RV electric cooler fridge vs ice chest

The Ultimate Cooldown: Electric Coolers vs Ice Chest for RVs

To chill, or not to chill,” that is the–

Well, perhaps that is not the question that’s on the top of your mind when you’re planning your next RV trip. As you pack up to hit the road, it’s a given that you’re going to want to bring along food, beverages, and snacks along for the travel and that you’ll need them to stay cool and fresh for the duration of your trip.

Instead, the question you should ask yourself is how do you want to keep your food chilled, since you have a couple options to choose from. Electric coolers/fridges and old-fashioned ice chests are the two most popular choices for an RV cooler, but each has its own set of pros and cons to consider.

Which one is best for you? Let’s find out.

Electric Cooler Fridge

An RV fridge is basically a tiny version of a kitchen fridge that keeps cool without the help of ice. RV fridges come in a few different builds based on how they’re powered. You can get a battery powered fridge, a fridge that runs off your RV’s power supply, or a solar-powered unit.

Electric Fridge VS Ice chest
high end RV fridge by Dometic

Speaking about variety of options, we decided not to discuss specific products here, as there are other sites providing great RV cooler comparisons, here’s just one of them. Instead, we’d rather discuss some fundamental pros and cons with regards to each type. Let’s start from the electric ones:

No ice refills: Unlike a traditional cooler or ice chest, a fridge doesn’t need to be constantly filled with ice in order to keep its contents cool. For short trips like weekend camping this may not make a difference, but on longer excursions, you may get tired of having to stop at a gas station or convenience store every 2 or 3 days to re-stock up on ice. If you’re camping in a remote location, an ice-pick up might not even be a realistic option.

No internal temperature fluctuations: Fridges provide a consistent internal temperature for your food and drinks, unlike coolers which gradually become warmer as the supply of ice melts. This isn’t the end of the world if you’re only using your cooler to keep drinks cold, but it’s not ideal for meat, fish, dairy, or other types of food prone to spoiling. Not to mention, melting ice can make for nasty surprises like soggy or waterlogged food.

RV traveling USA

Need a constant power supply: Fridges are complex machines that convert raw electricity into cooling power, and maintaining a constant supply of power can be tricky on the road. This isn’t really an issue as long as you’re driving, but if you’re planning to park your RV for a few days you’ll need an additional power supply.

Pricey: It’s no secret that refrigerators are much more complicated in terms of design and machinery than a simple box filled with ice. With that in mind, it probably doesn’t come as much of a shock that fridges are more expensive, but that also doesn’t take the sting out of a price point between $700-$1,500.

Ice chestS

These aren’t your dad’s tailgating coolers that only kept drinks cool for a couple hours on a sweltering afternoon. Modern coolers designed for camping are made with contemporary insulation features that can keep food and drinks chill for up to 4 days.

rv camping ice chest

Popular brands include YETI, Coleman, and Pelican, and with prices starting at around $50 for a Coleman and $200 for a YETI, ice chests are significantly cheaper than electric fridges.

They’re reliable: They never burn out, lose power, or need their batteries recharged.

You can take them with you: Want to have cool drinks and food outside the RV? Just carry the cooler out and set it up wherever you’d like it. When you’re ready to pack up, clean up is as easy as picking up the cooler and stashing it back inside the RV.

They’re versatile: Extra surface to use as a small table, food prep area, or a stool.

Ice needs to be re-stocked: Unlike electrically powered fridges, coolers are powered only by a steady supply of ice. Modern coolers can keep ice frozen for up to three days, but eventually, it will need to be replenished with a fresh supply.

The more you open it, the less efficient it is: Much like opening an oven to check on a batch of cookies allows some of the heat escape, each time you open a cooler some of its frigid air will dissipate and be replaced by warmer, ambient air. Some travelers use a two-cooler system for this reason.

How do you plan to keep cool?

How to best keep your food and drinks cool while on the road in your RV is a matter of preference. Some people like the modern convenience of an electric fridge while others like the tradition and simplicity of an ice chest.

Which RV cooler will you bring on your next road trip?

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