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Coolers are an essential tool for any outdoor event when you want to keep food and beverages icy cold. They’re designed to take abuse and weather the elements while keeping their contents intact and cold for days. The best ones will keep ice cold for hours (or days!), are easy to carry, organize food neatly, and are sturdy enough to last for years.
Coolers are available in various capacities, shapes, styles, and price ranges. Choosing the best one for your needs depends on the intended use for the cooler. To help you narrow down your choices, here are the best coolers currently on the market.
Best Overall: YETI Tundra Haul Hard Cooler
What We Like: Single piece construction wheels, durable/bear-proof, latch lid system
What We Don't Like: Expensive, heavy
Yeti coolers are known for their rotomolded construction, which translates to extra-thick, hollow walls, sturdy outside corners, and the ability to keep food cold for several days. The Tundra Haul is the first and only Yeti cooler on wheels. Like all Yeti coolers, the Tundra Haul is durable and can withstand pretty much anything you throw at it—even bear attacks—which makes this cooler a favorite among people who love the outdoors.
Whether roughing in the wilderness or glamping it with friends, the Tundra Haul is easy to maneuver due to its two single-piece tires and T-bar handle. The "Neverflat" tires are impact- and puncture-resistant and easily go over all types of terrain.
Able to hold up to 45 cans, this cooler will keep food cold for up to six days thanks to its extra-thick walls and two inches of pressure-injected polyurethane foam insulation. Like all Yeti coolers, the Tundra Haul is expensive. However, it’s an extremely durable cooler that you can count on to keep your perishables safe.
Dimensions (LxWxH): 28.25 x 18.6 x 19.5 inches | Capacity: 55 quarts | Weight: 37 pounds
Best Budget: Coleman 50-Quart Xtreme 5-Day Heavy-Duty Cooler
What We Like: Inexpensive, closed lid supports up to 250 pounds, molded cup holders in lid
What We Don't Like: Plastic wheels, hard to maneuver on tough terrain, no latch for the lid
The Coleman 50-Quart Xtreme 5-Day Cooler features durable, insulated walls and a lid, which gives it the ability to retain ice for up to five days at temperatures as high as 90 degrees. The cooler is perfect for all-around use, including camping, tailgating, and family picnics.
This affordable cooler features a locking telescoping handle and heavy-duty wheels that allow for easy traversing on roads, flat trails, or smooth terrain. While the handle is easy to maneuver when rolling, it should not be used to lift a full cooler as it will most likely break. Instead, the molded side handles are designed for lifting. Since it only holds about 84 cans, this is best for weekend trips or daylong get-togethers. However, it will retain cool temperatures longer if properly pre-chilled with limited openings.
Dimensions (LxWxH): 22.6 x 17.7 x 17.6 inches | Capacity: 50 quarts | Weight: 13 pounds
Best for a Beach Day: Yeti Hopper Flip 18 Insulated Personal Cooler
What We Like: Waterproof/leakproof, excellent insulation, very portable
What We Don't Like: Expensive, no outer pockets
For a day on the beach, you need a cooler that’s easy to carry, clean, and will keep your drinks icy cold. Yeti’s Hopper Flip 18 Portable Cooler features everything the premium brand is known for: superior insulation, durability, and style.
The Hopper portables are soft coolers made from high-density fabric that is waterproof and resistant to mildew, punctures, and UV rays. The line also features food-grade liners, leak-proof zippers, and closed-cell rubber foam insulation that offers better cold-holding capability than ordinary soft coolers. The Hopper Flip 18 cooler fits 20 cans or 24 pounds of ice in its compact, cubed body. The padded strap makes it easy and comfortable to carry wherever you go.
For a soft-sided cooler bag, the Yeti Hopper Flips is expensive. But if you spend a lot of time on the beach or need a portable cooler that will keep your contents cold, Yeti will not disappoint.
Dimensions (LxWxH): 16.25 x 10.75 x 13 inches | Capacity: 17.8 liters | Weight: 5.1 pounds
Related: The Best Ice Packs for Coolers
Best Wheeled: Blue Coolers 55-Quart Ice Vault
What We Like: Keeps ice for 10 days, large capacity
What We Don't Like: Expensive
The Blue Coolers brand is relatively new in the cooler scene. Still, it is gaining popularity for manufacturing high-quality rotomolded coolers that cost around half of comparable Yeti coolers.
The wheeled 55-quart Ice Vault cooler is suitable for all sorts of outdoor activities. It’s comparable to the Yeti Haul with a similar T-style heavy-duty handle and durable plastic wheels that will easily travel over the roughest terrain. Unlike the Yeti Haul, this cooler has 2 inches of insulation that retains ice for up to 10 days and a bottle opener built right in.
