When packing for your caravan holidays, you’ll want something that can keep food and drink cool when out and about. But should you take a powered coolbox or a passive coolbox?

With so many powered coolboxes now available and affordable, it is perhaps surprising that passive models have recently staged a comeback. On the face of it, this makes no sense. Why bother freezing ice packs the night before when you could plug a powered model into a 12V socket whenever you need to chill something?

The simple answer is that powered coolboxes often don’t deliver the 15-20˚C of chilling below the ambient temperature they claim, especially in Continental climates. Once the power is removed from these models, such as if you take the coolbox on a walk or picnic, most warm up inside very quickly.

Meanwhile, dramatic developments in insulation, plastic moulding and ice pack technology – particularly in Australia and America – have led to the emergence of super-coolboxes. These aren’t cheap but, with the right preparation, they’ll keep food chilled for days or even weeks without the addition of further ice packs. While they may have been designed with long hunting trips in mind, canny caravanners have also cottoned on to their impressive abilities.

On warm foreign trips, for instance, a fully packed box lets you take a couple of fridge fill-ups with you. Once the box is emptied, it’s perfect for keeping food chilled on days out. It’s obviously a major bonus, too, that a passive coolbox is not reliant on hook-up or battery power. Because it does not have ventilation grilles, as fridges and powered coolboxes do, it can be stored anywhere, except in direct sunlight. 

The Practical Caravan group passive coolbox review put every item through the same rigorous test. We kicked off our testing by checking each product’s thermal abilities. All were opened and allowed to reach the 25˚C ambient temperature. Then they were loaded with ice chilled to -12˚C (each box received ice totalling 5% of its capacity). Next, all were closed and placed in a room kept at 27˚C for eight hours. Internal temperatures were checked frequently throughout the test period.

We also factored in price, ease of carrying, the depth to store tall bottles upright, and the general build quality of the product. Drainage bungs – which allow ice melt to be removed without raising the temperature inside – are a bonus. Decent feet are, too, because they lift the box from the ground to prevent hot sand from being in direct contact with the box’s base, for example. Coolboxes often get used as makeshift benches, so some manufacturers now design them for this purpose. That means you can take one chair fewer than you would otherwise on outings – another bonus as far as we’re concerned. In addition, some passive coolboxes can be padlocked shut, to protect your beers and to keep kids from opening them.

The Practical Caravan review of the 42-litre Waeco Cool-Ice proved that this is a very capable product indeed. At £115 it isn’t the cheapest on sale, but it also is not the most expensive we tested – and we feel you get what you pay for in this instance.

After years of producing top-notch portable fridges and powered coolboxes, Waeco promised great things with its latest range of passive boxes. We weren’t disappointed. It returned extremely good results in our thermal tests (the minimum temperature reached was 12.3˚C, the average over eight hours was 12.5˚C), which catapulted this box into our test group’s premier league. 

Of all the models we tested, it isn’t the absolute best thermally, but it’s easily the most affordable of the top players, especially considering its vast 42-litre volume. The Cool-Ice range is made to an Australian design, so it gets most of the critical bits right. 

Our thermal results and the manufacturer’s claims of three to 10 days of ice retention prove that the insulation is up to the job. Other essentials such as a proper lid seal, drain bung, strong handles at both ends and lid clamps are also included. And at 62cm x 38cm x 24cm, it is reasonably compact considering its large capacity. No wonder it received a sparkling five-star rating.

If you’d like to consider other options, the Practical Caravan review team also tested the Icey-Tek Cube Box, a 25-litre option which scored a very respectable four out of five, as did the Techniice Signature and the £40 Igloo Sportsman. And while the 26-litre Igloo Island Breeze rolling cooler only scored three out of five, it was one of the most portable we tested. However the Argos coolbox scored just one out of five.