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If you’re traveling by car, RV or even boat, a reliable electric cooler is a must-have for long trips or journeys where you’re uncertain of your lodging options. Beyond food and drink, if you need to carry insulin or baby formula or any other climate-sensitive essentials, a steady source of cooling is far superior to even the best coolers packed with ice or ice packs.
The two most common types of electric coolers are compressor refrigerators, which function much like a typical home refrigerator. The mechanism behind it relies on compressing a cooling agent or a fluid refrigerant to regulate the temperature, making it flexible to be used as either a fridge or a freezer. Thermoelectric coolers cannot freeze your food or make ice, but they can reduce the internal temperature to 40 degrees Fahrenheit below the ambient temperature. They’re considerably less expensive than compressor refrigerators, but if you’re going to be somewhere where the ambient temp is above 80 for a lengthy period, keep a close eye on those perishables.
Electric vs. Traditional: Voltage Over Ice
You may be wondering if electric coolers are actually worth it? In most cases, yes. That being said, there are a number of vantages to consider before laying down the dough for one.
Both compressor refrigerators and thermoelectric coolers require ancillary power to chill your food, which means you’ll always need to have them connected to the 12V DC outlet in your vehicle (unless you happen to grab one of the few models that feature a built-in battery) or hardwired directly to your car’s battery. Some units can even be connected to an external battery or small generator.
The idea here is that as long as you’re running your vehicle, your cooler will receive power. Many electric coolers also feature an onboard voltage detector to ensure the cooler won’t drain your car battery. You will want to be careful though, as some coolers will continue to draw power from your vehicle battery even when the car is off.
Compared to traditional coolers, electric coolers are the ideal option for long-haul drivers and daily commuters. As long as your vehicle can supply the power your cooler requires, your portable chill-box will always operate.
Everyday coolers need to be packed with ice, and unless you’re using a very small model or making your own ice cubes (we’re assuming no), a regular cooler is going to require about twice the amount of ice as whatever perishables you’ll be chilling. These days, the average 10-pound bag of ice runs about $3.
If you’re traveling with a regularly-sized traditional cooler each day, that’s about $20 worth of bagged ice a week. Yes, you’re relying on the cost of fuel altogether to power your electric cooler, but whether or not your cooler is in the car, you’re driving anyway.
That being said, if you’re not a frequent traveler, it may not be such a big deal to fill your cooler with ice. And as long as you’re not dealing with insane outdoor temperatures, your perishables should be fine. Traditional coolers also negate the need for your vehicle’s onboard electrical when it comes to keeping your food cold.
Let’s also not forget the upfront investment: Most electric coolers are expensive (running anywhere from $600 up to $1,700). If you’re only going to be using it a few times per summer, it won’t make a lot of financial sense to opt for a powered unit over a regular cooler.
For your consideration, we’ve rounded up the very best electric coolers on the market right now. Check them out below.
1. Whynter FM-45G
A great unit for the car, the Whynter FM-45G is a convenient electric cooler that helps you keep your food and beverages organized and cooled. There are two baskets inside of the cooler to help eliminate the need for you to play Tetris every time you open the cooler to get something out. It gets plenty cold dipping down to temperatures around zero degrees Fahrenheit. The thick walls ensure that your food and drinks stay cold too even if you have to unplug the cooler for a bit. It is a bit on the heavy side weighing over 50 pounds, and the handles aren’t ideal for carrying it a long way, so car camping is probably your best bet with this awesome electric cooler.
2. Koolatron Voyager Travel Cooler and Warmer (29 Quart)
Koolatron is not the home planet of the late great backboard-smasher Darryl Dawkins (that was Lovetron) nor a great funk band. It’s a Canada-based company that has been making some of the best thermoelectric coolers for the past 35 years, and this is its most popular model. What we love about the Koolatron is the fact that, unlike most thermoelectric coolers, it runs equally well when placed horizontally or vertically. When you’re playing Tetris, trying to wedge it into a camper or a car full of stuff for a trip, that’s a huge deal. It also has only one moving part — the fan motor — which means way less chance of breakdown. The 29-quart capacity is ample, the 40-degree-cooling range and the ability to heat up to 145 degrees are both standout numbers, and the price is terrific. You don’t hear the Koolatron name all that often, but it’s well worth looking for.
3. Igloo Iceless 40 Quart Thermoelectric Cooler
UPRIGHT OR HORIZONTAL
Igloo has been around since the 1960s — they know a thing or two about the best electric coolers. And Igloo created a convenient one with the 40 Quart Thermoelectric Cooler. It can stand upright and be used like a mini-fridge thanks to a handy side handle and shelf that can be moved and adjusted, or you can lay it down horizontally and pack it up like a standard cooler, the choice is yours. It dips down to 38 degrees below the ambient temperature, so if you’re out in the hot desert all day, you may want to keep an eye on any perishables you have packed in there. But for only $165, this is a smart and budget-friendly electric cooler.
4. Costway 55-Quart Portable Compressor Freezer
It’s hard not to be impressed by some of the cooling numbers provided by the Costway Portable Compressor Freezer. It can get all the way down to -4 degrees Fahrenheit and even has an eco-mode that keeps your food cool without guzzling power. Even though it’s efficient, that only rings true when it’s plugged in and running. It tends to get warm quicker than others when it’s not plugged in and it’s rather loud when in operation. But if don’t mind a little white noise while you’re out in the wilderness, this is a great electric cooler with a lot of capacity to boot.
