Back in January, we were Baja bound in a 2003 Chevy Astro Van converted into a camper for a bit of off-the-grid living. The CleanTechnica team is all about van life (read why van life is leading the way to efficiency here). Though we needed a way to keep food and drinks at the right temps conveniently and easily, as it was winter, raining, and wanted to get some surfing in, if possible. As such, we were on board with anything that was going to make this journey easier. Enter Dometic! Not only do their coolers preserve food and drinks, but their powered coolers are fancy and rugged.
Dometic Ice Box Intro
A long-time car camper, I’m accustomed to heavy bags of ice, sopping wet food cartons, and leaky coolers being par for the course for outdoor adventures. But not this time. Dometic sent us a bear-of-a 94-liter CFX3 95DZ Dual Zone Powered 12 Volt Cooler to test drive on the road trip to and through Baja, Mexico. The cooler arrived safely, ready to be plugged in – no assembly required. I breezed over the instructions (because we were still eyeballs-deep in van modifications by the time the Dometic arrived, and I couldn’t think past whether we’d even get on the road at that point). It was all pretty straightforward and user-friendly to get going. Once plugged in, the powered cooler’s two interior zones (one fridge and one freezer) drop down to the set temperatures quickly.
Cool Points and Pitfalls
The Dometic CFX3 electric cooler is a BEAST. Even empty, it’s heavy. It’s not really built to be moved around a lot (we learned). I mean, it says it right in the product description on the product page “Dometic’s largest, dual-zone car fridge option,” so it’s certainly not intended to be moved around frequently. We know now; and had planned to keep it in one spot, but best-laid plans… Since we were in a relatively small van, we had to move the cooler often to make it accessible, which wasn’t ideal. Had we been in a bigger space, we could have left the cooler in an anchored spot and its heft would not have been an issue.
But, man, was all that fridge and freezer space nice! The electric cooler has both a fridge and freezer section, which can get down to a frigid -7°F. Also, for as massive and robust as this thing is, it’s as quiet as an EV. It has a high-performance compressor with noise and vibration reduction, so it’s shockingly silent, which was great, given our bed platform backed right up to the cooler, so my head was right next to the sweet old CFX3 each night.
Dometic boasts that its products are rugged and it sure delivers here. The handles, lid, interior, and exterior are all very well made and clearly of high-quality materials. However, because the cooler was in a tight space behind the driver seat, the lid popped off whenever the driver seat was adjusted or pushed back, but that was definitely a user error, considering we had it crammed into too small of a space. Despite our trouble with the lid, the thing seals like a champ, which means the cold stays in and our stuff stays fresh.
One con we experienced with the electric cooler was that it zapped our portable power station pretty quickly. We turned the CFX3 off each night, since it was cool enough in the evenings, though even having it running for daylight hours ran down the power station faster than we’d like to see. Though the folks at Dometic reminded me (when we got back from the trip) that CFX3s are native to 12V power. Some battery banks will invert power to 110 (house plug) and if you have the fridge using that, the fridge will convert it back to 12V, resulting in roughly a 20% efficiency loss. So, it’s possible we had the setting wrong there. We were a little scrambled on this trip, it being the van’s (named “Pinto” due to its pinto-bean-toned exterior) maiden voyage, so we learned a lot when it comes to van life for future expeditions.
Back to the pros – the interface is super simple, sleek, and user-friendly. The CFX3-powered cooler also has a Bluetooth connection, which means you can control the fridge with your phone. Say what?! The future really is now! The app allows you to monitor the electric cooler’s performance, as well. Additionally, the CFX3 can be powered by AC (110-240), DC (12 volt / 24 volts), or solar (we used solar to charge up the power station but didn’t get a chance to try powering the cooler directly with solar, since we weren’t in one place long enough to give it a shot).
The Chilled Takeaway
Pros – the CFX3 is very well made, sturdy, smart and intuitive (both the app and the screen interface) and works very well to keep food and drinks cold and fresh (or frozen! It passed the ice test – our ice stayed ice!). Cons – it’s heavy and eats up power seemingly quickly. It’s ideal for off-grid adventures with a vehicle that allows the electric cooler to be mostly stationary, as its weight doesn’t make moving it around easy. Overall, I was really impressed by the Dometic CFX3 electric cooler. Having perfectly chilled wine on the beach in Baja was an unmatched experience. Can’t wait to get back out there!
Read CleanTechnica’s part two of why van life and camping are leading the way to efficiency here.
Dometic provided the CFX3 95DZ Dual Zone Powered 12 Volt Cooler (94L) free of charge to CleanTechnica for the purpose of writing this product review.
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