Bushman upright fridge review; do they live up to the hype?
Every now and again you get a new 4WD or camping accessory that is a major upgrade. The Bushman Upright Fridge has done that for us, on so many levels. However, its absolutely not perfect, and we go into that below too.
Before I go on though, you need to know that we purchased this product for $1200 from Signature Spares, and this is not a sponsored Bushman upright fridge review. Bushman have had zero input into this post, and its not biased in any way, shape or form.
A number of months ago our Evakool Fridge was playing up, and with a 6 week trip into the Kimberley on the horizon I was nervous about whether we should take it or not. A bit of searching online and I came across the upright options, which I’d never thought about before.
I did a heap of research into what people thought about them, and the pro’s and con’s, and have since written a post; upright vs chest fridges.
We’ve had our 85L Bushman Upright now for a number of months, and literally lived out of it for 6 weeks non stop, along with plenty of other short and medium length trips, and now its time to do a thorough review.
What do we love about the Bushman Upright Fridge?
By far and away the best thing about this fridge is the improved access. Not only is it at a sensible height without needing a drop down fridge slide, but you can see everything that you want to grab, its all within reach and there’s no pulling out a million things on top, just to get to what you want.
If you forget to grab something, or to put something back it’s a super fast exercise to undo the latch, swing the door open and do what you need, before shutting it and walking away.
One of the things that I was a bit concerned about when we purchased the Bushman 12V Upright fridge was its power consumption, but its proven to be extremely good.
The only formal test I’ve done so far was with the fridge empty, set to 4 on the dial (which is most common) with the vehicle sitting in my garage for 24 hours. It used an average of 25 watts an hour, or 528 watts over 21 hours.
This equates to 2 amp hours being used, and with our 150 amp hour being depleted down to 50% we get about 38 hours of run time before needing charge. With a permanently mounted 200W solar panel on the roof we have never had any issues.
Please note that the fridge does not work as hard when it is full of food or drink, and in a real life situation I’d expect it to use less power. I will do a proper test when I get a new watt metre, as mine broke!
Ease of use
These fridges are so easy to use. The doors self latch when you shut them (when adjusted correctly), they have heaps of room and you can use the shelves to ensure your soft food doesn’t get smashed by drinks or heavier items.
Weight and space savings
We saved a huge amount of weight and space by fitting the Bushman Fridge, and that’s allowed us to stay legal with a long range fuel tank, and have far more storage on the other side of our canopy.
We’ve increased our fridge and freezer capacity while not losing any more space, and reducing the weight in our canopy by a considerable amount.
Its got a small freezer
We love the fact that the Bushman upright has a small 6L freezer. We most often use it for bait, but its perfect as there’s no mucking around with bait in eskies or cool boxes; you just use what you need, then put it back into the freezer, which is separate from everything else and easy to use.
You can access it with one hand
With a bit of practice, you’ll learn to open the door easily with one hand, and that’s pretty convenient. Most fridges would require the use of both hands, and that means you’ve got to put anything down you are already carrying.
It also shuts by itself too, with a simple, light swing backwards as you are finished and the door latches shut itself. There’s no latches to be done up; it just works.
Bushman Upright Fridge Problems; where does it fall short?
Nothing in life is perfect, and its rare that you buy a product that doesn’t have something that you don’t like about it.
The difference between this blog and many others reviewing products (particularly those on YouTube!) is that we speak our mind, and don’t hide behind sponsorships and make cash for comment posts, or advertorials. There certainly are Bushman upright fridge problems, and one of them is a huge annoyance of ours.
It frosts up
Before purchasing the upright fridge, I had read that they frost up more often than a chest fridge/freezer, and that they’d need defrosting more often, but I assumed that you’d get a month or two out of it without needing to do anything.
However, on our 6 weeks up north, I noticed that it frosted up fairly quickly, and at one stage it got to around 20 – 25mm thick in places, and I didn’t think too much about it.
Its not exactly practical to empty all of the food out of your fridge into the heat whilst you wait for it to defrost, and I figured we’d do it when we got home.
However, I got up the following morning to be met with a huge puddle under the fridge, and it had clearly defrosted on its own.
