Without a great cooler, your cookout or camping trip will bite the dust.
Whether you’re the camp cook, a backyard barbecue enthusiast, or an intrepid outdoors buff, you need a cooler. It’s an indispensable piece of gear that’s especially critical during the warm spring and summer months, when you’re going camping, or fishing, or just having a picnic with friends.
So what kind of cooler is for you? A soft-sided color is great for those on the go, because they’re easier to lug around. If you’re going whitewater rafting, get a waterproof one. Hard-sides coolers, can be backbreaking if they’re fully loaded, but do keep things very, very, very cold. If you do opt for one, get one with wheels so they’re easier to move around and make sure it has an insulated lid and seals tightly when you close it.
As for the size of your cooler, it’s dependent on what you’re cooling (sort of obvious, but hey), and how much space you need. If you just toting around a few drinks, go for a smaller size. But if you’re spending a week hiking and hunting, choose something bigger that will keep your food fresh. And remember, the more often you open a cooler, the more cool air escapes, so pack it tightly.
Here are some of the best coolers you can buy, based on our criteria and research, plus user reviews.
If you're truly investing in a cooler, a hard-shell cooler is the way to go. This Yeti cooler can comfortably hold 14 cans with recommended 201 ice-to-contents ratio.
Pros: This Yeti cooler is bear-resistant, which is a huge bonus if you’re going camping. It’s virtually indestructible and has latches made of heavy-duty rubber for total durability.
Cons: As with every Yeti cooler, the price is a bit harder to swallow than a cold beer.
This 32-quart capacity Engel cooler keeps your food and drinks cold for more than four days, in 90 degree temperatures, according to the brand.
Pros: This Engel cooler features rugged TPU construction. You can carry it three ways, using the shoulder strap, side handles or top-grab handles. It draws excess air from the insulation to maximize ice retention, meaning your stuff cold, longer. Plus, it has a removable bottle opener for the 48 cans you can fit inside.
Cons: Beware that this cooler doesn’t live up to its promise of keeping things cold for four days. Some customers say it barely chilled their drinks for one day.
Common sense advises to not try and reinvent the wheel. Coleman has made its classic Steel-Belted Portable Cooler with rugged materials since 1954, and it does a damn fine job. For most, it’s all the job they’ll need.
Pros: A 54-quart capacity will hold enough hot dogs for you, your family, and the local Boy Scout Troop. Retaining its ice for up to four days, it’s as good for the barbecue as it is for most car camping. The pioneering design of a leak-resistant channel drain allows you to empty it without having to tip it on an angle.
Cons: As its name suggests, its performance comes through some heavy components. Add in ice and a max capacity of 84 cans, and you’re dealing with a near immovable object, so bring a friend. For those for whom weight is a consideration, consider other, more modern coolers made from modern (read: lighter) materials.
A classic, giant cooler for people who need to keep a LOT of stuff cold.
Pros: Chances are good that you’ve grabbed a soda or beer out of one of these white behemoths, a mainstay of the cooler market for years. Its 120 quarts of capacity is just gratuitous; that’s enough space for 188 cans.
Cons: This thing is so big that it’s extremely heavy when full, and while instantly recognizable its all-white exterior isn’t super attractive brand-new and gets dirty easily.
This cooler is portable, good-looking and keeps your drinks icy-cold.
Pros: This cooler boasts ColdCell Insulation, which is essentially a closed-cell foam that keeps up to six cans cold. It has a leak-proof HydroLok zipper, and a wide mouth for easy access. And the exterior is waterproof and mildew-resistant. It weighs just under three pounds when empty.
Cons: It’s too small for some, and the zipper can be cumbersome.
Yetis are great, but its introduction of the rotomolded cooler was quickly mimicked and now myriad similar (but much cheaper) options glut the market. The RTIC Cooler is one, but it’s head and shoulders ahead of the pack, allowing you to stretch a buck further while enjoying comparable performance.
Pros: Like the industry leader it copies, RTIC’s cooler comes in a variety of fun colors. It’s also rotomolded and features three inches of insulation in its durable, drop-resistant walls. Secure hinges, a slanted drain system, and cord-based handles all make for a reliable performance-based cooler. Side by side, we’re betting a Yeti wouldn’t keep an ice cube any colder for any longer.
Cons: Put us in a darkened room and ask to us to tell RTIC’s option apart from a Yeti, we couldn’t do it. But it’s rarely pitch black at a barbecue. If you’re the type—and hey, no judgment—to whom brands matter, no facsimile will replace the real thing. Just go buy a Yeti.
The Coleman 54-Can Collapsible Cooler has on especially neat trick: It folds flat, for easy transport and storage.
Pros: This cooler fits 54 cans, but folds up when you’re not using it. It keeps your drinks cold for up to 32 hours, and has a zippered main compartment keeps in the cold. Plus, you can’t beat the price.
Cons: Would be nice if it had more pockets.
If you stay in 72 degree weather, your drinks stay cold for up to five days.
Pros: You can carry this cooler two ways. Use the padded shoulder straps for lighter loads, or the side straps for heavier loads. It’s got a no-sweat exterior and an anti-microbial liner. Just wipe it down between uses. This specific style fits 30 cans.
Cons: It’s difficult to open and close, for some, and the five-day promise can be a bit iffy.
Too many soft coolers end up looking like tote bags. For this reason (and, of course, its ability to keep cans cold), we’re excited about the Polar Bear Coolers Nylon Line.
Pros: The Nylon Line cooler is so overbuilt that it seems to have a Napoleon complex. Inch-thick insulation, an FDA food-grade nylon liner, a 1,000-denier outer shell fabric, and a rustproof weatherized YKK zipper combine to make a cooler with a chip on its shoulder. It comes in a few sizes (this one holds 24 cans) and some fun colors, with a look that’s unlike any other on the market.
Cons: Those driving into the backcountry will balk at its inability to keep ice cold for weeks on end—Polar Bear only claims 24 hours at 100-degree heat, meaning that this should be viewed for most a day-at-the-beach bag.
Pros: The interior and exterior of this cooler are both BPA-free. Like the Hommitt, you have options when it comes to carrying it. With its detachable shoulder strap, top handles and two reinforced side grab and go handles, you can tote it around whichever way you want. It fits 30 cans plus ice.
Cons: The zipper issue rears its head again, with customers complaining about having issues with it.
You'll love the fact that unlike other coolers, this one has side pockets so you can stash keys, water bottles, and other sundries.
Pros: This majestic cooler keeps your contents cold for 48 hours, while also being lightweight. It doesn’t leak, and has welded seams to make sure liquids stay inside the cooler. The food-grade BPA-free liner is free from toxins, is mildew-resistant, anti-microbial, and is easy to clean.
Cons: The price.
This is the party-bus of coolers, complete with a splash-proof, shock-proof, Bluetooth speaker that plays eight hours of music.
Pros: Yes, this cooler keeps stuff cold. But wait for it. This is a tailgate on wheels. You can add the blender lid so you can make your own mixed drinks, or add a solar panel lid to charge your phone. For real.
Cons: Really, do you need a cooler that’s this tricked out?
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