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Portable Fridges vs Coolers

Prior to switching to a portable fridge we had been mainly using two coolers to keep our food and drinks cold on the go. One of those being an RTIC45 which was mainly used for food, and the other a smaller Coleman cooler for drinks. While it worked for quick day trips and weekend trips, we started to see the need for portable fridges on our extended trips.


Coolers can come in at a cost of under $100 to several hundred. On the low end you will likely get a cooler with below average insulation. As you can imagine, less insulation means less temperature retention. While there are ways to help hold the temperature better such as freezing items like water bottles to use as ice packs, you are going to need to switch out the ice much more often. For a few extra bills you can pick up an Yeti or RTIC cooler which will offer a bit more bang for you buck. They will keep your contents cooler for much longer, so long as you follow proper practices such as pre-cooling and minimizing how often and how long you open the lid.


Even when following the proper methods for extending the life of your ice, you will inevitably need to drain the water and add some more ice. Depending on your location, sometimes breaking away from your itinerary or leaving camp for some ice is just not ideal. This also means you have to keep an eye on how much ice has melted and make sure the water hasn't soiled any contents. In the past we would have some food contents that slipped down the bottom of the cooler unnoticed and water managed to seep into the packaging causing the food to be ruined. Sometimes it becomes just too hard to see the bottom of the cooler without pulling everything out. Okay, what if we just add more ice to help keep it cool? Well this works if you don't have too much inside. Ice takes up a lot of valuable space in our cooler. Simultaneously you must keep the ice evenly distributed but away from the delicate items if you have any. What was originally a 45 quart cooler, is no longer 45 quarts of food and beverages. Sure, you could take some drinks out and add them as you drink the others, but now you are adding warm temperature items to your cooler. This is only going to contribute to the melting ice. The ambient temperature will also play a huge role in how long your ice will last. In the cold, you can expect better longevity, but in the extreme heat you will find yourself with water in the cooler much sooner.


With all of that being said, let's talk about portable fridges/freezers. These have been an absolute game changer for us since we got our first fridge. Right away when you search for portable fridges you will see some big price tags for name brands such as ARB and Dometic. We felt the same way and that is why we held off for so long. There are much more budget friendly options to keep your wallet happy and get your feet wet in the portable fridge game. In particular we have had great experiences with SetPower USA, whose fridges will run you roughly the same as an RTIC or Yeti cooler! So what is the catch? Buying the fridge is not going to be your only expensive. Portable fridges are exactly what they sound like, and they require power. There are many different routes to supply power, but it will run you some extra change. In our case, we use a Yeti Goal Zero 400 paired with a RockPals 100W Solar Panel. Solar is not required, but it is definitely a nice bonus that helps keep us on the road longer. Most fridges offer multiple ways to connect to a power supply, with most common being a 12/24V cigarette style, or 110-240V AC style.

So what exactly are you getting for the extra expense it takes to run a portable fridge? To start, you will never have to deal with ice and cooler ice water ever again. That means no trips to pick up ice before leaving, and no mid trip pit stops! You also get full temperature control, and the ability to set it at a temperature you want. Need it a little cooler to keep some frozen items frozen? No problem. Need to keep it at perfect beverage temperature so they don't freeze? Done. With the push of a button you can adjust it to match your needs. Without ice taking up space inside, you are able to store a lot more items inside in comparison to coolers. This means a 45qt fridge can actually hold 45qts of food. Even if you can't fit your entire assortment of drinks inside, you can always add them as you go without any worry that it will melt your ice! The compressor may kick on for a few moments to bring the temperature back down, but that is the beauty of portable fridges. This gave us essentially endless cool drinks!


Using a portable fridge goes beyond just camping. We keep ours tied down in our rigs most of the time, which means that trip to the grocery store doesn't always have to be the last trip. We can hit the grocery store and then head out for a few more errands without worrying about groceries spoiling. While we hardly ever need to use it for that, it is a nice feature to always have in a pinch. Ever since we used our portable fridge for the first time, we have yet to pull out our RTIC cooler again. It has sat in the same spot in the garage where we left it from our last trip with it.


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