Overlanding Gear: Dometic CFX3 45 Fridge and PLB40 Portable Battery Review
Dometic’s CFX3 upgrade of the company’s popular fridge line is a winner.
If there is that one product we can't live without on a camping trip, it's probably a portable powered fridge. Seriously, we rather have a fridge than a tent, and maybe even a sleeping bag, and if you think that makes us spoiled, we think it's because you've never had the pleasure of eating ice cream at the end of a hot and dusty day on the trail. Not to mention we never have to worry about replenishing melting ice, the inevitable ice slosh making its way outside of the cooler after an errant g-out at speed, and we certainly don't have to worry about soggy sandwiches. If you've never used a portable fridge, well, then you are missing out on one of the greatest camping innovations of our time.
Dometic, long known as a manufacturer of premium portable camping fridges, revamped its popular CFX line in early 2020. The CFX3 line was launched with a modern exterior design, more efficiency, and new technology. The new CFX3 line includes a distinctive new design (and dimensions), improved controls, new latch design, upgraded LED lighting, and tougher handles.
The CFX3 is new from the ground up and in the U.S. market includes six differential models, including a version with an ice maker, and two dual-zone units. Here they are with the model designation, actual capacity, associated weights, and capacity in cans:
CFX3 35 (36L, 37.26 pounds, 50 cans)
CFX3 45 (46L, 41.23 pounds, 67 cans)
CFX3 55IM (53L, 46.97 pounds, 83 cans)
CFX3 75DZ (75L, 61.29 pounds, 113 cans)
CFX3 95DZ (94L, 65.71 pounds, 133 cans)
CFX3 100 (99L, 65.27 pounds, 153 cans)
At the heart of the update is Dometic's Variable Motor Speed Optimization (VMOS3) compressor, which gives the CFX3 impressive energy efficiency. To keep frost at bay, a unique evaporator coil and a new dynamically ventilated condenser with an anti-condensation tube is used to reduce sweating in high-humidity conditions. Dometic says that the CFX3 freezes down to -7 degrees Fahrenheit, while using less power than a 60W lightbulb. Of course, a three-stage low-voltage battery protection setting ensures the CFX3 never draws down your main battery down enough to leave you stranded.
In addition to the improved efficiency, the CFX3 also supports both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi and has a companion app for remote monitoring and control of the fridge. The app features the ability to select and monitor temperature, monitor power consumption, and warn when the fridge temperature deviates from the set temp. Compared to the previous models, which offered Wi-Fi only, Bluetooth has a more stable connection, uses less energy, and once paired, doesn't require entering a password. A 2.0A USB charger is also included to aid in charging devices, and the high-resolution screen and soft-touch control panel is IP65 rated and weatherproof.
One of the "coolest" features of the CFX3 lineup is on the CFX3 55IM model, which offers the world's first built-in ice maker in a portable powered fridge. The 55IM is a single-zone fridge that has a dedicated ice maker compartment with a rapid-freeze plate with silicone trays that can produce ice, even if the main compartment is in fridge mode.
Accessing the interior is as easy as lifting up the new single-action lid latch, which breaks the Active Gasket Technology's airtight seal. A brighter LED light illuminates the interior of the fridge, and a wire basket with a removeable divider helps to compartmentalize the contents. Thanks to a space-efficient design, the CFX maximizes the amount of internal space for its given external dimensions.
Dual-zone models feature two independently controllable compartments, which is a nice feature when you have food you need to keep frozen and food you just need to stay chilled.
The Dometic CFX3 is built tough and was designed to survive the harsh environments of the Australian desert while traveling in the rough and tumble Outback. With a stout ExoFrame chassis that has reinforced edges and a thermoplastic shell that covers structural insulation, stainless steel hinges and spring-loaded cast aluminum handles that can double as tie down points (while still allowing access to the fridge), the CFX line of fridges was bult to last. Despite three of the models weighing in less and all models increasing capacity over the versions they replace, CFX3 is strong enough to stand or sit on.
On the 35, 45, and 55 models, the dairy compartment has been removed in favor of a new fully wrapping evaporator plate that that ensures the internal temperature of the fridge is more consistent throughout and can cool faster.
Many of today's vehicles don't have 12V power when the vehicle is off, and those that do typically run thin-gauge wire, which can wreak havoc on a fridge's low-voltage battery protection, turning your fridge off prematurely. Even 12V outlets are becoming scarce. So, what's an adventurer to do when they need to power a fridge or other devices 24/7?
Dometic has a great answer in the PLB40 lithium iron phosphate (LiFePO4) battery, which is one of the best companions for any CFX3 fridge. A LiFePO4 battery offers more stable power delivery and has a longer life than a typical lead acid battery and less environmental impact when compared to lithium ion chemistry. The 40Ah power solution delivers about two days of power for a Dometic fridge on a single charge and can be supplemented or recharged with AC home power, 12V DC socket, or even DC solar power through an Anderson connector.
Featuring two 2.4A USB outlets, a two-pin 15A DC fridge plug, and a traditional 15A 12V plug, the PLB40 has just about everything you'd need to keep your food chilled and your devices topped off on the trail. Really, the only thing missing for us is an outlet to keep our laptops charged. The PLB40 does have pass-through capability that allows the battery to take in power from a charging source while simultaneously powering other devices. A high-visibility LCD display lets the user know the level of charge, status of charging, and output.
In order to survive in a wheeling and camping environment, the 16-pound PLB40 carries and IP44 rating, making it tough enough to bounce around a truck and protect itself from water splashes. The lightweight and compact design, which includes and stainless-steel handle, means it is ultra portable.
For our review, we got our hands on Dometic's CFX3 45 to complement our Wrangler JL. Because of the 45's dimensions, it is the perfect fridge to be positioned on the driver's side of the JL's cargo area and still clear the tailgate hump and steeper rake of the rear seats. At 46 liters (or 48.6 quarts), it's the perfect size for a weeklong solo trip, or a long weekend with friends or family. And if you just want to carry soda and beer, the 45 will hold 67 cans.
We've used our CFX3 45 on countless trips over the past nine months, and time after time we are impressed with its size, capacity, and ability to get to a temperature quickly and stay there without using a lot of energy. In fact, during normal usage in 90+ degree weather, we typically see less than 1Ah/h of energy usage as long as we keep the lid closed and aren't trying to go in and out of the fridge a lot. On a hot day, an open lid for any length of time might cause a short spike of up to 1.3Ah/h before settling back down to about 0.7-0.8Ah/h. The compressor is also whisper quiet, which means those who sleep in their rig can sleep near the fridge and not be bothered when the compressor is running.
We've found the app to be incredibly useful, allowing us to monitor the fridge from the front seat while driving, or from the rooftop tent while camping. We appreciate the quick pairing, power consumption graphs, and temperature alerts. Never again do we have to wonder as we are sliding into bed if we left the lid open, or if the steaks will get ruined on the trail because the fridge isn't at our set temperature.
To help protect and insulate our fridge, we added Dometic's fridge cover, and not only is it high quality, but it fits great and still looks good.
Dometic's redesigned CFX3 fridges are among the best on the market, and we highly recommend adding them to your list when looking for which fridge to buy. The mix of efficiency, technology, and available sizes means there is a fridge for just about any need. For more information, head over to dometic.com for more information.