The real issue though, was that it wasn’t running, and I couldn’t get it to come back on. Fortunately all of our food was still cool enough, and after some playing with the fuse, and plugging it into another Anderson plug it came back on again.
I read through the manual, and it states after 5mm of build up of ice you should defrost it, which seems rather inconvenient. I dried everything, and wiped it all down before putting it back into service. That day, the fridge ran for most of the day trying to freeze the bait in the freezer and cool it all down again.
I did notice a huge improvement in the cooling, so the icing up clearly affects the cooling abilities (which you’d expect). I rang Bushman, and the supplier we got it from, and got some information but they stated that the excessive frost shouldn’t make it turn off.
As it turns out, the turning off of the fridge was from a different (non Bushman related) electrical problem, which we go into further below.
After some pondering I wondered if it might have been frosting up so fast because of a new product we’d been using to keep our vegetables for longer. You see, not long before leaving on our trip Sarah purchased some Swag bags, which are basically giant cotton bags that you put fresh produce in, to keep them for longer.
They work by wetting them, which keeps things for a long time (and they do an amazing job). The problem with introducing extra moisture into the fridge though is that the water in the bags evaporates, and ends up as frost in the fridge freezer.
However, even after defrosting the fridge and not using the bags any more, it was still frosting up to 5mm within 7 – 9 days in the warmer climates around Broome. I don’t think its reasonable to defrost the only fridge you rely on for travelling every week or two, regardless of what the climate is doing.
Our electrical issue
One week after the frosting issue, I heard the fridge make a similar ping noise as it shut down, and not long after I noticed that the light would go off inside the fridge, which says its not getting any 12V power at all.
In the middle of a hot day at James Price Point, I stood back and wondered what could possibly be doing it. After a while, the fridge would reset, and it would come good again, before stopping not long after.
Eventually, I realised that the noise was coming from my electrical box, and after opening it and hearing the noise, I knew exactly what it was; the auto resetting circuit breakers on my Anderson plugs.
I’ve experienced the nuts coming loose in the past, and sure enough, they were all loose, and the thread on the fridge one was so hot I burnt my finger on it. Loose nuts means poor contact, which means heat and then the thermal overload trips out, before cooling down and kicking the fridge in again.
I then began to wonder if the issue with the fridge turning off in the middle of the day was also related to the circuit breaker tripping out.
Of course, the excessive frosting would have made the fridge work harder, and more than likely caused the circuit breaker to trip out and cause the initial turning off of the fridge. Lucky it didn’t cause a fire!
We ran the fridge for a further 2 weeks while travelling back to Perth (3 weeks total) and didn’t have any further issues, but it certainly frosts up fast.
In summary, the Bushman Upright Fridge frosts up quite a bit in warmer climates, and you need to physically turn it off and let the ice defrost before putting it back into service.
Our swag bags certainly made the problem worse initially, but it still frosts up much faster than you’d like without them being used, and I’ve proven this on different trips too.
I also don’t believe anything was wrong with the fridge in terms of it turning off; it was purely an electrical fault on my end, cutting the power to the fridge.
Now, you should know that I have tested this in a couple of different climates, and spoken to Bushman about it. The frosting is certainly worse when its hot or humid, but it still happens even when its cooler, and is a right pain in the backside. In my opinion its enough to make you seriously consider whether you want one or not.
The shelves fall out
When the fridge arrived, two of the shelves had come loose, and were sitting diagonally in the fridge. I’d read from others that this does happen from time to time, and had also found a fantastic fix for it, which costs almost nothing and takes only a few minutes to do.
Simply get yourself a few pieces of the non slip matting that you’d use in a pantry, and cut strips. Slide the shelves in place with this in between the edges and the shelves, and it makes the fitment much tighter, and far more secure. They wont fall out like this, and we’ve proven it over more than 7000km of driving in all sorts of conditions.
Food falls out
The biggest complaint about upright fridges is that your food and drinks fall out. I knew the risks when we made the purchase, and decided that if this was the only major downside that we’d be prepared to live with it, for all of the benefits.
