Welcome to Overland Expo’s Gear Essentials. Of all our exciting new Compass coverage, this is our halo content. This is the place where we highlight our favorite gear from a given combination of gear types each month.
May is fridges, coolers, and camp kitchens. There is a good reason why we started here.
For our first-ever Gear Essentials roundup, we thought we’d start with, well, the essentials — the kitchen. Having a well sorted, well stocked overlanding kitchen can make or break an adventure. Arguably, quality food preservation and preparation is the building block of any overland rig.
So, here in alphabetical order are our 10 favorite products in the fridges, coolers, and camp kitchens categories.
AO Coolers — 24 Pack Hybrid V2
AO Coolers virtually invented the soft-sided cooler 20 years ago. And it’s never stopped innovating, as evidenced by AO Coolers’ 24 Pack Hybrid V2 cooler. It might be soft-sided, but just don’t call it ‘soft.’ It’s incredibly well-designed and durable.
It has 1.5-inch thick rigid insulation, water resistant YKK zipper, FDA-approved food-grade liner, and a molded ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA) tub that is surrounded by a hybrid sewn and welded construction. These smart designs and materials ensure the AO Coolers 24 Pack Hybrid V2 will never sweat or leak. If it ever leaks, AO Coolers will replace it under its limited lifetime warranty.
We love AO Coolers’ 24 Pack Hybrid V2 cooler because it is handsome, thoughtfully engineered, sturdy and not too big or heavy. It can keep 20 pounds of ice for up to 24 hours in 120-degree heat and hold as many as 24 12-ounce cans. And you get these impressive capabilities from a cooler that is only 18 inches long, 12 inches wide, and 13.5 inches tall — weighing only 5.3 pounds.
More than just robust and efficient, the 24 Pack Hybrid V2 makes for a great overlanding cooler thanks to its six tie-down location points and three exterior dry-storage pockets. And the removable, padded straps make loading and unloading the cooler incredibly easy. No matter your rig setup, there’s a spot for the AO Coolers 24 Pack Hybrid V2 Cooler.
ARB — Zero Fridge Freezer
This year, formidable overlanding outfitter ARB released its Zero Fridge Freezer line. At launch, ARB offered the black-and-gold trimmed fridge freezer in four sizes — one for virtually any overlander’s rig, no matter the dimensions. The range includes two single-zone models, the 47QT and the 63QT. On the larger side are the two dual-zone models, 73QT and 101QT.
No matter the size, all ARB Zero Fridge Freezer models are capable of temperatures from -8 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit. They are all able to run on 12/24 volt DC or 100-245 volt AC power. The biggest difference between the models, of course, is their interior capacities. So, let’s take a look at the mid-level, dual-zone Zero in the range.
The dual-zone 73QT might not be able to hold as many cans — a modest 87 12-ounce cans — compared with the single-zone 67QT. However, unlike the 67, the 73QT can be fitted with two independently controlled compartments. Slide the removable compartment divider in and you can create one 25-quart compartment and second 48-quart compartment. Pop on the removable compartment lid over the 25-quart compartment and you’re able to create a fridge on one side and a freezer on the other — anywhere from -8 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
Aside from being incredibly cool looking and capable, we love the ARB Zero Fridge Freezer line because of their robust capacity offerings, versatility, and build quality. Plus, they’re really user friendly.
All Zero models are controllable through a Bluetooth enabled smart device running the LINX app. From the app, users can turn the fridge on or off, put it in normal or boost mode and set the temperature or select a preset mode. Battery life can be monitored through the app as well and, should your battery charge drop, you can put the fridge in battery protection mode, too.
With a whole host of accessories offered for the Zero line, including sliders, tie downs, and transit bags, there are plenty of ways to customize ARB’s Zero Fridge Freezer to fit your overland rig.
MSRP: $1,032.00 – $1,585.00
Dometic — CFX3 55IM
Dometic has long been the overlanding fridge standard-bearer. That’s not just because the brand has been around for decades but also because its products are well designed, cutting edge, and sturdy. The brand’s latest mid-size single-zone fridge is no different. It’s the CFX3 55IM.
Finished in a smokey grey color scheme, the 50-pound CFX3 55IM boasts an 83 12-ounce can interior capacity and temperatures range from -7 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit. It measures 17.9 inches long, 28.3 inches wide, and 18.9 inches tall.
Although it’s a single-zone fridge, Dometic designers have fitted the CFX3 55IM with what they call a ‘Rapid Freeze Plate.’ It can make ice in a matter of hours — while simultaneously maintaining the fridge temperatures in the rest of the compartment.
To make ice with the CFX3 55IM, simply fill the two included silicone ice trays with water, pop on the provided tops, place them on the Rapid Freeze Plate and select the ‘Ice Maker’ function on the CFX3 55IM’s built-in high-resolution display and corresponding soft-touch buttons.
This is not the only way to control the CFX3 55IM, though. It’s also Bluetooth and Wi-Fi compatible. That means you can operate the fridge without ever leaving the driver seat or, more realistically, the fireside camp chair.
