Portable 12V Coolers That Are Actually Worth It

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Man can’t live on camping trips alone. They must include food – lots of food. And the best way to bring along all of that food is in a cooler. But who wants the hassle of buying a big bag of ice every day, then draining the cooler every night of its liquid contents?

There’s a solution, however. A 12v cooler will chill your munchies and crunchies, keeping everything nice and cold.

What Is a 12V Cooler?

Rather than using ice to keep food fresh, a 12v cooler has a motor that generates cold air. Most of these coolers run on compressors and use fans to circulate the cold air within the cooler box.

But all have thick insulated walls to keep cool temps and hot air out. They use thermostats, and unlike RV absorption refrigerators, a 12v cooler doesn’t have to be level to work properly.

A 12v cooler runs on DC power. A cigarette plug is all that is needed to refrigerate food and drinks while traveling. This makes a portable 12v cooler perfect for car camping, and truck drivers love having an easy way to carry their meals with them while on the road.

In fact, many of today’s chest-style coolers also can be used as freezers, providing the needed environment for EMS transportation and other services. 

Benefits of a 12V Cooler

Having the ability to carry fresh food while traveling is a big plus. Save money by eating out of the cooler rather than at restaurants for each meal. Carry refrigerated medicines on a trip, and arrive at destinations quicker by avoiding convenience store stops for water and snacks.

Camping in the boondocks can last longer with a 12v cooler or refrigerator. No trips into town will be required if you have your food with you, as long as you have battery power to keep the fridge running.

Pro Tip: If you’re looking for simple foods you can bring in your cooler, check out our Easy No Cook Camping Recipes for Your Next Meal.

Disadvantages of a 12V Cooler

The only disadvantage of using a 12v cooler is the amount of power needed to run the appliance and the cost to supply it. A car battery is fine for occasional use, but a dedicated battery pack is a more permanent solution for power usage.

Many campers, boaters, and emergency service workers utilize portable power stations like a Jackery or Bluetti. These ‘generators’ can be recharged using solar panels, AC power, or DC power from a car while driving. But either way, there are additional costs to provide power to the cooler.

Portable 12V cooler with beer sitting in the trunk of a car

How Much Power Does a 12V Cooler Use?

A good, dependable 12v cooler will use between 45 watts and 60 watts to keep food and drinks at a steady refrigerated temperature.

However, keep in mind that those watts are used sporadically, as the compressor only runs when the temperature in the unit gets hotter. So a car or truck battery won’t be drained quickly when these coolers are in use.

In fact, many 12v refrigerators have defaults built into their programming that monitors battery usage and turn off the refrigerator if the battery depletes.

Pro Tip: You don’t have to stress about power or battery consumption if you have a great solar setup!

Can You Put Ice in a 12V Cooler?

No, don’t put ice as a cooling agent in any 12v cooler. There is no need for it if the cooler is working properly. But you can store a bag of ice in a 12v refrigerator if its parameters allow freezing temperatures.

Many more intricate 12v refrigerators (normally chest-style ones) have “dual” chambers with temperature controls that will keep one side cool enough to refrigerate food.

In contrast, the other side gets cold enough (sometimes down to -7 degrees ) to freeze food. Other 12v refrigerators will generate temperatures that will freeze the entire compartment.

Food and drinks in a portable 12v cooler.

Portable 12V Coolers That Are Actually Worth It

There are several types of 12v coolers on the market today, from basic units that cool food by 40 degrees lower than external temperatures to dual refrigerator/freezer models. Here are a few of our favorites:

1. Igloo 28 Quart Thermoelectric Portable 12V Cooler 

Igloo Thermoelectric Iceless 28-40 Qt Electric Plug-in 12V Coolers, 28qt Iceless Gray
  • Swing-up bale handle with comfort grip for easy carrying
  • Molded-in side handles for two handed carrying or lifting. Capacity-32 12-oz cans; 26 quarts (24 liters)

Well known in the recreation world for their coolers, Igloo has created a simple 12v cooler for less than $100. There are no controls. Just plug it into a 12v receptacle, and it will keep contents 36 degrees cooler than the outside temperature.

The fan runs continuously, so battery power will deplete faster than a monitored cooler. There is no optional AC outlet.

2. AstroAI 26 Quart Portable 12V Cooler

AstroAI Electric Cooler 26 Quarts/ 24 Liter, 12V DC Portable Thermoelectric Car Cooler for Beverage, Beer, Wine, Seafood, Fruits, Home and Travel with 2 Ice Packs, ETL Listed (Gray)
  • ONLY FOR COOL : Cool up to 32°F (18°C) below ambient temperature, one-day ice retention without electricity,...
  • 24 LITERS OF CAPACITY: Store ! (30) 12 oz cans ! Store beers and wines with ease; Inner dimensions are 12.8”(L) x...

This 26-quart cooler, like the Igloo product, plugs into a 12v outlet and will keep its contents 32 degrees cooler than the ambient temperature. You can use an optional AC adapter, but power is constant, so battery depletion is rapid. The price is $76.

