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The Absolute Best Coolers For Any Adventure

Best Coolers 00 Hero

Though rudimentary cold storage vessels for prolonging the shelf-life of perishable goods and foods have existed for centuries, it wasn’t until February of 1951 that the first portable ice chest was patented in the United States. In the subsequent seven decades, these portable offerings — which we know today simply as the “cooler” — have hugely evolved, with advancements in insulation and construction techniques giving way to a host of increasingly efficient, mobile, rugged, and lightweight models.

Because outdoor coolers are designed and engineered with different applications in mind, today’s market encompasses an enormous variety of models, massively varying in not only size and type, but also in overall quality and efficiency. And with the dog days of summer now fully upon us, there’s no better time to invest in a proper outdoor cooler. So, to help you sort through the sea of mediocre coolers, and shine a light on the creme of the cooler crop, we’ve compiled this list guide to the best coolers currently on the market.

Best Coolers Breakdown

Quantifying A Cooler's Quality

The Six Main Areas To Consider When Shopping For A Modern Cooler

Because all coolers perform the same basic function, it can be tricky distinguishing the different models or understanding the justification behind some of the higher MSRPs attached to many of today’s more top-shelf coolers. To help give you an idea of what to look for, we’ve put together this guide on the qualities to hone in on when buying a cooler.

Soft Versus Hard-Sided: Though there are hybrid products, the two most common types of coolers and hard and soft-sided. Both styles have their own unique strengths and weaknesses, with hard coolers typically boasting more rugged and robust construction and often more efficient insulation than their soft-sided counterparts. Soft-sided coolers have the benefit of being lighter, and thus more travel friendly. Plus, the aforementioned advancements in insulation have allowed for several soft-sided models that can rival hard-sided coolers in terms of prolonged temperature regulation.

Intended Application:  Your hunt for a new cooler should start with considering how you plan on using the thing. A jumbo-sized rolling hard cooler might be a great choice for tailgating, though will obviously be less-than-conducive to hike-in camping applications. Your intended use should help to narrow down your search and figure out which style works best for your situation.

Materials & Application:This area determines overall durability. Common constructions utilized for hard coolers are plastics and polymers, while many soft-sided items are comprised of high-denier nylons — both varieties of which often sport TPU and polyurea-coatings. In terms of construction, many of the best hard coolers are manufactured using rotational molding (or “roto-molding” as it’s often referred to), while high-end soft-sided units can often be found with welded seams and outfitted with full membranes or liners. Clasps, hardware, zippers, and other closures are also of importance, as the more high-end offerings tend to be equipped with more premium parts such as water and leakproof zippers and Duraflex hardware, to name a few.

Insulation & Cooling Properties: Coupled with a cooler’s outside shell material and liner/membrane, the insulation is the factor that determines a given model’s thermal retention properties. High-density closed-cell foam is fairly common amongst modern coolers, though there are also numerous proprietary types such as YETI’s PERMAFROST and COLDCELL insulations. And, whether or not you fully comprehend what these materials mean, the lion’s share of coolers will typically advertise how long they can realistically remain cold while out in the field.

Physical Dimensions & Storage Space: This one circles back to the intended use, as that’s the area that should be determining what size of cooler you should be getting. It is important to note that external dimensions don’t necessarily reflect internal storage space, as well as the fact that pretty much all coolers require a cooling element (such as ice) in order to operate, and said element takes up some of the available space. To give you a better sense, most companies will advertise internal restate (usually in liters), as well as how many cans it can hold.

Mobility & Weight:The contents inside of coolers — liquid and food typically — can add up quickly, and be extremely heavy. For this reason, it’s important to minimize the weight of the cooler itself. Fortunately, modern materials and construction have allowed for some impressively lightweight models. The general rule is that if you can’t comfortably carry a cooler (when full), then you’re going to want to opt for a rolling cooler equipped with wheels. Additionally, there are also backpack- and sling-style coolers that make transportation easier and free up the use of both of your hands. This is also an area in which intended use once again comes to the surface.

*NOTE: Ice retention quotes below are estimates and will change depending on multiple factors, including external temperatures.

