LTR: Wagan Tech Lithium Cube 1200

As time goes on, we humans tend to possess an ever-increasing number of powered devices. These devices do so many great things for us, which is why we want to bring them with us wherever we go. Yet thankfully the world isn’t covered in a grid of easy to access power outlets, so we have portable power supplies to keep our gear powered up when we’re off grid. A good power supply can provide any type of power needed to run all sorts of devices, from phones and fridges to power tools. Likewise, the power supply also needs to have a significant power reserve – enough to get through days of adventure, or to keep the essentials powered up during hours of a grid power outage at home. All of this functionality needs to fit into a portable, durable package that can hold up to extensive off-road use and perform in both the heat and the cold.  For the last year, I’ve been putting the Wagan Tech Lithium Cube 1200 to the test to see if it can keep everything powered up, no matter what I’m getting into.

The Wagan Tech Lithium Cube 1200 is the largest in a series of three power supplies that all run off of Lithium-Ion batteries.  The 1200 features a 1166 Watt-hour battery that’s coupled to a host of input and output ports.  Looking at the front of the device and working left to right, you’ll see the Anderson Power Pole (APP) for solar input which feeds a MPPT controller and a barrel connector for the included AC or DC charging cable. Below that you’ll find a 12V car style outlet and two barrel connectors for 12V DC output at 5A each. Centered in the middle of the unit is the full color display, and below that is a gaggle of USB ports.  Here you’ll find a 100W USB PD port that can supply power and charge the unit (no more packing a special charger!) a 27W USB PD, two Quick Charge 3.0 ports, and two USB 5V, 2.4A ports. On the right side of the until you’ll find the three AC ports, which supply 120V pure sine wave ac power. The inverter is rated at 1350W surge and 1000W continuous output.

The display on the Lithium Cube shows all of the relevant information – state of charge, busses turned on, current power consumption, and time til empty.  There is no way to manually cycle through the information display.

Charging the Lithium Cube can be done in several ways. The included AC and DC cables allow you to charge the unit from an AC power source, or a 12V car-style power outlet respectively. I do appreciate that the DC cable is just a cable, where as other lithium power supplies I’ve used in the past have a big awkward charge controller box (think of the brick in a laptop power supply) that you have to contend with. As previously mentioned, you can also charge the unit using the USB PD 100W port, which is great for when you want to keep your accessory cable count as low as possible.

Charging with solar power is plug and play easy thanks to the very common Anderson Power Pole connector and integrated MPPT controller.  The lithium cube can handle a maximum of 100W at 12V and 200W at 24V of solar input, and Wagan Tech has two different solar panel bundles available the Lithium Cube 1200 that feature either a 60W foldable panel or a 100W folds-in-half panel.

I’ve been using the 60W panel with the Lithium Cube, and it’s proven to be a very efficient panel. Thanks to the APP connectors, I was able to quickly make an extension cable for the panel so that no matter where my Cube was, I was able to get my panel into full sun. By simply adjusting the panel several times throughout the day to keep it normal to the sun, I’ve been very impressed by the amount of energy I can harvest. When not in use, the panel folds up on it’s self several times over to create an object the size of a family size box of cereal. The downside to the panel is that there is no means to stow the cable when not in use, so it’s just left dangling or clumsily wrapped around the panel. This also means the cable is vulnerable to getting pulled or smashed. Thankfully, the APP connector can be field replaced with the right tools, so it’s not game over if you do manage to damage the cable.

Using the Lithium cube is about as easy as it gets. Just set the unit where it’s needed, plug in the devices that you need to power, turn on their respective busses, and you’re all set. The Lithium cube can be charged while it’s in use, making this a great solution for vehicle-based use where it’s charging off of your vehicle while its running, and can be charged off of solar when you are parked.

Over the last year, the Lithium Cube has travelled from the sand dunes on the US / Mexico border to the Idaho / Montana border supporting vehicle-based adventure.  It hasn’t cared about being in triple digit heat, and it’s tolerated cold quite well. Remember all batteries suffer from diminished performance when cold. No matter where I’ve been or what I’ve been doing, using the Lithium Cube has worked without fault, which is more than I can say for two other brands of portable lithium batteries, both of which were purchased new and suffered a failure in the time that I’ve been using the Lithium Cube 1200.

