If you’re in the market for a reliable portable refrigerator that can be used for camping, tailgating, transporting medicine or food, but not sure where to begin, we’re here to help. In this extensive buyer’s guide, we’ll cover how this technology works, what types of portable refrigerators are currently available on the market, and, of course, take a good look at some of the best options in our review of the TOP 7 Best Portable Refrigerators.
- What is a portable refrigerator and how it works?
- Types of portable refrigerators
- TOP 7 Best Portable Refrigerators
- Product recommendations for different situations
While there’s a crazy number of portable refrigerators available on the market, you’ll be hard pressed to find the best option. In this guide, we’ve embarked on a journey of helping you figure out what features in a portable refrigerator are the most vital and what limitations could be a dealbreaker.
As you likely already know, a portable refrigerator is an enclosed compartment that has insulated walls to prevent heat from flowing in either direction. The device can be used to keep food, drinks, or other stuff cool, like vaccines or insulin. Different types of refrigerators have their own specific features which determine how exactly they work, but irrespectively of the type, they all use “insulation” as a primary concept of keeping heat from moving freely.
There are three basic types of portable refrigerators: classic ice chests, compressors, and thermoelectric refrigerators. Let’s look at each of these in more detail below:
- Ice chests, as the name implies, use ice as a primary heat absorber: any heat that flows into a refrigerator will melt the ice first before getting into the fridge’s contents.
- Compressors work on the same technology as air-conditioners and regular household refrigerators: compressor pumps the fluid into a condenser, which makes its way into the evaporator, where the fluid begins to evaporate to gas. To put it simply, through this continuous cycle the heat flows into the evaporator inside the refrigerator where it’s cooled down.
- Thermoelectric refrigerators work on the Peltier Effect, which is based on a heat differential that’s created through movement of electrical currents between two different types of conductors. One part in Peltier cooler gets hot, it’s therefore put outside, the other one – cool, thus, placed inside the refrigerator.
Wagan 12V Cooler/Warmer | 24L Capacity
Wagan functions both as a cooler and a warmer: it cools contents in 30 minutes 36°F below ambient temperature and heats them up to 140°F. It’s pretty spacious and incorporates up to 27 cans or four 2 Liter bottles standing vertically. There’s also a hot/cold switch which is very easy to operate and has an indicator flash on the back of the unit for convenience. The item operates on 12v DC (cord included) for use in a vehicle, as well as on an AC adapter for home (sold separately).
The customers were especially impressed with the cooling properties of the product, overall giving it a recommendation. Among the flaws mentioned, however, was a non-detachable cord, and a poor-quality handle.
Cooluli Mini Fridge/Warmer AC/DC Thermoelectric w/ USB Power Bank Option | 4 Liter / 6 Can
Cooluli, besides its funny name, features a modern and hightekish design with a beautiful matte finish on the outside. It boasts of the lightweight but sturdy polypropylene plastic construction with a magnetic self-lock latching door, a DC adapter, and a carrying handle on top, all of which makes this item portable and more convenient to use.
The cooler works on a thermoelectric cooling system, which allows you to both cool and warm up the products, with a cooling capacity of 40ºF-45ºF below ambient temperature and warming of 122ºF-144ºF.
The Cooluli would incorporate up to six 12 oz. cans, which is way less than the Wagon, but also comes at a half price. It might be an ideal option for those who don’t need much food carrying around in it, or if you need to store an unopened (!) insulin, which should be kept in the fridge at 36° to 46°Fahrenheit. (Caution: DO NOT store an opened insulin in the fridge). However, it’s not very easy to carry, so if you’re on the go and need to carry around medication, this fridge might not be the best option, but if you’re transporting medication in a car, then yes, this item will do the job perfectly.
Argus Le Causalyg 12 Volt DC Soft Electric Car Cooler/Warmer with Thermoelectric System | 18L Capacity
Another item worth mentioning is a cooler bag which also serves both as a cooler and a warmer. According to the manufacturer’s description, it’s pretty potent: cools down to 48°F and warms up to 20-140°F. And maintains that temperature for up to 4 hours. It comes with a 74″ power cord and plugs in any 12V DC receptacle. It’s good for 4.75 gallons, which is roughly 20 cans of soda. The cooler features an insulated food grade pearl cotton and aluminum foil lining. This is not exactly your fashion bag, but it still looks okay for day-to-day chores.
