Whether you’re camping, picnicking or simply hanging out with friends at the park or beach, a cool box or camping fridge is a summer essential. Yet for something seemingly so simple, it can be surprisingly difficult to figure out which to go for.
In this guide, we're here to help you determine exactly what you need from your purchase, whether that's a great value, simple and straightforward cool box or a large 12V electric number to keep things chilled all festival long. We've also compiled a list of our ten favourites, all of which are available to buy from trusted sites such as Amazon, eBay and John Lewis.
There are a few factors to consider before you can hit that purchase button online, so think about where you'll be using your cool box the most, and how long you'd like to keep things chilled for. In this section, we’ll be looking taking a closer look at these choices.
The first port of call is whether you want a traditional cool box or one of the various types of plug-in styles, known as camping fridges. The choice will be determined by what you plan on doing with your new product and whether you'll have access to an electricity supply, so let’s take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of each.
Traditional cool boxes, as you may know, rely on ice blocks, or just regular ice, to keep your goods chilled. This style is best used in cooler places such as the UK or for trips during autumn and winter, and their biggest advantage is that you aren’t reliant on power. They’re also the cheapest option.
However, they are really only suited to shorter trips, as they won’t keep your goods chilled for as long as the other options – at best, a couple of days. Furthermore, if you’re using ice to keep it chilled, you will lose some of the capacity inside due to the extra space required.
On the downside, they have been known to drain car batteries rather quickly, so you won’t want to leave them plugged in for too long when the car isn’t running. Also, due to the fan, they can be quite noisy.
Compressor fridges are often considered the crème de la crème when it comes to cooling on the go. This is because you're able to set a precise temperature for your food or drinks to be chilled to, and remain at. Some are even capable of freezing food, although they generally require plugging in at the mains for that.
As you can guess, compression fridges are larger and heavier than regular cool boxes, so you probably won't want to be lugging one up a mountain for a picnic. They're also generally the choice of those travelling in real heat, such as the Mediterranean, so they could be considered overkill for the UK and cooler climates.
Typically the largest of the options, absorption fridges (sometimes called three-way fridges) have the capability of running on gas, as well as 12 or 230 volt sources. The size means they’re perfect for large parties or families who are travelling for longer than the weekend. They’re also pretty much silent, so there’ll be no disturbed sleep.
The downside is that they’re pretty expensive, especially compared to thermoelectric or passive cool boxes. Plus, if you plan on using them with gas, you need to have plenty of space as they require it for ventilation.
The capacity you'll need is ultimately dictated by how much food and drink you would like to keep chilled while you’re away. You don’t want to buy too big as that will be inefficient, but likewise, no one wants to eat warm ham sandwiches.
For a family or group of four, we would recommend a cooler upwards of 30 litres, whereas two people should be able to manage with 18 litre capacities and over.
If you already have a cool box, check its capacity and think back to previous trips – how much space did you have to spare? Or was it a real squeeze? This could be a good starting point to determine the size you’ll require.
There are different ways of measuring how long and how chilled items will stay in a cool box, and this can easily be split between passive style boxes and their ‘electrical’ counterparts.
When it comes to cool boxes and camping fridges, the best way to judge them is how long they keep goods chilled, which can range from hours to a couple of days. We think the longer the better, but if you’re only planning on using it for day trips rather than weekends, smaller time durations could save you a few quid.
One factor to consider, though, is that the duration will also be affected by the heat, so although one may claim to chill for up to 2 days, this is likely not the case in hotter temperatures. Certainly worth remembering when you’re gearing up for a camping trip in sweltering 25+ degrees!
The next question is, just how cool does a particular cool box get?
To measure this, manufacturers use an ‘ambient temperature’, and the product will give an ‘X-degrees below ambient’ rating. Essentially, how cool it stays inside depends on how hot it is outside.
Absorption styles generally have a much better figure than thermoelectric, however, compressor cool boxes tend to keep a constant temperature so this isn’t so much of a concern for them. However, the trade-off is going to be cost, so again, consider how important sub-zero temperatures are to you.
If you’re choosing an electrical cooler, you’re going to have to think about where you’ll be camping or using the fridge. Most products will be able to cool while driving, but you’re not going to want to leave the battery on your car running when you’re not.
The best thing to do is to check with the campsite that you’re planning on visiting and see what options they have available, otherwise, some form of generator may be wise. Most cool boxes use either 12 V, 24 V, 100 V, 230 V or 240 V.
This isn’t a concern if you’re planning on using campsites, as these usually allow campers to drive straight up to the spot where they’re staying. However, if you’re planning on taking your cool box on day trips, or out into the wild, then its portability is key.
