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Best Thermo Electric Cooler & Electric Ice Chest

11 Best Electric Ice Chests and Thermoelectric Coolers 2023

Are you looking for a reasonably-priced 12V or 24V electric cooler?

You’ve come to the right place.

Sometimes also called iceless coolers or electric ice chests, portable electric coolers come in two types:

The most common type is the thermo electric cooler. These coolers don’t cool your drinks as much as a refrigerator, but they are lightweight, simple and large enough to cool several dozen cans plus snacks. Thermo electric coolers are also inexpensive.

Then there is the portable mini-fridge / freezer, which uses an electric motor-driven compressor just like your kitchen fridge. These cool much better and can even freeze food and drinks. But they are heavier, more expensive and maintain their cool for less time than thermo-electric coolers.

What’s In This Buying Guide?

In this buying guide, we recommend top-quality portable coolers (thermo electric and compressor-cooled) for a number of common situations including the beach, boat, camping and your car or truck. 

After defining some of the best portable coolers, now we will walk you through the features to look for when shopping for an electric cooler.

So to begin, let's take a look at the best portable electric coolers selling today, listed in the table below. 

Note: If you are looking for a 115V or 220V outlet-powered portable air conditioner for your RV, boat or home, then see our portable AC buying guide.

11 Best Thermoelectric Coolers and Electric Ice Chests

  1. 1
    Best Electric Mini Fridge for Cosmetics and Medication: AstroAI Mini Fridge
  2. 2
    Best Electric Portable Ice Chest & Freezer: Dometic CFX3 35L Powered Cooler
  3. 3
    Best Igloo Electric Cooler: Igloo Iceless
  4. 4
    Best Large Portable Thermoelectric Cooler: Coleman PowerChill
  5. 5
    Best 12V Electric Cooler For The Car: Koolatron P-20
  6. 6
    Best Portable Electric Freezer: ARB 10800472 Fridge (50 Qt)
  7. 7
    Best 12V Electric Cooler for A Truck or Boat: Koolatron 29 qt. Voyager
  8. 8
    Best Budget Electric Cooler+Warmer: Wagan EL6224 (24L Capacity)
  9. 9
    Best 12V Mini-Fridge: Cooluli Mini Fridge (& Warmer)
  10. 10
    Best 12V Freezer for a Boat or RV: Whynter FM-45G Portable Freezer
  11. 11
    Best 12V Car Cooler for Road Trips: Wagan EL6214 12V Personal Cooler/Warmer

  • AstroAI

  • Best Electric Mini Fridge
  • Capacity:

    6 Qt

  • Type:

  • Price:

Dometic CFX3
  • Dometic CFX3

  • Best Electric Portable Ice Chest & Freezer
  • Capacity:

    36 Qt

  • Type:
    Freezer & Cooler

  • Price:

Igloo Iceless cooler
  • Igloo Iceless

  • Best Igloo Electric Cooler
  • Capacity:

    26 or 28 Qt

  • Type:

  • Price:

Coleman PowerChill Thermoelectric Cooler
  • Coleman PowerChill

  • Best Portable Electric Refrigerator
  • Capacity:

    40 Qt

  • Type:

  • Price:

  • Koolatron P-20

  • Best 12V Electric Cooler For The Car
  • Capacity:

    18 Qt

  • Type:
    Cooler & Warmer

  • Price:

ARB 10800472 Fridge Freezer
  • ARB 10800472 Fridge (50 Qt)

  • Best Portable Electric Freezer
  • Capacity:

    50 Qt

  • Type:

  • Price:

Koolatron Grey Voyager Cooler
  • Koolatron 29 qt. Voyager

  • Best 12V Electric Cooler for A Truck or Boat
  • Capacity:

    29 Qt

  • Type:

  • Price:

  • Wagan EL6224 (24L Capacity)

  • Best Budget Electric Cooler+Warmer
  • Capacity:

    24 Qt

  • Type:
    Cooler & Warmer

  • Price:

  • Cooluli Mini Fridge (& Warmer)

  • Best 12V Mini-Fridge
  • Capacity:

    4 Qt

  • Type:
    Cooler & Warmer

  • Price:

  • Whynter FM-45G Portable Freezer

  • Best 12V Freezer for a Boat or RV
  • Capacity:

    45 Qt

  • Type:

  • Price:

Wagan EL6214 12V Personal Cooler and Warmer
  • Wagan EL6214 12V Personal Cooler/Warmer

  • Best 12V Cooler for the Car
  • Capacity:

    15 Qt

  • Type:
    Cooler & Warmer

  • Price:

1. Best Electric Mini Fridge for Cosmetics and Medication: AstroAI Mini Fridge

AstroAI Mini Fridge

The AstroAI Mini Fridge provides just enough space to store cosmetics and medications that need to stay chilled. It’s also great for storing breast milk or drinks.


