THE OLD ESKY and a bag of ice used to be the only way to keep camp supplies cool, but these days there are so many styles of eskies and 12-volt coolers, fridges and freezers that no campsite is complete without one.
I know that 12-volt combos have been around for a while but their technology is constantly improving. On a recent trip up north, we were offered the use of a 12-volt Bushman fridge freezer.
As soon as we saw the unit we noticed an obvious difference between the Bushman and all the other fridge/freezers that we have seen. There is a digital control on the top of the unit so that the user can have absolute control of the internal temperature. The controls are protected from accidental interference by a plastic cover, meaning that you don’t have to open the unit to check on the temp inside.
The unit will run 2° either side of the preset temp so that when the it reaches the right level it will automatically switch off to the ‘energy-save’ mode and a green light will glow. This means that if you are using the unit connected to the 12-volt system in your vehicle or a battery in the tent, then the power drag is significantly lower than most other makes on the market.
Being able to have control of the internal temp of the unit means that it can be used quite efficiently as a fridge and a freezer. When we were packing for our trip we had already frozen our meat supply for the first few days. So this went into the base of the Bushman, along with a frozen chook. There’s nothing like a baked chook done properly in the camp oven and the leftovers are great for sandwiches the next day.
With the Bushman set at –3°, the food on the bottom stayed frozen. The Bushman will maintain a frozen zone for the lower one-third of the unit, while the beer and veggies stayed cold and fresh in the middle zone and the margarine, milk, cheese and eggs maintained their right temp in the upper basket.
When running on battery power, another safety feature of the Bushman is that it has a safety over-rider, meaning that once the power supply drops to 10.7 volts, the unit automatically switches off. Naturally, as with any fridge-freezer, the Bushman will also use more power if the lid is being regularly opened.
The temperature ranges of the Bushman are quite good. The average temp for refrigerators is around 3° and freezers is around –4°. The Bushman’s range is from 10° degrees to –22°, providing greater flexibility for internal temperature.
Similar to a few other fridge/freezer units on the market, the Bushman runs on a Danfoss BD-35F compressor fitted with a brushless DC motor rubber-mounted to the base, so the unit works remarkably quietly. On site we kept the Bushman in the tent against the dividing wall between the bedroom and the dining area and, even on the quietest nights, we didn’t hear the motor running.
An Australian product, the Bushman uses the new refrigerant R134A, the only environmentally safe refrigerant recommended for household use. The old Freon or R12 has been classified as ozone-depleting and is being phased out.
There is an inexpensive 240-volt adaptor available for use with normal power supplies. We found that when we camped at a powered site, the Bushman ran just as quietly when using the adaptor.
The Bushman comes with a standard flat lid and an optional high-domed lid can be purchased to increase capacity. Standard internal capacity is 35 litres with the flat lid and 42 litres with the dome lid. When the domed lid is used, two-litre bottles can be stored standing up.
There is also a transit bag that has been designed for both high lids. Although it is not essential for insulation because the unit has more than ample internal insulation, the transit bag does help protect against the occasional bumps.
Another extra is the small basket which rides up inside the high lid that allows for easy access to smaller items. It also traps the necks of larger bottles and prevents them from falling over.
Pricewise, the Bushman is comparable and, in some cases, a lot cheaper than most of the other units on the market. The basic unit has a recommended retail of $850, price as tested with high dome lid was $1050. The digital control for this unit is an incredible bonus. I am usually a firm believer that price is usually a good indicator for quality, but the Bushman is the exception to the rule. The quality is excellent.
When we do get around to purchasing our own unit, I think that the Bushman has to be on the top of our list.
• Major distributors: Gas and Domestic Refrigeration Pty Ltd, phone 02 9681 4365; Country Gas Fridges & Elements Pty Ltd, Gosford, phone 02 4321 1555.Reads: 4315