A road trip or camping trip can make for an unforgettable experience. However, to make sure it’s fun and stress-free, you need to make sure that all of your supplies are in order. This includes camping and backpacking food storage.
One of the best options for this is to invest in a good cooler. Electric coolers are one of the more high-tech options that you can use to keep your food and drinks cold longer. They also allow you to store items without worrying about having to keep the cooler full of ice.
There are plenty of options out there and to make sure you have the best electric cooler for you, we’ve pulled together a guide that will help you out. Not only will we show you some of our top picks but we’ve broken down all of the information you need to know to find the best thermoelectric cooler out there.
How To Choose An Electric Cooler – Buying Guide
Size and Capacity
The last thing anyone wants is a cooler that doesn’t fit what they need to carry or is unnecessarily bulky. This is why one of the first things you should look at when you’re looking for the best iceless cooler is its size and capacity. Luckily, there are plenty of sizes of electric coolers available, so you can find one that fits your needs perfectly.
The best way to choose the right size for you is to consider what you’re going to store in your cooler. If you’re just keeping a few drinks cool by the campfire or during a cookout, you probably won’t need a cooler that’s very large. On the other hand, if you’re packing up for a week-long camping trip, you’ll need a larger cooler to keep up with the volume of items you’ll need to bring with you.
One thing that helps you handle space and storage is that when you buy an electric cooler, it’s likely an iceless cooler as well. This is the best thermoelectric cooler if you want to save space by not packing ice or ice packs.
Sizes for thermoelectric coolers are typically measured in quarts and can be broken down into small, medium, and large coolers. Small coolers are 7.5 to 18 quarts, medium coolers are 21 to 36 quarts, and large coolers are 45 quarts or larger.
If you do want to bring ice along on your trip, you’re going to want to know that it will last a while without melting. When it comes to a plug-in cooler, your ice will be kept cold while the cooler is on. Once a cooler is turned off, it can last up to a few hours if it’s kept closed. The good news is that if you have ice packed into the cooler, that will help keep the internal temperature low which will keep your ice and other items cold longer. Still, it’s best to keep your cooler closed when you aren’t directly taking anything out of it for the best results.
There are two main power sources for an electric cooler: either a cooler for a car or one adapted to a wall outlet. You’ll usually need an adapter to plug a cooler directly into an outlet. Some thermoelectric coolers come with this but many don’t, so it’s always good to check.
A thermoelectric cooler that plugs directly into your car is a pretty hand solution when you’re out camping. Then, you don’t have to worry about scrambling to find a way to keep your food and drinks cool throughout the trip. When you have your car on, you can simply let the cooler run off the battery. If you use your car battery when the car is off, you’ll probably find that it drained more of the battery than you hoped for.
The insulation for an electric cooler is similar to a standard cooler. It’s made to retain its temperature. Without this insulation, the electrically-generated cold wouldn’t stay in the cooler. In addition, this insulation can help the cooler stay cool even when it isn’t directly powered. It helps to keep the air contained and helps to partially prevent the warmer air surrounding the cooler out. This is why your electric cooler will stay cool for a few hours after it’s turned off if it’s closed.
Another factor of insulation is how well the cooler locks in smells. While you might not mind smelling your campfire leftovers from outside your cooler, this lack of insulation can bring unwanted animals right to your campsite.
Of course, there are plenty of extra features a top-rated portable electric cooler might have. One of the biggest features that people look for is a USB-powered unit. These are pretty handy because they offer a lot of versatility in how they can be powered through either your car or an outlet.
Another feature that coolers sometimes come with is a warming function. These aren’t going to cook you your dinners like a portable stove or grill but they are handy at keeping food and drinks warm for a time.
Just like anything other items on your camping checklist, you aren’t limited to a single option for electric coolers.
The first choice you have is a traditional iceless cooler. These operate in much the same way your fridge at home does. They use a motor and an electric compressor to generate cool air and depend on the insulation of that cooler to keep that air in. You might also hear these referred to as a mini-freezer or fridge. It’s important to note that some of these coolers aren’t meant to be used for as consistently as a small fridge you might keep in your home, office, or dorm room but should be reserved for trips and outings. If an electric cooler can be used as a mini-fridge, the manufacturer usually points it out directly. These offer the coldest chill for your food and drinks.
Then, there are thermoelectric coolers. These don’t depend on a motor but rather use something called the Peltier effect. This effect describes the phenomenon of running electricity through two types of electric conductors to reduce the temperature between them. This is something that’s often used in computers to keep them from overheating. These are usually more compact because they don’t need space for a motor. They also run very quietly.
Q: What does “warming function” mean?
The “warming function” on a cooler doesn’t mean that your cooler will get as hot as a stove. Most warming functions won’t get hotter than the lowest setting on a stove. This is because its purpose isn’t usually to cook food but rather to slightly warm it or keep it warm. For instance, if you want to enjoy a toasty drink or keep some freshly cooked leftovers warm for a bit, this feature will come in handy.
Q: How to clean an electric cooler?
Your cooler will need periodic cleaning just like your fridge does. If you continually store food and drinks in it without cleaning, it’ll get pretty messy really quickly. So, it’s crucial to know how to clean your cooler properly.
Luckily, it’s easy to clean a cooler. All you really need is mild detergent or soap, warm water, and some paper towels or microfiber cloth. To start, soak your cloth in warm water and add a bit of soap. Use this to wipe the cooler down being careful to get all the nooks and crannies where mildew or caked-in messes usually occur. If your mess is being particularly stubborn, you can break out some baking soda. Make it into a paste with water and start scrubbing. It’s tempting to get something abrasive to help scrape off stains but you’ll end up damaging the inside of your cooler if you do. Then, repeat these steps on the outside of the cooler.
After that, you’ll want to grab a new dishtowel or paper towel and use only water to wet it. Use this to get all the soap out of the cooler.
Now, just let the cooler air dry before you store it. It’s a good idea to repeat this process every time after you use your cooler. Even the best portable electric cooler can have a short lifespan if it isn’t cared for properly.
Q: Do I need ice packs?
When it comes to electric coolers, you don’t need to worry about packing ice with your items to keep them cool. This is the main goal behind buying a cooler - it regulates its own temperature without forcing you to make extra space for ice or ice packs.
That being said, you can still add ice if you want either in or out of a bag. The moisture isn’t going to damage your cooler. It can be especially helpful if you’re going on a long trip.
Q: Do I need to have the cooler plugged in all the time?
If you buy a cooler for the car, it’ll work best plugged into your car battery. This won’t damage your battery so long as the car is on. If the car is off, however, it can drain your car battery. This can lead to the unfortunate circumstance of a dead battery and a car that won’t turn over.
Luckily, you don’t necessarily have to keep a cooler plugged in for it to work. As long as you keep it closed most of the time, it’ll usually stay cool for a few hours. If you keep opening and closing it, though, it’ll warm up faster. It can help it keep cool longer when it isn’t plugged in if you have ice packs or ice stored in the cooler.
Having one of the best electric coolers is a great way to conveniently store food and drinks even on long trips. You don’t have to worry about ice melting or your perishables getting to an unsafe temperature with these handy options. Now, with the information we’ve given you and the cooler reviews we’ve offered, you’ll be able to choose the best thermoelectric cooler for you with no problem!
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