  • Compact size – fits on a table or desk.
  • Comes with AC and DC adapters.
  • Easy portability.
  • You can select a precise temperature – something you can’t do with most thermoelectric coolers.
  • Cools and warms.


  • Small capacity – not ideal for group camping or road trips.
  • The shelf is not adjustable.

Our Review 

The AstroAI Mini Fridge provides a convenient place to store medications and cosmetics that you don’t want to keep in the kitchen fridge.

It’s small, so it can easily fit a table or desk in your bedroom or office.

You can also use the AstroAI iceless cooler to chill drinks. It has enough space for eight 11oz. cans. A removable shelf and side shelf make it easier to organize whatever you put in the fridge.

Unlike most thermoelectric coolers, you can adjust the temperature of the AstroAI Mini Fridge. A small display on the front shows the current temperature. Buttons on either side let you adjust the temperature up or down.

The mini fridge can cool items down to 35.6F and warm them up to 140F.

The manufacturer provides two types of power adapters for the mini-fridge. The AC adapter is for standard wall outlets, while the 12V plug is perfect for in-car charging.

If you are looking for a portable electric cooler you can use for road trips and camping, we do not recommend the AstroAI Mini Fridge unless you are going alone or with one other person. With a capacity of 6 quarts, it is far too small for a large group. It’s more of a personal cooler (and warmer).


Capacity: 6 quarts

Weight: 6.5lbs

Dimensions: 10.43 x 7.67 x 11.3 inches

Cooling technology: Thermoelectric (cool & warm)

2. Best Electric Portable Ice Chest & Freezer: Dometic CFX3 35L 12 Volt Powered Cooler

Dometic CFX3 35L Powered Cooler

Dometic CFX3 is the best choice for most people. It’s perfect for camping, job sites, in an RV, and in a truck.


  • Compact design, ideal for traveling.
  • Powerful compressor-powered cooling.
  • Freezing function –  not available in most iceless coolers.
  • Quiet.
  • Wireless monitoring and control.


  • A bit heavy.
  • Pricey.

Our Review

The Dometic CFX3 portable cooler is a miniature version of the fridge in your kitchen, complete with the compressor and coils.

It’s essentially a portable refrigerator/freezer.

The increased cooling capacity compared to thermoelectric coolers is handy if you travel or go camping a lot and need to keep your food and drinks really cold or completely frozen. And because the cooling is not dependent on the temperature of the environment – unlike thermoelectric cooling – you can use it anywhere as long as you have a power source.

Verified owners say it runs most of the time quietly. You’ll hear some noise when the compressor comes on occasionally.

The Dometic CFX3 cooler comes with wireless Bluetooth/WiFi connectivity, which allows you to monitor it and adjust the temperature from your phone.

To ensure you can use the cooler in any situation, the Dometic CFX3 has three power options: AC, DC, and Solar.

So you can power it at home from a standard outlet, plug it into your car’s cigarette lighter socket when on the go, and power it via solar when camping.

The Dometic CFX3 cooler has a large 36-quart capacity, giving you plenty of space to store foods and drinks.

While it’s compact enough to fit in the trunk of most cars, the Dometic CFX3 cooler is heavy, especially once you load it with food and drinks. You’ll need help carrying it to and from the campsite.


Capacity: 36 quarts

Weight: 37lbs

Dimensions: 27.32 x 15.67 x 16.02 inches

Cooling Technology: Compressor

Igloo Iceless cooler

Looking for a compact Igloo cooler that you can carry around with you when camping, truck driving, or on road trips?

We recommend the Igloo electric ice chest. It’s much lighter than a compressor cooler – and lasts longer too with minimal maintenance.


  • Large capacity. 
  • Quiet.
  • Highly portable.


  • No freezing.
  • The fan makes a bit of noise.

Our Review

Igloo is often the go-to brand when you need a good quality and reliable cooler, ice or iceless. When it comes to the iceless Igloos, the Igloo Iceless 26-quart thermoelectric cooler is their best.

