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Field Tested: Dometic CFX3 551M cooler


This CFX3 551M is a powered electrical cooler with an ice maker that’s essentially a mini-fridge built for van life and car camping when you’re out in the field but have a reliable portable power source, such as an automobile battery and/or solar panels. It has a robust ExoFrame construction that’s built for tough outdoor use and polyurethane insulation. A mobile app lets you control the cooler from your phone.


Very well made with high quality materials // Quiet operation //Efficient with reasonable battery draw // With a solar panel  as their main power source for the CFX3 551M, our testers were always able to keep their truck battery fully charged (only once did they get a “low battery” warning, which was for only a short time // Cooler can also double as an ice chest—simply place a frozen one-gallon plastic bottle of water in the cooler to mitigate warming, as you might get each time you open the lid // Handy drain plug for melted ice or if something should leak.


Unit is quite heavy (47 pounds empty), and when full you need two people to carry it // There was sometimes a discrepancy of a few degrees between the unit’s indicated inside temperature and a seperate temp sensor our testers placed in the cooler, with the unit usually showing a lower temp (to compensate, they set the temp a few degrees lower than their desired 37 ° F, which  worked well) // Bluetooth-to-phone app was somewhat intermittent // Manual would be more helpful if it included actual written instructions versus just drawings

Our Thoughts

Our testers used the cooler for 14 days in the Utah desert with no access to ice, water, or power other than what they had with them (a 100-water solar panel and their truck battery). Average daytime temps (late spring) were in the 80s.  The testers wanted to have vegetables, fruit, milk, and other perishables plus an occasional cold beverage after a particularly grueling day exploring and scrambling around the desert.

For over fourteen days, the cooler never let them down. It always kept food cold with no spoilage—just as well as a full-sized refrigerator back home.



Size Reviewed

55 liters (volume)


47 pounds





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For many years, my family has enjoyed our annual pilgrimages to the deserts and canyons of Southern Utah, a vast, beautiful land beloved by hikers and climbers alike.

Whether we’re camping out under star-filled skies or exploring slot canyons, we’ve always enjoyed the remoteness and solitude these locations provide. The remoteness carries certain inconveniences, however, such as access to food, fuel, and ice for the cooler. Ice in a conventional cooler is an issue if you are out for more than three days. After that, you can say goodbye to any perishables like fruit, vegetables, or a well-deserved cold drink after a long day on desert stone. So, for a 14-day car-camping trip last April, we looked for an alternative solution to a conventional cooler. 

(Photo: Bob Bjornsen)

Enter the Dometic CFX3 551M powered electrical cooler/icemaker, which is essentially a mini-fridge for van life or car camping when you’re out in the field but have a reliable portable power source, such as an automobile battery, with or without solar panels. The coolers are available in varying sizes, and we found that, for the two of us on our most recent trip, the 55-liter unit was more than adequate space for our needs. With daytime temperatures in the mid-80s, we were extremely happy to have our perishables at a constant 37 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Another “cool” feature of the Dometic is its icemaker capability, though we did not use it on this trip. The unit has an easily readable display showing interior temperature and car-battery voltage, with a low-battery warning incorporated into the system. We found that the cooler can also double as an ice chest by placing a frozen one-gallon bottle of water inside to mitigate any warming that might occur each time you open the lid.

(Photo: Bob Bjornsen)

With our 100-watt solar panel connected to the car battery, we found this combination was more than sufficient to keep the car battery charged and the cooler functioning. An added plus to the Dometic is that there is no meltwater to drain. Also, the food baskets and over-all interior design are good for storing varying sizes of food items with maximum efficiency. The unit is extremely well built but, as a result, is quite heavy when full, which usually meant that moving it from the car to the campsite required two people. While there are competitive coolers out there, our experience with the Dometic is that it is well built, efficient, and reliable.

Two weeks later we rejoined civilization with cold beverages and food items with no spoilage. For future trips, we see the Dometic being an essential part of our travels, whether to the desert, mountains, or a simple picnic with family.