- Whether you’re heading out for a weekend camping trip, an afternoon in the park, a tailgating party, or you’re grilling in the backyard, you’ll need a cooler if you like cold drinks and fresh food.
- The Coleman Performance 48-Quart Cooler is our top pick because it’s a true classic that stands the test of time with its incredibly low price and three-day ice retention in 90-degree temperatures.
To the fisherman, a reliable cooler makes the difference between bringing home fresh fillets or wasting the catch as it spoils in the heat. At the tailgate party or picnic, a good cooler means cold beer and soda instead of warm swill. For the campers, a cooler keeps food chilled and safe for days on end even when the nearest refrigerator is a three-day hike back out of the woods. And so forth. Frankly, I feel confident that you know plenty about using coolers. When it comes to choosing a cooler, however, I think I can help.
I own four coolers, which I readily admit is a bit excessive. But they’re just so damn handy, right? I only use two of them all that often, these being a large hard-shelled classic and a soft-sided compact cooler. There’s nothing wrong with the other two coolers, one is just a bit small for the family and the fourth is simply redundant, yet I can’t bring myself to part with it.
It’s probably going to surprise you just how much some coolers cost. But what also might be a surprise is the fact that a great cooler can be a lifetime purchase. No, buying a cooler is not as important or complicated a decision as selecting a car or a major appliance, but you will almost surely have the cooler for many years more than any vehicle, fridge, or washing machine, so you owe it to yourself to choose wisely. Be ready to spend a few bucks if it turns out the cooler that best suits your needs happens to be pricey.
The coolers on this list are all distinct from one another in multiple ways. There’s a good chance that a few of them will be the outright wrong choice for some people, but there’s a great chance that at least one will be the absolute best cooler for you. Read on to see which of our picks fits your needs.
Here are our top picks for the best coolers you can buy:
- Best overall: Coleman Performance 48-Quart Cooler
- Best backpack cooler: Igloo Marine Backpack Cooler
- Best for longterm use: Yeti Tundra 75
- Best soft cooler: Pelican Elite Soft Cooler
- Best cooler bag: CleverMade Cooler Tote
- Best cooler with wheels: RovR RollR cooler
Updated on 10/29/2019 by Owen Burke: Updated formatting, prices, & copy. We’re currently testing new coolers from Pelican, Yeti, Igloo, Coleman, Orca, Cabelas, Rtic, and Engel for consideration in our next update.
The best cooler overall
The Coleman Performance 48-Quart Cooler is a classic hard-shelled cooler with multi-day ice retention and an all but indestructible design.
If Coleman’s cooler weren’t such a simple, reliable, and all-around great piece of hardware, I would have called it the best low-cost cooler instead of the best overall cooler. It costs less than thirty dollars, but it will last you thirty years or more provided you take the time to wipe it clean now and then and you don’t run over it with a truck.
This is the cooler your dad brought on family camping trips, it’s the cooler of your childhood, and it’s still an awesome buy.
Coleman’s 48-quart cooler can hold 63 standard 12-ounce cans and is tall enough for two-liter soda bottles to stand upright with the lid closed. It’s more than sturdy enough to double as a seat, yet still light enough for one rather fit person to heft alone or for two people to easily carry down the dock, into the park, or onto the beach. Empty, the cooler weighs about seven pounds, so you can easily lift it up onto the top shelf of the garage for storage, too.
The Coleman Performance 48-Quart Cooler has a drain built into the bottom so you can let out any spilled beverages or ice melt without dumping the entire contents, but for the record, there won’t be much meltwater provided you keep the lid secure most of the time. This cooler offers three-day ice retention even when the mercury tops 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Oh, and this cooler is made in America, too.
ShedHeads.com called this cooler a “great icebox for beach days or picnics with the family,” adding, “It’s also a versatile size that can be used for drinks at parties.”
