If you’re looking to get some type of cooling system for your upcoming camping trip, you need something to keep your food and beverages chilled.
I want to help you buy a camping cooler, because without one, your food is going to grow bacteria and make you sick.
Some type of cooler is needed for your outdoor adventures and that’s a definite.
There is a lot to learn but don’t worry, I’ve written down everything you need to know about camping coolers so you can spend less time wondering and more time in the outdoors!
Types of Coolers
Thermoelectric coolers use fans to cool food instead of Freon (what normal refrigerators use).
The fan draws in cool air from the outside world and releases warm air, creating a cooling effect.
Because of this, thermoelectric coolers are more eco-friendly, less noisy and require less power to run.
They can reach a capacity of 30 Degrees Fahrenheit (cold) and 150 Degrees Fahrenheit (warm)
Yes…they can heat things up and cool things down, changeable with a flick of a switch.
The other type of cooler is an ice chest.
The main difference between ice chests and electric coolers is that they require ice but no power.
This has its advantages and disatvantages.
If you choose an ice chest instead of an electric cooler, you will need to fill it up with ice. More times than not it’ll need to be restocked depending on what type of ice you use.
Pro Tip: Blocks of ice melt slower than ice cubes; fill empty milk cartons with water and freeze.
Using ice creates less room for food and beverages because the ice will take up a large chunk of space, which is is a massive disadvantage in my eyes.
Features of Thermoelectric Coolers
Cold and warm modes
Thermoelectric coolers have the ability to cool things down and warm things up.
This is done via a simple switch, usually indicated with a red (warm) and green (cold) LED light indicator.
Keep in mind that the cooler will need to be switched off and empty for 30 minutes before changing to another mode.
This is for safety purposes and longevity of the cooler.
Low energy consumption
Electric coolers have a fan that releases warm air and draws in cool air from the surrounding areas.
This allows the cooler (no matter what size) to be powered with such a low voltage – car cigarette lighter and sometimes USB ports if it’s been designed to.
These things are super silent, much more silent than normal/bigger refrigerators and sometimes cannot be heard at all.
This makes them useful for your bedroom, an office, and of course camping.
Some have storage compartments so you can keep your food separate from your beverages, usually removable to allow for maximum space when needed.
Carry handle, shoulder strap and wheels
Although most have small carry handles for you to carry the cooler around with you, there are a small few with long extendable handles.
There are also some with shoulder straps for when you’re on-the-go and some with wheels so you don’t have to even carry it!
Lightweight and compact
Thermoelectric coolers are available in many designs, shapes and sizes, but one things for sure, they are always going to be lightweight and compact.
They are so compact they can fit in a backseat of a car, an outside table, in a tent, on a bench in an RV, literally anywhere.
This is why they make great alternatives to camping fridge-freezers, which are much more expensive, bigger and require more voltage to power.
Cable storage compartments
The cable storage compartments offer an area for cable not in use, or excess cable that continues to get in the way.
Sadly these built-in compartments are only available on some electric coolers and not all.
There are a small handful of electric coolers that can stand like a normal refrigerator or lay down like an ice chest.
These have been specifically designed to allow for the change in position, so not all can be positioned both ways.
No ice requirement
What makes electric coolers so unique is the fact that no ice is needed, period.
Unlike ice chests – which need to be restocked with ice frequently – electric coolers chill food with the help of a fan.
No more slushy water, no more heavy ice chests, no need to keep restocking, just a simple switch to turn from hot to cold for your ideal temperature.
The AC/DC Adapters (What They Are)
Thermoelectric coolers require some type of power to function, which is what the AC adapter and DC cable is for.
The DC cable is for your cars cigarette lighter and the AC adapter is for a wall outlet (at home, in an office, etc). Some even have the ability to be used via USB port!
Manufacturers provide long cables for your DC outlets too. These are always included in the purchase.
They vary from 5 feet up to 9 feet and EASILY reach the back seat of a car.
Only about half of manufacturers provide AC adapters in the purchase, otherwise they are sold separately.
Storage capacity is a big consideration when it comes to how many people are storing their items in the cooler.
There are so many available and they all have different storage capacities.
[Read: Best Camping Coolers]
In the link above you will find coolers ranging from 7 liters all the way up to 38 liters.
The more the capacity, the higher the weight will be.
The good news is that the price doesn’t change much. You can find coolers with high storage that’s cheaper than smaller ones.
