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Best 12 Volt Cooler: Chilled Camping

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Editors Choice

ARB 50-Quart Classic Series II Portable Cooler/Freezer

ARB 10801472 Fridge Freezer Series II 50 Quart 20(H) x15(W) x27.8 in.(D) External Dimensions 53 lbs. Weight Fridge Freezer Series II

The ARB Classic Series II is a remarkable item and therefore tops our list for best 12 volt cooler. It features the ability to control the temperature wirelessly via an app on your smart device. Usually we would find something like this a bit gimmicky, but this refrigerated cooler is still one of the best performing on the market even without the wireless connectivity feature. 

This model measures 28 x 15 x 20 inches and weighs around 53 pounds. It’s large and is heavy duty, but you’ll be using it in your RV, so you shouldn’t need to move it around much. If you do, it has high-quality steel handles that make it easy to pick up and carry.

The quality of this 12 volt cooler stands out well above the rest. It’s made with a steel outer casing, and many of the parts are either steel or stainless steel. It’s manufactured very well and is built to last a long time.

Choosing the Right 12v Fridge for Camping & Road Trips

When you’re out on the road, it makes sense that you’ll want to bring your favorite food and drinks along. Depending on the length of your road trip, you may want to keep your goodies cold with a 12 volt fridge.

This guide will tell you about the top 12 volt coolers we researched and give you some great information on choosing the best one for your needs.

Looking for a Great Car or Camper Van Fridge?

  • What features to look for in a portable refrigerator
  • Reviews of seven refrigerated coolers
  • Our unbiased pick for the best 12 volt refrigerator

How to Choose the Best 12 Volt Cooler

Gone are the days of an ice cooler lined with foam insulation. With these types of portable coolers, your ice would constantly melt, meaning you’ll have to continually drain it, and also have to continually stop for more ice! Even if you invested in a higher-quality, hard version, you’ll still have to deal with the whole melting ice and draining saga.

Luckily since you’ll have electricity in your RV, you don’t have to deal with this frustration. You can get an electric, 12-volt cooler that can be powered directly from your RV. Choosing the best electric cooler for your particular needs isn’t as simple as looking for the right price. There are other considerations that you should take into account. Keep reading, and we’ll break them down for you.

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Three Types of 12-Volt Refrigerators

There are three types of 12 volt coolers, each using a different cooling technology. These are absorption, compressor, and thermoelectric. While absorption coolers are typically the most popular for RVs, the other two may be more suitable for your needs.

Absorption 

An absorption cooler uses heat to activate the cooling process. It heats and cycles refrigerant, which causes it to go from a liquid state to a gas one. The gas is then condensed back into a liquid, which is what causes the cooling effect. These coolers are popular for RVs because they can run on two to three of the main power sources in an RV: 110V AC, 12V DC, or propane. While versatility is what makes this type popular for RVers, it does use a lot of power. It’s not energy efficient, but it is effective.

PROs

  • Inexpensive compared to other types.
  • Ability to use three different power sources.
  • Very quiet.

CONs

  • Can’t freeze food.
  • Is limited to cooling to only about 30 degrees Fahrenheit lower than the ambient temperature.

Compressor 

A compressor cooler has a similar mode of operation as the absorption cooling system, except it has a small motor that makes it a little more powerful. These types of coolers usually run on both AC and DC power, and they tend to be a little noisier than absorption types because of the compressor. However, they use less power and can get colder than absorption coolers no matter what the ambient temperature is.

PROs

  • Gets to a colder temperature than absorption coolers.
  • Can freeze food.
  • Uses less energy.

CONs

  • Tends to be a little more expensive.
  • Can be noisy.

Thermoelectric 

These coolers work by using the Peltier Effect. Basically, this is when heat is conducted through two pieces of metal and gets ‘pushed’ to one end of the metal. This also creates a cooling effect that gets ‘pushed’ to the other end. The cool end sticks out into the cooler, causing it to get cold while the hot end disperses the heat into the air.