It uses thermoelectric cooling which gives it the advantage of more space for your cans and a lightweight design for easy portability.

An ergonomic handle makes it easier to move it around. They have also designed the back to comfortably hug your side as you carry it. You’ll find it easy to carry even when it’s full.

The Igloo Iceless comes with an extra-long 8 ft cord that you can plug into any 12V DC outlet like your car’s cigarette lighter.

If you want to use it at home with an ordinary power outlet, you’ll have to buy a 110V adaptor, sold separately.

The Igloo Iceless can cool drinks up to 36 F below the outside temperature. But unlike an insulated compressor-run cooler, it will warm quickly when you disconnect power.

Additionally, it will not keep your drinks as ice-cold as your kitchen refrigerator. But they will be cool enough for a hot day.


Capacity:  26 or 28 quarts

Dimensions: 18.19" L x 13.13" W x 15.5" D

Cooling Technology:  Thermoelectric (Cool only)

4. Best Large Portable Thermoelectric Cooler: Coleman PowerChill 12V Thermoelectric Cooler

Coleman PowerChill Thermoelectric Cooler

If you are looking for a large thermoelectric cooler for your truck, RV or SUV, we think the Coleman PowerChill is a solid choice.

It has plenty of space for food and drinks and is light enough to carry to and from your vehicle.


  • Large capacity.
  • Higher cooling capacity compared to most thermoelectric coolers.
  • Includes adapter for home use.


  • Some complaints about durability beyond 2 years.

Our Review

If you want a big thermoelectric cooler that is easy to travel with, the Coleman PowerChill electric ice chest is a great choice.

At 40 quarts it’s quite large. It can fit up to 44 cans.

There is an adjustable storage tray inside to help you keep your food and drinks organized.

You can also change the door’s opening orientation depending on the situation.

Despite the large capacity the Coleman PowerChill is light at just 18 lbs. The lightweight design combined with the ergonomic molded handle make it really portable.  

The PowerChill comes with an 8-foot cable that plugs into your car’s or boat’s 12V outlet. So you can also use it in an RV, dorm room or even in your backyard during grilling season. This Coleman also comes with an adapter that you can plug into your home’s 110V/120V outlet. With many other coolers, you have to buy the adapter separately.

The redesigned motor is extra-quiet and powerful enough to cool down your drinks to 40F below the surrounding temperature.

You can use the Coleman PowerChill cooler while it’s upright like a small fridge or lay it down on its side – whatever works for your particular situation.


Capacity: 40 quarts

Weight: 18lbs

Dimensions: 23.5” H x 15.3” W x 17” D

Cooling technology: Thermoelectric (Cool only)

5. Best 12 Volt Electric Cooler For Your Car: Koolatron P-20 

Koolatron 12V Coolers

The Koolatron P-20’s slim design makes it easy to fit behind the front seats of your car or between the rear bucket seats.

If you have a 12 volt plug in your trunk, you can also put it there.


  • Quiet & powerful.
  • Made in the US – more reliable and lasts longer.
  • Versatile - provides both warming and cooling functions.


  • Small capacity (but perfect for those who want a small cooler for the car).
  • Home outlet adapter sold separately.

Our Review

This cooler is smaller than most thermoelectric coolers. But that’s what makes it perfect for the car. You can stuff it in the boot or between the seats at the back.

Unlike most thermoelectric coolers that just cool, this Koolatron cooler cools and warms. It can cool your drinks up to 40F below the surrounding temperature and warm them to around 135F.

So whether it’s a chilly morning when you need a warm drink or a hot afternoon when you need something colder, this cooler is perfect for all kinds of situations.   

The Koolatron P-20 portable cooler comes with a 12V plug, but you can buy an adapter separately to use it at home with your 120V outlet.

There is a handle for easy portability. It folds down out of the way when not in use.

The P-20's motor is quiet, powering a fan that circulates the air evenly throughout the cooler for even heating or cooling.


Capacity: 18 quarts

Weight: 9lbs

Dimensions: 16.25 x 17.5 x 8.5 inches

Cooling technology: Thermoelectric (Cool & warm)

6. Best Portable Electric Freezer: ARB 10800472 12 volt/110 volt Fridge (50 Qt)

ARB 10800472 Fridge Freezer

The ARB 50-quart electric freezer is the best choice for campers and road trip enthusiasts looking for a portable compressor cooler.

