Freezing of unsaturated soil is an important process that influences runoff and infiltration in cold-climate regions. We used a simple numerical model to simulate water and heat transport with phase change in unsaturated soil via three different approaches: empirical, semi-empirical and physically based. We compared the performance and parameterization of each approach through testing on three experimental datasets. All approaches reproduced the observed unsaturated freezing process satisfactorily. The empirical cryosuction equation used in this study managed to capture observed cryosuction with a fixed empirical parameter value. The semi-empirical version therefore does not require calibration of a specific frozen soil related parameter. In view of simplicity, small computational demand and accurate performance, all three approaches are suitable for implementation in land-use schemes, catchment scale hydrological models, or multi-dimensional thermo-hydrological models.