Pros: Great price, sturdy construction, large capacity, trusted legacy brand
Cons: Hinges on lid prone to eventual breaking
The best cooler for work and commuting
- Igloo/Business Insider
Our original pick, the Igloo Marine Ultra Backpack Cooler, is no longer available, but the Igloo Marine Backpack Cooler, which we think is better made (but also more expensive) still lets you go hands-free while carrying plenty of cold, fresh food that stays chilled for hours.
The Igloo Marine Backpack Cooler is not going to keep ice frozen for a week, but that’s not what you buy it for. You chose this cooler because you need to keep a day’s worth of food and beverages chilled and you don’t want to lug around a bulky, boxy piece of hardware to do it.
Whether you work in construction, landscape design, field research, or any other profession that keeps you outdoors and/or often on the move (or if your hobbies involve spending the day outside), this is a great cooler to consider.
The Igloo Marine has a crush-resistant compartment accessed through a zippered top. It has the capacity for about a dozen 12-ounce cans, which is more than enough room for all the food and beverages a single person should need for a single day. The cooler has more than enough insulating foam to keep things cool all day provided you slip in an ice pack or two (or just a bag of ice) and keep the lid zipped shut.
A front zippered compartment is perfect for stashing a wallet, phone, and keys, while side pouches can hold a water bottle, piece of fruit, and so forth. The Igloo Marine Ultra Backpack Cooler has padded adjustable straps and should comfortably fit almost any teen or adult. Kiss the brown paper bag goodbye and keep things fresh and cool while you’re on the go with this handy backpack cooler.
Pros: Great for commuting or travel, adjustable straps for comfort, additional storage areas
Cons: Only maintains chill for about a day at best
The best cooler for long-term use
The Yeti Tundra 75 Cooler can keep ice frozen for more than a week even if you’re using it in the middle of the summer.
To deal with the elephant in the room first, yes, this cooler costs almost five hundred dollars. That’s a lot of money to spend on a cooler, no two ways about it. But for that price, you will get one of the absolute best coolers on the market today. Let’s just rattle off a few highlights, shall we?
The Yeti Tundra 75 Cooler‘s rugged rotomolded design makes it tough enough to be certified as bear-resistant. That’s right, in a fight between a bear and this cooler, the cooler will probably win. Its three-inch-thick PermaFrost insulation and ColdLock gasket allow the cooler to keep ice frozen for days on end. You can expect at least a week of sub-zero temperatures within provided you loaded it up with sufficient ice.
It has a 50-can capacity and also comes with a dry goods basket that holds a selection of foodstuffs above the ice. Its BearFoot non-slip feet and AnchorPoint tie-down points help you to secure the cooler in the bed of a truck or aboard a boat.
Do most people need this level of cooler? Probably not. But if you’re a serious fisherman, if you’re on a road trip and you want to stay self-sufficient, or if you’re stocking a cabin or campsite for an extended stay, you’ll be glad you have the Yeti Tundra 75 at your disposal, no buyer’s remorse involved. Just note that the cooler weighs 30 pounds even when empty, so if you have trouble lifting heavier loads, you might need to look elsewhere.
A video reviewer with Able2Survive conducted a seven-day test and deemed the cooler a success, showing that a decent amount of the ice he loaded in on day one remained frozen a week later. A writer with CoolersOnSale.com was impressed with the cooler’s “ice retention time” and its tough construction.
For a smaller, but more equipped cooler with a cutting board, dry storage tray, and hose fitting that’s ideal for fishing, have a look at Coleman’s new 55-quart Super Cooler.
Pros: Amazing ice retention, rugged construction, great for boating or long road trips
Cons: Very expensive, very heavy
The best soft cooler
The Pelican Elite Soft Cooler weighs about half as much as most hard-walled coolers, but it will still keep its contents reliably cold for several days at a time.
Don’t let the word “soft” mislead you hear: This is not an insulated tote bag style of cooler, but a sturdy, durable option that can be shoved in the back of the car, schlepped to the campsite or beach, or tossed into a canoe or boat without concern for the foods and beverages within. Its walls are sturdy and it retains its shape well, it’s just not made from rigid materials.