3. Alpicool 37 Quart Portable 12V Refrigerator Freezer

Alpicool CF35 Portable Refrigerator 12 Volt Car Freezer 37 Quart(35 Liter) Vehicle, Car, Truck, RV, Boat, Mini fridge freezer for Driving, Travel, Fishing, Outdoor and Home -4°F to 68°F
  • ❄ STORAGE SPACE:Exterior Size 27.2”x13.6”x15”, 37Quart(35 Liter) capacity ,fits 36 x 12ozs cans of Cola.
  • ❄ FREEZES WITHOUT ICE: -4°F(-20°C) powerful chilling down performance ,can adjust the temperature be a fridge or...

In the big leagues, Alpicool has a reputation for excellence. This portable 12v cooler can be used as either a refrigerator or freezer, but not both at the same time.

It has digital temperature adjustments that range from 68 degrees down to -4 degrees, with an interior light (for late-night snacking) and a removable basket. Its price is $300. Included with the cooler are an AC adaptor and a 12v plug.

4. Kohree 26 Quart Portable 12V Refrigerator Freezer

Kohree Portable Refrigerator 12 Volt Refrigerator Fast Cooling Small Freezer (-7.6-50℉), 26 Quart (25L) Electric Coolers for Vehicles, Truck, RV, Boat, Camping and Travel-12/24V DC and 110V/240V AC
  • ❄️【77℉ to 32℉ within 15 Minutes】With a upgraded compressor, the empty car cooler can reach 32℉ from 77℉...
  • ❄️【Battery Protection & Low Energy Consumption】Kohree 12V Fridge has three-levels of battery protection...

Use this cooler as a freezer or refrigerator, with temperatures ranging from 50 degrees to -7.6 degrees. It has a battery protection program that monitors battery depletion and comes with an AC adaptor and a 12v plug. Competitively priced, the Kohree at $219.

5. Euhomy 48 Quart 12V RV Refrigerator 

Euhomy 12 Volt Refrigerator, 45Liter(48qt) Car Refrigerator, RV Refrigerator with 12/24V DC and 110-240V AC, Freezer Fridge Cooler, for Car, RV, Camping and Home Use
  • DUAL STORAGE AREA&POWERFUL CAPACITY - Euhomy car refrigerator is equipped with two zone. Portable refrigerator freezer...
  • HIGH EFFICIENCY&LOW ENERGY CONSUMPTION - Euhomy 12 volt freezer adopts advanced 3D refrigeration technology and is...

A large 48-quart refrigerator, this Euhomy packs a lot into its design. It is a dual refrigerator/freezer, meaning you can have your cake and freeze it, too! You can set temperatures can be set from 68 degrees to 4 degrees.

Working on both 12v and AC power, the cooler even has a Bluetooth phone app so that you can monitor control temps when you’re away from the campsite. The price is $300 for all of this greatness.

6. VBENLEM 21 Quart 12V Portable Freezer

For a smaller 12v cooler that doubles as a refrigerator or a freezer, this 21-quarter model will suffice. It’s lower in profile and will fit in tight spaces while chilling your food from 68 degrees to -4 degrees in a matter of minutes. It’s not a dual-zone cooler, but its price competes within its class at $212.

VBENLEM Portable Refrigerator 21 Quart(20 Liter),12 Volt Refrigerator App Control(-4℉~68℉), Car Refrigerator Electric Compressor Cooler with 12/24v DC & 110-240v AC for Camping, Travel, Fishing, Outdoor or Home Use
  • Large Storage Space: This portable refrigerator with 20L/21 Quart capacity is large enough to fit 30 cans of 330 ml/11.1...
  • Convenient Operation: Advanced compressor guarantees an excellent performance. Set a desired temperature to meet...

7. Dometic 12V Powered Cooler

Dometic CFX75DZW 12v Electric Powered Cooler, Fridge Freezer
  • Your purchase includes one cooler, one manual, one warranty card, one Connection cable for 12/24V connection, one...
  • Portable Cooler dimensions: 34.92” W x 18.58” H x 19.48” D | Weight: 68.34 lbs | Capacity: 133 Can | Compressor...

Bring your checkbook for anything labeled “Dometic” because they build excellent 12v coolers. This unit is a true dual-zone refrigerator/freezer that can handle all of your needs on a boat, in an RV, or in a truck or car.

At 75 quarts, it’s a monster! The cooler comes with baskets for both compartments, along with the adaptors for both power options. It has an interior light. Battery monitoring is also standard on this unit. It has a price tag of $1340.

Take One of These 12V Coolers on Your Next Getaway

12v coolers have come a long way in the last five years, with appliances that you can use just like a residential refrigerator. However, it will fit in a car or truck.

If you love a good road trip or enjoy camping but don’t have all of the amenities found in an RV, a 12v cooler could be just what the doctor ordered for rest, relaxation, and snacking!

Last update on 2022-05-22 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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