Ice chests have long been a staple of the American road trip, and bigger ice chests are common for camping, picnicking, and any other situation where you want to eat well off-grid. While they tend to work great, and keep you from having to eat canned food with a warm drink to wash it down, they’re also a bit of a pain in the butt. Every day or two, you’ve got to dump out whatever ice melted and buy some new ice, and that ice comes from a supply chain that’s pretty energy intensive.
Refrigerators used to use a lot of power, and most RV fridges are two-way or three-way fridges that run off grid power when the RV is plugged in, but tend to burn propane to stay cool in all other situations. Parking in an unlevel spot, gusts of wind, and just driving down the road can put the pilot light out on a propane fridge, and leave you with spoiled food if you don’t catch it quickly enough. Even fridges that ran on 12 volts used to use a lot of power and quickly overwhelm a deep-cycle battery.
But, as with everything else cleantech-related, technology has come a long way. Variable-speed compressor fridges use as little as 5-10 watts of power (on average) to keep fridge food cold and freezer food frozen. Even better, many compressor fridges are built with an upward-facing door that both helps keep the cold air inside when opened (cold air sinks) and give you some additional counter or sitting space.
This isn’t just a matter of convenience or environmental friendliness. As I’ve pointed out before, someone in my family has a medical condition that requires keeping cold medications on hand, so it’s often a matter of life-and-death for people who want to get away from the city for a few days.
What EcoFlow Sent Me
Earlier this year, the folks at EcoFlow sent me their new Glacier portable compressor fridge/freezer combo. Before I talk about a problem I ran into, let’s talk about the features and specs for a bit. I won’t cover every little detail, but if you want those details, check out the website here.
In a nutshell, it’s similar in size to an ice chest, has two compartments inside (with a removable divider between them), and keeps your food, drinks, and anything else you want at a specific temperature. It’s got controls on the unit itself, but also allows you to connect to it via Bluetooth to check on the fridge without getting it out (but be sure to give it some ventilation, as it generates heat).
One other really cool feature it has is a built-in icemaker. It’s not fancy like most home fridges, and doesn’t spit ice into a bucket, but you can pour water into the ice tray, tell it to make ice, and come back a few minutes later to pull up a little ice bucket. Injuries, drinks, and anything else that could use some ice are well-served. Note that the unit must be plugged into AC power (including power stations) or have the battery in it to make ice.
One feature I haven’t seen on other portable fridges is the ability to run it on its own battery. Most portable fridges require you to plug them into an AC power source or cigarette lighter-style plug to keep them going. This fridge has a slot in the back for an optional battery pack that can power the unit for over a day if you pre-cool it plugged in and keep it in Eco Mode. The removable battery pack can be charged in the unit or via a USB-C port outside of the unit.
Finally, it’s got some great convenience features. You can get wheels and a folding handle for it so you can tote it around without having to carry it. It’s also got a wire basket that fits inside the fridge side of the unit, making it easier to load up and get things out of it. If you need to get at something that’s buried, it’s easier to pull the whole cage out and see what’s at the bottom.
Here’s a funny video they made (scroll past it for my review):
My Experience With The EcoFlow Glacier Portable Fridge
Sadly, my first experience with the unit wasn’t great. I took it on a camping trip and loaded it into my cargo trailer with my other glamping gear. I had a power station near it on top of a plastic storage bin that collapsed under the dynamic weight of the power station, which then shoved the Glacier into the wall of the cargo trailer.
The power buttons on the Glacier are all well-protected except for the power button, which apparently can’t take a hit. The power button got pushed in too hard, damaging the underlying circuit board and killing the whole machine. Ouch!
But, I’d still recommend the unit to people because this experience taught me two great things.
First off, EcoFlow’s customer support is awesome. They didn’t try to blame me for the accident or fight with me over whose fault it was. They had me send in some pictures, asked me a few questions, and shipped another unit out to replace it. So, the customer service is solid (unlike many camping gear and portable cleantech companies these days). I wouldn’t recommend abusing a Glacier if you got one, but the company obviously cares about its customers.
Second, it gave me an opportunity to really test the unit’s vacuum-sealed insulation. Instead of filling the walls of the unit with insulating foam, the Glacier has vacuum pockets to keep the cool in and the hot out. This makes the unit both lighter and more environmentally friendly. Combined with the propane refrigerant, it’s one of the most environmentally-friendly units on the market.
For me, the insulation still kept the food cool for over a day after the controls went dead, making it possible to keep eating good food on the second day of my trip. So, the insulation is great, and allows you some extra leeway and energy savings for things like drinks and less perishable foods.
I took the replacement unit on a recent trip to go explore an old mining town, and the unit fit well inside the back of my Bolt EUV. Only on the most extreme sections of road did the fridge beep at me to let me know it had to shut down because it wasn’t level enough. We were able to eat a frozen skillet meal, have cold drinks, and otherwise enjoy a home-cooked meal away from home despite being far, far from the electric grid.
On future trailer trips, I’m going to keep the Glacier in a special compartment on the tongue of my trailer, strapped down and safe from anything that might bump it. I also put a small piece of foam on the front of the unit when moving it to protect that power button. The company sells a carry bag that I’d recommend purchasing if you’re moving it around a lot, so that gives you another option to keep it safe.
All in all, it’s a decent portable fridge that checks all of the energy efficiency and environmental friendliness boxes.
Images by Jennifer Sensiba.
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