Whether you’re planning a beach date or a boat ride, a good cooler is a necessity. But don’t just buy the first cooler that you see, get the cooler that’s right for your situation.
Of course, that’s a little easier said than done. There are a ton of coolers on the market, and it’s challenging to dig through the polycarbonate cooler forest, pull out a single container, and say, “we were meant to be.”
So, we’ve taken the time to find the best coolers for every situation and budget. You just have to figure out which cooler lines up with your needs.
The Four Most Important Aspects of a Cooler
If you run out and grab the first cooler that you see, then you’re probably going to be disappointed. Coolers come in all shapes and sizes for a good reason: everybody has different needs. There’s no point in buying a large, expensive cooler for small picnics, and you’ll only disappoint your friends by whipping out a 5-quart cooler on a camping trip.
So before buying a cooler, consider what you’ll use it for. Think about the four most important aspects of a cooler, and how those aspects can line up with your needs.
- Insulation: Not all coolers are created equal. Insulation is by far the most important aspect of a cooler, and you generally want to look for an “ice retention” rating to judge whether or not a cooler can fit your needs. Some coolers can hold ice for up to ten days!
- Durability: Most coolers are made from durable plastic. Unless your cooler is in a freak accident, small parts, like hinges, will break before the plastic does. That said, large coolers are usually better built than small coolers, and soft coolers (while portable) can only handle so much abuse.
- Size and Portability: While a cooler’s capacity is important, there’s no point in buying a cooler that’s larger than your needs. If portability is important to you, then consider purchasing a mid-sized, personal, or soft cooler.
- Special Features: Depending on your situation, cup holders and wheels can make or break a cooler. But in most cases, a simple cooler with a pair of handles will work just fine. Special features should come into consideration after insulation, durability, and size.
Once you’ve sorted out your cooler needs, you’re good to go. Let’s get on with the show.
The Premium Pick: YETI Tundra 65 57qt Cooler ($350)
If you’re going for a cooler, why not shoot for the best brand available? Like all YETI products, the YETI Tundra 65 is ridiculously durable and well-insulated, with ice retention of up to 10 days. It’s also certified bear-resistant. You may be asking, “why isn’t it bear-proof?” Well, dear soul, nothing is bear-proof.
Because of its 3-inch thick PermaFrost insulation and durable FatWall design, the Tundra is ideal for camping, beach days, boating, or any family gathering—provided you can drop $350 on a cooler. That said, it only holds 57 quarts. If you want a larger YETI Tundra cooler, you should check out the Tundra 75 for $450 or Tundra 160 at an eye-watering $680.
The Budget Pick: Coleman Xtreme Wheeled 50qt Cooler ($40)
If you’re looking for a budget cooler with a ton of features, then you should check out the Coleman Xtreme. It holds up to 50 quarts and has an ice retention rating of up to five days, which is great for just about any situation. Plus, it has wheels for extra portability, and four built-in cup holders for your convenience.
The Best Personal Cooler: Coleman Fliplid 5qt Cooler ($11)
If you’re going on a beach date or a short outdoor expedition, then you don’t need a giant cooler. The Coleman Fliplid personal cooler is super cheap and great for a quick outing. It can hold up to five quarts (about six cans), it has a convenient handle, and it can keep ice cool for about two days.
Keep in mind that a personal cooler is useful for more than just camping. You could use the Coleman Fliplid as a lunch box, a road trip buddy, or even as a small cooler for outdoor meetups.
The Best Soft Cooler: Engel HD30 20qt Vacuum-Seal Tote ($200)
Some situations call for a soft, collapsible cooler. The Engel HD30 is a high tech, well-insulted 20-quart tote with a built-in vacuum seal. Not only is it waterproof, but it also has an ice retention rating of up to four days, which is impressive for a soft cooler.
While the Engel HD30 doesn’t have the capacity of a larger cooler, it’s ideal for travel, sports, or any other situation where a bulky hard cooler is inconvenient.
The Best Value: Coleman 48qt and Igloo 150qt Coolers ($38-$95)
Looking for the best bang for your buck? The Coleman 48 quart performance cooler is a great choice. It’s a medium-sized, durable cooler with a three-day ice retention rating. For $38, it’s hard to find a better cooler.
If you need a larger cooler, check out the Igloo Quick and Cool 150 quart cooler. This beast is large enough to hold a month’s worth of drinks or food, and it has a seven-day ice retention rating. It’s ideal for boating, camping, parties, or outdoor sports events. Just make sure that you can fit it in your car first.
Keep in mind that the Coleman 48qt cooler and the Igloo 150qt cooler don’t have wheels, cup holders, or any other fancy features. They’re bare bones coolers, but they offer a lot of space and ice retention at a reasonable price.