Guide to choosing the best electrical coolbox for family camping

Many people do not consider the importance of a cool box. We all assume that any cool box will be okay. In reality, that is not the case.

Deciding whether an electrical or passive cool box is suitable for your holiday is important. Above all considering your budget and capacity. Nobody wants to interrupt their holiday by having to go to the shops daily or throwing food away and wasting money.

What is the best thermostatic cool box suitable for a family or large group camping trip and ideal for a week’s holiday?

The Leisure Direct, IceQ and I-Gear electrical cool boxes are ideal for small families and groups with a capacity of £26L – £28L for under £90. For extended periods, larger families and groups, Outwell Eco, Berg Large and Vango electrical cool boxes cost on average £150 with a capacity ranging between 32L to 45L. Electrical cool boxes do not need ice; however, they need a continuous power supply with a 12V car charge connection or 240v / 230v for indoor mains.

Thermoelectric cool box: What are they, and how do they work?

A thermoelectric cool box is not a freezer but is classed as a mini-fridge. However, not as effective as a fridge in your home. They will keep food cool but not frozen and do not require ice blocks or ice to work. Powered by a 12V in-car charger point and a 240V UK or 230V EU power supply.

They use the Peltier method, which transfers heat between two electrical junctions, which creates the cooling function. Thermoelectric cool boxes have a fan that can either draw warm out from inside via a vent or draw warm air inside via another vent—allowing food to be kept cool or warm to outside temperatures.

The most common used cool box in the UK is thermoelectrical due to the low outside ambient temperatures and cost.

Do thermoelectric cool boxes keep food frozen?

Thermoelectric cool boxes will not freeze food. Food will gradually defrost. However, it can remain frozen for 3-4 days, depending on the following factors.

  • Insulation quality.
  • Connection to a power source
  • The time frame of how long the cool box will remain open when in use
  • Frequency of opening and closing
  • How much-unused space is there
  • Not placing hot food inside; allow cooling first

If you are away for an extended time, consider using two cool boxes to keep food frozen for longer. It will provide you with the space to divide food and drink, which will help keep food frozen longer. They do not have to be thermoelectric; one can be a passive cool box.

When packing our cool box, I fill in the order that we need the food. It helps reduce the time the cool box is open and avoids hunting around for food.

Recommended thermostatic cool boxes

1 – Vango Deep E-Pinnacle 40L

  • Expect to pay – £159
  • Rigid shell
  • Capacity 40L
  • Magnetic lid box
  • 16°C below ambient outside temperatures
  • Extendable hand and side handles
  • Built-in thermostatic regulator
  • It can hold up to 60 cans
  • It takes under 2 hours to reach the required temperature inside.
Vango Deep Pinnacle 40L

Ideal for a family of 4 plus, as there is plenty of room for dividing drinks and food. If the cool box is not connected to power, it will remain cool for several hours, which is excellent if you cannot charge it whilst travelling. It has a speedy cooling system when first plugged in, so it is unnecessary to start cooling the night before.

The Vango is expensive, but it is worth the higher price for the additional extras. The lid has indents for holding 2L drink bottles in place. The base has 3 circular sections that support the bottom of a bottle providing extra height. However, not all fizzy drink bottles will fit into the circular sections.

It has two divider sections to divide your drinks: frozen and fresh food. So using them will reduce the effectiveness of using your food to maintain the coolness inside.

A retractable handle quickly pushes down into the back of the cool box, but it also has side handles—removing any awkwardness if you try to pull over the uneven or gravelled ground. Sharing the weight when it is full as two people can carry. Plus, it makes it easier to load into a vehicle.

The lid has a solid magnetic lock instead of a handle locking system similar to other cool boxes. It will automatically lock into place as the lid closes, creating an airtight container.

The cable storage compartment is a reasonable size, so there is no struggle to close the cable cover. Which I always find annoying with other cool boxes.

Like all thermoelectric cool boxes, there is a buzzing sound when connected to the mains. However, it does have a thermostatic valve. When it reaches the required temperature, it will cut out and not carry on working. It will prolong the life of the cool box and prevent the motor from burning out quickly due to overworking.

Unless you are camping in large groups, the Vango Pinnacle from Amazon is unsuitable for a two-day trip with just two people. The 40L capacity is too big; if it is not full, it will not be as effective in keeping food and drink cool.

2 – Leisure Direct 26L and 32L

Leisure Direct Thermoelectric Cool Box
  • Expect to pay – £65 – £79.99
  • Hardshell
  • Capacity 26L and 32L
  • Mains 240V AC Indoor and 12V power car power supply
  • Ideal budget cool box
  • Fan cooling system
  • Hot and cold setting
  • No water drainage tap
  • Lockable lid with handle
  • Divider section inside
  • Can stand a 2 Pint / 1.13 Ltr bottle up
  • 48W / 0.4 Amps
  • Expect to pay – £64.99
  • Capacity 26L
  • Dimensions – 41cm (L) x 32.5cm (W) x 44cm (H)
  • Cools below -18°C below the ambient temperature
  • Expect to pay – £74.99
  • Capacity 32L
  • Dimensions – 37.5cm (L) 24.5cm (W) 34.5cm (H)
  • Cools below -18°C below the ambient temperature

The Leisure Direct is an ideal coolbox for smaller groups. You can easily store a 2-pint bottle of milk, yoghurts, frozen food and cartons of drinks. You can easily stand a 2 Ltr bottle of fizzy drink.

