The traditional cooler has come a long way. We grew up on old-school plastic and steel models that weighed a ton, sweat like crazy, and suffered terrible ice retention. Many of us remember having to pour out quarts of water after just a few hours on a hot summer day. Thankfully, times and technology have changed. Modern plastics and manufacturing methods like rotational molding (otherwise known as rotomolding) result in super-rugged cooler bodies that offer greatly improved insulation and ice retention that lasts for days rather than mere hours.
Before you let your family pass down that dinky cooler you took on road trips and beach days, you should familiarize yourself with this superior new breed of coolers. The best models from brands like Yeti, Coleman, Pelican, and others ensure you’re never without a frosty beverage on the lake, at the beach, or by the campfire. Which is the best cooler for you? Read on to find out.
Best Wheeled Cooler: Pelican 45QW
Pelican has long been synonymous with the world’s best coolers. They’re often pricey, but their near-bulletproof durability and week-plus ice retention are why the U.S. military often relies on them. Pelican’s Elite collection is its flagship consumer cooler line with capacities ranging from 20 quarts to 150 quarts. The 45QW Elite Wheeled Cooler is the perfect compromise. It’s small enough to be portable, especially with the integrated wheels. But, it’s large enough for a long weekend camping or at the beach house. Thoughtful features like a built-in fish scale, bottle opener, molded-in tie-downs, and a sloped drain with a tethered threaded plug (for use with a garden hose) make it infinitely more usable. It works great as a portable beverage cooler.
Best Rugged Cooler: Yeti Tundra
Most really good coolers are pretty rugged, but if you’re the type of outdoorsman who is unusually rough on your things, then the Yeti Tundra might be the ultimate vessel for keeping your drinks, meat, fish, and whatever else ice-cold and protected. The Tundra’s rotomolded walls are several inches thick and filled with PermaFrost insulation for days’ worth of ice retention, and the lid bolts down with Yeti’s rubber T-Rex latches for a bear-proof, airtight seal. The 45-quart Yeti Tundra is a bit pricey at $300, but if you don’t mind the “buy once, cry once” price tag, this might be it. If 45 quarts doesn’t meet your needs, there’s also a , or you can upgrade to a for easier portability.
Best Mid-Range Option: Arctic Zone Titan Deep Freeze 55Q Premium Ice Chest
If the premium price tag for a Yeti or Pelican cooler is too rich for your budget, Arctic Zone’s Titan Deep Freeze Ice Chest collection is a reliable alternative. The 55-quart model boasts enough capacity for just about any fishing, camping, or tailgating event. Its uni-body rotomolded construction, along with thick polyurethane insulation, a 360-degree rubber gasket, and a tight, corrosion-resistant seal all work to maximize ice retention for more than a week. It’s also certified bear-resistant, so it works well as a safe space for your campside snacks.
Best Travel Cooler: IceMule Pro XX-Large
IceMule offers some of the most portable backpack coolers and best travel coolers. At 40 liters, its IceMule Pro XX-Large is the most spacious in the company’s lineup. It’s room enough for up to 36 cans plus ice. While that’s quite a load to lug into the backcountry, it’s nice to know you have the option if and when you need it. The company promises the Pro XX-Large will retain solid ice for over 24 hours. At around $140, it’s a bargain compared to many of its larger and pricier hard-sided competitors.
Best Soft Cooler: OtterBox Trooper LT 30
Although it’s best known for smartphone cases and accessories, OtterBox offers a solid line of outdoor gear as well. The Trooper LT 30 Cooler is a versatile, soft-sided cooler that quickly converts between shoulder carry and backpack carry. The wide mouth opens to reveal a 30-quart capacity with a leakproof, food-grade liner that’ll keep ice for more than three days. Plus, water-resistant external pockets and an integrated bottle opener are nice-to-have touches around the campfire.
Best Portable Cooler: Hydro Flask 22L Soft Cooler Pack
Of course, not every outing calls for a jumbo-sized cooler. If you value portability above all else, Hydro Flask’s 22L Soft Cooler Pack is a lightweight, durable, streamlined option that’s sized just right. The 22-liter capacity is small enough to wear like a standard backpack, even when fully loaded. But, the wide-mouth top provides easy access to a reasonably large, food-grade interior that holds more than enough cold drinks and snacks for a couple for up to 48 hours. Plus, the YKK Aquaseal zipper and welded seams ensure leakproof transport with no water in or out.
Best Cheap Cooler: Coleman Performance Cooler
Sometimes, you just can’t beat a classic, and the OG Coleman cooler combines modern materials and three-day ice retention with a no-nonsense design at an unbeatable price point. This model has a 48-quart capacity (with room for more than 60 cans) — the “Goldilocks” zone for a go-to day cooler that’s not too big or too small. It’s also tall enough for 2-liter soda bottles to stand up in. Another surprising (and very nice) thing to see with a budget option is that this Coleman cooler is made right here in America. For a mere $25, don’t even think about looking elsewhere for a cheap, no-frills cooler.and versions are also available if you want to go smaller, and – you guessed it – there’s also
Best Super-Sized Option: Igloo Polar Cooler
Most medium- to large-sized coolers are in the 40- to 65-quart range. For serious parties, however, that almost certainly won’t be enough. For big get-togethers like graduation parties or the next Fyre Fest, this unassuming white titan from Igloo is just the ticket. Along with a cavernous 120-quart capacity, the Igloo Polar cooler provides excellent insulation and ice retention, a locking lid, and an odor-resistant liner. In short, it’s everything you need a jumbo-sized cooler to be, with no unnecessary (and expensive) bells and whistles. Since a huge cooler isn’t something most of us are likely to use often, it doesn’t make sense to pay hundreds for one, and the Igloo Polar cooler is pretty easy on the wallet despite its size. Amazon has it for just under $70.
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