Gear Test: Engel MT35F Portable Freezer Rating: Highly Recommended There's no better way to chill out on the road, but portability has its price. Updated December 18, 2009
Staying cool when traveling can be a perplexing problem for us MSers. Cooing vests meant to be frozen can thaw before you reach the trailhead. Going camping or on some other overnight adventure? Fuggetaboutit. But a fellow ActiveMSer from New Jersey (thanks Sam!) pointed me to a potent solution: a portable freezer that works in your car. So when Nissan Sport, the automotive magazine I co-own and edit, tested car coolers for its Summer 2008 issue, we included the Engel MT35F, a refrigerator/freezer that can plug into your vehicle’s 12-volt cigarette lighter plug. It crushed all comers in the magazine’s comparo.
Anchored by an efficient and reliable swing compressor, with only one moving part and suspended by shock-absorbing springs, Engel refrigerators/freezers have been field tested in the rugged (and hot) Australian Outback for decades. While usually plied by adventurers on 4x4 adventures, the Engel offers some true appeal to MSers who are affected by heat.
With a powdercoated steel exterior and the ability to still work on slopes as aggressive as 30 degrees—and in 100 degree temps—the cooler has a reputation for bulletproof durability and serious performance. Power consumption is less than a single headlamp: 0.5-2.5 amps (competitors in this price range draw two to three times as much power or more), which means you can leave it plugged in for extended periods with your car only running on auxiliary power (i.e., battery only, not engine).
There are five cold settings, from 1 (refrigerator) to 5 (freeze), and we set it to 5 for our testing. Reaching temps as low as -1 degree F, the MT35F chilled from the mid 70s to below freezing in under 45 minutes. Our thaw tests were equally impressive. With its freezer full (it can hold 32 liters or 54 cans) and its power off, the well-insulated MT35 took 13 hours to go from 3 to 32 degrees, and stayed below 50 degrees for an eye-popping 6.5 days!
When you’re not using your Engel on the road or trail, you can run it in your house, garage, or hotel room on AC. Naturally it makes for a great second freezer to store all of your cooling gear so it’s ready to go when you are. Temperature swings are only a couple degrees due to the cooler’s incredible insulation, so it also works great for medication that needs to be refrigerated. (Or bust it out for the ultimate backyard barbecue cooler.)
On a recent summer trip to northern Arizona, we used the Engel as a refrigerator to hold my meds and my wife’s computer, which should not be stored in a hot vehicle. While temps in the car got to over 120 degrees baking in the sun, her laptop and my MS medication remained safely chilled for hours even though the fridge was unplugged—it’s that well insulated. In fact, temps inside the cooler rose only a couple degrees during the afternoons we were out hiking.
Downsides? It’s heavy. At 46.3 lbs, the MT35F ideally needs two people to safely lift it (especially if you have balance issues). And, well, you get what you pay for—it ain’t cheap to get top-of-the-line performance. Pricing runs $649-$695, similar in price to most entry-level full-size refrigerators.
The Engel MT35F fridge/freezer is available through US-distributor www.i-m-d.com (if you live outside the US, go to www.engelaustralia.com.au). For more capacity, try Engel’s best-selling MT45 or for a non-powered solution (with even better insulation properties than the MT series), their high performance ice coolers should be good bet.