Refrigerators for Ramblers: Best Electric Coolers of 2022


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The best electric coolers have a vast price range, and issues like portability, capacity, compatibility, and draw are constants. Sorting through the pile often comes down to scrutinizing performance against price.

We’ve reviewed electric coolers both at home and in the outdoors. While you can feel pretty safe operating an electric-powered cooler at home on a 110-volt AC outlet, the margin is narrower when you’re miles into the backcountry with your electric fridge plugged into your 12-volt car socket. Discerning quality and identifying the right product for your specific needs becomes critical.

During our testing, we found that some electric coolers belong close to the homestead while others are born to be wild. Read on for our findings.

The best electric coolers

Cheapest electric xooler: AstroAI 24L Electric Cooler

astroai 24l electric cooler

  • 24L capacity
  • 8ft cord
  • Lid only locks with a handle over hinges

Specifications:

  • Brand: AstroAI
  • Model: ‎24l
  • Weight‎: 12.38lbs
  • Capacity: 24L
  • Power Source: 12V DC
  • Cooling Temperature: 32°F below ambient
  • Dividers/Shelves: Two

Pros

  • Cheap
  • Decent insulation

Cons

  • Potentially dangerous plug problem

Everybody wants to know if they can do it for cheap, right? We did, so we test-drove the AstroAI 24L electric cooler. For a small electric cooler, I was impressed with its interior space. It proved helpful for light-duty actions like grocery runs but concerning for extended use.

I found the cooler’s capacity to be on the small side and it is insulated pretty convincingly. That’s where the idiosyncrasies set in. The lid doesn’t lock, except by flipping the handle backward over the hinges. Nor does it secure: The lid lifts freely out of the hinges. The two are not attached and it doesn’t seem like they’re intended to be. Other reviewers have corroborated this head-scratcher.

I was unimpressed by the storage compartment for the 8ft cord. It’s a cheap plastic door with tiny tabs to keep it closed. But I was happy with the length of the cord and the simple on/off switch. The AstroAI also came with two interior dividers and two ice packs. The brand encourages using the included ice packs to help boost the cooler’s performance. It claims an interior air temperature of 32°F below ambient temp.

Noting these various oddities, off I went to test it. I was pretty happy with it right off the bat; I stocked it at room temperature with some fruits, veggies, and beer and plugged it into my truck. I expected it to let the beer warm up pretty fast, but instead, it stayed cold.

Eventually, the cooler did warm up, closer to the 32-below temperature it promised. But when I touched the 12V plug, I found it had warmed up even more. Actually, it had gotten almost too hot to touch over the course of several hours. I unplugged it and researched the worrying aberration. Sadly, it looks relatively common among users. Some report that their cooler has stopped working after weeks or a month and I highly suspect a blown fuse or other plug problem.

Regardless, I’d recommend the cheap AstroAI for keeping your frozen goodies from melting on the way home from the grocery store. But that’s about it. Keep it plugged in all day, and you’re playing with fire. Read the in-depth review here.

See AstroAI 24L Electric Cooler on Amazon

See AstroAI 24L Electric Cooler on Walmart

See AstroAI 24L Electric Cooler on Wayfair

Best plug-in cooler for camping: Dometic CFF 35 Electric Cooler

dometic cff 35 electric cooler

  • 0°F-50°F temperature setting
  • 34L capacity
  • Dimmable LED display

Specifications:

  • Brand: Dometic
  • Weight‎: 37.9lbs
  • Capacity: 34L
  • Power Source: 12/24V DC or 120V AC
  • Cooling Temperature: 0°F-50°F
  • Dividers/Shelves: One tray

Pros

  • Efficient under most conditions, as tested
  • Big enough for a camping trip with two people

Cons

  • Minimal interior organization

The Dometic CFF 35 hits a sweet spot among Dometic’s well-regarded line of powered coolers. One of our editorial team has been using this cooler regularly for about two years. Short story? He loves it. Here’s why.

First, this portable mini fridge is the perfect size for two people for a few days of camping. It’s large enough to easily roam off-grid for a week without resupplying, even if you like lots of fresh foods. While the internal organization is minimal, it’s enough to keep fragile items safe and still haul around larger food containers within the same cooler.

