If you’ve ever asked, “How does an electric cool box work?” you’re not alone. As a convenient alternative to manual cool boxes, electric or “thermoelectric cool boxes” are designed to preserve your food at a specific temperature for an extended period of time.
Electric cool boxes are a common investment for people who spend a lot of time outdoors on camping or hiking trips. Unlike passive cool boxes, an electric cooler doesn’t require endless access to ice packs and frozen items to keep your food at the right temperature.
Today, we’re going to be looking at how your electric cool box or camping fridge uses its unique cooling power to keep your food safe from the ambient outside temperature. We’ll also discuss what makes electric coolers so compelling and why a portable fridge might provide more practical storage space for some people than standard cool bags.
How Does an Electric Cool Box Work?
An electric cool box uses special kinds of technology to keep your food box contents cool. There are various kinds of electric coolboxes on the market, each using unique methods to keep food at a low temperature. The type of coolbox you choose will depend on your power source, the noise level you want to contend with, and your budget.
The most common type of electric cool boxes uses the Peltier cooling method. These thermoelectric cool boxes can transfer the heat from the inside of the box to the outside, ensuring your food can stay cool for longer. The Peltier cooler places a thermoelectric heat pump on the lid of the coolbox, along with a fan system to disperse the heat.
The simplest thermoelectric bool boxes can be powered by as little as 12 volts. This means you can use a coolbox adapter to connect your device to the mains or access various other forms of energy, such as a car battery.
While thermoelectric coolboxes are the most common variations on the market today, it’s also possible to find a handful of compression and absorption coolboxes. These use a similar method to transfer heat outside of the box using a circulating refrigerant—the refrigerant alternates between gas and liquid phases, similar to a standard household fridge. A compressor fridge or compressor coolboxes use vapour compression for keeping food cool.
Sometimes, compressor fridges are more expensive than thermoelectric coolboxes. Still, they can be more efficient at keeping your camping gear cold if you’re looking for low power consumption and excellent results.
How Long Can You Leave an Electric Cool Box on For?
The kind of electric coolbox you choose to keep your food cold on a day trip or camping trip will depend on exactly how long you’re going to be travelling for and if you’ll have access to mains hook up. If you can plug your electric cooler in somewhere, they can work similar to a standard fridge, operating with the mains supply to keep food cool.
If you don’t have a mains supply, then how long your electric coolbox will last will depend on the kind of product you buy. Compressor coolboxes and thermoelectric cooler products can keep your food cold for up to two days. Some of the largest camping fridges will be able to keep your food at the right temperature for even longer.
If you’re planning a camping trip or numerous day trips with your camping fridge, it’s worth considering the time of year and the ambient temperature. A thermoelectric cooler or compressor coolbox will need to work harder to keep your food at the right temperature when the atmosphere is naturally warmer during the summer months.
If you are at a camping site in the summer, with access to a mains power supply, a compressor cooler can act as a camping fridge to freeze snacks and keep food cold for a couple of days. An absorption cooler might be a better option if you’re looking for an energy-efficient way to maintain the right fridge temperature for your food.
A thermoelectric fridge will require your snacks to be as cool as possible before you set up on the open road. If you’re going to make the most of your electric fan, you might want to consider adding ice blocks or to the inside of thermoelectric camping fridges too.
Are Electric Cool Boxes Any Good?
For some people, an electric cool box won’t be a necessity for a great camping trip. Some people will only need a passive cool box filled with ice to keep their snacks cool for a couple of hours on the open road. However, if you’re going to be travelling for longer than this and want to ensure your food and drinks stay safe, then an electric cool box can be the ideal choice.
Like a thermoelectric coolbox, even something simple can reach a temperature of up to four degrees lower than the ambient temperature. This can be ideal if you’re travelling during the colder months of the year anyway, but you want to ensure you’re not exposing your food to any bacteria which might be able to thrive in the heat.
If you’re going to have access to mains power from time to time, a good electric cool box can also ensure you keep your food and drink cold for as long as possible, in any season. You can even use some electric coolboxes without needing any ice or extra cooling mechanisms at all.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Owning an Electric Cool Box
While there are other options for cooling your snacks and beverages out there, like passive coolboxes with polyurethane foam or cool bags, they tend to rely almost entirely on your ability to keep the food surrounded by the right amount of ice.
However, it’s worth noting that cool boxes also have their limitations. Here are some pros and cons to consider.
- Ideal for keeping food and drinks cool for longer when you’re on the road or away from an electrical outlet/traditional refrigerator
- Often convenient and easy to use for all kinds of camping trips.
- It can help to prevent food poisoning by keeping food at the right temperature for consumption.
- Helps with storing and transporting larger amounts of food for a family
- There are different kinds of electric cooling boxes available for different needs.
- Not always great for offering silent operation
- Can consume car battery power
- Won’t keep food cool forever
How Do You Use an Electric Cool Box?
When using an electric cool box, the steps you follow will depend on several factors, including what kind of cool box you purchase. Read the instructions provided with your three-way fridge, thermoelectric or compression cooling box to see what you need to do to get your new purchase set up and ready for a trip. Here are some tips for using your electric cool box at its best.
Using Electric Cool Boxes
- Consider using extra ice packs: While not all electric cool boxes will require the use of additional ice packs, sometimes these tools can be helpful to keep your cooling box at the right temperature. Check the instructions on your cool box to see whether ice packs are necessary. Some manufacturers will advise against using them.
- Charge your coolbox: If possible, you should charge your electric cool box as much as possible before beginning your trip. It’s also worth taking any converters you might need with you so you can plug your device into a camping site or a car battery if necessary. You may need a special adapter to attack your cold box to the mains.
- Don’t overfill: Overfilling your cool box can make it difficult for the air to circulate around the food during the cooling process. Make sure you check exactly how much capacity your cool box has before you begin filling it. Your instructions may provide extra guidance on how to stock your cool box.
- Keep it away from sources of heat: Try to keep your cool box away from other sources of heat in your car or during your camping trip. This will simply force the coolbox to work harder to keep the food at the right temperature, which means you’ll run out of battery a lot faster.
- Maintain your cool box correctly: Read the instructions and make sure you clean and look after your cool box according to the advice provided. Taking good care of your device will ensure it can continue to deliver excellent results for future camping trips.
Do you Need to Put Ice Packs in an Electric Cool Box?
As mentioned above, it’s not always necessary to fill an electric cool box with ice packs in the same way you would a passive coolbox. The technology in your electric cool box should be effective at keeping your food relatively cold on its own. However, you might find the cooling abilities of the box last longer and work better when ice packs are also available.
Follow the instructions provided by your manufacturer if you’re unsure. You should be able to find some guidance on whether it’s safe to use ice in the box or not.
Enjoy Your Electric Cool Box
Whether you choose a thermoelectric cool box for your camping trip or select something a little more advanced, like a compression coolbox, you should end up with a more reliable way to keep your food safe and healthy when you’re on the move.
Remember, consider your situation carefully when choosing what kind of coolbox you need. The technology you invest in may differ depending on whether you’re going to have an electric hook up available wherever you go or whether you might need to rely exclusively on your car battery and the excellent insulation of the box you choose.
Tom is a former chef turned full-time food blogger. He has always been passionate about food, and loves nothing more than experimenting in the kitchen and sharing his recipes with others. Tom’s blog is one of the most popular food blogs on the internet, and he has won numerous awards for his cooking. When he’s not blogging or cooking, Tom enjoys spending time with his wife and two young children.