Refrigerators for Ramblers: Best Electric Coolers of 2022
The best electric coolers can be hard to sort out, and the decision can be high-leverage. The category has a vast price range, and issues like portability, capacity, compatibility, and draw are constants. Sorting the pile often comes down to scrutinizing performance against price. Evaluating drawbacks is essential, as is build quality.
We’ve reviewed electric coolers at home and in the great 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’ve found that some electric coolers belong close to the homestead while others are born to be wild. The right electric cooler for you all depends on your intentions. Read on for our findings.
- Cheapest Electric Cooler: AstroAI 24L Electric Cooler
- Best Plug In Cooler for Camping: Dometic CFF 35 Electric Cooler
- Best High Capacity Electric Cooler: Setpower AJ50 53-Quart Electric Cooler
- Most Durable Electric Cooler: Engel Platinum MT 35 Electric Cooler
- Best All-Around Electric Cooler: Whynter FM-45G Electric Cooler
- Most Versatile Electric Cooler: Koolatron Voyager Electric Cooler
The Best Electric Cooler Review
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. During my review, it proved helpful for light-duty action like grocery runs but concerning for extended use.
I found the cooler to be on the small side for its capacity and 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 — seriously, 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.
Moving on, I was unimpressed by the storage compartment for the 8’ 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 2 interior dividers and 2 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 and advantages, 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 — actually, 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 (potentially literally). Read the in-depth review here.
Lid only locks with a handle over hinges
- Weight12.38 Pounds
- Power Source12V DC
- Cooling Temperature32°F below ambient
Potentially dangerous plug problem
The Dometic CFF 35 hits a sweet spot among Dometic’s well-regarded line of powered coolers. One member 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-degree 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’ve found it consistently to work well even in hot weather.
Speaking of settings – the user can set it between 50º F and 0º F, which gives you a versatile tool for cooling. 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, where we turned it into steaks, sausage, and burgers. Yum venison!
So if you’re looking for a reliable, mid-tier cooler, this one fits the bill. It’s been rock solid since we started using it. Make sure to also browse our list of the best portable freezers on the market.
0°F-50°F temperature setting
Dimmable LED display
- Weight37.9 Pounds
- Power Source12/24V DC or 120V AC
- Cooling Temperature0°F-50°F
- Dividers/Shelves1 Tray
Efficient under most conditions, as tested
Big enough for a camping trip with 2 people
Minimal interior organization
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 2 compartments standard. Subordinate features include an “Eco” and “Max” mode to facilitate efficiency and 2 organizer baskets.
The Setpower AJ50 is equipped to handle any power source. 110-240V AC or 12/24V DC compatibility comes standard. Once you’ve plugged into a power source, set the switch to Eco or Max mode, depending on your situation. Eco mode maximizes the cooler’s efficiency for long-term or camping use; Max optimizes output for rapid cooling.
3.1” of insulation keeps the interior cool. And while the compressor works hard, a high-speed cooling fan works overtime to dissipate heat. Setpower claims it’s a quiet appliance, but that remains uncorroborated.
However, 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, and plus a bigger compartment that can be divided into 2 included baskets. With 53 quarts of interior space, the large electric cooler for camping should give you and the family plenty of room for a weekend away from home.
2 interior compartments; 3 possible separate spaces
2 operating modes for efficiency or performance
- Weight37.7 Pounds
- Capacity50 qt.
- Power Source12/24V DC or 110-240V AC
- Cooling Temperature0°F-50°F
- Dividers/Shelves2 compartments; big compartment has 2 baskets
Lots of functionality at the price
Heavy; nearly 38 lbs.
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, and users can derive deep peace of mind from Engel’s 3-year warranty.
There’s no way to sugarcoat it: the MT 35 weighs 49 lbs. It has a 34 qt. capacity. And it 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. But the trade-off is that the thermoelectric fridge should outlast nearly all comers. Engel has a sterling reputation in the industry and seems 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 3 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 get convinced into moving it too often, unless you really like deadlifting awkward objects. For more handy products like this, check out our selection of the top soft-sided coolers to get right now.
