Cooler vs Fridge vs Thermoelectric cooler Comparison


Are you going to be heading out on a adventure?


Looking into some cold food storage options?

In this post the goal is to aim you in the right direction.


To find out which one of these options is right for you. In this comparison of a

Portable Fridge vs Cooler vs Thermoelectric cooler


First in the line up is the


Without a doubt a cooler can be a very quick simple economical way to start cooling some food and drinks down for an adventure.

Something to think about though, coolers come in a lot of different sizes, shapes and price points.

Ranging from affordable options from low cost coolers to higher quality roto-molded coolers, if you’re a more avid camper or outdoor enthusiast.

Here are a few pluses and minuses of using a cooler in general.


  •  Tend to be durable if it gets banged around a little (if you buy a quality brand)
  • No power required (no cords or batteries to deal with).
  • Can be affordable to buy.
  • Very portable being able to move it from place to place with ease.
  • Having plenty of different sizes, shapes, to fit just about any budget or any job.
  • Easy to clean up and store away after use.
  • Having a more premium quality cooler could allow you to freeze items down in the ice like your fish or game harvest


  • Time to time a cooler could leak water from a drain hole making a wet mess where it sits.
  • You eventually need to restock the cooler with ice. If your out away from town in the middle of no where that is not going to be possible.
  • Plus if you use it frequently buying ice could add up to being costly over time.
  •  If your food is not sealed good enough water from the melted ice is going to get in the package making food slimy and soggy.
  • Ice takes up space creating less space in the cooler for food.
  • If you open and close the cooler often the ice will melt quick because your introducing outside air in.
  • Ice will melt and the temperature rises.  Not staying at consistent temperatures, food will go bad faster, which adds to wasted food and money.  This makes a cooler usually not as good of an option for long term off road remote travel or camping (better for shorter term day trips or maybe up to a few days to a week if your able to get near where ice is available).

Thermoelectric Cooler/Iceless cooler

Can be an upgrade (depending on your use) to a standard cooler. Not having to hassle with ice.

Thermoelectric coolers (iceless coolers) use the peltier effect.

By using a thermoelectric cooling module which is a semiconductor based electronic component.

Applying DC voltage to a thermoelectric module allows it to transfer heat from one side of the module to the other side.

Making one side hot and the other side cold.

Some units also allow you to reverse (flip) the power plug.

Just by switching polarity (pos+ and neg- poles).  This will move heat in the opposite direction (inside to outside or vice versa outside to inside )

Which you could cool or warm food. These units commonly referred to as a thermoelectric cooler/warmer.

But just like anything they have their strengths and weaknesses. Here are a few.


  • Doesn’t need ice
  • Pretty economical to purchase
  • Plugs right into 12volt outlet of your vehicle (some have optional 120v Ac power adaptors available for house and some may come with a Ac power cord).
  • Some models allow you to cool and warm food.
  • Use them at the office next to your desk (if you have a power adaptor for the AC wall outlet)
  • Keeps food dry. No soggy wet food from melted ice.


  • Your power outlet in your vehicle could turn off with the ignition switch key.  It will shut the cooler off so make sure you don’t leave anything in it, or move it to a different power source.
  • May have a slight cooling fan noise.
  • Limited portability (you will have to have it plugged in to a power source).
  • No low voltage shut off will drain the battery down all the way if left plugged in.
  •  Battery amperage draw (generally 3-5amps) can be higher (compared to a quality portable fridge freezer)
  •  Most units stay running constantly when plugged in, which will drain the battery a bit quicker if the vehicle is not running and charging the battery. May not be a good idea to let it run with the vehicle off or over night at camp you could have a dead battery.
  • No thermostat to adjust or set temperature.(some higher end premium units do offer this)
  • Very dependent on the ambient temperature. Most of them are supposed to cool down to about 40 degrees fh lower than what the ambient temperature is (this temp varies from brand to brand). A thermoelectric cooler works more efficiently if you have the unit in a vehicle riding down the road with the A/C (air conditioning) on.   If the ambient temperature where the unit is located is cool (room temperature house or office).  This helps the inside temperature of the cooler stay lower.  Now, lets say the ambient temp is hot like 90 degrees fh at best, on some units your at 50 degrees inside temp of a thermoelectric cooler.  So not ideal for  storage of perishable food in those conditions, which needs to be below 40 degrees fh.