It fits easily in the trunk of most cars. It’s also compact enough to fit on the floor behind the front seats.


  • Large capacity – one of the largest in portable electric coolers.
  • Same powerful cooling and freezing capability as a kitchen fridge.
  • Includes adaptor for plugging into a 120V outlet.


  • Voltage surge when the compressor switches on.
  • Pricey, compared to thermoelectric coolers. 

Our Review

If you are an avid camper, outdoor adventure or road tripper, the ARB 50 quart fridge/freezer is one of the best portable coolers you can buy. 

This ARB unit is a proper fridge + freezer that uses a compressor like the one in your kitchen fridge. It can cool food and drinks down to a chill and even freeze them.

With a capacity of 50 quarts, you are unlikely to run out of space for your drinks and snacks. This ARB fridge can fit up to 72 x 12 oz cans.

You can even chill a full 2-liter bottle of soda. There is a general compartment for your drinks and a smaller one for dairy products and fruit.

At 63 lbs, this is not exactly the most portable cooler. But it’s not meant to be carried by hand. You should place it in the bed of your track, the trunk of your SUV or in your RV. It’s also great for a boat.  

For easier use, I recommend you to buy their fridge-freezer slide. You can bolt the slide on the floor of your truck or RV and then install the fridge freezer on the slide. You can then pull it out like a drawer whenever you need to use it.

This unit is quiet and very reliable on the road. It can work off of a 12V outlet in your car or RV or off a 120V outlet in your home (adapter included).

When you are powering it with your vehicle, the ARB 50-qt fridge has a mechanism that allows it to continue drawing small amounts of power even with the vehicle off without depleting the battery.   

The only complaint  is that it draws a bit too much voltage whenever the compressor kicks on. Your car battery or solar generator can drain down to a point where it’s unable to supply the required voltage to kick the compressor back on - after that, you are left with an insulated cooler.


Capacity: 50 quarts

Weight: 63lbs

Dimensions: 27.75"L x 14.96"W x 20"H

Cooling technology: Compressor

7. Best 12V Electric Cooler for A Truck or Boat: Koolatron 29 qt. Voyager

Koolatron Grey Voyager Cooler

If you are looking for a cooler for a truck or boat, you can probably afford the space for something a bit bigger that can fit more foods and cold drinks.

The 29-quart Koolatron Voyager is the perfect middle-of-the-road choice: large enough to be useful but not too big that it clutters up your boat or truck.


  • American-made – reliable and long lasting.
  • Large capacity yet compact.
  • Provides both warming and cooling.


  • Power cord tends to fall out especially when on the road – keep an eye on it.

Our Review

If you want a cooler for your boat or truck, something a larger than a compact car cooler will easily fit.

But you also don’t want something too big that it clutters up the little space available.

The 29-quart Koolatron Voyager cooler is perfect. It’s large enough to fit all the drinks and snacks you’ll need for your trips (holds up to 48 cans) but is still compact enough for your boat or truck.

Because it is a thermoelectric cooler it is reliable and long-lasting. There is no compressor that can get damaged by vibrations from the road. The only moving part is the fan.

It comes with a 12V plug for use in your vehicle or boat and offers both cooling and warming.

For cooling, it can cool your drinks or food to 40F below the surrounding temperature. For warming it can heat to a temperature of 130F.

You can use it upright like a fridge or put it down on its side depending on your situation. Either way, its solid build ensures it keeps going for years.


Capacity: 29 quarts

Weight: 13.7lbs

Dimensions: 17.5W x 16D x 15.4H inches

Cooling technology: Thermoelectric (Cool & warm)

8. Best Budget Electric Cooler+Warmer: Wagan EL6224 (24L Capacity)

Wagan EL6224 12V Cooler

For those who only need to keep a few drinks chilled, the Wagan 25-quart electric cooler doesn’t cost much. As a bonus, it can also warm food.


  • Affordable.
  • Fairly large capacity.
  • Warms and chills.
  • Light and compact.


  • The latch is a bit problematic, sometimes refusing to close properly. 

Our Review

If you are looking for something cheaper but still big enough to hold all your drinks and snacks, I recommend this 25-quart thermoelectric cooler by Wagan.

It has two modes – warm and cool – and you can select one simply by flipping a switch. There is an indicator to show you which mode is currently on.