As it turns out, food falling out is almost a non issue all together. Of course, if you have limited food inside, or you pack it poorly, you need to be prepared for something to fall out when you open the door.
However, if you pack it well, you are prepared for something to fall out and you are sensible then you’ll rarely have an issue, even on nasty 4WD tracks.
For the odd occasion that something does fall out, its so outweighed by the convenience of the fridge under 95% of normal circumstances.
When you open the door, its not like everything is going to jump out at you either. You might have something random and loose gently fall out, but we’ve never had any real issues with it, and under most circumstances nothing really moves anyway.
The only exception to this was just a couple of weeks ago, where I balanced a big container of open sour cream at the top of the fridge, thinking I’d get to it later.
As it turns out, I didn’t and after several hours of nasty 4WD tracks around Fish Creek, we opened the fridge for lunch to find most of the sour cream throughout the fridge.
My fault, and entirely avoidable; we had a bit of a laugh, and then proceeded to spend 20 minutes cleaning it up with baby wipes!
No temperature gauge
One things I’d like to see in these is a temperature gauge, and even temperature control. They are controlled by a mechanical thermostat today, but it doesn’t translate to an actual temperature setting.
Its not the end of the world, but knowing that your food is at the temperature that is recommended would give you a bit of extra peace of mind, and being able to see how it changes would be interesting.
The colour is impractical
The colour black looks neat when it comes to accessories and gear, but often its not very practical. The Bushman only comes in black, so you have no choice, but we have two issues with it. Number one is the finger marks show up like you wouldn’t believe, and the fridge ends up looking rather dirty.
The second, and interesting one is that if you get any sun on the fridge door, it gets super hot, super fast. There’s been times where our canopy door has been left open and the sun has shined in, and onto the door of the fridge and it gets so hot you can barely touch it.
Of course, shutting the canopy door is a solution here, and to Bushman’s credit I couldn’t feel any heat coming through the fridge (which means its got decent insulation), but it can’t be doing the fridge any good in terms of energy consumption and longevity.
Fluid can leak out the door
For us, when we took a chest fridge camping you’d inevitably end up with a puddle of water and other muck at the end of the trip, sitting in the bottom of the fridge. The thing is though, that this puddle was trapped in the fridge and had no way of coming out.
If you had a container of beetroot leak everywhere, it was stuck in the bottom of the fridge, which although its annoying is actually good for you.
With an upright, this is not the case, and it will leak out and seep into anything underneath it. When we had issues with the fridge frosting up, I woke to a big puddle of water that had clearly leaked out, and through the door seals.
We run marine ply so I wasn’t too concerned, but if it had have been meat juice, or something nasty then it would have been a problem.
I would say in normal circumstances this isn’t an issue, but its certainly something to be aware of.
I did make a huge mistake when we got home and left a heap of bait in the freezer, which I’d forgotten about. I remembered nearly 2 weeks later, and fortunately for us the lovely juices had stayed in the fridge, and not run out near the door seal.
If it had, we would have had to replace all of the plywood as it would have been ruined.
Our fan broke
After a couple of hot days in the mid north west region, I found my battery voltage quite low in the late afternoon and began to do some investigation.
As it turned out the Projecta DCDC that I was using wasn’t doing its job for solar input, but I also realised that the fan on our Bushman 85L fridge wasn’t running, and when I looked even closer I found the fan was jammed in the condenser, and one of the blades had broken off.
I recall finding a piece of black plastic in the back of the canopy many months before, so it had obviously been dead for some time, and running without the fan. The fan is held in with cable ties using black plastic spacers, and in my opinion is too close to one side of the condenser, which likely caused it to grab at some stage and do damage.
Bushman were very good about it and sent a new fan out immediately, with no questions asked and the fridge never stopped working, but it was pretty frustrating to find! If you want to read more, check out Bushman Fridge Fan Failure.
The ice block container is poorly finished
Lastly, this is the most minor and random point, but I’ll make it anyway. After cleaning out our stinky fridge from leaving bait inside, I took the ice cube container inside to wash it. I wash washing it underwater, and pulled it out to run the sponge around the outside when I felt a sharp pain in my finger.