The only drawback to the Lithium Cube is it’s auto-off feature, where the unit will turn off a buss after it detects that it’s not providing power. While this doesn’t seem to be an issue when running something like a fridge, if you’re planning on charging your phone overnight with the lithium cube, know that once your phone is full the cube will switch off. Assuming that you’re sleeping for eight hours, that’s seven or so hours your phone is back on it’s internal battery, meaning you will not have a full phone when you wake up in the morning. I appreciate the intention here, but I really wish Wagan would place the responsibility for turning off busses when they are not needed on the user.

All said and done, the Wagan Tech Lithium Cube 1200 has proven to be a solid choice for a large portable power supply. The unit has plenty of options for power output packed into a small and light form factor, meaning that taking a serious amount of power to anywhere you need it isn’t a huge undertaking. The Lithium Cube has held up to thousands of miles of travel, extensive use doing everything from powering a fridge and phone to more extensive loads like powering a grinder and other high-watt loads just to put unit thought its paces. There may have also been a brisket smoking that was saved when the power went out thanks to the Lithium Cube being able to power a Traegar. Its easy to charge the Lithium Cube too, whether from the sun, the included AC or DC charge cables, or my favorite –  USB PD, because I’m all for having to pack one fewer accessory. If you’re in the market for a Lithium power supply, the Wagan Tech Lithium Cube 1200 should definitely be on your list.

TESTED: Dometic CFX3 45

At the 2019 SEMA show, Dometic released their CFX3 line of electric coolers, which are the latest generation of the CFX series that I’ve reviewed in the past HERE.  Everything from the compressor to the control app was updated for this complete product line refresh, and after spending some time checking out the new coolers at the show, I left Dometic’s booth eager to put one to the test in the real world.  We all know that seeing something at an industry show is one thing, and spending months with that same product while traveling thousands of miles off-road in the real world is another – so rather than create just one more short term review of a product, I figured I would push this one out to over a year of use – to see just what living with the CFX3 is like well after the honeymoon phase of ownership.

At first glance, a CFX3 electric cooler may look similar to the old CFX series, but look closer and you’ll begin to see just how much has changed.  Construction wise, everything from the handles to the compressor unit to the controls have been revised.  The handles are now all aluminum, so there’s no need to worry about cracking a handle if something smashes into the cooler or if your buddy goes full hulk mode using a ratchet strap around a handle to secure the cooler in your vehicle.  We can’t see the compressor unit, but know that it’s an entirely new unit that is more efficient, consumes less power, and creates less noise than it’s predecessor.  This means that the CFX3 coolers are easier on your battery system when you’re parked, and they’re even easier to sleep near.  Dometic has also moved the compressor to the opposite end of the cooler from the lid opening, so now when you open the lid the deep end is closest to you.

On the control side of things, the CFX3 series steps into the modern age with a high resolution display that is a welcome change over the old LCD display on the older coolers.  No longer will you have to reference your manual to remember how to make a settings change, or figure out what the display is trying to tell you.  With the CFX3 display you can clearly read, adjust, and understand all of the settings with just a few button presses.  The whole process is very intuitive, and folks who have never seen the manual can make any adjustment needed without issue.  When the display isn’t in use, a little snowflake icon on the display lets you know the unit is powered up, so parasitic draw is less than the bright LEDs used by other brands of coolers.  Next to the display, you’ll also find a USB port that’s been upgraded to provide 2 Amps of power at 5V, which is a welcome upgrade over the 500 milli-amp outlet on the old CFX units.  This increase in current means that the CFX3 can actually charge modern power-hungry devices, and the port is in a great location to power a speaker or other device while you’re in camp.

Speaking of devices, Dometic has also improved the companion app for the CFX3 series. The app uses a Bluetooth connection that sips power, and now you can plot your cooler’s energy consumption in addition to fully controlling the cooler from your phone.  In use, I’ve noticed absolutely no hiccups using the app on Android devices, and being able to know how much power your cooler is currently consuming and how much power it has been consuming is powerful information when it coming to determining just how long you can go before needing to charge your battery system.  The CFX3 series coolers do come with a configurable low voltage cutoff, so you can protect your battery system from over discharging.  As they say knowledge is power, and it’s super easy to pop open the app and see where your battery system is at, rather than having to guess at your state of charge. 