We love Dometic’s CFX3 55IM for its high-quality and mid-size construction, understated design, impressive performance, smart features, and accessible price point. This is a fridge for overlanders who want a medium-size fridge that’s built to last — one that won’t dominate half of their rig’s cargo space to boot.
Goose Gear — CampKitchen
The Goose Gear CampKitchen was one of the products that we had in mind when we were creating this month’s fridge, freezers, and camp kitchen theme. It exemplifies the creativity, durability, and honest-to-goodness craftsmanship at the heart of overlanding. We don’t just need flash-in-the-pan solutions; we require well thought out products that solve a problem and can last a lifetime. That’s exactly what Goose Gear created when they designed the CampKitchen.
Available in four different lengths, from 28 inches up to 31.5 inches deep, there is a CampKitchen for virtually every overland rig. What’s more, it was engineered to be both mounted in a variety of locations — and to be moved from vehicle to vehicle. That means, even if you need to upgrade your rig, the CampKitchen can be easily migrated to the new setup.
The slider at the base of the CampKitchen can hold 500 pounds — more food than your fridge could ever accommodate. The cabinet, which is vented in order to ensure your fridge runs efficiently, is also strong enough to double as a shelf, adding additional shelf space to your rig. And the heavy-duty slider has locking positions for both when it’s pushed away or fully extended. That means it won’t slide away while you’re in the middle of cooking dinner.
We love the Goose Gear CampKitchen because it offers so many solutions in one handsome and sturdy package. It’s one of those pieces of kit that, once you have it, you can check it off the list forever.
MSRP: $1,795 – $1,945
Motive Design — Pull Kitchen
Many overlanders drive their adventure rigs daily. This requires shuffling an assortment of bins full of gear in and out of the back of the rig before, during, and after every trip. Entirely fed up with bins, the guys (including a former Apple iPhone engineer) at Motive Design decided to do something about it. So, they created the Pull Kitchen. Constructed from aluminum and composite materials with multiple color options, it’s the kind of overlanding kitchen you’d expect a student of Apple design would concoct.
The Pull Kitchen deploys in seconds and packs away just as quickly. Once deployed, users will find a two-burner stove and sink from Dometic, 4.2 cubic feet of storage space, 12.5 cubic feet of working surfaces — including a cutting board — and LED lights that illuminate the cooking, storage, and cutting board areas. Motive Designs also incorporated a water pump and a two-gallon RotopaX that can be easily changed out when you need to refill. Power comes from a 12-volt removable and rechargeable battery.
Realizing that not all overlanders want to schlep a full kitchen around with them on a daily basis, Motive Designs created the Pull Kitchen to uninstall from a vehicle in just a few minutes.
These kinds of thoughtful designs are why we love the Pull Kitchen. It’s that perfect blend of fashion and function. It looks great, it makes great use of space, and it also incorporates features and elements common to overlanding, like the RotopaX water container. Motive Design brags the Pull Kitchen is off-road tested and chef approved. We’d like to add our stamp of approval on it, too.
MSRP: Check with manufacturer
Omniasweden — Omnia Stovetop Oven
Meal variety is the key to staying happy and healthy on any overland adventure. Sure, you can grill up an array of meals before you get tired of any one of them. Eventually, though, you’ll need an oven to take your campsite meals from ordinary to gourmet. That’s where Omniasweden’s Omnia stovetop oven comes into play.
It’s remarkable how something so simple can transform your campsite food preparation routine. You can easily take on any recipe that calls for food to be heated, baked or cooked in the lightweight Omnia stovetop oven. Pull it out of its specially designed carrying bag and place it on your propane stove. Et voilà, you have a campsite oven.
The three-piece design works by strategically circulating the heat from the below propane stove around the food inside. The stainless steel bottom plate transfers heat to the conical aluminum center body while the aluminum lid — complete with cleverly designed vents — precisely traps heat in. This creates an ideal oven-like cooking environment.
The Omnia measures 9.8 inches in diameter and can hold two quarts of food inside. Despite its moderate size, thanks to its lightweight but strong materials, it only weighs 1.1 pounds.
We love the Omnia stovetop oven for its lightweight but solid construction, simple but appealing aesthetic design, and — not least of all — its versatility. Lasagna, bread, brownies — you name it. You can make it in the Omnia. Don’t believe us? The Omnia comes with four recipes in the package with more inspirational recipes online. Check them out for yourself.
Pelican — Elite 50QT Cooler
Since 1976, Pelican has been the name in sturdy storage solutions. Its name is almost synonymous with heavy-duty boxes and carrying cases. Hearing the name Pelican instantly conjures up images of protective cases filled with valuable equipment. That’s why we were so excited when Pelican extended its storage bona fides to coolers with the Elite Cooler line.
Pelican’s Elite Cooler line incorporates everything Pelican has learned in the last 44 years of producing cases for defense, emergency and scientific teams. And the brand rolled that ‘go anywhere, do anything’ DNA into its Elite Coolers line.