It can warm your food and drinks to around 140F and chill them to around 36F below the surrounding temperature.

It connects to a 12V outlet with a 7.5-foot cord. If you want to use it at home or the office, you have to buy an AC adapter separately.

While not the biggest electric cooler around, it’s big enough for your travelling needs. You can fill it with up to 27 cans.

It has a lightweight design and a heavy-duty handle for easy portability.


Capacity: 25 quarts

Weight: 9.75 lbs

Dimensions: 11”L x 16”W x 16.5”H

Cooling technology: Thermoelectric (Cool & warm)

9. Best 12V Mini-Fridge: Cooluli Mini Fridge (& Warmer)

Cooluli Mini Fridge Electric Cooler

The Cooluli 12 volt cooler is perfect as a personal portable thermoelectric mini-fridge. It’s small enough to fit drinks for one or two people and can be powered via USB, AC, or DC.


  • Available in several colors.
  • Cools and warms.
  • Durable design.
  • Lightweight and compact for easy portability. 


  • Small capacity.

Our Review

If you just need a small cooler for yourself or your road trip partner, the Cooluli Mini is a great choice. 

The Mini is one of the smallest thermoelectric coolers around at just 4 quarts (up to 6 x 12 oz cans) - so it is perfect for individuals or two people.

This Cooluli has all the features of other high quality thermoelectric coolers – it can both cool and warm (45F cooling below surrounding temperature, 122-144F warming), has nice handle for portability, consumes low power usage and silent operation.

But the most unique feature, and my favorite one, is USB charging. That’s right, you can power this cooler from a power bank or solar generator.

So if you are venturing far out into the wilderness away from your vehicle, you can still enjoy cold drinks whenever you want.

And because the Cooluli Mini weighs just 5 lbs, carrying it by hand or in a bag won’t be an issue.

We like that the Cooluli electric ice chest is available in multiple colors, so you can choose your favorite style. Options include blue, black, fuchsia, red, white and even cow (white with black spots). 


Capacity: 4 quarts

Weight: 5lbs

Dimensions: 11" x 7.25" x 10”

Cooling technology: Thermoelectric (Cool & warm)

10. Best 12 Volt Freezer for a Boat or RV: Whynter FM-45G Portable Freezer

Whynter FM-45G 45-Quart Portable Refrigerator

The Whynter 45-quart freezer offers more storage space and true compressor cooling. It’s a great choice for boats, RVs, SUVs, and trucks.


  • Large capacity.
  • Can be used as a refrigerator or freezer or both.
  • Chills better than a thermoelectric cooler.


  • Heavy.
  • A bit noisy when the compressor kicks in.

Our Review

If you need more cooling power than a thermoelectric cooler can provide, the large Whynter FM-45G portable refrigerator is a great alternative.

It has a large 45-quart capacity divided into two sections. You can use the entire unit as a refrigerator or use one section as a refrigerator and the other as a freezer simply by changing the temperature settings (-8F to 50F).  

It has a fast-freeze feature that quickly cools down the temperature to -8F. This is ideal if you’re fishing and need to freeze your catch immediately.

While larger than most portable freezers, this Whynter fridge is compact enough that you can place it on a counter or bench in your boat or RV. You can then power it using the 12V plug or the bonus AC cord.

You can get the Whynter FM-45G portable refrigerator in two styles: grey or camouflage. The latter looks especially suitable for the great outdoors.  


Capacity: 45 quarts

Weight: 45lbs

Dimensions: 23.5" W x 16.5"L x 20.5" H

Cooling technology: Compressor

11. Best 12V Car Cooler for Road Trips: Wagan EL6214 12V Personal Cooler/Warmer

Wagan EL6214 12V Personal Cooler and Warmer

Camping, road trips, daily commutes, Sunday afternoon drives…you name it. If you need to keep drinks chilled in your car, get the Wagan 12V personal cooler.

Oh, it’s also a warmer – perfect for keeping that chicken bucket warm on your drive home.


  • Compact and lightweight – great for travelling.
  • Warms and cools.
  • Convenient cup holders.


  • A bit loud.

Our Review

If you are looking for a smaller thermoelectric 12V cooler for your car, this one by Wagan is a great choice.

This Wagan personal cooler/warmer provides 14 quarts of capacity (large enough for a small family) without taking up much space in your car. You can put it in the back seat or in the trunk.