Igloo Recool 16QT Cooler

  • Made from bidegradable materials
  • Incredibly lightweight
  • Not nearly as performative as any other option
  • Not durable; made for limited use

Best Cheap Cooler: An unusual alternative to regular cooler models, Igloo’s ReCOOL cooler is a minimalistic take on the common vessel, as well as the world’s first-ever cooler made entirely from biodegradable materials. Made in the USA and measuring 15” x 11” x 11.38”, the cooler is fully reusable. The cooler’s 16-quart capacity is good for accommodating 20 (12oz) cans, too. The design incorporates grab handles into the top of the cooler for easier mobility, while the removable lid contains a number of integrated cup holders. And, while the ReCOOL obviously lacks the durability and structural integrity of its more expensive traditional counterparts, it presents a much more environmentally-friendly option. Furthermore, it only costs a fraction of what regular coolers go for, and is plenty sufficient if you’re only spending a few hours at the beach or in the backyard.

Outer Construction: Recycled paper and AKD (alkyl ketene dimer)
Ice Retention: 12 hours
Volume: 16 quarts

Pelican 45QW Elite Wheeled Cooler

Pelican 45QW Elite Wheeled Cooler
  • Wheels work like a charm
  • Great ice retention
  • Incredibly durable
  • Built-in bottle opener
  • Fish measuring scale on lid
  • May come with cosmetic issues

Best for Camping: While large hard-sided coolers can offer you and your party days of chilled drinks and perishables while off-the-grid, most of them, unfortunately, lack the mobility to easily get them to remote locales, especially when traveling on foot. Built with the same rugged construction and hardwearing qualities that Pelican is known for, the 45QW Elite Dayventure cooler provides a mobile means of bringing your favorite beverages to the campsite with its heavy-duty wheels and tough-as-nails construction. Certified as bear-resistant by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee, this hard-sided ice chest has a 2″ polyurethane insulation and a freezer-grade gasket. Other features include a built-in bottle opener, a fish measuring scale on top, molded-in tie-downs, a sloped drain, and glove-friendly latches.

Outer Construction: Polyethylene shell with stainless steel hardware
Ice Retention: 72 hours
Volume: 45 quarts

Hydro Flask 20L Day Escape Pack

Hydro Flask 20L Day Escape Pack
  • Comfortable
  • Waterproof all around
  • Can stand up on its own
  • Five-year warranty
  • Zipper is pretty stiff
  • Narrow

Best Backpack Cooler: Allowing for an easy hands-free means of hauling 20L of thoroughly-chilled real estate, Hydro Flask’s Day Escape Pack soft cooler backpack is one of the lightest options you’ll find. Built around a 600D waterproof polyester shell and boasting welded seams throughout, the cooler features a compression molded base so it can stand on its own as well. Able to attach accessories with its laser-cut welded loops on the outside, this backpack-style cooler can keep its contents nice and frosty for up to 36 hours. Fitted with a watertight zipper, its wide-mouth top allows for convenient access to its contents and makes for easy cleaning, as well. Sold with a five-year warranty, the unit is made for all-day hauling and comfort with its padded shoulder straps, woven sternum straps, and padded mesh back panel.

Outer Construction: 600D waterproof polyester
Ice Retention: 36 hours
Volume: 21 quarts

YETI Tundra 65 Hard Cooler

YETI Tundra 65
  • 3″ of insulation
  • Can be decorated with team logos
  • Certified bear-proof
  • Durable with reliable latching system
  • Comes in other sizes too
  • Pretty heavy

Best Large Hard-Sided: YETI’s fantastic range of insulated vessels, from water bottles to coolers of all sizes, is just about unrivaled. For its Tundra 65 Hard Cooler, the brand has made the ultimate hard-sided unit for long weekend trips and group outings. The cooler features roto-molded construction and 3″ of YETI’s proprietary PERMAFROST insulation thanks to the Fatwall design. The lid is secured via a heavy-duty T-REX lid latch system and Neverfail hinges that together are virtually indestructible and have been certified bear-proof by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee. Other features include tie-down slots for attaching to your truck bed or trailer, military-grade polyester rope handles, and non-slip feet. Tipping the scales at just over 30lbs when empty, the cooler is made to house 77 canned beverages (cans only). YETI also lets sports fans order this cooler from their website, decorated in a variety of collegiate and MLB team logos.

