Compressor vs 3-Way Comparison Guide

When buying a portable fridge, one of the first things to look at is what type of fridge is going to be right for your needs. In this guide, we’ll look at the two main types of portable fridge, and give you an overview of the pros and cons of each.


Compressor Fridges

Portable fridges will generally come as one of two varieties. The majority of fridges are what’s known as ‘Compressor Fridges’, which are sometimes also called ‘2-Way Fridges’. Compressor fridges use a small compressor unit as a means of cooling power, and often have 2 ways of powering that compressor; 12v battery power or 240v mains power (hence the term ‘2 Way’).



  • As a general rule, compressor fridges are able to chill down to lower temperatures and cool more consistently than the 3-Way options, regardless of the outside ambient temperature, due to the more powerful compressor motor. This allows most of the compressor fridges to also double as freezers.
  • Work well in uneven terrain – most compressor fridges will operate just as well regardless of being flat or on an incline.
  • Built with 12v operation in mind, which means they run very efficiently on battery power compared to the 3 Way fridges.


  • Though modern portable compressor fridges are extremely quiet, there is still some audible noise when the compressor is running, similar to that of your standard home fridge (though it doesn’t run all the time).
  • Compressor fridges also require a lot of extra equipment to run when not connected to mains power, such as a battery as well as a means of charging the battery, like solar panels or generators, which can cost a lot of extra dollars.
  • Running on battery power means a limited supply of electricity – usually around 2 days or so depending on the size of the fridge. This means a lot of recharging the battery over the course of a prolonged holiday.



3-Way Fridges

The other option when looking at portable fridges are 3-Way fridges, so named because they have 3 means of being powered; 12v battery power, 240v mains power, and LPG Gas. 3-Way fridges lack a compressor, and instead rely on a gas flow heat exchange system located in the back of the fridge to extract heat from the fridge and cool the internal temperature.

It’s the ability to use Gas that makes these fridges appealing to travellers looking to be out away from power for extended periods of time. Using gas, a 3-Way fridge will stay cold for up to 3 weeks or more, far far longer than any battery can power their compressor counterparts on a single charge.



  • A standard 9L LPG Gas bottle will run a 3-Way fridge for weeks on end, providing an incredibly efficient and cheap means of powering your portable fridge for an extended period of time.
  • No need to spend a lot of extra money on batteries and charging methods; a standard 9L LPG Gas bottle is all you need.
  • The heat exchange system of cooling means the fridge runs completely silent.


  • Due to the gas flow cooling system, a 3-Way fridge must remain level at all times in order to function. Best suited to those looking to stay in the one place rather than constantly moving the fridge around.
  • Because they are mostly run on Gas, you will also need to ensure you have good ventilation wherever you store your fridge. Never a good idea to run in an enclosed space.
  • 3-Way fridges tend to be horribly inefficient running on 12v power, and will drain batteries much quicker than a compressor fridge. Whilst a 3-Way fridge will run just fine from your 12v cigarette lighter socket in your vehicle while the car is running, running the fridge from the car when it’s off is a quick way to get stuck.
  • Without a compressor, 3-Way units also tend to be more heavily affected by ambient temperatures, usually only able to bring internal temperatures down to a certain amount below the ambient, rather than setting to a specific temperature like the compressor fridges.




Dometic 3-Way Fridges by BCF

3-Way Fridges by FCO