The exterior of the Pelican Elite Soft Cooler is made from a tightly woven fabric coated in thermoplastic polyurethane, which helps keep the cooler watertight and protected against the elements. The insulation comes thanks to closed-cell foam walls that are more than an inch thick. The interior of the cooler is made from a liner approved as food grade by the FDA.
I’ve easily fit a dozen cans, snacks, grilling foods, and condiments into my Pelican Elite and still had ample room for ice packs. This cooler performs every bit as well as a hard-shelled cooler of similar size, it just happens to weigh much less … and cost much more, for the record.
We use ours pretty much every time we need a cooler anywhere away from home, and the only complaint I’ve ever had about it is that the zipper can be hard to pull. But that’s thanks to the rugged construction of the zipper, not due to a design flaw.
Popular Mechanics called the Pelican Elite Soft Cooler “100% leak-proof” and praised its “dual-lock buckle system.”
For an alternative, RTIC’s Soft Pack 30 is a less rugged but comparable soft cooler I’ve been using for a few months now. Apart from a zipper that corroded, it’s still airtight after heavy use on the water.
Pros: Lightweight, multi-day ice retention, great for travel
Cons: Quite expensive, zipper can be stubborn
The best cooler tote bag
- Clever Made
The CleverMade SnapBasket Soft-Sided Cooler tote can keep as many as 50 12-ounce cans cool, yet it can also fold down into a package measuring just three inches thick.
The CleverMade SnapBasket tote weighs in at just two pounds, yet this cooler is rated to carry as much as 50 pounds of ice, food, drinks, or whatever else you want to keep chilled. Although it has a 50-can capacity when fully loaded, it can pack down small enough to tuck away in any closet or even in a drawer. If that were all there was to say about this affordable, durable tote cooler, I’d still be recommending the thing, but there’s more.
The CleverMade SnapBacket features two exterior storage pockets, one that zips shut and is perfect for a phone, keys, and other small but important items, and one that is made of mesh and has an open top. This second pocket is great for spare napkins, sunglasses you want in easy reach, or a bottle of sunscreen, to name a few of the innumerable things you could stash there. There is also a bottle opener attached to one of the handle straps. Additional side grip handles make it easy for two people to carry the tote between them when it’s loaded up and heavy.
As for the actual cooling capabilities of this cooler? For a soft-sided tote, it’s a fine piece of chilling hardware. The eight-gallon interior features a leak-proof liner and enough insulation to keep ice cold for at least a half-day even on the warmest days of summer.
Pros: Lightweight and packable, leak-proof liner, large capacity
Cons: Single-day ice retention
The best rolling cooler
Not only is the RovR RollR Camping Cooler tough enough to resist a bear attack, it’s also versatile enough to serve as a meal prep station, beverage holder, seat, or luggage cart.
Let me get two things out of the way right now: Yes, the RovR RollR cooler is expensive, but it’s also a lifetime purchase. In fact, your grandkids could probably use one that you buy today. Second, yes it’s big and heavy.
I’m 6’2″ and in pretty good shape and even I struggle when I have to lift the thing over my head to store it away on a garage shelf, and it does take up a fair amount of trunk space in the car, too. But here’s the other side of the coin: This thing is one of the best coolers I’ve ever seen, hands down. And that’s true for so many reasons.
First, as the name suggests, the RollR rolls along on a pair of nine-inch puncture-resistant and aggressively treaded tires, so even when this already heavy piece of hardware is loaded up with eats and beverages, you can still tow it over all sorts of terrain with relative ease. And you can do that by hand or, with an attachment, behind your bike.
We’ll talk about what goes on inside the RovR RollR in a second, but first note that it comes with a collapsible bin that attaches to the top of the cooler, offering you a convenient spot to load up gear that you want to bring from the car to the campsite, picnic spot, or wherever else you’re headed. You can also hook a wooden tray and two beverage holders onto the side of the cooler, creating a convenient meal prep spot or even using the cooler as an impromptu mini table.