This portable cooler is also extremely efficient. With a rated input current (DC) of 4.5 amps at 12 volts, our tester has been able to run the cooler off his truck’s primary battery for multiple days in 70°F weather without restarting the truck to charge. While the fridge’s appetite for electricity varies a lot depending on the internal temp setting and ambient temperature, we found it worked well even in hot weather.

The user can set it between 50ºF and 0ºF, which gives you a versatile tool. We have even used it to freeze wild game that we cleaned in the field after hunting, perfectly preserving our harvest for cooking at home. We even fit most of a deboned mule deer into this one and partially froze the meat on the way to our processing center.

So if you’re looking for a reliable, mid-tier cooler, this one fits the bill.

See Dometic CFF 35 Electric Cooler on Amazon

See Dometic CFF 35 Electric Cooler on Dometic

Best high-capacity electric cooler: Setpower AJ50 53-Quart Electric Cooler

setpower aj50 53-quart electric cooler

  • Two interior compartments; three separate spaces
  • AC/DC compatibility
  • Two operating modes for efficiency or performance

Specifications:

  • Brand: SetPower
  • Weight: ‎37.7lbs
  • Capacity: 50qt
  • Power Source: 12/24V DC or 110-240V AC
  • Cooling Temperature: 0°F-50°F
  • Dividers/Shelves: Two compartments; big compartment has two baskets

Pros

  • Lots of functionality at the price
  • Positive reputation

Cons

  • Heavy; nearly 38lbs

Within its low price bracket, Setpower builds the biggest portable fridge you’re going to find with a decent reputation. The 53-quart AJ50 has AC and DC charging, a 0°F-50°F temperature setting, and two compartments standard. Subordinate features include Eco and Max modes and two organizer baskets. Eco mode maximizes the cooler’s efficiency for long-term or camping use; Max optimizes output for rapid cooling.

The Setpower AJ50 is equipped to handle any power source. 110-240V AC or 12/24V DC compatibility comes standard. The 3.1-inches of insulation keeps the interior cool. And while the compressor works hard, a high-speed cooling fan works overtime to dissipate heat.

Most users are happy with its overall operation and we’re enticed by its organizational potential. The interior space features one smaller section for deep cooling, plus a bigger compartment that can be divided into two baskets.

See Setpower AJ50 53-Quart Electric Cooler on Amazon

Most durable electric cooler: Engel Platinum MT 35 Electric Cooler

engel platinum mt 35 electric cooler

  • Stainless steel construction
  • AC/DC power compatibility; automatic adjustment
  • Digital temperature control

Specifications:

  • Brand‎: Engel
  • Weight: ‎48lbs
  • Capacity: 34qt
  • Power Source: 12/24V DC or 110-120V AC
  • Dividers/Shelves: Single compartment and basket

Pros

  • Durable by reputation
  • Three-year warranty

Cons

  • Heavy
  • Expensive

Engel’s Platinum series MT 35 is a tank of an electric cooler. The stainless steel cabinet protects it long-term and its versatile power compatibility ensures varied use. Though heavy, the cooler promises durability. The three-year warranty gives peace of mind.

There’s no way to sugarcoat it: the MT 35 weighs 49lbs. It has a 34qt capacity but has no wheels. Only rubber feet to keep it planted. So if you have a highly portable electric cooler in mind, it’s best to look elsewhere. The trade-off is that this thermoelectric fridge should outlast competitors. Engel has a sterling reputation in the industry and is aware that reliability is the foundation of its success.

The AC/DC powered cooler is compatible with 12/24V DC sockets or 110/120V AC. The AC cord has three prongs. The cooler senses the difference between AC and DC power, switching automatically. A digital control lets users set the interior temperature manually. Reports indicate that the MT 35 doesn’t get quite as cold as some competitors. But it also draws very little power; Engel claims 1-2 amps per hour.

If you need an electric cooler to go the distance and work in a variety of situations, the Engel Platinum 35 looks good. Just don’t move it too often, unless you really like deadlifting awkward objects.