I was completely confused as to what had happened, until I realised the edge of the ice cube container was sharp as all the way around and it had opened the tip of my finger up.
It’s just a poorly finished product, but given its just a piece of aluminium there’s no real cause for concern; just clean it up with a file before you use it! This should be done prior to being sent out, and is clearly overlooked.
Is the Bushranger Upright Fridge actually any good?
Our Bushranger Upright Fridge Review is simple; its an good product, with exception of the frosting issue. The idea of going back to a chest fridge makes me sick, and it has been a huge upgrade.
I hate the fact that you have to defrost the ice regularly (and more so if you are in warmer/humid climates) but in every other way its so much better than a chest fridge, and I don’t think we’ll be going back.
If you are changing setups, or considering a new fridge, seriously consider a Bushman Upright Fridge, or another brand (like Engel, Dometic etc). I’d love to see an auto defrosting arrangement which would perfect it, but we’ll keep using it and see how frustrating it is longer term.
I will be looking into fitting an internal fan to move some air around, and hopefully stop the build up of ice, as it really makes the fridge unsuitable for long term travel, in my opinion.
EDIT – We’ve been using this fridge for more than 12 months now, and have just accepted that it frosts up, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Cooler climates certainly help, but we just carry a hair dryer now to defrost it quickly, and do it every 2 – 4 weeks, depending on where we are, and how badly it frosts up.
You might have seen that there’s a Kings Upright Fridge now too, which by many reports is identical (at least on a visual level) and they have a longer warranty, and its much cheaper. That’s another kettle of fish that you’ll have to work out for yourself! I did hear that they have been pulled from the market as they were a little *too* close to the Bushman design, but they’ve come back with some changes.
Do you have a Bushman Upright Fridge? How often are you defrosting it? What do you think of it overall?
Thanks for your comment. Yep, we knew it was older technology when we got the fridge. I guess you certainly could install a timer, and I’ve seen people doing all sorts of different mods to try and reduce the frosting. Fans seem to be the most common fix, which just stops the moisture from freezing up.
For me, I don’t see how its fair that you should have to make modifications in the first place, and given that some seem to work trouble free, I wonder if its more a difference in the manufacturing process in terms of quality control than anything else.
A timer could work well, but I’d still be worried about some items getting too warm and causing sickness. It would be interesting to measure the temperature difference in the fridge as it is now.
Cheers for the idea; I’ll think more about it
All the best
this style of refrigeration is older technology. household fridges in this style would typically have a cyclic defrost timer that would literally turn the fridge off for 6 hours in 24 (some had different cycles) and they included a tray under the freezing chamber that drained out the back into a tray mounted on top of the compressor. when it started again, the water in that tray would be evaporated by the heat from the compressor. I wonder if you could simply have an inline timer on the power cord for the fridge that would turn it off each night for 4 to 6 hours max – and leave a tray directly under the ice box to catch the small amount of water each time. this way, all of your produce would remain cold as the fridge would still remain within the 4 to 7 degree refrigeration zone during the ice melt.
just a thought.
Good to hear you’re happy with the Dometic. I love our Bushman, but the frosting issue is just no good. I’ve just defrosted it today, after just under a month on the road full time, in fairly mild conditions.
With the drain hose, does the Dometic auto defrost? If not, where’s the liquid coming from?
I was tied between bushman and dometic to replace the 3 way in my camper. I like Engel in general, but they are too tall The dometic has the option to plumb in a 10mm drain hose so that liquid doesn’t pool in the bottom of the fridge. Very handy.
You can get aluminium frames that the Bushman fridges mount into, or people often slide them into cabinets, but you need them open in at least the back, top corner for ventilation.
They are run in plenty of 4WD installations, but many don’t keep them open like I have. I prefer maximum ventilation, minimal weight and expense.
Thanks for the ‘technical tidy up’. I get a bit lazy when explaining this, like many others.
Thanks for a great review. I assume this upright units are open at the back because they are meant to be built into a cupboard in a caravan or RV. It looks like they are not actually meant for a 4×4 cabin?