But it’s the chill factor that really counts here. The RovR RollR uses rotational molding, or “rotomolding,” in its construction. Rotomolding involves having a polymer (plastic) heated within a mold and spun on an axis so that, as it cools, it settles evenly, forming a hollow core. This technology is used in all sorts of things, and on the industrial level, it’s regularly replacing fabricated steel. In the case of coolers, it’s then pumped with a relatively high-density foam, which, if done right, creates imperviously sealed insulation.
With the rotomolded build and 2 inches of foam insulation, the RovR RollR has amazing 10-day ice retention potential when you load the cooler properly and keep it sealed as often as possible. That seal resists bears, by the way, in case you missed the tidbit. Within the cooler is a dry bin in which you can store anything you want to stay cold but not get wet, such as fruits, veggies, bread, cheese, or, well, anything.
I took my RovR RollR camping within two weeks of owning it and the cooler performed like a champ. It also immediately unseated my previous camping cooler, which has now been relegated to that sad status of the backup cooler, a position it will occupy indefinitely, because I don’t think I could break my RollR if I tried. Which I won’t, because it’s expensive.
Pros: Amazing 10-day ice retention, works with multiple accessories, built to last a lifetime
Cons: Very heavy, rather expensive
How to choose the right cooler
When choosing the best cooler for your needs, first consider where you will most often use the thing. That’s the single most important factor, really. If a cooler is too big to bring along on a camping or fishing trip, it’s essentially useless. If it can’t retain ice well enough to keep things fresh during a weeklong stay in a cabin or camper, same deal. If its only purpose is for convenient beverage chilling in your own backyard during cookouts, that’s going to have a huge impact on how much you need to spend (well south of $100).
Also, consider how frequently you’re going to be cracking your cooler open. If it’s every 20-30 minutes or so, it won’t much matter whether you have a Coleman Performance or a Yeti Tundra (save for a pricetag difference of several hundred dollars), especially on hotter days.
Next, of course, you need to think about what you’ll be keeping cold, and how much of it. It’s easy to judge cooler capacity. Almost all coolers explicitly list their interior quart size and many state a can capacity. Also don’t forget to note the overall size of the cooler, as some are much larger on the outside than their interior dimensions will have you think.
To really keep contents cold, you’ll need to keep a ratio of somewhere around 2/3 ice to reach optimal efficacy. Even a rotomolded cooler like the RovR RollR simply won’t do its job without your meeting it halfway.
Check out our other buying guides for outdoor adventures
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- Best travel mug overall: Contigo Autoseal West Loop
- Best travel mug for hot drinks: Zojirushi Stainless Steel Mug
- Best travel mug for adventures: Camelbak Forge
- Best travel mug for design lovers: Ello Cole
- Best travel mug that’s easy to use: OXO Good Grips Travel Mug
- Best rugged travel mug: YETI 20-ounce tumbler with the lid
- Best affordable travel mug: Copco Acadia Travel Mug
A great refillable water bottle will help you stay hydrated while you’re on the go. Of all the water bottles we’ve tested and researched, the Hydro Flask Wide Mouth is the best one you can buy with its rugged construction and great temperature retention. Here are our picks for the best water bottles you can buy:
- Best water bottle overall: Hydro Flask Wide Mouth
- Best plastic water bottle: Camelbak Chute
- Best glass water bottle: Lifefactory Glass
- Best water bottle for design lovers: S’well Stainless Steel
- Best compact water bottle: Vapur Element
- Best rugged water bottle for adventures: Bear Grylls Triple Wall Vacuum Insulated
- Best collapsible water bottle for travel: Hydaway collapsible
When you’re car camping, gear weight isn’t an issue, so choose a tent with plenty of space and all the extra features you and your camping buddies could want in a home away from home. The Coleman Carlsbad Fast Pitch Dome Tent is our top choice because it sets up in minutes, reduces interior brightness and heat, and has a screened-in vestibule. Here are our picks for the best tents you can buy for car camping: