arctic Zone Titan Deep Freeze Zipperless Cooler: This Deep Freeze cooler has the capacity to hold 30 cans and reflect the heat to keep the insulation more efficient. It comes with a leak-proof lining to prevent water from dripping to the floor. I love the shoulder strap because it makes this cooler even more travel-friendly.
  • Coleman 100 Quart Xtreme 5-Wheeled Cooler: This cooler has the biggest capacity to hold up to 160 cans with molded cup holders for convenience. You can actually sit on the cooler’s seat lid because it can support a maximum weight of 250 lbs. Removing excess water is very easy, thanks to the leak-resistant channel drain.

What is a Refrigerator?


A refrigerator is an electrical appliance that consists of a thermally insulated container and a heat pump that moves heat from the interior to the outside.

As the fridge moves the heat outside, the temperature inside goes below the room temperature. More particularly, the refrigerant circulates inside the fridge and transforms liquid into gas to cool the surroundings and your food.

The efficiency of refrigerators has improved significantly over the years. Now, the power consumption has gone less, while improvements were created in insulation, the compressor, and other components.

Top Recommendations

  • SMETA 12V./110V Refrigerator: This 1.2 cubic-feet fridge offers plenty of features like an automatic defrost and LED light. I love the reversible door because it allows you to open the fridge from left to right. Instead of a compressor, this unit uses absorption cooling for silent operation.
  • BLACK+DECKER BCRK25V: This model boasts a large capacity with its two removable glass shelves and door storage for holding small items. It’s very practical with its reversible door and adjustable temperature control. It includes an ice tray, so you can make ice cubes for your beverages.
  • Midea WHS-65LB1: This compact fridge features an adjustable thermostat and a removable shelf to give more room for storage. The legs are adjustable so you can stabilize the fridge on the ground. With a top-quality compressor, this unit runs both silently and efficiently.

If you want the best of both worlds, you can get a modern ice box refrigerator like the Alpicool C15, which looks like an icebox but works similar to a refrigerator. This unit freezes your food and beverages without ice and can work with solar power.

Icebox vs. Refrigerator: What’s the Difference?

Efficiency And Performance

Refrigerators seem to be more efficient as they provide better temperature control than iceboxes. The best fridge models have adjustable temperature control or a thermostat to keep your chilled items at their optimum temperature.

When the fridge is no longer cold, the compressor kicks in to start the cooling process and stops when it has reached the desired temperature. The most modern models even allow you to control the cooling system through an app.

This feature is nonexistent to iceboxes because it remains in the same freezing temperature as long as you add new ice blocks to replace the melting ones.

Since you can adjust the temperature control of refrigerators, they tend to perform better than iceboxes. Refrigerators can make ice cubes the entire day, serve cold beer always, and won’t make tortillas/bread soggy like ice boxes do. However, you need to level the fridge on the trailer for it to function properly.

Cleaning And Maintenance

It’s easy to clean the icebox — simply open the channel drain to remove excess water and hose it down to remove any dirt. Cleaning the refrigerator is a different story, though, because you have to defrost it to remove bacteria. Fortunately, there’s an automatic defrost function for most fridge models.

Your fridge can drip water on the floor because of the ice melt, so look for a unit with a drip pan at the bottom. Ideally, you need to clean the fridge every 2-3 months to keep it clean of bacteria. Pay attention to the seals and gaskets around the door edges.

Setup For Convenience

A refrigerator only works if you have accessible electricity or battery power near you, making it ideal for campgrounds with hook-ups. However, it would be a little difficult to bring a mini-fridge when boondocking unless you bring a small generator.

An icebox might be more suitable when you boondock so you don’t have to walk far away just to get a can of ice-cold beer.

If you still opt for a mini-fridge, look for a model that uses solar power to conserve electricity.

It can also be a hassle to look for ice blocks if you’re in a remote area for more than four days. Make sure that you’re close to a source of block ice, so your food stays frozen.


Iceboxes don’t have any electrical components, so they cost less than refrigerators. An icebox can cost less than a hundred, while mini-refrigerators cost about a few hundred dollars or even more.

An icebox seems to be more economical than getting a fridge because all you need is to spend on a few more ice bags or blocks. This is a lot cheaper than consuming gas or electricity in your rig to work your fridge the entire trip. If you still opt for a refrigerator model, look for energy-efficient ones.


The icebox vs. refrigerator debate all boils down to personal preference and given situations. When boondocking for a few days, I recommend an icebox as it works without electricity. A refrigerator may be more suitable if you stay on campgrounds with hook-ups.

A refrigerator wins over the icebox in terms of efficiency, features, and performance. If you’re near a source of ice blocks, you can go old school and use an icebox as it cleans easily and costs less.

How about you? Tell us what you prefer between the icebox and refrigerator below. Please share this article if you like it.

5/5 - (3 votes)