Portable Fridge/Freezer

A portable fridge/freezer unit is basically just a smaller version like the fridge in your kitchen.  It has a freon refrigerant filled system with a compressor.

A refrigerant compressor type system will allow you to maintain those set temperatures keeping food and beverages cold not being so affected by ambient temperature.

Always good practice for improved efficiency to keep the fridge/freezer out the heat and direct sun.

Keep it in a shaded cool environment if possible, this keeps the compressor from running so much and helps conserve battery power.

It would be best to hook a fridge/freezer directly to the battery with a fridge/freezer wiring kit this helps eliminate excess power load on the vehicle 12v power outlets.

Additionally some of the more modern cars shut power outlets off when you turn the ignition switch off in your vehicle.

Turning your fridge off by accident could be devastating wasting a bunch of  food. Another thing to mention is adding a deep cycle battery upgrade and or dual battery setup 

To help prevent draining the main starter battery.

Now, for some of the ups and downs of the fridge/freezer.


  •  Suitable to use with a solar panel.
  • Still has excellent cooling capability in very hot ambient temperatures compared to a (thermoelectric cooler). A portable fridge/freezer is able to maintain cold enough temperatures to refrigerate (perishable type) food, drinks. and keep frozen food frozen for longer term storage.
  • Most good quality fridge/freezer have a low voltage cut off (battery protection). So it won’t drain the battery all the way.
  • Low battery consumption. a quality fridge should run roughly about 0.7 – 2.1 amps @ 12v
  • Don’t need any ice. Runs on the vehicle power.
  • Thermostat controlled, your able to adjust and set to a desired temperature. Once the fridge reaches set temp it will cycle the compressor on and off as needed helping conserve battery power.
  • Keeps food dry don’t have to worry about getting water logged, slimy, or soggy food from melted ice.


  • Purchase price is more expensive
  •  May need a additional battery. Separate from cranking battery to prevent drain.
  • Size may be a little larger taking up more room
  • Not as easy to move around as your going to need a power source hooked to it.
  •  Some of the total area on the outside it takes up is lost to accommodate for the compressor and components on the bottom side reducing some overall  room on the inside to store food and drinks. You may need to get a little bit bigger size than you think to accommodate.

There is a single zone and  dual zone portable fridge freezer units.  A single (one) zone has one compartment and can only refrigerate or freeze at one given time depending on what temperature you set it at.  It can not do both at the same time.  A dual zone unit has two separate compartments and you can refrigerate and freeze at the same time.

Here’s a

A Few tips

Its always a good idea to pre chill your cooler, thermoelectric cooler or portable fridge/freezer down.

For a cooler just put some ice in it

From at least a few hours or even better the night before depending how warm the cooler is starting out prior to putting food in it.

Warm or hot food and drinks will make the ice melt faster in a cooler.

So, it is important to pre chill your contents prior to putting them in the cooler as well.

Most thermoelectric coolers are more efficient at keeping items cool that are already cooled down.

Now, as far as the portable fridge/freezer it will just put undo stress on electrical components like the compressor causing it to run a lot longer, to bring the temperature down in the box.

So it’s very important to pre chill food and fridge.


Now, lets

Wrap it up

Now, it really just comes down to what type of activities,  traveling, vehicle dependent living (Overlanding) or camping your doing and what is in your budget.

A fridge/freezer is going to be a better option if your going to be out away from town for awhile in long term remote locations camping out of or staying near your vehicle.

It may be more of an up front investment, but could pay off in the long run.  Having a fridge/freezer would allow you to camp in luxury of frozen food or your favorite frozen dessert or what not.

The simplicity of a  cooler in general may be a good option.

If you are taking short term trips and going to be near where ice is readily available, or just trying to chill some drinks down.


The thermoelectric cooler might be the right deal, if you stay on the road with the A/C running to just keep your drinks cold and save some money and time not having to buy or mess with ice all the time which is a plus.