Today we discuss the pros and cons of the Isotherm Cruise 130 and why we think it is the best RV fridge. We talk about why this unit is ideal for a family on the road, the ONE annoying thing, and the $3 fix that will make it perfect!
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It’s about 5:30, the late fall sun is sinking rapidly and will soon be below the horizon but for now, the desert air is still hot enough to cause sweat to pop out on our foreheads as we drop our packs behind the van. It’s been an amazing day climbing and scrambling around Joshua Tree. The kids are asking for one more granola bar, tape gloves are being peeled off. I slide open the van door, open the door of our fridge and begin passing out ice cold beers. Oohs of pleasure begin to emit from our friends as the cold cans touch their sensitive fingers, worn raw from the rough Joshua Tree granite. Tops pop, a toast is made and we settle in to watch the sunset as the kids make little rock cairns from the roadside gravel. Life is good, three cheers for our fridge, the Isotherm Cruise 130!!!
When designing your campervan, the question inevitably comes around to whether or not you want a fridge or cooler to keep food cold on the road. Each system has its pros and cons and you should weigh these beforehand. Let’s look at each in turn:
The simplest and cheapest way is to go without any refrigeration. Think about the meals you use backpacking. These can be delicious, filling and give you plenty of energy without the need for any refrigeration. Dry food can keep for ages, almost indefinitely, without going bad. However, if you are going to be on the road for longer than a week, these staples may begin to get tiresome and you will be searching for variety or stalking those folks in the neighboring campsite with the cooler full of fresh veggies, drooling awkwardly as they bring out the salad.
No Refrigeration Pros: Least expensive method, no gear needed. You are good at cooking oatmeal already.
No Refrigeration Cons: Lack of variety, no cold beer. (this may be a deal breaker on its own)
We used our awesome Coleman Xtreme cooler for years camping out of our truck camper. We have also been secretly coveting the fancy new Yeti coolers in recent years as well. The cooler method is easy, pack it equally full of ice and things you wish to keep cold and you have refrigeration for as long as the ice lasts. PRO TIP: If you buy the block ice rather than the cube ice, it lasts waaay longer (we are talking days here!) this is of most importance when spending say a week in Indian Creek and you are saving that leftover sandwich to eat on top of the end of the week. It is important to kick up the extra dough for a decent cooler. You don’t have to pony up for a fancy Yeti cooler (though they are really nice!!!) but upgrading from the $10 liquor store cooler to at least a Coleman Xtreme will make your life so much better in terms of ice longetevity and keeping your bacon cold. We loved our cooler, however, for all the times we praised our little cube of cold goodness, there were equal times when we cursed the growing pond of water from melting ice. Warm beer, soggy veggies, disintegrating egg cartons, and ruined cheese (can anyone tell me why fancy sharp cheddar tastes like crappy American cheese when waterlogged?) are a reality of using a cooler for long term travel.
Cooler Pros: Less expensive than an RV fridge, a good cooler can keep a block of ice (and all your food) cool for up to five days.
Cooler Cons: Need to hit town every week at least for a fresh block of ice, puddles, soggy food, warm beer.
There really is nothing to compare to opening up your refrigerator that has kept the food (and beer!) within cool throughout the hot summer day, pulling out a few popsicles and passing them out to the kids after an awesome day outdoors. The fridge is by far the most expensive, most decadent option for your campervan build but it’s benefits may very well outweigh the punch to the wallet of the initial investment. Stepping up to a full fridge in our campervan has brought all the comforts of modern refrigeration to our little home on the loose. Cold food and drink and even occasional frozen treats make life on the road with two kids awesome.
Fridge Pros: Cold all the time, no need to go back to town to buy ice, no messy puddles, cold beer and the ability to bring bacon.
Fridge Cons: Most expensive of the options. Expect to plunk down $700-$2000+ for a good unit.