The 12V power cord is 9ft long. If you want to use it with your home power outlet you have to buy the AC adapter separately.

One of the best features is the ability to both cool and warm your food and drinks. Just flip a switch to cool to 36F below surrounding temperature or to warm to 140F. There is an indicator at the back to show whether it is in cooling or warming mode.

It also comes with 2 cup holders on the outside, making this cooler perfect for picnics, camping and other outdoor adventures.

A nylon strap allows you to easily carry it from the car and back.


Capacity: 14 quarts

Weight: 8.7lbs

Dimensions: 19"L x 10.25"W x 12"H

Cooling technology: Thermoelectric (Cool & warm)

Thermoelectric Cooler Buying Guide

Getting a thermoelectric cooler will surely make your picnics more fun and enjoyable. But, you need to get the right thermoelectric cooler to make the most out of it.

Keeping this in view, we have listed the aspects that you have to consider carefully while buying a thermoelectric cooler. 

Required Temperature 

The first thing to consider is the temperature you have to maintain. This depends on the kinds of items you are going to carry with you.

The required temperature of thermoelectric coolers relies on ambient temperatures as well. Most of these coolers can maintain an internal temperature that is 32℉ below the ambient temperature. 

Available power source 

If you’re looking for an electric cooler for your RV or your next camping trip, you have to make sure you have the required power source.

When you go hiking or kayaking, it gets hard to plug the thermoelectric cooler into a power source. However, if you do not need to move around and have a power source nearby, a thermoelectric cooler will be great. 


Your budget is also a significant factor when it comes to buying a thermoelectric cooler. The average price for a thermoelectric cooler is $100 to $150. But, if you can spare some bucks, you can go for a thermoelectric cooler that offers more features. 


The shape of a thermoelectric cooler is important as well. Most coolers are rectangular, but some of them have modifications to fit the front bucket seats. So, your vehicle's interior determines the shape of the thermoelectric cooler you should choose. 

Shelves and Compartments

Electric coolers come with shelves to compartmentalize the stuff you are carrying. If you need to store items based on temperature variation, it is better to consider a thermoelectric cooler with dividers and shelves.  

Door Orientation

Thermoelectric coolers come with two door orientations. They either have a top door that opens like a chest or a front door that opens like a fridge. Generally, people prefer top-door coolers. But, you can pick any door orientation based on your comfort and ease of use. 


Insulation increases the retention of cold inside thermoelectric coolers. Most of them have PU insulation, which works fine in most weather conditions. 

Energy Consumption

Energy consumption is another vital factor you need to bear in mind while buying a thermoelectric cooler. The cooler should be able to run on minimal energy consumption so that it does not drain your car’s battery. 

Drain Plug

A drain plug is a necessity if you want to gear up your thermoelectric cooler with an ice pack. But, if you do not want to stuff the cooler with ice, you do not have to be particular about drain plugs. 


Some thermoelectric coolers come with built-in thermostatic controls. This helps the cooler to shut off when the ambient temperature is fine.

For example, if the cooler is placed inside an air-conditioned car, it does not need to create extra cooling inside. But, if you take it out or if you turn down the car AC, this thermostat will turn up cooling. 

What is a Thermoelectric Cooler and How does it Work?

A thermoelectric cooler is much like the traditional ice coolers, but it does not use ice packs for cooling. Ice packs absorb heat to keep the items inside the cooler fresh and cool.

But, they can leak and are not reliable when you need extended periods of cooling. Thermoelectric coolers save the day here with the Peltier Effect, as they do not use ice packs.

According to the Peltier Effect, the temperature difference between two electric junctions is maintained.

The system works by creating an electrical current by applying a voltage across two connected conductors.

Heat travels from one conductor to the other as the current passes through them. 

This way, heat dissipates from the cooler end to the hotter end. You can keep the items in the cooling slot, so they stay fresh for a long while. 

Thermoelectric coolers can work as warmers as well if you reverse the polarities. So, they are quite useful for you if you like to go on picnics with your friends and family. 

Features To Consider When Buying a Portable Electric Cooler

Thermoelectric Cooler features

Is It a Freezer, Fridge or Both?

The best option will depend on your needs.

If you need to preserve foods for long time, then definitely get a cooler with a freezer.

If you just need to keep drinks cool, then a fridge-only model will do.

Note: if you buy a thermoelectric plug in ice chest, it will be a fridge-only model. This is because these types of coolers cannot get cold enough to freeze. That said, you can often safely store frozen foods in a thermoelectric cooler for 2-3 days.