It has a hot/cold switch on the back, giving you control of the inside temperatures. However, you can knock the button easily during transport. So it does need to be double-checked when you are setting up.

The cold setting will keep food frozen for up to 3 days, but not entirely. However, this depends on how often the lid is left open and the outside temperatures.

The lid is heavy and locked into place by the handle. If the lid is not locked, it will remain airtight, although it will open if knocked over.

It has both power supply leads—one for easily charging in a cigarette lighter and stored for transport in the rear passenger footwell. The inside power lead is about 1m long, so you need to plan where your electrical mains adaptor is in your tent.

Like most thermoelectrical cool boxes, there is no built-in area to store your mains or car charger connection. You must keep safe during transport and your trip when not in use.

A removable gridded divider in the middle slides into the grooves on either side. It is solid and will remain in place. However, I often remove it to store more food and keep it cold.

As food defrosts, condensation and water will gather in the base, ruining food. So you must remove access water as there is no drainage plug.

I use our Direct Leisure cool box for camping trips that are 2-3 days. It is ideal for us as a family of 2, allowing room for frozen premade food and soft drinks. It is essential that you are aware that this is a budget cool box and not as sturdy as the Vango or Outwell. You do need to be careful of the handle as the side pin it can disconnect connect and snap. Mine has after several years and many camping trips. It was may fault as I was not being particularly careful and I tried to lift not realising that is was caught on something.

I would recommend the larger cool box for an extra £10.00 between the cost of a 26L and a 32L cool box.

3 – Outwell ECO Cool 35L Cool Box

  • Expect to pay – £169 – £174.99
  • Capacity 35L
  • Dimentsion 52cm (W) x 32cm (D) x 43cm (H)
  • Mains 230V and 12V power
  • 230V adaptor for EU and UK plugs
  • Lockable lid
  • Fan cooling system
  • Hot / Cold settings
  • Eco Max cooling setting
  • Cools below -18 – 25°C below the ambient temperature

The Outwell Eco cooler is available from Amazon, and Winfields, with ample space for over a week’s family holiday. It has an indented split lid, allowing for easy standing 2 ltr bottles on the opposite side of the fan. The cool box lid has two sections which reduce the exposure of warm air to the rest of the cooler box by a frozen divider.

Or the lid can be lifted as one and locked in place with the handle whilst you are rummaging around—the handle clips into the slide near the fan.

It has a removal divider that can be filled with tap water and frozen in advance. However, I have not been able to buy this part separately from the cool box. This would be ideal, as you could keep a spare in the campsite, freeze and rotate if needed.

Your cables’, switch controls and storage facilities are hidden at the rear of the cool box. Here you can choose either the max or eco setting, which controls the temperature and the energy consumption. Max will keep your food cool between 18 – 25°C below the ambient temperature. However, the eco setting will reduce energy consumption but not keep food cool. There are also standard hot/cold settings.

The significant part is the LED light that will glow red if you power via your in-car charger. This will notify you that your car battery is running low and you must disconnect.

The Colemans cooler has not been rated our number one because of the handle. It may seem petty, but for a cool box nearly double the buying price, I want it to be 100%. It is good that it pushes down to lock the cooler. However, when the cooler is full, because of the design, carrying it hurts your hands. At the same time, the Leisure Direct cooler has a more comfortable handle.

4 – Hi-Gear 12V 240V Cooler 28L

HI-Gear 28L
  • Expect to pay – £64 – £90
  • Capacity 28L
  • Rigid casing
  • In-car charging 12V and Inside 240V
  • Dimensions 46cm (W) x 31cm (D) x 43cm (H)
  • Cools below -18°C below the ambient temperature
  • Budget cool box
  • Ideal for 2 – 3 people
  • Can stand 2L bottles up inside
  • No water drainage tap

Hi-Gear from Amazon is not a great-looking cool box, but it keeps food cold efficiently. However, it is challenging to stand several bottles up due to the bulky lid. A cut-out section in the top will allow you to stand one 2L bottle. However, it is restrictive, but you can lay any bottles on their side.

It’s a reasonable budget cool box for smaller group camping trips, but you will need to stock up on food for extended periods due to the capacity. It does not have a divider section inside compared to other cool boxes, but this does not matter as it does not have any benefit apart from keeping fresh and frozen food separate.

There is no drainage plug for water collection in the base. It seems to collect more water, but it’s not a major issue.

It is a standard cool box with an indoor 240V power supply and a 12V car charger. The cables can be stored in the back section of the lid when not in use. However, it is a tight fit. I keep the power cables inside when they are not used for quickness.

Hi-Gear is a good quality brand, and In the past, I had always just thought of them as camping furniture only. So I was surprised by the quality of their cool box. Although compared to more known brands such as Vango or Colemans, it is a budget cool box.

