Which Type of Fridge is Best: Upright Fridges or Chest Fridges?
This post aims to cover some of the main pros and cons of upright fridges vs chest fridges and how they apply to canopy mounting in a 4WD build.
This question probably gets asked a lot, which is the better style of fridge?
If you already know which style you prefer you can check out these comparison posts to compare the different offerings available within each style:
For other comparison posts see the following:
- Lithium battery comparisons.
- Aluminium canopy comparisons.
- DCDC charger comparisons.
- Fixed solar panel comparisons.
- Solar blanket comparisons.
- Portable solar panel comparisons.
- Inverter comparisons.
- DC charger, AC charger and inverter combo comparisons.
I am not here to tell you what to buy, just to give my opinion. The reason that there is no definitive answer when discussing upright fridges vs chest fridges is because people assign different weighting to different factors of a fridge. Some people want to save weight, others want to store as much food as possible.
Straight off the bat I will tell you that I purchased an upright fridge, the Bushman DC85-X (mygenerator), which I will explain more about after we have discussed upright fridges vs chest fridges.
For more information on installing this fridge into a canopy, check out the video below.
Throughout the upright fridges vs chest fridges post is the common idea that the end result will be for a mounting arrangement in the canopy, only because this was my specific use for the fridge that I wanted to buy.
However the majority of the pros and cons remain relevant for the fridges regardless of where you intend on putting them.
Affiliate links are present on this page. Through partnerships with, but not limited to: Amazon, eBay and Commission Factory, I will make a small commission through qualifying purchases. This comes at no extra cost to you and is just a way for me to try and support myself and the blog. Thank you.
Upright Fridges vs Chest Fridges – Where Each Fridge Excels
Let’s start the upright fridges vs chest fridges comparison with the style of fridge that I didn’t go for.
Chest fridges are the classical style fridge with top loading, tried and tested, but for my needs they didn’t cut it. Firstly though we’ll start with where the chest fridges beat the upright fridges hands down.
Chest fridges are better at…
There are a few key wins in the upright fridges vs chest fridges battle here for the chest fridges.
Whatever people might like to believe, you will not fit as much food in an upright fridge as you will in a chest fridge of the same size.
You just won’t, chest fridges have the benefit of gravity assisted packing, things can be slotted into every conceivable nook and cranny without hassle as there is no open door for them to try fall through.
There are ways to pack upright fridges better, but they aren’t as good as a well packed chest fridge. When going off-road the contents of a chest fridge are less likely to be thrown around when packed well.
This doesn’t mean that they can’t be, just that the odds are in your favour with chest fridges compared to an upright fridge.
The main win here for me in the upright fridges vs chest fridges battle is that chest fridges often have the ability to be either a fridge or a freezer. On top of this most will offer a dual zone setup with a 60:40 split.
This flexibility can’t be matched with an upright fridge, to be able to go from half freezer half fridge, then change to whole freezer for another trip where someone else in a convoy might have extra fridge space, that can’t be done with upright fridges.
Even when using it as a fridge, the chest fridge will usually go colder than an upright fridge.
For a canopy mount this may be important, if you want the fridge to come in and out of the canopy then a chest fridge is the way to go.
These fridges are more portable, often with handles for carrying around, you can take them out of the car and power them by a battery bank near your camp chair rather than have to walk back to the car for example to get drinks.
Cold air escape
I don’t buy into this one like others do, but there is the argument that the chest fridge will hold temperature better when the lid is opened as all of the cold air will sit in the fridge and not spill out.
However this is often overstated and combatted by the fact that sometimes with chest fridges the lid needs to be open for longer as you have to dig through things to get what you want.
However it’s worth mentioning here, although I don’t consider it a massive factor at all.
Upright fridges are better at…
For me these were the key factors that made me choose an upright fridge when considering upright fridges vs chest fridges for my 4WD canopy.
This was one of the deciding factors for me, the weight difference is incredible once you account for the mounting into the canopy.
All of the chest fridges over ~55L in capacity, if paired with a drop down slide (a necessity for lifted vehicles), will need to be paired with the Clearview ES220+.
The Clearview ES220+ weighs 47kg!!
Once you add a decent sized fridge to that and you have about 80-83kg worth of fridge installed into your canopy.
For comparison, I installed the Bushman DC85-X with an upright fridge cage for a combined weight of 33.7 kilograms.
In my upright fridge comparison post the upright fridges have an average weight of 0.301kg/L of capacity (average of 15 upright fridges). Whereas for the chest fridges this average is 0.423kg/L (average of 20 dual zone chest fridges).
Not only are upright fridges cheaper on average, but that is made even more apparent when it comes to the mounting accessory into the canopy.
The average cost per litre across the 15 upright fridges in my comparison post was $18.52/L of capacity.
For the chest fridges across 20 dual zone chest fridges I compared this rose to $23.66/L of volume.