It all depends on the brand, the popularity, the quality of the materials, etc (not necessarily the storage capacity per se).
Each and every cooler has different designs, features and colors.
Some look amazing, some are unique in every way and some are so plain nobody bats an eye.
However, at the end of the day there is a cooler for everyone.
There are many available so it’s up to you to not just get one that looks good, but one that has the features you like, the amount of storage space you need and the best weight for you.
Looks aren’t everything is what I’m saying here, so more research is needed before jumping in and buying the first one that “looks good”.
The manufacturers provide everything you need to get your cooler up and running as soon as you receive it.
This is what’s usually included in the purchase of a typical thermoelectric camping cooler:
- Cooler box
- 12V DC vehicle outlet
- 120V AC wall outlet
- Storage shelves
How to Choose a Camping Cooler
Now that you know what camping coolers are and what types are available, it’s time to dive into what matters the most; how to choose one.
It is not a one-size-fits-all type of situation.
Your 6-can cooler might be good for your office, but it’ll be no good for an extended camping trip with your family.
I’ll be helping you find one that suits you so you get the best bang for your buck!
Step 1: The Price
How much are you willing to pay?
Coolers range from $30 up to $120+.
If you go the cheaper route, you’ll be sacrificing quality for price.
And if you go the expensive route, you are usually paying for quality and durability.
Knowing how much you want to pay for a cooler is key before you begin shopping for one.
Step 2: Your intended use
You need to figure out what you’ll be using the cooler for.
Do you need one for yourself while you solo camp? In that case a 6-can cooler is for you.
Do you want one for your family of 5? A cooler that only fits 6 cans is no good. You’ll need a much larger one, probably the 38 liter.
As you can see, knowing your intended usage of the cooler is IDEAL before shopping for one.
Step 3: Thermoelectric or traditional
Thermoelectric and traditional coolers are different in more ways than one.
Do you really need an electric if you’re going out in the wilderness? Do you even have a power source to keep it running while you’re out there?
These all come into play when determining your decision.
You might THIHNK traditional is for you but do you want to keep stocking it up with ice everyday?
As a rule of thumb: traditional coolers require ice which needs restocking often, electric requires power but offers more space.
4. The size
The size of a cooler matters a lot to be honest.
The bigger the size the more space it takes up.
A 5-liter cooler is going to be more lightweight and compact than a 38-liter cooler.
Therefore, the smaller one with a shoulder strap is your best choice if you’re going camping alone.
However, a big one with more liters is your best option if you’re car camping, camping with a big group or traveling in an RV.
Step 5: The features
Although features aren’t THAT important, you still need to think about what features your new cooler will have.
Do you want one with removable shelves, because not all have them.
Would you prefer a cooler with a handle and wheels so you can drag it around easily and effortlessly, or is the shoulder strap better suited for your adventures?
It’s good to think about what you want out of your cooler before you begin shopping because you’ll know exactly what you want.
Step 6: What matters to you the most
Okay, so it comes back to that intended usage thing again…but we’re going to dive deep into what matters to you the most in your cooler.
Do you care more about the price rather than the quality, or would you pay for an expensive cooler for guaranteed quality and durability?
If price isn’t an issue, does a specific feature matter to you more than the storage capacity?
Maybe you want dual orientation so you have the ability to switch it around when you need it to.
What do I prefer (thermoelectric or traditional)?
Thermoelectric coolers, obviously!
I’m not going to sit here and bash on traditional ice chests because they are also good; I’m just stating my opinion here.
I prefer thermoelectric coolers over traditional for the simple reason that they do not require ice, period.
This means no need to restock, no slushy water and no more rushing to the nearest shopping center for more ice cubes that don’t even last long before melting.
It is just an all-round better idea since it’s uses a simple plug-and-use system.
It keeps your contents cool or warm depending on your needs and does it for as long as you need it to, as long as you have access to power!
Camping coolers are not new to the outdoor world, but what IS new is the thermotechnology coolers are getting,
In the upcoming years they are only going to get bigger and better, with all new features and new abilities beyond our imagination.
Of course this is 10+ years down the line, but it is definitely coming and it’s coming fast.
Heck, they already have portable fridge-freezers available, powered by a simple car battery!
I say jump on the hype train now or get left behind in the slow lane.
Well that concludes this article and I hope you found what you were looking for.