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Mercedes Sprinter: Coolers and Refrigerators
Photographer and cyclist and Mac expert and software engineer Lloyd Chambers is available for consulting on general Sprinter considerations at his usual consulting rates via phone, or in person in the Palo Alto, CA area. Save yourself hours and mistakes by discussing issues up-front. More about Lloyd....
Field report to come with usage once installed and built up.
I am not a fan of refrigerators for travel:
- Refrigerators require power to keep cool in a hot car and might have difficulty maintaining the desired temperature without drawing a great deal of power. For example, with freshly caught trout, I want the temperator at 33°F, more or less.
- Wiring is required, an added cost over and above the refrigerator itself.
- A substantial secondary battery system may be required to power the refrigerator adequately on hot days, a steady power draw of about 3.2 amps or 36 watts—not very much, but it adds up when operating frequently and 24 X 7. Even a 320 watt solar system might not capture enough energy to deal with the 24 X 7 draw.
- Refrigerators with an ice section at top can sometimes freeze and destroy lettuce and other delicate items.
- Bolted down commitment even if the space is desired (possibly including a cabinet around it)—not easy to reposition or remove temporarily.
- Cannot be used outdoors for picknicking or a simple sturdy seat like a Yeti cooler can.
- Excessive bulk for the amount of capacity, tends to require a cabinet to surround it, taking yet more room.
- Cost is high for a high quality well insulated refrigerator.
- What happens when the refrigerator stops working (it will).
- Noise when operating and heat might vent into the cabin, which the air conditioning system has to deal with.
- Strictly limited capacity—think hotel-size refrigerators or a little larger (still very small)—even if somewhat larger they cannot hold much, and the depth and width are poorly suited for many items (we’re talking about a space-constrained Sprinter van here, not a full-size RV). The six 34-fluid-ounce bottles of kombucha I take each individually (let alone all of them) won’t fit well, will roll, etc—total unacceptable non-starter for my use. Plus I like my drinks ice cold—and ice does that. Refrigerators set to 33°F will use a great deal of power.
- Cubic feed of capacity is misleading: shevling systems make them unsuitable for many items: large bottles, large trout, etc. Items with certain shapes just won’t fit together in many cases.
- The door can flip open if not secured.e.g. a large heavy bottle pushing the door open due to front-loading design.
- Spillage makes a mess on the floor.
- No shock absorption on very rough roads (think carbonated drinks). A cooler with ice or partly melted ice in a cooler has some “slosh” and thus cushioning.
- Unsuitable for dry ice. Dry ice can greatly extend the lifespan of ice in the cooler by freezing some water and/or taking the whole thing well below freezing. For hunting this is a big deal; no deer or elk is going to fit into a refrigerator, even boned-out.
The Yeti cooler solution — bed platform and cavernous food and drink storage
Why dedicate space to a refrigerator when two cavernous Yeti coolers can be used as a bed platform, at lower cost and complexity? The design of a Sprinter van interior (particularly the 144 wheelbase) is all about economy of space.
Read about my design to use dual Yeti Tundra 210 coolers as a bed platform with the Exped Megamat 10 LXW air mattress. One cooler will serve as a cooler for food and drinks; the other is general purpose insulated and lockable storage (and if a boned out elk needs to be stored, the two of them can handle it).
The elegance of the cooler being a bed platform is highly appealing from the economy-of-space perspective, the capacity is very large, the ease of access is excellent, and the top loading design means no spillage.
- Many months of the year, snow is available to repack the cooler at any time (late June in 2017 in Yosemite offered 10-foot-high snowbanks right along the road). Later in the year, ice or snow can be had right out of the lakes.
- Block ice lasts a looooooong time in a Yeti cooler. Especially if a 4" thick air mattress and bedding are on top with a down comfortor draped over the side as well.
- Even my Yeti Tundra 50 keeps a modest amount of ice for 2 days in a hot sealed car in 100°F heat (3 days, with a down jacket or similar thrown over it).
- Buying ice when buying fuel is all that I have ever needed even if snow is not available for packing the cooler.
- Snow can pack tightly and fully around things like fresh-caught fish, so they stay fresh for days at 32°F. Much harder to do with a refrigerator (volume and balkanized space, the snow melts and makes a watery mess, leaking out).
- The cooler near the rear doors drains right out the back (park uphill). Probably no hose attachment needed.
- Lockable, removable for other uses, but tied down for travel.
Shown below is a schematic showing Yeti Tundra 210 end-to-end cooler placement in a Sprinter van. Read about my design to use dual Yeti Tundra 210 coolers as a bed platform.
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