Stainless steel construction
AC/DC power compatibility; automatic adjustment
Digital temperature control
- Weight48 Pounds
- Capacity34 qt.
- Power Source12/24V DC or 110-120V AC
- Cooling TemperatureN/A
- Dividers/ShelvesSingle compartment and basket
Durable by reputation
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 to deliver the goods.
The Whynter FM-45G 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.
AC and DC power are both on deck. 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.
45 quarts 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 range and high performance, the Whynter looks like a solid all-around option. For the serious backwoods folks out there, it’s available in woodland camo. You might also like one of these handy backpack coolers for your outdoor adventures, so make sure to check them out.
-8°F lowest temperature
Fast Freeze setting for rapid cooling
Can run on AC with DC backup
- Weight45 Pounds
- Capacity45 qt.
- Power Source12/24V DC or 110V AC
- Cooling Temperature-8°F-50°F
- Dividers/ShelvesSingle compartment with 2 baskets
Lots of interior space
Durable steel exterior
Handles look undersized/uncomfortable
Besides boasting a self-effacing name and a strikingly low price point, the Koolatron Voyager has an overall positive reputation among a wide user base. The Voyager is also 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. A problem seems to be that the cooling element is in the bottom — and because heat rises, well…. However, supplementing it with some ice should help you float the weekend.
And the warming function should work well — because heat rises. So the thermoelectric fridge should keep your stew warm enough, if not piping hot, at 135°F. Swapping between cold and hot mode is an amusingly kindergarten matter of matching an arrow with either a red or blue dot. You can imagine which is which. 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 9.8-29 qts.
You’re rolling the dice at the price point, but rolling these particular bones does not cost a lot. 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 just hits different.
Cool or warm function
Wide size range
40°F minimum temp.
Can operate flat (cooler style) or upright (fridge style)
- Weight11.1 Pounds
- Capacity9.8-29 qt.
- Power Source12V DC, 110V AC adapter sold separately
- Cooling Temperature40°F-135°F
- Dividers/ShelvesSingle compartment, 1 basket/divider
Relatively high lowest temperature
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. It turns out, our staff has some experts in the field. Sure, a regular cooler will get the job done, but eventually, you’ll land on the idea of using on-board 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 most soggy of 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’s not going to work, right? Either it’ll drain your car battery and leave you stranded, or let your food melt, or overheat. We pushed electric coolers to the limit, reviewing features and identifying best uses.
Features to Look for in Electric Coolers
Storage - Just like any other cooler; do you need 6 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 — some adapt to both. Make sure you either choose the right e-cooler power source for your situation, 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 degrees F below 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 from grocery runs, up stairs, etc.? As well, 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 in electric coolers. It’s a complicated appliance, so it means a lot to get a tight build from a reliable brand.
Shape - Rectangle.
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 some kind of option for dividing interior space. When you have limited space and specific climate control, compartmentalization can reduce cross-contamination from melting, condensation, etc.
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, say, in the middle of nowhere on a camping trip. Generally, if you plug your e-cooler into your car, you should run it occasionally, whether you’re moving or not.
Ease of use - All depends on your intended usage. Triangulate features like power input, size, door orientation, portability, and required temperature to get a rough ease-of-use estimate for your situation.
Types of Electric Coolers
Thermoelectric coolers are a fairly broad category. The main characteristics are portability and either AC or DC power supply. Some electric coolers offer both.
But 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 also both heat and chill food.
Electric Cooler FAQ
Q: What is an electric cooler?
A: An electric cooler utilizes a compressor to cool (or heat) food, similarly to the way a refrigerator does. 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?
A: 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?
A: 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?
A: The typical tricks all work. You can ice it overnight, then add fresh ice and only cold food whenever you’re ready to use it. 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?
A: 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.