Outer Construction: Rotomolded plastic
Ice Retention: 48 hours
Volume: 49 quarts

RTIC Soft Pack Cooler

RTIC Soft Pack Cooler
  • Very durable
  • Fantastic price
  • It floats
  • Lots of size and color options
  • N/A

Best Soft Cooler: The best soft-sided coolers will be waterproof and tough, yet compact and lightweight. When it comes to modern options, very few models can compare with RTIC’s Soft Pack, a leakproof cooler that can float on water, and is also available in a plethora of colorways and four different size options. Built with a heavy-duty nylon shell, this unit is insulated with closed-cell foam and liner, both of which are resistant to punctures and abrasions. Featuring multiple carrying options for any type of adventure, it also sports an exterior pocket for any extras you need to store.

Outer Construction: Rotomolded plastic
Ice Retention: 24 hours
Volume: 5.64 to 34.2 quarts

Coleman Steel-Belted Cooler

Coleman Steel Belted Cooler
  • Beautiful retro aesthetic
  • Rust-resistant
  • Large interior space
  • 4-day ice retention
  • You can sit on it
  • Heavy

Best Vintage: Evoking the weekend camping trips we took as kids, Coleman’s Steel-Belted hard-sided cooler offers a vintage aesthetic in three colorways, while still performing exceptionally well as a vessel for keeping our drinks and food cold for hours on end. Haul this rust-resistant stainless steel cooler into the woods with Comfort Grip steel handles on each side. Holding 54 quarts, or 85 regular-size cans, this unit has a four-day ice retention quote, even in 90-plus-degree temps, and sports a leak-resistant drain. As a bonus, the “Have a Seat” lid supports weights up to 250 pounds, so you can bring this chest next to the campfire as an extra makeshift chair.

Outer Construction: Stainless steel
Ice Retention: 96 hours
Volume: 54 quarts

SpeedBox Endurance-40 Military Grade Cooler

  • Stackable
  • Virtually indestructible
  • No-flat tires underneath are off-road capable
  • Multiple lifting points
  • Expensive
  • Quite large

Most Rugged: Utilized by military forces including the Navy’s EOD, the National Guard, and Air Force Pararescue Jumpers, and Army Special Forces, this legitimately military-grade cooler is roto-molded from an advanced polymer that’s incredibly strong yet lightweight. Riding on no-flat off-road tires, this cooler packs an impressive 300lb capacity and multiple lifting points, and was designed to fit on standard shipping pallets. The Endurance-40 also features parachute rigging slots along its heavy-duty hinged lid, which is fortified via a cam-latched lid and a set of aluminum lock plates. This cooler can also have multiple units neatly stacked atop each other, and because of its ultra-rugged construction, it has no problem doubling as a table, platform, or bench. Moreover, the Endurance-40 is outfitted with a long padded handle that neatly folds down and out of the way when the cooler isn’t being towed.

Outer Construction: Shatter-resistant polymer
Ice Retention: N/A
Volume: 160 quarts

Oyster Tempo 23

Oyster Tempo 23
  • Double-walled vacuum insulation eliminates need for ice
  • Sleek aesthetic
  • Can be repaired tool-free
  • Could be bigger
  • Expensive

Most Innovative: Vacuum-insulated items have become the standard in the water bottle industry over the last few years, prized for their ability to keep hot drinks hot or cold drinks cold for extended periods of time with tremendous efficiency while coming in at relatively minimal weights. Recognizing the obvious merits of this style of construction, newcomer Oyster has saved room inside of its cast aluminum double-walled Tempo cooler by swapping out the foam insulation so that your drinks will stay cold without needing any ice whatsoever. With a 23L interior, the unit is designed to be deconstructed for repairs tool-free. The brand’s available bundle comes with the cooler, an adjustable strap, and two ice packs.

Outer Construction: Double-walled cast aluminum
Ice Retention: N/A
Volume: 24.3 quarts

The Best Summer Camping Essentials

Photo: NEMO Helio LX Pressure Shower

Interested in some additional equipment to enhance your warm-weather adventures? Then be sure to dive into our guide for the best pieces of summer camping gear for a look at some of the latest and greatest in gear designed to help you thrive when the temperatures rise.