Portable Refrigeration Buying Guide
The ideal portable cooler varies from person to person. This guide sets out important considerations to have in mind, allowing you to make an informed decision based on your individual needs and preferences.
- Cooling technologies – what’s available?
- Cooling and freezing in hot climates
- What size should your cooler be?
- Which energy sources do you want to use?
- Avoid a flat vehicle battery
- Are you concerned about noise from your cooler?
- Will you travel for long or short periods of time?
- Coolers for use away from the vehicle
- Is it possible to cool “passively” without the need for power?
- Do you want to pre-select a target temperature?
- Cold drinks for the driver
- Easy to clean features
- Refrigerate and freeze simultaneously
- Is there a cooler that can heat too?
Cooling technologies - What's available?
There are three types of cooling technology: absorption, compressor and thermoelectric cooling. Each technology has its own particular advantages that recommend them for certain conditions. The key features of each are:
- Gas-powered cooling allows you to travel off-grid
- Silent operation
- Cooling performance depends on the ambient temperature
- Convenient three-way power options: 12 V DC, 230 V AC and gas operation
- Low purchase cost
- Performs well in inclined position
- Typically heavily dependent on ambient temperature, but the unrivalled cooling power of certain Dometic thermoelectric models break the mold!
- 12/24 V DC, 230 V AC operation possible
- Excellent cooling even in extreme ambient temperatures
- Powerful cooling enables refrigeration and deep-freezing
- Low power consumption
- Performs well in inclined position
- Suitable for solar operation
- Integrated battery protection
- 12/24 V DC, 110 – 230 V AC operation possible
Cooling and freezing in hot climates
It is important to consider the type of climate you’ll be in, while using your portable cooler.
Thermoelectric and absorption coolers will cool between 18–30°C below the ambient temperature. Clearly, this may not be adequate if you are travelling in a region where temperatures reach 30°C or more.
What size should your cooler be?
Firstly, consider the amount of storage space available in your vehicle. Next, the number of people who will be dependent on the cooler. Also consider, how long you intend to enjoy complete independence from the shops – perhaps you intend to travel to remote areas? Finally, larger coolers require more energy to run – is the added drain on resources worthwhile? We provide sizes to suit all circumstances.
The range of capacities according to cooling technology are:
Absorption: 31 l - 40 l Thermoelectric: 8 l - 33 l Compressor: 10.5 l - 95 l
Which energy sources do you want to use?
The standard energy sources for Dometic portable coolers are:
Absorption - 12 V, 240 V, Gas Thermoelectric - 12 V, 24 V, 240 V Compressor - 12 V, 24 V, 110 V - 240 V
Absorption coolers stand out for their convenience as they run on AC, DC and when used outside the vehicle, gas power too! Whereas, compressor coolers are ideal for solar power due to their low energy consumption. Solar is a cheap and clean option.
Avoid a flat vehicle battery
The integrated battery protection of our compressor coolers prevents a flat battery. Once the power level of your vehicle is drained to a pre-set “disconnect level”, it will immediately cut power to your refrigerator. Your drinks may, in time, become a little warmer, but at least you’ll be driving home!
Since absorption coolers run on gas, as well as electricity, they offer a clear solution to protecting your vehicle’s battery power. Thermoelectric units can benefit from a low voltage monitor on some models or available as an optional accessory, which protects the battery by automatically cutting off power at low voltage.
Efficiency is also important. Any cooler that runs on mains electricity must, by law, be rated for its efficiency. We set a new efficiency benchmark for compressor coolers – our CFX range is the first cooler to achieve an A++ rating. Our thermoelectric coolers also consistently achieve up to A+++ rating. Absorption coolers are not obligated to the energy labelling because they are mainly used on gas.
Are you concerned about noise from your cooler?
Depending on where your fridge will be placed and how sensitive you are to noise, the operating noise of a fridge may be important. Noise levels depend on the cooling technology used in the cooler:
Absorption - absolutely silent Compressor - occasional, quiet running Thermoelectric - continuous fan noise
Will you travel for long or short periods of time?
While travelling for long periods, you’ll appreciate having a deep-freeze function that extends the life of your food. A compressor cooler can freeze down to –22°C.
For shorter trips of a few days or a week, an absorption cooler will be perfectly suitable. In certain models, you can even store ice cubes inside the refrigerator’s evaporator component. Although not as powerful as compressor units, absorption fridges will cool contents.
A thermoelectric refrigerator keeps items cool, rather than cools them itself. This makes it necessary to pre-cool items before setting off on your trip. It also makes it a less suitable option if you intend to rely on it for more than a day or two.
Coolers for use away from the vehicle
Several models of Dometic cooler are suitable for taking to the beach or for use at picnics away from the vehicle. For this type of usage, we recommend a lightweight model of cooler which should, ideally, also feature a carry strap and/or sturdy handles for convenient transport.
To maintain cooling performance, wherever you are, an absorption cooler’s ability to run on gas is a significant advantage. All types of portable cooler could rely on a battery for power away from the vehicle. Alternatively, you could adopt the traditional and cheap solution of reusable ice packs.
Finally, there are the non-powered, passive coolers which are specifically designed for cooling “off-grid” (see next).
Is it possible to cool "passively" without the need for power?
Our “rotomolded” non-powered cooling boxes boast superior insulation and durability thanks to their thick construction. This allows ice to be kept for 3–7 days depending on usage and ambient temperatures! Impressive stuff.
Do you want to pre-select a target temperature?
Only compressor coolers allow an exact, pre-set temperature to be achieved. Some models of thermoelectric and absorption coolers allow you to vary the level of cooling power used, but a specific, target temperature cannot be chosen.
Cold drinks for the driver
Long drives can be thirsty work and, on such occasions, you’ll appreciate having a portable cooler within easy reach of the driver’s seat! Some models of portable cooler fit neatly between the front seats while others can be firmly strapped into a passenger seat using the seatbelt.
Easy to clean features
If hygiene is a priority for you and your family, then a cooler that is convenient to clean is a big plus. Look out for features such as a plug to drain away melted ice and removable parts such as baskets or dividers.
Refrigerate and freeze simultaneously
Certain models of compressor cooler have two independent cooling zones. This means that one zone can be used to refrigerate and, at the same time, the second zone for freezing. A highly convenient feature that saves you having to buy (and store) two cooling units.
Is there a cooler that can heat too?
Some of our coolers can keep their contents warm, as well as cool. Although not designed for heating food from chilled, by placing a hot pie in a unit that heats up to 65 °C, it can be enjoyed warm later that day!