Inside the CFX3 45, things will start to look like familiar Dometic territory, and it’s here where you’ll find the versatile system of baskets and dividers that allow you to organize your cooler loadout.  There is a basket for the shallow section of the cooler, and a basket for the deep section that be divided in half vertically with a removable insert.  Volume wise, the CFX3 45 measures in at 46 liters of storage, and this works out to a deep basket that can hold 16 sleeved standard size soda cans per layer with ease.  Drive off-road long enough and the simple action of cans rubbing against each other as you bounce down a trail can wear a hole in an aluminum can.  Pro tip: This is why you can never have too many foam beer koozies.  Should a can have a hole worn in it, or something else in your cooler decide to leak, there’s still a drain plug that’s easy to use at the bottom of the cooler.

Getting in and out of the CFX3 45 is where I noticed about the only issue that I’ve been able to find in my extended time with the cooler.  That issue is that the lid doesn’t always latch unless you give it a firm press to close it.  I would like the lid to work like a car door, in the respect that it’s easy to close and that it seals well, yet with the CFX3 lid, even dropping it closed isn’t enough to do the trick.  The best practice is to gently close the lid and then give it a press to engage the latch.  This is by no means a deal breaker, but I’ve seen other CFX3 coolers suffer the same ailment, and there may have been one case where a cooler in the back of a truck was closed but not latched, and spirited driving resulted in lunch being put out early – but the point is, just check that the lid is latched and you’re good to go.  Other than the lid, every CFX3 cooler I’ve encountered in the wild has worked flawlessly.

The 100 year old hotel and the 100 day old CFX3 45.

If you’re reading this and thinking to yourself that yeah, an electric cooler would be rad, but that’s a lot of money to spend on a camping gadget – remember this:  Dometic also provides an AC power adapter so that you can run your cooler when you’re at home or anywhere else you have access to AC power.  This means that your electric cooler can pull double duty and be of value at home and on the road.  Need a drink cooler in the shop?  Need a place to store additional food so that you don’t have to go to the grocery store as often?  Staying in a hotel for long term work? Don’t think of an electric cooler as a camping only tool – they are devices which can provide value every day of the year, or whenever you need them. 

In a nod to Dometic’s longevity, one of our American Adventurist staff has been running the same Dometic electric cooler for more than seven years now, and thanks to the solar panel on his roof, it’s been on 24/7.

The CFX3 45 Cooler that I’ve been testing for the last year hasn’t been phased by anything that I’ve thrown at it.  To give you a quick idea of what It’s been through, the cooler has:  Frozen in the winter in Idaho, baked in a hot car in the middle of summer in Phoenix, and logged nearly 35,000 miles of travel.  Several thousand of these miles were off-road, doing everything from Go-Fast Dirt to rock-donkey rock crawling.  The cooler may or may not have logged a little bit of flight time, and it’s spent plenty of time packed next to everything from other pelican boxes to recovery gear while bouncing around all over the Western US.  It may have a few scuffs and scrapes and dust that will never come out, but the unit works just as well as it did on day one.

The Dometic CFX3 45 has been an awesome electric cooler.  I have to give Dometic props for looking at their old CFX series of coolers (which are solid units) and figuring out how to make them better.  With the CFX3, the compressor is more efficient and quiet.  The user interface is so much easier to use.  And other little details like the revised USB port all add up to make a cooler that has been a joy to use.  The bottom line is this:  If you want an electric cooler that you just plug in and know that it’s going to work, you can’t go wrong with a CFX3.  No matter where your adventure is going to take you, know that the CFX3 will stand up to what you throw at it, and keep everything you throw in it cool.  When the road finally sees you back home, know that an electric cooler can be utilized around the house – so don’t think that an electric cooler is a travel-only toy.  Electric coolers have never been easier to use, or more useful – so if you’ve been on the fence about ditching ice, know that with a CFX3 cooler you’ll never look back.

Full Disclosure: Dometic provided a sample CFX3 45 electric cooler free of charge to the author for the purposes of this review.