So the dual zone chest fridges were more expensive for the fridge alone, but now you have $1,079 to cough up for the ES220+ on top of that, whereas the TLX4X4 fridge cage for the Bushman DC85-X was only $495.
Not too much to say, but something worth considering when comparing upright fridges vs chest fridges is the fact that when you open the door on an upright fridge you have full access to everything.
This means you can have the door open for less time as there is great access to the contents of the fridge.
Another massive factor for me was the footprint of the fridge. Not just the fact that the overall size of an upright fridge is smaller than the equivalent capacity chest fridge, but also the way the upright fridge takes up that volume.
Upright fridges get most of their volume in height, as opposed to depth with a chest fridge. This means that there is less space used up on the canopy floor.
The space above a fridge is usually wasted space, but the upright fridge minimises this as well as allowing storage on top of the fridge without blocking the door of the fridge.
Upright fridges vs chest fridges – The missing information
Unfortunately there are two key areas that are super important with any fridge purchase that don’t really have a definitive winner, sometimes these things come down to the brand or model of fridge rather than the style of fridge.
Any information regarding noise levels is either not advertised by the manufacturers consistently, or is word of mouth about a specific model of fridge.
So I can’t really draw any conclusions about whether a chest fridge would be noisier or quieter than an upright fridge.
As above, manufacturer data here is either not present, or present but not consistent across manufacturers.
The general consensus is that a chest fridge will use less power than an upright fridge but there are plenty who say that their results don’t show this when comparing the two.
So I think it comes down to the quality of the individual fridge to a certain extent but with the chest fridges having the advantage through their design.
Which is better?
It’s horses for courses, there is no “better” here, just two different styles for a range of different use cases. So let’s try go through some of those use cases
Although I purchased an upright fridge, I think the chest fridge suits more people than an upright.
Which fridge suits which person?
This is a hard thing to say with any authority because every person is different and doesn’t perfectly fit any of the below scenarios, but just as a thought exercise let’s imagine the following use cases…
The weight benefits of the upright are nothing to laugh about here. Less fuel, less wear and tear.
For general touring, like doing the big lap, then this is probably the better option as the money you save pays for more fuel, not to mention you use less fuel to cart it around 30-40,000kms.
You’ll likely go through towns frequently and be able to restock the fridge without needing 30 litres of freezer space. You could always add a small freezer to the mix on top of the upright if needed.
For those going very remote, a chest fridge is the winner thanks to its ability to cram in as much food as possible, as well as its flexibility to change from freezer to fridge, or split the difference.
The food will be better packed, less likely to spill and I think it will stay cool a little better, with less need for frequent defrosting of the freezer.
I think the upright is a massive chance here, the accessibility of the fridge, the small freezer space for a select few items with mostly fridge space, the smaller footprint to pack more stuff in the canopy.
On the flip side the chest fridge is more easily removed at the end of the weekend if the car isn’t used full time as a tourer and is a work car during the week.
The 4WDer / fisherman
I find it hard to go past the chest fridge here, you can remove it from the car and take it down to the waterfront, or out on a tinny without too much hassle.
The fridge can swap between the car and the boat with ease.
What I went with.
Why I bought an upright fridge
Although I think that a chest fridge is the better fit for most people, it wasn’t for me. So let me tell you why.
Firstly it is important to note a few things:
- My car is not used as a daily driver or work car.
- Weight savings was a key priority in my 4WD build process.
- I have no immediate plans for remote touring.
- I don’t go fishing, or own a boat.
With all of those things considered, to me it came down to two major factors and one minor factor.
Weight was the first major factor when I was choosing between upright fridges vs chest fridges, and it wasn’t even close. The weight I saved allowed me to justify some extra purchases that greatly improve the 4WD layout.
It also stops that one side of the car from being massively overloaded, because it isn’t just the fridge, but all the food storage and the 270° awning that also gets mounted to the left hand side.
The second major factor for me was the footprint. It takes up less space of the floor, but still gives good volume through height. The upright fridge cage allows me to bolt tie down points to the back of the fridge as well.
I can also use the top of the fridge as a shelf if required.
Of smaller concern to me was the cost, but it’s always good to save $400-1,100 where you can.
Because my canopy is a full time touring setup, this fridge doesn’t need to be removed, the ~6 litres of freezer space is alright for me, when I need more I will pick up a small dedicated freezer that will use less power than an equivalent 30 litres of a dual zone for example, when I only needed 15 litres.
There were too many advantages of the upright fridge to look past that happened to suit the things I valued most in a fridge, plus Bushman DCxx-X fridges have an amazing reputation.
Hopefully that has been of some help, I know the choice is hard but it ultimately has to come down to what you need to prioritise.
If you’re approaching GVM and don’t absolutely need the chest fridge then try the upright. If you’ve been with a chest fridge for years but don’t really use the freezing features and never remove it from the vehicle, maybe try the upright?
Any comments welcome, especially those who have any testing of power draw or noise levels.
Thanks and have a good day!
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