The Best RV Fridge:
You may have figured it out already, but we have gone the fridge route in our campervan and we could not be happier. We will save the dry
food for our backpacking trips and I’m fine with leaving a wet, smelly cooler behind for good. Our new fridge sips a tiny trickle of power from our solar electric setup, stays cool even through the hot summer months and provides cold beer, bacon and even popsicles on demand. In a moment I’m going to tell you all about our Isotherm Cruise 130 but first, there is one more decision you have to make. When choosing a fridge, do you want a top loading, cooler-style unit like the ARB Fridge Freezer or a swing door, standard style fridge such as our Isotherm Cruise 130? There are rabid proponents of both styles. My buddy, Bert, has an ARB and loves the ability to carry it inside after a trip is over to unload and clean the unit. He also has a VW campervan and his setup makes sense to use a top-loading fridge as it does not have a specific cabinet but usually tucks up behind the front passenger seat.
There are debates aplenty on power usage and how much cool you lose when opening each type of fridge. From what I can tell, these raging debates are over relatively insignificant amounts of power consumption (@ 1 amp for ARB, @1.5-2 amps for Isotherm) so unless you are an engineer relentlessly optimizing every element of your power system, either fridge type will work just fine. My recommendation is to get the fridge that works best for your buildout and not worry about the minutiae. More importantly is how you want to access the unit and how much food you want/need to pack in.
Why we chose the Isotherm Cruise 130
We chose this fridge for the following reasons:
- Size: Since we have four hungry adventurers and are often out for weeks at a time we wanted the biggest fridge that would fit the space behind our kids’ seats and the bench/bed frame. (The Cruise 130 is 21.5″D x 29.25″H x 21.5″W)
- Cost: At $1399 the Cruise is not inexpensive, but it is a heck of a lot less than the stainless steel versions with bells and whistles most dirtbags will never need.
- Features: The cruise has an interior light, can fit a 12-pack of beer without impinging on the kids’ food space and has a flip-up shelf to allow for taller items (like a bottle of wine for that special night or, more often, a half gallon of milk for the kids)
- DC only option: No need to pay up for an AC option since we are running solely off our solar panels. Also, the Cruise 130 draws a max of 5 amps with an average of 1.5-2 amps. With our 225 amp hour battery drawing power from our solar panels and our alternator, we would need to park in the shade for days to draw down our battery to the point where it was becoming a problem.
- Side swing door: Since we are building the fridge into a small cabinet, we wanted easy access to all the goodies within without having to slide out a drawer.
- No need to go “cooler digging”: Murphy’s Law states that whatever food you want at a particular moment is always at the bottom of the cooler. We wanted easy access without having to go digging down to the bottom.
- Easy Setup: Two wires. One running to the fuse block, one to ground. Easy peasy.
The One Bad Thing
We discovered the one bad thing the first time we took a hard left turn while accelerating. There was a tremendous sliding crash from the back as all of our food (yes, even the beer and bacon!) slid out of the open fridge door and onto the floor of the van!
You see, since the fridge is intended for boat/RV use, it has an added latch to keep the door from opening and ejecting your food while in transit. Unfortunately, the latch on the Isotherm pretty much sucks. It’s just a plastic latch held in place by the tension of the material. Therefore your fridge door is held in place by a small piece of plastic and whatever suction seal is going on within the fridge. We spent about a week driving across the country last summer with a piece of wood shimmed against our sneakers holding the door closed. It’s a piss poor flaw on what is otherwise a superior fridge. Thankfully there is a super inexpensive fix that will set you right again.
The $3 Fix For The One Bad Thing
The easy fix to the flimsy latch on the Cruise 130 is this:
You just need to screw in attachment points for a bungee cord on either side of the fridge cabinet. (DO NOT SCREW INTO THE FRIDGE ITSELF!) Then, run a bungee cord tight across the front of the fridge. While you are driving, the bungee will prevent fridge door ejection and, when you are parked, you can remove the bungee for easy access to the fridge. Since adding this tweak last summer we have had zero door failures and the bungee tucks out of the way while in camp.
I highly recommend the Isotherm Cruise 130. It has been awesome for us in our campervan and we are so psyched we got it. The one design flaw is easily remedied with spare or inexpensive parts. If you decide to buy the fridge and this article helped you in your design/decision process, it would be awesome if you clicked through our affiliate link. It’s no extra cost to you and it helps keep this blog running. Thanks!
See you out there,