5 – Berg Large Electric Portable 45L

Berg 45L Electric Cool Box
  • Expect to pay – £159.99
  • 45L Capacity – can hold 72 330ml cans
  • Dimensions 58cm (W) x 42cm (D) x 45cm (H)
  • In-car charging 12V and Inside 240V UK and 220V EU
  • 16°C below ambient temperature
  • Pull or lifting handles for moving
  • Can keep food warm between 60-65°C
  • LED Light display showing settings for hot, cold, eco and max settings
  • Drainage tap to remove excess water

The Berg 45L cool box is ideal for larger group camping trips. It is bulky for transporting, but it is worth the investment if you can fit it into your vehicle.

The handles on either side make it easy to lift, especially when full and there are two of you. The handle is longer on one side, allowing you to pull easily, especially with the wheels on the opposite side. However, you may find it more difficult if you are tall due to the short length of the handle. Ideally, it would be great if the handle was extendable similar to the Vango Pinnacle cool box.

Bottles can stand upright, and there is a moveable grid divider, so it is easy to separate bottles or items.

The fan is situated on the side of the coolbox rather than the lid, as in other designs. So you need to ensure you do not fully cover the fan grid. It will cause the fan motor to overwork and burn out more quickly.

The lid is airtight, holds the temperature well, and has a small handle on the front for opening and clicking when locked. A strap will also keep the lid open to avoid falling backwards, which can weaken the lid hinges over time. Inside of the list is the cable storage, but it is small. I keep my cables inside the cool box itself when not in use.

It has a hot, cold, eco and max setting like other cool boxes and LED light so you can see at a glance what setting you are on. However, you would expect to have thermostatic control for the price, which it does not. It is a power-thirsty coolbox, so I would not recommend connecting to a car charger. Only use it when you have a connection to a mains power supply.

The Berg portable cool box has everything you need if you are camping in large groups. It is not an overnight or a couple of days camping cool box. However, if you want to disconnect from the mains while away, it will hold its temperature and take it with you for a day on the beach or the park.

6 – IceQ Electric Cool Box 32L

  • Expect to Pay – £79 – £94.99
  • Dimensions – 34cm (W) x34cm (D) x 25.5cm (H)
  • Red and blue colours are available
  • In-car charging 12V and Inside 240V
  • Higher-end budget
  • Will drain car battery quickly
  • Cable storage in the lid
  • 20°C below ambient temperature
  • Hot and cold function
  • Eco and max settings
IceQ 32L Cool Box

The IceQ 32L from Amazon capacity electrical cool box is a budget cool box and offers value for money. It has a broader temperature range below ambient outside temperatures compared to the Vango Pinnacle, Leisure Direct. It is available in red, blue and pink.

It has a hot/cold, eco and max setting. The switches are at the top of the lid under the round cover, where the power cables are concealed. However, if running from a car battery, it will drain it on average in under 8 hours.

On average, the below ambient temperature for cool boxes is 18 °C. However, the IceQ states it is 20°C below ambient temperatures, which I have not noticed any difference. It does take a while to cool to a suitable temperature. So if you are travelling and not using the in-car charger power cable, it will take 2 – 4 hours to cool sufficiently.

Prices vary, but the IceQ sells for £79.99, the same price as Leisure Direct. However, comparing both cool boxes, I recommend Leisure Direct.

Electrical cool box shopping list

Key takeaways

  • Keep to budget
  • Have both 12V and 240V power supplies when buying
  • Consider the capacity of the cool box required
  • Do you have sufficient space for transporting
  • Will you always camp with EHU

If you are undecided on the type and size of cool box you should buy, don’t rush as you do not want to waste your money.

One of the main issues is not always how your cool box will be powered, it is the capacity. How much food can you store in a cool box? Our buyers’ guide explains the capacity and how much food and drinks you can place in each size. Also, detailing the four different types of cool boxes available and if they are suitable for everyday family camping.

If you are camping most of the time without electricity, an electrical cool box is unsuitable. A passive cool box would be more suitable, plus there are no restrictions as you can take the cool box on days out. However, it is important to consider the insulation quality, whether hard or soft shell.

Related question

What is a hot and cold setting on a cool box? How does it work?

Hot and cold settings on electrical cool boxes allow you to control the temperatures inside. The cold setting will reduce temperatures inside 18°C below outside ambient temperatures. It works by drawing out warm air from the inside via a fan.

The warm setting will increase the warmth inside a cool box, matching temperatures outside. Due to a cool box being an enclosed airproof container, the temperature will be higher than the outside on a warm day. The fan will reverse, drawing the warm air from the outside via another vent.

Are electrical cool boxes worth buying?

If you are camping for long periods in high temperatures, having an electrical cool box will help keep food and drinks cold. As well as prolong the length of time food will remain frozen. However, if you often camp without an electrical hook-up, an electrical cool box is not worth buying.

Thermoelectric cool boxes can be expensive, ranging from £54 to £299, depending on the size and brand you buy. Compared to compressor or absorption cool boxes, they are the cheaper option.


I'm a single parent who loves pitching a tent and exploring the countryside at any opportunity. I am working with a glamping pod company and helping them to set up a family campsite in East Riding Yorkshire.

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