If you get a compressor-run cooler, it will most likely have both freezer and fridge functions. By controlling the thermostat, you can decide to use it as a freezer, fridge or both (if it has two separate temperature-controlled compartments).   

Does It Warm, too? 

Warming is a feature you’ll find in thermoelectric coolers only. These coolers work by transferring heat from one point to another. So as one area cools, another warms up.

Some coolers take advantage of this to offer dual cool and warm functions. Normally you can use it to keep your drinks cool. At the flip of a switch you can warm a quick dinner.

Thermoelectric warmers don't get very hot, just warm enough to heat some leftovers, breast milk or some water.

Most people rarely use the warming feature, but if you think it will come in handy on your trip find a thermoelectric cooler that has it.

Thermal Limits

Don’t forget to check how cold or hot the cooler can get.

A thermoelectric cooler can cool down to a maximum of 40F below the surrounding temperature. Those with a warming function can heat up to around 140F.

For a compressor cooler, check how cold they can get. Most can go low enough to freeze whatever you’ve put inside.

Cooling Capacity

If you are buying a thermoelectric cooler, consider cooling capacity. This is how colder it can get compared to the ambient temperature.

Cooling capacity ranges between 32F to 40F.

Storage Capacity

Coleman Powerchill

This is another factor that depends a lot on your needs. For instance the number of people you are travelling with or the amount of food and drinks you need for the trip.

If it’s just you, even a small 4-quart mini-fridge will do. For families or on trips when you need to carry more stuff consider an 18-30 quart cooler.

If you need to load up on a lot of foods or drinks, a 50-quart compressor-cooled cooler is great. But you’ll need to find a bigger place to place it in your truck, boat or RV.

For the larger coolers check whether they come with organizational racks. These come in handy when you are arranging your food and drinks for the trip.

Other advanced coolers even have a dedicated compartment for dairy and fruits.


You are going to be lugging it around a lot so make sure the cooler is easy to carry.

For small and mid-size coolers check that they have good quality handles. For larger units caster wheels will help you move it around.

Will It Fit Between Seats?

If you want a cooler that you can easily access during a road trip, make sure to buy the one that is small enough to fit between seats or at least on a single seat.

A compact cooler is especially handy if you don’t have a large trunk to put it in.

Power Source

elctric cooler

Almost all portable electric coolers come with a 12V DC cord. You are supposed to plug it into the cigarette lighter in your car or RV. You can also hook it up to a solar generator if you are camping out.

This is fine when you are on the road. But what will you do when you will want it to use at home or somewhere where all the outlets are the standard 120V AC ones?

Luckily, all coolers can also be powered by an AC outlet. But you need an adaptor. That is where there is a difference between various coolers.

Some manufacturers are kind enough to include the AC adapter along with the DC power cord. Others leave it out and you have to buy it separately if you want to use the cooler at home.

But they are cheap. You can get a good quality on for around $15-$20.

Battery Backup

Not many electric coolers have battery backup. The only thing they do in the event of a power loss or disconnection is to try and keep your stuff cool for as long as possible.

But if you do find one with battery backup, check how long the battery can run in case you can’t find an outlet or want to take it outdoors away from any power source.

How Heavy Is It When Fully Loaded?

If you expect that you are going to carry the cooler by hand a lot, find one that is light. This way even when you fill it up with drinks and food, it is not going to be very heavy.

I recommend thermoelectric coolers. Even the large-capacity ones don’t weigh a lot.

But if the cooler is going to be sitting in your trunk or on a surface in your RV or boat most of the time then weight is not an issue. You can even get the 50-quart 63lb mini-fridge from our recommendations above.

Can You Charge It Via USB?

This is not a common feature yet, because most coolers are too large to charge via USB.

But if you are going for a small cooler for just you or two people then definitely find one that comes with a USB charger.

It will give you much more versatility.

For instance, you can go camping or hiking with it and power it with your power bank or solar generator.

Pros and Cons Of Electric Coolers


  • Electric coolers are less tedious to use compared to ice chests.
  • Great cooling performance, especially for compressor coolers.
  • Thermoelectric coolers can cool and warm.
  • Fast cooling.


  • Require a power source.
  • Compressor coolers are heavy, limiting their portability.
  • More expensive compared to ice chests.