Unfortunately, the product received a mixed feedback from the consumers, who often complained that the product was dangerous to use because of the low-quality electrical plug. Thus, we cannot safely recommend this item until the manufacturer fixes these issues.
Alpicool C20 Portable Refrigerator for Car, RV, Boat -12/24V DC and 110-240 AC – 21 Quart | 20 L
This fridge positions itself as a portable option for vehicles, like cars, RVs, and even boats. It is a classic compressor cooler that incorporates up to 25 cans of soda, which equals 21 quart or 20 liters. It comes with two cables that would connect to 12/24V DC and 110V to 240V AC power inputs. The fridge’s cooling capacity is pretty strong as well, although it doesn’t warm things up, but is able to cool the contents down up to -4°F. The item features a density foam insulation, a lightweight and convenient construction.
Comparing to other products on our list, this item is super pricey, but not as expensive as the Dometic item, that we’ll describe further below. Overall, there were a lot of happy testers who shared their stories, praising an item for versatility, multi-functionality, low energy consumption, among other great things. There were, however, those who complained about the erratic performance of the cooler, which manufacturer subsequently explained was due to a compressor slowing down its energy consumption when the car battery’s low.
Dometic CFX28 12v Electric Powered Cooler | 26L
Dometic fridge is the most expensive on our list and would cost you from somewhat 500 to 800 dollars depending on the model, and a particular seller’s quote. Dometic features a heavy-duty rugged design with reinforced corners and a robust closing mechanism. It also has a USB port for charging small electronic devices, 3-stage battery protection, LED interior light, and can be even monitored for temperature via a WiFi app.
The manufacturer specifically praises its product low power consumption using AC or DC, meaning it’s great for solar setups or other off-grid applications.
Many people used the item in extreme situations, like after a hurricane, or when the access to regular fridge became limited, and many were happy with how it delivered. However, there were others who complained that the product stopped working after a while, but thanks to Dometic customer service, they were able to either return the product or exchange it.
Wagan 2577 Personal Fridge/Warmer | 7L Capacity
Another fridge from Wagan, although much smaller than the first model we described earlier, is also worth looking into, especially if you’re in the market for more lightweight options. This model works well for only 9 cans of soda (or 7L), cools down 35-40º F below ambient temperature, and heats up to 140º F. The item also features 2 built-in cup holders and a padded armrest, as well as an adjustable built-in shoulder strap for easy portability. After it’s unplugged from the 12v outlet, it maintains the temperature for another 2 hours. It nice and neat on the backseat of the car and doesn’t need much space. It’s also relatively affordable, however, you’d have to pay more if you’d like to include a power adapter in the package.
Unfortunately, the product received a lot of negative comments with testers saying it stopped working after a while and the material didn’t seem very durable; also it seemed like the product underperformed because a lot of testers noticed that regular ice pack bags were better at retaining cold temperatures than this particular model from Wagan. We cannot solidly recommend this product as of yet.
Freezable gel | PackIt Lunch Bag
If you’re looking for simpler and cheaper options, then you might just as well buy a regular portable cooler bag like Packit Lunch Bag. It’s not a fridge per se but could work well to keep the cold drinks cool and hot meals warm for a long period of time and thus can be recommended for tailgating and camping. I would refrain from advising this option for transporting medication because it might not keep the desired storage temperature.
Anyway, Packit lunch bag is an absolute bestseller among its cooler bag counterparts. It works on a freezable gel, which is built into the bag. All you have to do is freeze the bag overnight (12 hours) and it’s good to go.
The bag has a zip top closure to lock in cool, dry air, a buckle handle clip for totes and backpacks for hands-free convenience. It also just as well can be clipped to a stroller and used for carrying bottles with formula or breastmilk while you’re taking a walk with your baby.
By the way, this soft lunch bag is made from nontoxic poly canvas and has a food-safe, water-resistant lining. It’s less than 20 dollars, available in an array of colors to suit everyone’s tastes, and received a lot of positive reviews from the testers, so worth recommending!
How to make portable refrigerator // how to build a portable refrigerator?
There are many videos on youtube that will go in greater detail about building a portable fridge, so if you’re one of those techie nerds, then you’ll certainly appreciate those we’ve chosen for you:
Most of the videos on DIY fridges feature thermoelectric technology, where the fridges are built with Peltier modules.
