Whether you're camping, enjoying some tailgating, or having a simple picnic, a portable refrigerator or a portable freezer can come in handy. It's one of the easiest methods of keeping food and drinks cool, and some are even capable of warming everything up as well. It does benefit you to have a good portable refrigerator, however. The best types can maintain their intended temperature ranges and are easy to transport. Below, you will discover more about portable refrigerators in addition to the top 5 models on the market.

What You Will Learn from This Guide:

How Do Portable Refrigerators Work?

As previously stated, portable refrigerators are intended to keep food and drinks cool. Some products are capable of warming everything up as well.

When it comes to these types of refrigerators, various cooling technology is used. There are two primary technologies you will generally find:

Compressor

This may be the most common type of portable refrigerator as it most closely resembles the refrigerators found in households. Because of that, these types tend to be the most efficient. You can run these types of portable refrigerators with 12V DC power or AC power.

These compressors are versatile, making them advantageous for almost all situations. It doesn’t weigh too much in the car either, so you can keep it plugged in during your road trip or camping excursion.

Thermoelectric

Thermoelectric portable refrigerators rely on electricity to move the heat out of the refrigerator. They can cool or warm food and drink, but they are not as efficient as their compressor counterparts. What they do best is for one-time usage such as for tailgating or other outdoor activities.

These types of portable refrigerators are generally compact and light in weight which can make it easier when transporting them.

Top 5 Best Portable Refrigerators

Wagan 12V Cooler/Warmer – 24L Capacity

portable refrigerator from Wagan: photo

This portable refrigerator from Wagan is designed to both cool and warm items. The built-in light will alert you whether it's in warming mode or cooling mode.

With a 24L capacity, it's capable of holding up to four 2L bottles vertically, making it ideal for storing snacks for family road trips. It operates on a 12V DC for use in a vehicle, but it's also capable of using AC. However, the adapter is sold separately.

Pros

  • Deep, spacious inside
  • Even cooling throughout
  • Less susceptible to overheating

Cons

  • Plug cable doesn't detach
  • Low-quality handle

Cooluli Mini Fridge Electric Cooler and Warmer (4L/6 Can)

cooler and warmer from Cooluli: photo

With this cooler and warmer from Cooluli, you can easily switch between modes to keep items cold or hot all day. You can even select from five colors.

This unit tends to appeal more to moms who need to keep breast milk cool without leaving their bedrooms or office, and to college students living in dorms. Though it has a magnetic self-lock latch door, the seal itself could be better.

Pros

  • Extremely lightweight
  • Near-silent operation
  • Comes with cords for home and car

Cons

  • Might cause condensation outside
  • Could benefit from being taller

Argus Le Causalyg 12V DC Soft Electric Car Cooler/Warmer Bag

Electric Car Cooler/Warmer Bag: photo

The Argus Le Causalyg bag is a good choice for those going on a family picnic or camping trip. Designed like a handbag, transporting it is easy and stylish.

It keeps items warm or cool, and it has insulated pearl cotton and aluminum foil lining for thermal resistance to maintain temperature for a few hours unplugged. This also fights off mold and bacteria. It'll benefit you to pre-chill items beforehand though to get the most out of it.

Pros

  • Easy to wipe down and clean
  • Simple to carry
  • Waterproof

Cons

  • Doesn't cool down warm liquids
  • Cord connector seems flimsy

Alpicool C20 Portable Freezer 20L

portable freezer Alpicool: photo

The Alpicool portable freezer and refrigerator fits well in your home or outdoors. It can run on 12/24V DC, 110V-240V AC power, and small solar systems. This is best for those living off-grid or those coming from a fishing trip and need to keep your newfound catch cold.

It offers plenty of space as it's capable of fitting about 25 cans of soda. The plastic material is light and easy to carry, but take caution as it can slide around in your car.

Pros

  • Change display between Fahrenheit and Celsius
  • Cools quickly
  • Energy-saver

Cons

  • Compressor can short circuit
  • Initial plastic-like smell

Dometic CFX28 12V Electric Powered Cooler, Fridge Freezer

Dometic Electric Powered Cooler: photo

The Dometic CFX28 offers flexibility as you can freeze or cool with the unit. There are even separate cooling compartments for vegetables and fruits. You can control the temperature directly on the unit or use the Wi-Fi app. However, there are reported complications with the app.