Ice Chests vs. Electric Coolers

Ice Chests vs. Electric Coolers

The biggest difference between ice chests and electric coolers (or iceless coolers) is how they work. While an ice chest uses ice to keep things cold, an electric cooler relies on electricity.

In terms of cooling performance, iceless coolers are better. They cool foods and drinks quicker and can maintain a much lower temperature compared to an ice chest.

Thermoelectric coolers offer more versatility since they can cool and warm.

As for portability, electric compressor coolers tend to be very heavy and difficult to carry around. If you need something you can easily lift and carry by hand, consider an ice chest or a thermoelectric cooler.

If you really want a compressor cooler, we recommend setting it up and operating it from the bed or trunk of your vehicle, so you don’t have to carry it around by hand.

Price-wise, ice chests are generally cheaper, while electric compressor coolers are the most expensive. You’ll find many portable compressor coolers that cost as much as a full-size kitchen fridge.

Compressor vs. Thermoelectric Cooling

electric cooler

There are two types of electric coolers – those that use thermoelectric cooling and those that use compressors.

Thermoelectric Coolers

Thermoelectric coolers work through what is known as the Peltier Effect. It’s basically a way of transferring heat from one electric junction to another via an electrical current. As one area heats up the other cools down.

All this is controlled by a very tiny device called a Peltier module. It’s really small, measuring around 1.5 by 1.5 inches.


  • No moving parts. This increases the coolers reliability and longevity and reduces maintenance requirements. Many low cost thermoelectric coolers can easily last 4 or 5 years without a problem.
  • Large capacity. Because there is no ice or a compressor to take up space, you are left with plenty of space to put your drinks and snacks. In other words they can offer more capacity without getting too bulky.
  • Lightweight. Again, no ice packs or compressor. So the cooler feels very light which makes it great for travelling. One 40-quart thermoelectric cooler from our top picks above weighs just 18lbs while another 50-quart compressor-powered cooler weighs a whooping 63lbs.  
  • Dual function. Many thermoelectric coolers don’t just cool your drinks, they can warm them too. This is handy if you need some warm food when you are on the road.
  • Cheaper than compressor-powered coolers.


  • They are dependent on the environment. When mentioning a thermoelectric cooler’s capability, the manufacturer will say it can cool to 40 degrees Fahrenheit below surrounding temperature. So if you are in a very hot area your cooler won’t keep your drinks properly chilled.
  • They cannot cool as well as compressor-driven coolers. This is why you won’t find a thermoelectric freezer.

Compressor-powered Coolers

electric cooler

These are basically mini-fridges. These coolers use the exact same cooling mechanism used by your kitchen refrigerator.

That means they can cool your drinks to a much lower temperature than a thermoelectric cooler and even freeze them. But you have to sacrifice on cost and portability.


  • They cool drinks and food in any environment.
  • They can freeze.
  • Temperature is guaranteed.


  • Expensive.
  • Heavy.
  • Smaller capacity. The storage capacity tends to be smaller than a thermoelectric cooler of the same dimensions, because much of the internal space goes to the compressor mechanism. If you want a large-capacity compressor cooler, then you have to contend with extra weight and bulk.

Frequently Asked Questions 

electric cooler

Will a thermoelectric cooler chill or freeze foods and drinks? 

In many cases, a thermoelectric cooler can chill drinks and food, but it will not freeze them. It doesn’t get cold enough for that.

A thermoelectric cooler excels at keeping cold things cold. For best result, put in drinks already chilled and foods already frozen.

How cold can an electric cooler get?

It depends on the type of cooler.

Compressor coolers can get pretty cold. Some can reach zero degrees, which keeps everything nice and frozen.

For thermoelectric coolers, how cold they get depends on the ambient temperature. Most thermoelectric coolers can reach 40F below ambient temperature.

Do you need to keep an electric cooler plugged in all the time?

Most coolers have good insulation that maintains internal temperature for some time after being unplugged.

But don’t leave it unplugged for too long. If you need to power the cooler round the clock, consider buying a portable solar generator or an auxiliary battery for your car.

Can temperature affect the performance of an electric cooler? 

Yes, it can. A thermoelectric cooler will get less cold if it gets too hot.

A compressor cooler performs better in different temperature conditions, but it’ll struggle to maintain a low temperature when it’s hot. This will reduce compressor life and use more power.

For optimal performance, do not place the cooler in direct sunlight.