We would recommend looking for products that at least have handles, but there are more convenient options nowadays. For example, some boxes come with carrying straps, so you’ll still have your hands free, whereas others even have wheels.
Now that we’ve covered the essentials, let’s take a look at our ranking list of the top ten cool boxes to buy online in the UK. From gargantuan family-sized fridges to simple solutions that will provide cool beer on the boiling beach, there’s sure to be a product for everyone!
|Duration||Up to 6 days|
|Portability||Wheels, extendable handle, side handles|
|Dimensions||48.4 x 69.8 x 44 cm|
|Duration||Up to 8 hours|
|Dimensions||43 x 40 x 30 cm|
|Ambient Temperature||Up to 30° below ambient temperature|
|Power||Gas, 12 V or 230 V|
|Dimensions||58.2 x 57.3 x 51.8 cm|
|Ambient Temperature||Up to 17° below ambient temperature|
|Dimensions||39.6 x 29.6 x 39.5 cm|
|Ambient Temperature||Up to 18° below ambient temperature|
|Power||12 V or 24 V DC, 100 or 200 V AC|
|Dimensions||55 x 42.5 x 26 cm|
|Duration||Up to 3 days|
|Dimensions||45.7 x 32.4 x 40 cm|
|Duration||Up to 5 hours|
|Ambient Temperature||Up to 15° below ambient temperature|
|Dimensions||43 x 23 x 40 cm|
|Ambient Temperature||Up to 18° below ambient temperature|
|Power||12 V, 24 V, 100 V, 240 V|
|Dimensions||53.4 x 49.2 x 39.4 cm|
|Duration||Up to 2 days|
|Dimensions||62.2 x 45.7 x 19.8 cm|
|Ambient Temperature||Up to 20° below ambient temperature|
|Power||12 V or 230 V|
|Dimensions||52 x 43 x 32 cm|
Portable Compressor Fridge Freezer
Thermoelectric Cool Bag
Quart Xtreme Cooler
Combicool Absorption Cool Box
Maxcold Island Breeze Cool Box
A Brilliant Value Eco-Friendly Camping Fridge
Probably the Best Passive Cool Box on the Market Today
Freeze on the Go With This Compressor Cooler
A Camping Fridge With Carrying Straps So You Can Load Up
Cup Holders Mean Drinks Will Stay Cool Even After You've Opened Them
A Fantastic Addition to Kit Out Your Camper Van
Ideal for Those Who Travel All Year Round
A Smart, Versatile Option That'll Keep Things Truly Cold
A Cool Box Built for a Day Out
A Product Built for the Whole Tribe
|Style||Absorption cooler||Cool box||Compressor cooler||Thermoelectric cooler||Cool box||Compressor cooler||Thermoelectric Cooler||Absorption cooler||Cool box||Cool box|
|Capacity||35 L||28 L||24 L||32 L||26 L||21 L||25 L||41 L||28 L||58 L|
|Duration||-||Up to 2 days||-||Up to 5 hours||Up to 3 days||-||-||-||Up to 8 hours||Up to 6 days|
|Ambient Temperature||Up to 20° below ambient temperature||-||Up to 18° below ambient temperature||Up to 15° below ambient temperature||-||Up to 18° below ambient temperature||Up to 17° below ambient temperature||Up to 30° below ambient temperature||-||-|
|Power||12 V or 230 V||-||12 V, 24 V, 100 V, 240 V||12 V||-||12 V or 24 V DC, 100 or 200 V AC||12 V||Gas, 12 V or 230 V||-||-|
|Portability||Handle||Handle||-||Carry straps||Handle||-||Handle||-||Handle||Wheels, extendable handle, side handles|
|Dimensions||52 x 43 x 32 cm||62.2 x 45.7 x 19.8 cm||53.4 x 49.2 x 39.4 cm||43 x 23 x 40 cm||45.7 x 32.4 x 40 cm||55 x 42.5 x 26 cm||39.6 x 29.6 x 39.5 cm||58.2 x 57.3 x 51.8 cm||43 x 40 x 30 cm||48.4 x 69.8 x 44 cm|
Whether you're planning on day tripping around the beautiful countryside of Blighty or packing up a van and trekking further afield, we've got a few more ideas for items that might come in handy. Find our related articles below!
So there you have it – our comprehensive guide to cool boxes. Hopefully, you've managed to learn a thing or two about what you do and don't require, and fingers crossed you've found a product that fits your requirements. Have a great time on the road!
Author: Lewis Clark
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