Take the Elite 50QT for example. Made in the USA, the Elite 50QT features press and pull latches, integrated cup holders, a built-in bottle opener, a molded-in lock hasp with stainless steel plate, and non-skid and non-marking raised feet. Then Pelican went and backed the Elite Cooler line with a lifetime warranty — something you’ll be hard pressed to find form other cooler brands.
We love Pelican’s Elite 50QT Cooler because it’s from a brand of great, world-wide renown. And that’s before we get to the smart design, distinctive aesthetics, and accessible price point — even more reasons to be sold on the 50QT Elite. Plus, when Pelican stamps a lifetime warranty on a cooler, you don’t have to worry whether that’s a sales gimmick — it’s a Pelican. We already know the answer: It’s going to be around for the long haul.
TailGater — Tire Table
Whether you’re cooking, lounging, or simply just trying to organize your gear and gadgets, you can never have enough flat, stable surfaces when you’re making camp. The folks at TailGater cleverly took an unused anchor point — your rig’s wheel and tire — and transformed it into another flat surface.
The durable, powder coated Tire Table works by cantilevering off your vehicle’s tire. It’s stable on uneven surfaces and always level. Measuring 29 inches long, 24 inches wide, and just 2 inches tall, Tire Table offers around 4.8 square feet of flat surface no matter where you are. And it holds up to 50 pounds.
It works by hooking over the top of the tire. Support legs perpendicular to the ground support against the tire sidewall. And a third, extendable leg can be telescoped in any number of positions, adding further stability to the setup. When you’re done using it, the 13-pound Tire Table folds up flat, so it doesn’t take up much space or add much additional weight to your rig.
We love the Tire Table because it literally leverages off the sturdiness and stability of your rig’s wheels and tires to create additional surface space. What’s more, since it can fit tires as small as 13 inches up to 46 inches, it’s incredibly versatile. That means you aren’t relegated to a small number of rig or tire sizes. So, it’s the kind of piece of gear you can deploy in all sorts of scenarios — from overlanding adventures to home projects in your driveway and more — for years to come no matter what you drive.
TruckFridge — TF78AM
Not everyone has room in their overlanding vehicle for a cooler-style fridge. We get that. That’s why we were drawn to the TruckFridge TF78AM model. It has a more traditional standup fridge design. This is because it was primarily designed for use in semi-trucks. But, as any overlander worth their salt knows, not everything is plug-and-play in the overlanding world. Sometimes, the best solutions are those that are repurposed.
At only 34 inches tall, 15 inches wide, and 22 inches deep, the 89.7-quart TF78AM fits nicely in taller, narrower spaces than a cooler-style fridge would. It also includes a 25.7-quart freezer at the top. The TF78AM features interchangeable hinges, so you can orient the door to open from either side. And the door also is fitted with a posi-lock latch to prevent the door from opening during travel. The TF78AM boasts two removable shelves with tall bottle capacity as well as a small freezer compartment at the top.
We love the TruckFridge TF78AM because it offers something different for overlanders than the ubiquitous cooler-style fridge — especially those with larger vehicle builds. What it lacks in high-tech control options, it more than makes up for with compact dimensions and an accessible price point.
Truma — C36
Although Truma might not be a household name in the United States, the German brand is well known and well regarded in European recreational vehicle market as the leader in propane heaters. Founded in 1949, Truma has pioneered heating and cooling systems, specifically for outdoor and recreational vehicles.
Truma took its knowledge of air conditioning and applied it to refrigeration. And the C36 model was born. It offers an internal capacity of 38 quarts or, since it’s a European product, 36 liters — the figure from which the fridge derives its name. If you require a larger fridge, Truma offers larger models, ranging from 44 liters to 105 liters with a couple dual-zone options in the range.
The C36 weighs 50 pounds and measures 26 inches long, 16 inches wide, and 17 inches tall. These dimensions allow it to easily accommodate upright tall bottles. The C36’s reliable and durable ‘Blue Compressor’ can crank out temperatures ranging from -8 degrees to 50 degrees Fahrenheit. It also boasts a ‘turbo cooling’ mode that gets food cold fast. The C36’s lid is also removable for easy cleaning, packing and unpacking.
An intuitive, side-mounted digital display makes dialing in the fridge’s temperatures easy. Easier still is Truma’s smartphone app, which allows users to remotely monitor the C36’s temperature in realtime via Bluetooth. The side of the C36 has power inputs for either 12- and 24-volt DC and 110-volt AC, so it can accommodate virtually whatever power setup you have in your rig. Plus, it offers a USB charge port. This allows users to charge devices from the C36 as well.
We love the Truma line of fridges because of its rugged construction, reliable and powerful cooling capabilities, and its brand lineage. When you’re picking out a fridge-freezer for your overland rig, it’s nice to know that it’s built by a legacy brand with decades of know-how. When you’re spending over $1,000 on an overlanding fridge, you want to know that it’s not going to give up the ghost half way through your trip. Truma’s lineage offers that kind of reassurance.
Header photo credit: Donald Ernst @freeadventurers