See Engel Platinum MT 35 Electric Cooler on Amazon

Best all-around electric cooler: Whynter FM-45G Electric Cooler

whynter fm-45g electric cooler

  • -8°F lowest temperature
  • Fast Freeze setting for rapid cooling
  • Can run on AC with DC backup

Specifications:

  • Brand‎: Whynter
  • Model‎: FM-45G
  • Weight‎: 45lbs
  • Capacity: 45qt
  • Power Source: 12/24V DC or 110V AC
  • Cooling Temperature: -8°F-50°F
  • Dividers/Shelves: Single compartment with two baskets

Pros

  • Lots of interior space
  • Durable steel exterior

Cons

  • Handles look undersized/uncomfortable

The Whynter FM-45G gets high marks at a middle-to-low price point. It combines an impressive temperature range with a digital control, AC/DC compatibility, and a lot of interior space.

It chills to an ultra-cold -8°F. That’s about the lowest you’re going to get from a portable fridge. The top end is 50°F, and a digital display lets users control it to a degree. You can turn on “fast freeze” mode to cool the unit to -8°F as fast as possible.

Compatibility is 12/24V DC power or 110V AC. Interestingly, the unit can be plugged into both AC and DC at once; in this situation, the fridge will primarily run on AC, using DC as a backup. A low power indicator helps the user monitor draw.

The 45qt of interior space is divided by two handy baskets. The shell and handles are steel, and a drain plug helps facilitate cleaning.

Most Whynter FM-45G users who do report failure only do so after a number of years. At its competitive price point and with high performance, the Whynter looks like a solid all-around option. For the serious backwoods folks out there, it’s available in woodland camo.

See Whynter FM-45G Electric Cooler on Amazon

See Whynter FM-45G Electric Cooler on Walmart

See Whynter FM-45G Electric Cooler on Home Depot

Most versatile electric cooler: Koolatron Voyager Electric Cooler

koolatron voyager electric cooler

  • Cool or warm function
  • Wide size range
  • 40°F minimum temp
  • Can operate flat (cooler style) or upright (fridge style)

Specifications:

  • Brand‎: Koolatron
  • Model‎: P27
  • Weight‎: 11.1lbs
  • Capacity: 9.8-29qt
  • Power Source: 12V DC, 110V AC adapter sold separately
  • Cooling Temperature: 40°F-135°F
  • Dividers/Shelves: Single compartment, one basket/divider

Pros

  • Versatile
  • Cheap

Cons

  • Relatively high lowest temperature

Besides boasting a strikingly low price point, the Koolatron Voyager has a positive reputation among a wide user base. The Voyager is versatile, available in a wide range of sizes, and usable as both a cooler and a warmer.

We’d say the Voyager is best for casual camping trips or home use. It only cools to 40°F, so you’re going to need ice to maintain optimal beer temp.

The thermoelectric fridge should keep your stew warm enough, if not piping hot, at 135°F. The Koolatron comes compatible with a 12V DC current. A 110V AC adapter is sold separately.

In a pretty cool touch, the fridge can be stored either flat (cooler-style) or upright. The interior divider works either way. Interior capacity ranges from 9.8-29qt.

Keep in mind that the Koolatron Voyager is probably best thought of as “cool” and not “cold”. Ice-cold beer is one thing, 40°F beer hits differently.

See Koolatron Voyager Electric Cooler on Amazon

See Koolatron Voyager Electric Cooler on Home Depot

Why trust us

Because vagabonds and misfits need fridges, too. If you’ve ever lived in a vehicle, you understand the importance of reliable refrigeration. Sure, a regular cooler will get the job done, but eventually, you’ll land on the idea of using onboard DC capability to cool your perishables. Repeated ice runs and meltwater-soaked food get old. And nobody knows it better than the folks who have eaten the soggiest sandwiches.

Who this is for

Adventurers, overlanders, dirtbags, wanderers, and explorers — anyone who travels a lot in a vehicle can use an electric cooler. In fact, you can even use one if the only place you drive is the grocery store (one of our entries’ best utilities). Do you have a car with a 12V battery? Then you can use a portable electric cooler.

How we picked

Electric coolers for cars, electric coolers for camping, electric coolers with wheels — the best electric coolers run the gamut. To find the right electric cooler for you, you need to know your options. That’s why we gathered up electric coolers for a wide variety of users, across price points and brands.

