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What Size Cooler Do I Need For My Trip?

A good cooler is an indispensable item for your outdoor adventures. Buy the right one, and your drinks will stay cold, your perishables unspoiled, and your ice, well, ice. Coolers come in all different sizes. In this guide I’ll break down which size cooler you’ll need for any trip.

What size cooler you need will depend on how many people are in your party, how many days you’re traveling, and how much food and drink you plan to bring. No matter what type of cooler you get, if you can pre-chill your cooler before leaving, your ice is going to go a lot further meaning your stuff will stay cooler longer.

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Best Cooler for Going Light

Mountainsmith Cooler Tube

cooler tube sling

With enough space to hold six cans, this cooler tube is perfect for keeping your drinks cold on the go. Less bulky and awkward to carry than traditional coolers, this bad boy is great for hikes, crag days, or shorter trips.

Best Cooler for Day Trips

RTIC Backpack Cooler

RTIC Backpack Cooler

If you’re traveling for a day or less, a backpack cooler is the way to go. Perfect for music festivals, days at the park, or hiking, this cooler is easy to carry and designed for shorter trips. Backpack coolers usually come in a 20-30 can size, perfect for you and your friends’ shorter adventures. To explore all our backpack cooler options, check out our roundup of these awesome backpack coolers.

Best Cooler for Paddling Trips

IceMule Pro

IceMule Pro Cooler

For a day of paddling, a cooler in the 15-30 liter range is going to provide enough room for lunch and a few drinks. This soft-sided cooler from IceMule has a rolltop closure meaning it’ll keep water out and float. The last thing you want if you capsize is for all of your food and drink to go floating away. Soft-sided coolers are also nice because they can be crammed into the not-rectangular-shaped recesses of boats and are less bulky when strapped to a SUP. The IceMule pro comes with backpack straps saving you trips as you carry your kayak or SUP down to the water. To see our full lineup of coolers for the water, check out these best coolers that float.

Best Cooler for a Day at the Beach

Yeti Tundra Haul

Yeti Haul Wheeled Cooler

A whole day the beach brings us into the serious cooler arena. I’m talkin’ 45-55 liters of cooler space, enough room for all the drinks, lunch, snacks, you name it. The only problem with coolers this size is they can be heavy, especially once you’ve filled them with all these drinks, lunch, and snacks I mentioned. That’s where wheels come in. Take the strain of your back, free up a hand to carry the beach umbrella, and get yourself a wheeled cooler. To read more about wheeled coolers, check out these best coolers with wheels.

Read More: Best Coolers Like Yeti

Best Cooler for a Weekend Camping Trip

Canyon Outfitter 55

A brown Canyon Coolers Outfitter Rotomolded Cooler with a sticker of the brand on it.

The Outfitter is built for two people on a 4-5 day adventure. That said, it will keep ice frozen for up to a week. Its 55-liter capacity is a great size for a weekend trip, though, with enough space for you and any friends who decide to come along. Super durable, customizable with baskets to keep things dry, and easy enough to carry by just one person.

Read More: Best Coolers for Camping

Best Cooler for the Whole Family

Yeti Tundra 65

The Yeti Tundra 65 is one of the best extreme coolers for camping.

For large groups and family trips you’re going to want a cooler in the 55-70 liter range. The Tundra is just one example. Most companies make a cooler in this size. What I love about the Yeti Tundra is its incredible durability, its ability to keep things cool, and all of the thoughtful extras built into its design. It has two holes for padlocks and is bear safe, with molded tie-down slots that still allow you to access its contents, and rubber grips to prevent this cooler from sliding around your boat or truck. Bring everything you need and feel confident it will stay cool with the Yeti Tundra 65.

Editors' Recommendations

Benjamin Buckingham
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Ben lives in Portland, Oregon where he works as a freelance writer and outdoor guide.
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two men with a yeti cooler and a dog

Whether you are camping for two nights or a full week, camping requires some careful forethought and planning. No one wants questionable food due to the cooler getting too warm too soon or an unidentifiable snack that's soggy from falling out of an open package and into melting ice. With some consideration and preparation, you can easily pack a cooler for camping that will seamlessly serve you well throughout the length of your trip.
Type of Cooler

The two greatest factors to consider when choosing the best cooler for camping are its ability to insulate well, the size, and features of the cooler. Brands like Yeti and ORCA are both top performers for backpack coolers because they are incredibly durable and excellent at insulating. If you are in the market to buy a fancy new cooler, you can get good sizes from both brands too, should you need a compact design or a more sprawling cooler depending on your needs.

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Few things polarize car campers, fishermen, and tailgaters like talk of “premium coolers.” Yeti and Pelican are brands revered by many, while others chastise them as ridiculously overpriced novelties marketed to yuppies who don’t know any better. The debate is only set to become more contentious with Yeti’s announcement of an all-new flagship $800 vacuum-insulated cooler.

We won’t lie: It’s easy to balk at the $800 price tag. This is just a cooler, after all. But, the Yeti V Series Stainless Steel Cooler delivers something that’s been surprisingly lacking in the cooler industry: Vacuum insulation. Many companies have long relied on the technology in travel mugs, as it’s incredibly efficient at keeping hot drinks hot and cold drinks cold. Most engineers consider it to be the single most effective way to insulate just about anything. Yeti itself uses vacuum insulation in its Rambler Drinkware. It’s odd, but it seems no other company has thought to use the same tech in its coolers as well.

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Bear-Proof Cooler Testing: Where Brands Send Prototypes to Be Mauled
yeti bear proof cooler lock

When camping cooler manufacturers want to get their new products verified bear-resistant, they call one man.

His name is Randy Gravatt and he’s been working at The Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center (GWDC) in West Yellowstone, Montana for nearly two decades.

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