Dimensions (LxWxH): 27 x 18.1 x 18.9 inches | Capacity: 55 quarts | Weight: 28.2 pounds
Best Soft-Sided: RTIC Insulated Soft Cooler Bag
What We Like: Holds up to 30 cans, multipurpose, durable
What We Don't Like: Only one slim pocket
RTIC is another cooler brand that’s giving Yeti a run for their money. Its coolers are known for durable construction and impressive cold retention capabilities, both features evident in their insulated cooler bag.
Featuring a leakproof and puncture-resistant vinyl shell, the cooler is UV-protected to ensure it does not fade. This also has an antimicrobial liner that resists mildew and is rated to keep contents cool for up to five days. That is thanks to 2 inches of closed-cell insulation on the top of the cooler and one inch of insulation on the sides.
RTIC offers three carrying options: side handles, top handles, or a shoulder strap. No matter how heavy or light your load, this portable soft cooler remains comfortable to carry. Holding up to 30 cans plus ice, this makes the perfect cooling companion for an afternoon picnic.
Dimensions (LxWxH): 15.5 x 11.5 x 12.75 inches | Capacity: 22 quarts | Weight: 4 pounds
Related: The Best Food Storage Containers
The Yeti Tundra Haul (view at Amazon) or Blue Coolers Ice Vault (view at Amazon), which are rugged, virtually indestructible, and easy to wheel around where you need them. If you need something more affordable, the Coleman 50-Quart Xtreme 5-Day Heavy-Duty Cooler (view at Amazon) is an all-around winner as well.
What to Look for in a Cooler
Coolers are either hard-sided and soft-sided. While both types will insulate your food and beverages, they each suit a different purpose. Overall, hard-sided coolers are more durable. They are constructed with double-walled plastic with a layer of foam insulation in between. Because the lid is airtight, hard-sided coolers will keep your food colder longer. Hard-sided coolers are the best choice for those who camp often or if you keep your cooler outside.
Soft-sided coolers are lighter in weight and are perfect for short trips such as picnics, day hikes, beach days, or work/school lunches. These coolers vary in their abilities to keep their contents cool. The cold storage capacity depends on what type of insulation the cooler has, what the outer material is made of, and how airtight the zippers are. Overall, they are easier to clean and store when not in use.
Capacity for coolers is measured in quarts. Sizes range from 5 to 150 quarts or more. For a day, a 25-quart capacity cooler offers more than enough space to store food for two to three people. Weekend trips require more storage capacity making a 45 or 60-quart capacity cooler better. However, for weeklong trips, a 100 to 150-quart capacity cooler will keep your food fresh for the duration of your trip. Of course, bigger isn’t always better when it comes to the cooling efficiency of a cooler. All coolers will retain cold better if packed efficiently. Before you pick a cooler size, think about what you need to bring and how much space you need to load the cooler tight. It may be better to use two smaller cooler versus a large one.
The larger the cooler, the harder it will be to move, especially when it is full. To help solve this dilemma, many large coolers feature wheels to improve portability. Hard-sided coolers are heavier than soft-sided ones. Consider how often the cooler will travel with you and how far you typically have to transport it. Look for a cooler with extended handles or molded handles on the side that will help you move it. For soft-sided coolers, the carrying strap should be stitched well and feel sturdy, with padded shoulder straps a bonus for comfort. Finally, the handles should also be ergonomic, so they won’t tire out or hurt your hands when carrying them.
Although most coolers are either square or rectangular, some have various features that set them apart. For example, some coolers have dividers, bins or bags incorporated into their design. These compartments allow you to keep food items dry and out of the ice. Shelves and compartments also will enable you to separate soft and hard items. Outside pockets or bins allow you to store non-perishable essentials such as utensils, napkins and other paper products. Other additional features that make a cooler more functional are cup holders, can openers, locks, plugs and washable linings.
What are rotomolded coolers?
Rotomolded coolers, such as RTIC and Yeti brands, are coolers made from a rotational molding process. This high-temperature, low-pressure plastic-forming process uses heat and rotation to produce hollow, one-piece parts. Rotomolded coolers are renowned for their extreme cold retention abilities.
How should you pack a cooler?
Properly packing a cooler will keep your contents colder, longer. Begin by bringing the cooler indoors and allowing it to come to room temperature. Then, pre-chill it with ice overnight. Also, any item you want to keep cold, like cans of soda or water, place them in the refrigerator overnight. The next day, pack the cooler, leaving as little air space around each item as possible. Finally, fill the cooler with ice or ice packs. The ideal ice-to-content ratio is 2:1, so more ice is better to help keep the contents colder for a longer period.
Why Trust Simply Recipes?
Debbie Wolfe is a freelance writer and an online shopping pro who spends hours researching and comparing household goods so you don’t have to. She loves the outdoors and has so many coolers that she knows how to pick the right one no matter what your needs.
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