Thermoelectric coolers are the least popular out of the three types because they’re only about 10 percent energy efficient. Despite the inefficiency, there are situations where they can be a better fit than the other two. Since thermoelectric coolers are the most inexpensive of the three, they’re great for people on a budget. They also use very little energy, so are perfect for RVs.

PROs

  • Extremely quiet with little to no vibration.
  • Low power consumption.
  • Low cost.

CONs

  • Doesn’t get to a very cold temperature.
  • Only comes in small capacities.

Choosing the type of 12-volt cooler that you want is half the battle of choosing the right one. It will also depend on your power source. However, since you’re here, it’s evident that you’ll be using 12 volt power. The good news is that all three types run on a direct current power source, so your options are open.

Size

Twelve-volt coolers are usually given measurements in two units. The first would be how many quarts it can hold, and the second is how many cans it can hold (as in soda/beer cans). This doesn’t mean that it can only hold cans. You may want to put food, two-liter beverages, medicine, or anything else that needs to be kept cool.

When considering size, you’ll want to consider what you’ll put in it, how long your trip is, as well as how many people will be using it. On average, a 50-quart model will be sufficient for two to three people for a few days. You don’t want to get one that’s too big–the less empty space in the cooler, the better it will be able to retain a colder temperature.

Features, Accessories, and More

Most 12-volt coolers aren’t just boxes with a plug. Some features and accessories can make them more convenient or suitable for your needs. Handles and wheels are an important consideration, especially for larger-sized coolers. You’ll want comfortable handles that are easy to hold and won’t fatigue your hands and fingers. Wheels will make it easier to move the portable refrigerator around.

Some models come with shelves and baskets so that you can separate out the contents. Some fridge doors may have shelves and racks specially designed for drink cans or bottles. Some coolers may even have a freezer section.

Weight may not seem like it’s important, but some 12-volt coolers can be heavy. If you’ll be handling the cooler alone, you may want to opt for a lighter model. If you’ll have help, make sure you have good handles so that two people can carry it at once, or an extending handle so you can easily wheel it around.

There can be other impractical features that aren’t necessary but are nice to have. For example, some coolers can double as food warmers with the flip of a button. Another example is having a USB port on the fridge to charge your small devices. If you enjoy having quirky items, these types of features may be right for your needs.

Once you’ve taken all the choices above into consideration, you’re ready to purchase the perfect 12-volt cooler for you. We’ve researched the market in search of the best 12 volt coolers for your RV or car. The seven we’ve listed below were the top ones and are great choices for you to consider.

The Best 12v Cooler – Review and Results

Dometic CDF11 10-Quart Portable Cooler/ Freezer

Best Personal Option

Dometic CDF-11 Smallest Portable Freezer/Refrigerator

For a portable compressor cooler, this one is fancy. It has plenty of features that make it extremely convenient. It has a digital display that tells you the exact internal temperature. You get to choose between Celsius or Fahrenheit, and you can adjust the cooler to your desired temperature using the clearly marked plus and minus signs. The temperature range is from 0 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

The Dometic CDF11 has a capacity of 10 quarts or 13 cans. It’s more of a personal 12 volt cooler, although it can be suitable for a couple of people for a few days. The dimensions are 14.4 x 21.3 x 9.3 inches, and it only weighs about 18 pounds. It’s also good for holding sandwiches or other small food items.

Two stand out features are the pair of drink holders on the top and the shoulder strap for transporting it. It’s made from an impact-resistant hard polymer, so it’s highly durable and insulated.

  • PROs

    • Has an interior light
    • Comes with a basket
    • Has three-stage battery protection
  • CONs

    • It’s very expensive for the size
    • Strap wears out quickly

Bottom-Line: This is an ideal personal cooler for one or two people who need to keep food at a cold temperature in small quantities.

Alpicool C20 21-Quart Portable Cooler/Freezer

Best for Light Travel

Alpicool C20 Portable Refrigerator 21 Quart(20 Liter) Vehicle, Car, Truck, RV, Boat, Mini Fridge Freezer for Driving, Travel, Fishing, Outdoor -12/24V DC

The Alpicool C20 is versatile and can be powered by both AC/DC power. It uses a 240-volt AC power source and comes with an AC adapter and a DC adapter. It has a temperature range from 50°F going down to -4 degrees Fahrenheit and has excellent insulation.

The Alpicool C20 has an interesting touch screen display panel. It shows the temperature inside, car battery level, the power and settings buttons, and the plus and minus buttons for adjusting the temperature. Our only concern is that if the temperature display fails, you can’t adjust the settings.

This 12 volt cooler has a 21-quart/25 can capacity. It measures 22.4 x 12.6 x 12.6 inches and weighs about 22 pounds. It’s lightweight, but instead of a strap, it has two handles for carrying it. The handles are small and will only accommodate your fingers, so it may get uncomfortable if you have to carry it for too long. 

  • PROs

    • Can run at up to a 45° angle
    • No seam interior makes it easy to clean
  • CONs

    • The thermostat isn’t always accurate
    • Included instructions aren’t helpful

Bottom-Line: This is a great portable electric cooler for a group of three to four people who may be traveling on rough terrain or overseas.

ARB 50-Quart Classic Series II Portable Freezer/Cooler

Best Overall

ARB 10801472 Fridge Freezer Series II 50 Quart 20(H) x15(W) x27.8 in.(D) External Dimensions 53 lbs. Weight Fridge Freezer Series II

The ARB 50-Quart compressor cooler is one of the more advanced, state of the art portable refrigerators on the market. It’s a sturdy, rugged-use electric ice chest with wireless connectivity capabilities. This 12 volt cooler is made with a zinc steel outer casing and has fair-sized, recessed steel carry handles. It also has stainless steel hinges on the injection-molded lid.

The cooler has a back-lit LCD with buttons that light up as you touch them. The panel is bright enough to see at night, but not so bright that it disturbs your sleep. A built-in wireless transmitter allows you to view and control this 12 volt cooler from your smart device through a Fridge Connect app, a very convenient feature.

The cooler measures 28 x 15 x 20 inches and holds 50 quarts. It has a temperature range of 0°F to 50°F. It is a little heavy at 45 pounds, but steel handles make it easy to carry. Designed for rugged use, this cooler is a long-lasting investment.

    • PROs

      • Has a fruit and dairy compartment
      • Has an interior LED light
      • Rubber feet give extra stability
    • CONs

      • It’s very expensive
      • Thermostat is sometimes off by around 5 degrees Fahrenheit

    Bottom-Line: If you can fit this in your budget, this is a tough cooler that will withstand the roughest RV rides/camping for years to come.

    Housmile Thermoelectric Cooler

    Best Budget Refrigerator

    Housmile Thermo - Electric Cooler and Warmer Car Refrigerator Portable Mini Fridge AC & DC, 7 Liter / 12 Can

    If you need an inexpensive fridge for some beverages and snacks, the Housmile thermoelectric cooling fridge will cool enough to enjoy a crisp, cold beverage on a hot day. It’s a dual-functioning model and so can also function as a warmer. As a fridge, it has a temperature range of 41°F to 59°F, and it can warm up to 140°F, so you don’t have to eat cold food.

    The fridge measures 11.25 x 6.5 x 10.2 inches and weighs 5.9 pounds. This 12 volt cooler is made of hard PVC plastic material with a carry strap attached. While PVC plastic isn’t our ideal material choice for a refrigerator because it has lousy insulation, it is durable. Since it’s a thermoelectric cooler, you can’t expect it to get to an icy cold temperature.

    • PROs

      • Affordable
      • Super portable
      • Two temperature range functions
    • CONs

      • Doesn’t cool well in an outside temperature of more than 77°F

    Bottom-Line: This is an excellent, affordable fridge/warmer for people who want to camp light in mild to moderate weather.

    Whynter FM-45G 45-Quart Portable Freezer/Cooler

    Best Refrigerator for Durability

    Whynter FM-45G 45 Quart Portable Refrigerator AC 110V/ DC 12V True Freezer for Car, Home, Camping, RV -8°F to 50°F, One Size, Gray

    This isn’t the most attractive of portable refrigerators, but it works well. The Whynter FM45G is functional and practical. It has the look of a military-grade piece of equipment but even though it’s not military-grade, it does have a tough, powdered steel outer casing as well as strong, stainless steel handles. It’s a rugged refrigerator that will last a long time.

    This 12v refrigerator doesn’t have a bunch of extra features to brag about. There is a small LCD panel on the side that shows you the interior temperature. Other than this, it’s just an electric box that will keep your food cold. It has a temperature range from -8°F to 50°F, meaning that it can freeze food & beverages, but it does take a while to get to this point.

    The internal dimensions of this 12 volt cooler are 18.5 x 11 x 15 inches, but some of this space is taken up by the compressor step, which measures 7.5 x 11.25 x 8 inches. It comes with two removable wire baskets – one basket is the same depth as the freezer while the other is shorter because it goes over the compressor step. The refrigerator weighs 45 pounds. Overall, this is an excellent fridge for someone who simply wants to keep their food and drinks cold.

    • PROs

      • It’s constructed well and built to last
      • Reinforced corners
      • Can function even when tilted up to 30°
    • CONs

      • The compressor takes up a lot of interior storage space
      • The front lock seems a bit flimsy

    Bottom-Line: This ice chest is very basic for the price range it’s in, but if you want a robust, long-lasting camping refrigerator, then this is an ideal choice.

    Norcold NRF-30 32-Quart Portable Freezer/Cooler

    Best Portable Fridge and Freezer

    NORCOLD INC 1.1 cu. ft. Portable Refrigerator/Freezer for RV, Trucks, Boats, Camping - NRF30, Gray (NRF-30)

    The Norcold NRF-30 is one of those electric coolers that doesn’t have a lot of features other than a small LCD screen, but is priced higher because of the sheer quality of the freezer. One of the main things we like about this refrigerator is that one of the interior compartments is stainless steel. While it would be nice for the entire interior to be stainless steel, having at least one compartment made from stainless steel will help to prevent scratches and punctures. The other compartment is refrigerator-only, so you don’t have an all-or-none freezing experience.

    This 12 volt cooler is made of a hard, high-quality, corrosion-proof plastic material that isn’t easy to crack or break. The handles are made of the same high-quality material and are removable. The same goes for the lid, which is also reversible if you want it to open from the other direction. The freezer measures 15.6 x 22 x 15.7 inches and weighs around 39 pounds. It has a 32-quart/40 can capacity and a three-stage battery protection system.

    • PROs

      • Has separate compartments for frozen food & chilled food
      • Gets to a cold temperature quickly
      • Has an interior light
    • CONs

      • AC power cord must be purchased separately
      • Cigarette-lighter plug has been reported to be too loose

    Bottom-Line: If you don’t mind splurging, this is the best option for people who travel with a mixture of different food and drinks.

    Smeta 1.0 Cu. Ft. Absorption Mini-Fridge

    Best Mini-Fridge Model

    SMETA Mini Fridge No Noise: Absorption Refrigerator 12V/110V Portable for Dorm Office Truck Camper, with Lock, DC AC, 1.0 Cu.Ft, Black

    This is the only absorption refrigerator that made it on the list because it actually works very well. It’s more of a mini-refrigerator than a cooler, and due to it using absorption cooling technology, it doesn’t get as cold as the other portable refrigerators. As long as you keep this in mind, you won’t be disappointed.

    For a small refrigerator, it has a roomy interior. It has an adjustable interior shelf and two-door shelves. The refrigerator has an interior light to make it easy to see on the inside. The temperature range is limited (as stated, it’s an absorption fridge) to 37°F to 53°F. This option measures 15.7 x 16.5 x 19.7 inches and weighs around 35 pounds. It’s extremely quiet since it has no moving parts and uses very little power. You can choose between AC and DC power, and it conveniently comes with both adapters.

    • PROs

      • Comes in multiple capacities
      • Door is reversible
      • Silent operation
    • CONs

      • Interior light doesn’t work with 12 volt DC power
      • No battery protection system

    Bottom-Line: If you prefer a refrigerator-style cool box, this option waves the flag for battery powered mini fridges with its outstanding quality, this will last for a long time.

    Last update on 2021-09-26 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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