How to use a portable refrigerator?
Usually, it’s pretty intuitive: plug the fridge in, put drinks or food inside the fridge and choose the appropriate setting (to either cool the contents down or warm them up), and in approximately 30 minutes, you may enjoy your cool drink.
What is the best portable refrigerator?
From the options we’ve covered above, we can safely recommend Cooluli Mini Fridge among the affordable options, and Dometic Electric Cooler as the more professional and bigger option.
Portable refrigerator for car // SUV
Portable refrigerator for office
If you need a small portable fridge for office, then Cooluli would serve you beautifully. However, if you have a lot of people in your office, it might be a good idea to invest in a regular fridge. But if you’re not ready to buy a bigger fridge or there’s not enough space in the office, then there are a few compact fridges we can recommend that are well worth the money: Danby Classic Compact Fridge and Midea Single Door Fridge.
Portable refrigerator for RV // truck // van
Portable refrigerator for medicine // insulin // vaccine
As outlined previously in the article, the most reliable option, in this case, is Cooluli.
Portable refrigerator for home
Cooluli is good for drinks and some other stuff (like medicine) provided you’re eating out and don’t cook at home. However, if you do, then consider investing in a compact fridge instead, like Danby Classic Compact Fridge and Midea Single Door Fridge.
Portable refrigerator for a farmers market
All the options we’ve covered in this guide are mainly for drinks and small amounts of food, if you’re looking at keeping your produce (cupcakes, cheesecakes, etc) cool, then it’s best to invest in a mini fridge, like Danby Classic Compact Fridge or Midea Single Door Fridge. I’ve made a little research and some people recommended Danby 1.8 cu ft. Although the seller positions it as a wine/bottles cooler, many have used it for other things with great success as well.
Portable refrigerator for boat
Portable refrigerator for catering
I’m pretty familiar with catering and I know that it involves a lot of moving and carrying around, so my best bets are coolers with good and reliable handles, thus I’d recommend Knox Gear 48 Quart Electric Cooler/ Warmer and YUNJIE Thermoelectric Mini Fridge
Portable refrigerator for cakes
Portable refrigerator for a hostel
Comparative chart of Portable Refrigerators
|Wagan 12V Cooler||Cord length: 7.5 feet
Capacity: 24L/27 Cans
Dimensions LxWxH (internal approx): 11 x 8 x 12
Cooling- 36°F / 20°C below ambient temperature. Heats Ups To 140°F
Operates on 12v DC. Optional AC adapter sold separately
|Cooluli||Capacity: 4L/6 Cans
Dimensions LxWxH (internal approx): 5.3 x 5.7 x 8.3 in
Cooling Capacity: 40ºF-45ºF below ambient temperature / Warming Capacity: 122ºF-144ºF
Operates on 12v DC + AC + USB (included)
|Argus Le||Cord: 74"
Capacity: 18L/20 Cans
Dimensions LxWxH (internal approx): 13.6"L x 9.25"H x 8.07"W
Cooling Capacity: chills down to 48°F & warms up to 120-140°F
Operates on 12v DC
Dimensions LxWxH (internal approx):
22.4 x 12.6 x 12.6 in
Cooling Capacity: -4°F(-20°C)
Operates on 12/24V DC and 110V to 240V AC (included)
Dimensions LxWxH (internal approx): 16.7" H x 24.4" W x13.4" D
Cooling Capacity: -7F.
Operates on 12/24 Volts DC and 120 Volts AC + solar setups + USB (included)
Capacity: fits a sandwich, snack and a 12 oz drink
Dimensions Open: 10 H x 8.5 W x 5 D inches
|Wagan EL6206||Capacity: 7L/9cans
Dimensions LxWxH (ext approx): 12.5 x 6.75 x 11.5
Cooling Capacity: 35-40º F below room temperature; Maximum temperature: 140º F
Operates on 12v DC
Having sifted through a lot of chaff, we’ve chosen only the best options for your immediate needs. If you’re looking at a very small portable fridge, then you won’t find anything better than Cooluli, and if you’re looking for something bigger and more professional then invest in Dometic. If you’re looking for a mini fridge, then all Danby mini fridge models would serve you marvelously. Good luck with your camping, tailgating, and sales at a farmers market!