A technical tidy-up: your Power Consumption section is not quite right. Where you say “…for 24 hours. It used an average of 25 watts an hour, or 528 watts over 21 hours. This equates to 2 amp hours being used” it should be “…for 24 hours. It used an average of 25 watts, ie 2 amps, or 528 watts-hours over 21 hours. This equates to 44 amp hours being used”.
I reckon you are onto it; I’ve heard exactly the same thing, and it frustrates the heck out of me. We’ve just about finished up 23 days away and we have well over 5mm of build up, and it needs defrosting, but how do you do it on the road without risking your food?
I will be taking a really good look at the door seal when I get back, but overall this is the only real gripe I have with Bushman (although it is huge)
Hi we haven’t brought our fridge as yet I have spoken to a few people with the bushman 85l they all said the icebox iced up way to often then others say there bushman never iced up, I thinks it’s because of variation in the door seals I think where bushman are made in China they need better quality control so I spoke to a fridge mechanic about icing up so much he said the seal on the door isn’t sealing properly there a very poorly made seal bushman need to put a good quality seal on the door , then I spoke to people with Engel upright they never had an issue with icing up. so still deciding between the two.
Thanks for the comment, and your thoughts. I’d be interested to see how the timer goes. If you do manage to get it to defrost in an hour, what happens to the water? You don’t think that will be an issue?
A good mate of mine actually looked at our fridge the other day and commented how little seal engages with the top of the fridge; its as if the seal was installed slightly too low and it covers about 10 – 15mm on the bottom of the door and maybe 5mm on the top. I’ll see if this can be fixed, as some people don’t seem to have the frosting, which would suggest they are not all the same in terms of finished quality.
Keen to hear a resolution; please let us know how you go!
All the best
Hi Aaron, thanks for the review.
I purchased a Bushman DC190L upright fridge to replace my Dometic 3-Way which was great as long as you never actually moved! I installed it about October last year and its been great – but does ice up as you mention.
Bushman have done a great job on minimissing power consumption in thiis fridge as there is extermely good high quality insulation used throughout. I have never seen any condensation anywhere on the outside of the fridge. Insulation is 50mm high density foam in the fridge and 80mm in the freezer. There is no fan required to cool the condensor as they have used the entire back of the fridge for passive cooling. They also use a mechanical thermostat which is quite accurate in temperature maintainence. These measure mean there is no reliance on electronics and minimal power consumption, which is important in off grid applications.
In regard to the icing up I was thinking about installing a timer module which would switch offg the fridge for say an hour at midnight each day to defrost the fridge so I will look into this. I did fit a 50mm fan at the rear of the interior light to assist in cold air distribution in the fridge but I think that reduces the Freezer temp as the refrigerant gas is controlled by mechanical means rather than a self latching gas relay (which requires an electonic temperature controller and are prone to failure – I know about this as I repair all brands of compressor camping fridges.
In summary really great fridge except for the icing-up but I will see how my timer idea goes when I get to it.
The result is a very power efficient fridge
I don’t believe they are selling the Kings products anymore; perhaps they were a little *too* close to the Bushman design?
Either way, I reckon there’s some improvements to be made in air flow and sealing, as some people have no issues with frosting, and others have a lot.
There’s a few uprights on the market; look around and get what you are happy with!
All the best
great Review we are going to buy the Engel upright, but a mate has the kings upright he has never had a problem with it he said it never ices up either he got a 5 year warranty and it was way cheaper than the bushman that are made in the same factory
Interesting about the shelving; we just put anti slip matting in. You might find you have no issues with the frost, which would make it an epic fridge.
All the best!
Hey Aaron, thanks for your honest review and tips. I have just received my new 65lt Bushman and they have a new shelf design that stops them sliding out. I will check the ice tray and cooling fan as well.
Thanks for the comment. I’d have to agree; its so much better overall, especially if the frosting issue isn’t a problem for you. If I could resolve that, I’d be one very happy camper!
All the best
I have had my 85lt Bushman’s for almost 12 months, I don’t run it full time so I can’t comment on the frosting issues. We use it whenever we go away, weekend trips mostly… The weight saving and smaller footprint were a big bonus for me and the usability and access win hands down. Great product so far!