As for durability, it's built to last with stainless steel hinges and reinforced corners. It has low power consumption for use with AC or DC, making it great for solar setups for those living off-grid.

Pros

  • Quickly cools items down
  • Easy-to-use digital controls
  • Interior LED light

Cons

  • A little on the heavy side
  • Compressor can get noisy

5 FAQs about Portable Refrigerators

Should you leave room in the refrigerator when running the cooling function?

Yes, it is best to leave some space around the cooling vents. This allows for better circulation, which leads to even cooling throughout.

Does it need to be plugged in all the time to work?

Generally, it is best to leave your portable refrigerator plugged in to get the most use out of it. Some maintain the temperature for a little while after being unplugged, but leaving it hooked to a power source ensures the temperature.

Will the portable refrigerator be noisy when plugged in?

This will largely depend on the model itself, but the majority of portable refrigerators make little noise. In fact, many sound just like a regular household refrigerator.

Can the refrigerator be kept on multiple surfaces?

Yes, a portable refrigerator should be able to function properly on hard surfaces such as wood, or soft surfaces such as carpet with no problems.

Is it possible to leave the item running 24/7?

Yes, it is possible to leave the portable refrigerator on. Many have claimed to leave theirs on continuously for months, if not a year.

Benefits & Cons of Using Portable Refrigerators

There are ups and downs that come with using portable refrigerators:

Benefits

  • Portability: One of the most obvious benefits that come with having a portable refrigerator is the "portability" aspect of it. Take it with you on an RV, use it outside during a camping trip or little league game, or have it during a road trip. Many can easily be plugged into your car's cigarette lighter. Having portable refrigerators with a handle makes carrying even simpler.
  • Keep cool on-the-go: Food and drinks can maintain their coolness when you're out and about with these refrigerators, taking the worry away about food spoiling. This even pays off after a trip to the grocery store on a hot day; you can fit some perishable items inside the refrigerator to keep them fresh.
  • Additional storage: Portable refrigerators even benefit you at home. Though many have regular household refrigerators, sometimes you need that extra space and don't have the means of purchasing a larger freezer. This can help those who are storing breast milk or medicine that needs to be kept cold.

Cons

  • Quantity limit: Since these portable refrigerators tend to be compact and space-saving, you're limited to how much you can actually store. Many can handle a good number of drinks and food, but don't expect to load them up with meals that'll last days.
  • Lack of temperature control: This all depends on the model you decide to get as some do have the ability to control temperature. Many models do not, unfortunately, which can cause items inside to get too cold or too warm. This tends to occur with thermoelectric refrigerators.

Top 5 Portable Refrigerators Compared

Product

Capacity

Temperature

Cooling Technology

Price

Wagan Cooler/Warmer
portable refrigerator from Wagan min: photo

24L

(cool) 32ºF-36ºF below room temp / (warm) up to 140ºF

Thermoelectric

Cooluli Mini Fridge
cooler and warmer from Cooluli min: photo

4L

(cool) 40ºF-45ºF / (warm) 122ºF-144ºF

Thermoelectric

Argus Le Causalyg
Electric Car Cooler/Warmer Bag min: photo

18L

(cool) down to 48ºF / (warm) 120ºF-140ºF

Thermoelectric

Alpicool C20
portable freezer Alpicool min: photo

20L

Freeze down to -4ºF

Compressor

Dometic CFX28
Dometic Electric Powered Cooler min: photo

28.2L

-7.6ºF-50ºF

Compressor

Conclusion

Portable refrigerators are some of the most convenient items made. Whether you are enjoying the outdoors with a picnic or a camping trip, or you need some more space at home or in a college dorm room, a portable refrigerator can become your best friend. It keeps perishable items at their proper temperature, whether that's cool or warm, and they are generally easy to transport.

With the above reviews, FAQs, and guides, you're sure to find the best portable refrigerator for your specific needs.