How we tested

Testing electric coolers comes down to stress testing. The big fear is that it’ll drain your car battery and leave you stranded, let your food melt, or overheat. We pushed electric coolers to the limit, reviewing features and identifying best uses.

electric cooler

Features to look for in electric coolers

Storage

Just like any other cooler; do you need six liters? 12? 24? “How many beers can it hold?” Consider carefully based on your consumption habits.

Power source access

Electric coolers operate on either AC or DC current and some adapt to both. Make sure you either choose the right e-cooler power source or plan on buying an inverter or converter. (Inverters turn DC power into AC, converters do the opposite).

Cooling temperature required

Most electric coolers operate based on the ambient temperature around them. For instance, a cooler might guarantee an internal temperature of 32°F below the outside ambient temperature. Take this into account.

Portability

How much are you going to be carrying this thing around? Are you just putting it in a van and leaving it there? Or do you need to carry it back and forth from your car for grocery runs, upstairs, etc.? How much space do you have in your vehicle or wherever you’re going to use it?

Price

The price range for electric coolers is very broad. Upper-end pricing would eat up a lot of a paycheck if you made the median income in America. In our experience, quality does generally follow pricing. It’s a complicated appliance, so it means a lot to get a good build from a reliable brand.

Door orientation

Some coolers open like a conventional cooler, with a lid on top. Some open like a fridge, with the door on the side.

Dividers and shelves

Many electric coolers offer an option for dividing interior space. When you have limited space and specific climate control, compartmentalization can reduce cross-contamination from melting and condensation.

Temperature control

Some electric coolers let you set the internal temperature. Others simply deliver one set temperature below ambient.

Drain plug

If you plan to assist your electric cooler with ice, check for a drain plug.

Heating mode

Some electric coolers heat their internal space as well as cooling it. The same rules generally apply, keep vents clear and monitor electrical draw if it’s plugged into a vehicle.

Insulation

Many electric coolers use some kind of PU insulation, similar to the kind found in refrigerators and ice chests.

Energy consumption

Important! Make sure your cooler doesn’t kill your car battery and leave you stranded. Generally, if you plug your e-cooler into your car, you should run it occasionally, whether you’re moving or not.

Ease of use

It all depends on your intended usage. Consider features like power input, size, door orientation, portability, and required temperature to get a rough ease-of-use estimate for your situation.

blue electric cooler

Types of electric cooler

Thermoelectric coolers are a fairly broad category. The main characteristics are portability and either AC or DC power supply. Some electric coolers offer both.

However, they can assume a lot of different forms, factors, and intended uses. Some cheap electric coolers are designed for short-term use (length of a car ride), while the best iceless coolers can keep food fresh for days. It’s helpful to assist some with ice or ice packs, while some don’t need any help.

Some electric coolers can both heat and chill food.

Electric cooler FAQ

Q: What is an electric cooler?

An electric cooler utilizes a compressor to cool (or heat) food. They operate on either AC or DC current and the compressor pumps air at a specific temperature into the interior space. Most electric coolers are portable and many are designed for camping or travel.

Q: How does an electric cooler work?

Thermoelectric coolers rely on the Peltier effect. Basically, heat transfer between two electrical junctions results in heat removal at one end and heat deposit at the other end. Some electric coolers can therefore be used for heating or cooling, while some can only cool.

Q: Do iceless coolers really work?

In our experience, they can work very well. However, they can also fall squarely under the POS category. Brand reputation means a lot. They’re not rudimentary appliances and good construction is critical.

Q: How do I make my electric cooler colder?

The typical tricks all work. You can ice it overnight, then add fresh ice and only cold food. You should keep it sealed as much as possible. You can supplement the electrical cooling with ice packs. Eventually, though, the limiter for any electric cooler is the minimum temperature setting. If it can’t stay cold enough to keep ice frozen, it’ll eventually level out to its minimum temp.

Q: Does Yeti make an electric cooler?

No. GoalZero makes an electric cooler called the “Yeti”, which seems to be the source of confusion. The YETI brand does not make an electric cooler.

Sources:

  1. How Refrigerators Work – HowStuffWorks
  2. Voltage – Wikipedia