5. Setpower AJ50 Portable Freezer Fridge for Car
AC & DC COMPATIBLE
The 50-quart capacity is as nice as the ability to plug this electric cooler in just about anywhere you need. The AC/DC power compatibility gives you more powering options compared to many that operate on 12V DC power alone. It has a decent cooling range of 0 – 50 degrees Fahrenheit as well keeping everything from beverages to perishables plenty cool. It comes with two baskets to keep your cooler nice and organized while maximizing space and has two cooling modes — max and eco — depending on your cooling needs.
6. Igloo Portable 28 Quart Iceless Cooler
SMALL AND EFFICIENT
When you don’t need a ton of capacity, the Igloo Portable 28 Quart Iceless Cooler is a great car camper cooler that doesn’t hog up precious space in your car, but keeps your drinks nice and chill. It uses your cigarette lighter (12V DC) in your car to keep the contents inside cold and can cool down to 36 degrees Fahrenheit below the ambient air. Considering its cooling capabilities, it’s not ideal for hot weather ventures or perishables. Think of this as an efficient and iceless way to keep those camping beers nice and chilly.
7. Wagan EL6206 6 Quart Electric Cooler
Need a cooler to chill a few beverages before a night out car camping? The Wagan 6 Quart cooler is small and lightweight enough to cool down your drinks and be portable enough for you to carry it to your destination from the car. It even comes with a little strap that helps you carry the cooler. With two built-in drink holders, you can crack a couple of beers and conveniently place it right in the cooler’s cup holders and still have close access to more beverages. It gets down 36 degrees below ambient temperature and even has a heating function that can heat up the enclosure up to 140 degrees. Not bad for $70.
8. Coleman PowerChill
The Coleman PowerChill is like a mini-fridge that’s ready for camping. It can sit upright with a handy shelf inside of the electric cooler that can be moved in a few different positions or you can remove the shelf and let it sit horizontally like a standard cooler. Either way, it can get 40 degrees colder or warmer than the outside temperature and hold up to 40 quarts.
9. LiON Cooler X40A
Although it has a hefty price tag, the LiON X40 cooler definitely has its advantages over some of the other best electric coolers. Mainly, it cools using a rechargeable 173Wh lithium-ion battery and can be recharged via AC, DC and even solar panels. The battery lasts about 10 hours before it needs a recharge and it can keep your food anywhere from zero degrees to 32 degrees Fahrenheit. And the digital panel makes it extra easy to control. Speaking of easy, the handle and wheels make it extra convenient to carry around. It’s pricey, but man is it convenient.
10. Lifestyle Electric Cool and Warmer
With over 1,000 reviews and a 4.4-star average on Amazon, the Lifestyle Electric Cooler has made a lot of car campers plenty satisfied. It does so by keeping food and beverages at a nice refrigerated temperature of 40 degrees Fahrenheit and can be powered by both AC and DC outlets thanks to two separate available power cords. It even has a set of small wheels on the bottom making it convenient to move around. And the 48-quart capacity allows you to pack in about 60 cans worth of beverages.
11. AstroAI Thermoelectric Car Cooler (26 Quarts)
This AstroAI cooler will not give you days’ worth of frozen food. But it’s nearly one-tenth of the price of other options, and if you’re looking for the best electric cooler for an overnight trip or even to just ferry dairy and perishables home from the supermarket on a scorching day, it’s a great find. The cooler body holds temperature so well that it maintains ice-cooled temps for a day even without electricity, but when plugged into your car or boat’s 12V outlet, it keeps the inner temperature up to 32 degrees below ambient temp.
It does come with a few disclaimers, though. First, do not plug it into the 24V lighter outputs found in heavy-duty vehicles. Second, don’t overpack it so you crowd the vent fans built into the lid. Finally, be sure you do not keep it plugged into your car when the engine is off because it will drain your car battery. But a light-duty electric cooler for $86 is a sweet deal when you consider that a Yeti cooler that is 12 quarts smaller and has no electric assist is over twice the price.
12. GoSun Chill
BEST FOR CHARGING DEVICES
This modestly-sized electric cooler from GoSun is powered by the Power 144, an onboard power bank that provides voltage to not only the cooler but also your on-the-go devices like laptops, phones and tablets. Unlike most of the best electric coolers, the Chill can be powered by your vehicle’s DC connection, your home’s AC outlets, as well as solar panels. On a full charge, you can expect the Power 144 to keep the Chill powered for up to 14 hours on an 80-degree day, with the internal temperature being adjustable from -4 to 68-degrees Fahrenheit.
Are Electric Coolers Worth It?
Electric coolers are an excellent addition to your vehicle. Ideal for the frequent trip-takers and road warriors of the world, the upfront investment may be a bit too hefty for some. For those that don’t mind the cost though, the benefits are numerous.
You’ll never have to buy a bag of ice again, your cooler will keep your goods chilled as long as your car, battery or generator is running, and some models will even allow you to charge your iPhone.
So are they worth it? If you like to keep better control over your cold food without the need for ice, we highly recommend buying one of the best electric coolers.