People planning serious adventures or frequent outdoor gatherings don’t want a cheap, tiny cooler. They want the best cooler available, with enough space for food, beer or fish – and insulation that will actually keep things frosty without vanishing into a puddle at the end of the day. That’s why we’ve picked out the best, most advanced coolers of the year: for people like you.
After buying the top 10 best coolers we found online, we got started testing their capabilities by taking them out on plenty of actual camping trips and day excursions to the beach or the park. As we enjoyed nature, we measured ice retention time, carrying capacity and overall ease of use and cleaning. And the top prize goes to the Coleman Steel-Belted Cooler for its retro, yet durable design, high carrying capacity, and overall solid ice retention. Keep this buying guide in mind as you go into camping or hunting season so you can find the best cooler for you.
- 1 Top 5 Best Coolers Compared
- 1.1 #1 Coleman Steel-Belted Cooler – Top Pick/Best for Camping
- 1.2 #2 Igloo Polar Cooler – Honorable Mention/Best Large Capacity
- 1.3 #3 Coleman Xtreme Cooler – Best Value/Best with Wheels
- 1.4 #4 Igloo Ice Cube Roller – Best for Picnics
- 1.5 #5 CleverMade SnapBasket Cooler – Best Budget/Best Soft
- 1.6 How We Choose the Best Cooler
- 1.7 Why You Should Buy a New Cooler
- 2 What to Look for When Buy the Best Cooler
Top 5 Best Coolers Compared
#1 Coleman Steel-Belted Cooler – Top Pick/Best for CampingWHY WE LIKE IT: The Coleman Steel Banded Cooler brings a taste of nostalgia back to your camping experience with a classic design. It also gives you a ton of versatility and storage capacity, making in the best cooler on our list for camping, as well as our top pick.
Camping should be all about the memories, and Coleman has captured that feeling with the retro design on this Steel Banded cooler. But looks aren’t everything, and fortunately this sturdy Coleman cooler offers great functionality to go along with its memorable design. For starters, you get a full 54 quarts of storage, which is enough to easily store up to 85 cans. The cooler also features a super convenient Have-A-Seat lid, which safely sits a person weighing up to 250 pounds.
When it comes keeping your food and drink cold, the Coleman Steel Banded cooler gives you up to four days of ice retention. This isn’t as long enough for week-long camping trips, but it’s perfect for overnights and weekend getaways. We were pleased with the overall cooling performance on this cooler. It lived up to its rated four days, even in hot weather. One of the biggest downsides we found to this cooler is the lack of wheels, which makes lugging it around harder, especially when fully loaded. All in all, though, the Coleman Steel Banded Cooler is a solid cooler that will keep your food cold while giving you a fun retro design. Speaking of ice, check out the best water purifiers for camping.
#2 Igloo Polar Cooler – Honorable Mention/Best Large CapacityWHY WE LIKE IT: The Igloo Polar Cooler is designed simply so it can focus on one thing: keeping 120 quarts of food and drink cold as long as possible. You get tons of capacity at a super low price with the Igloo, making it a great choice for long camping or hunting trips.
If you don’t care much about the design of your cooler, then the Igloo Polar Cooler is an excellent choice. There’s not much to say about the look of this cooler. Instead of dumping a ton of effort into its looks, the Igloo instead spends its effort on a 5-day ice retention time and offering as much capacity as possible. Whether you’re camping over a week’s time or need to pack out the sweet buck you just bagged while hunting, this cooler can handle it all.
Unfortunately, there were some design aspects that disappointed us a little bit. Namely, the handles and latches weren’t as high quality as we expected, making them a liability in the long term. Though, if you do run into issues with the hardware, you can always order replacements from Igloo. Some of the design aspects that we liked the most include the threaded drain plug, which gives you that extra versatility you may need when it comes to cleaning up and draining the cooler once your trip is done. There’s no doubt that the Igloo Polar Cooler is the best choice for anyone looking for a high-capacity cooler to keep their food fresh for longer periods of time. You might also want to read about the best tactical flashlight for camping.
#3 Coleman Xtreme Cooler – Best Value/Best with WheelsWHY WE LIKE IT: Having a cooler with wheels is one of the best things you can purchase for yourself while you’re out camping, and the Coleman Xtreme Cooler demonstrates exactly why. With a super useful handle and extra-durable wheeled design, you’ll be able to pack in and pack out of your campsite with ease, even when fully loaded.
The best part by far about the Coleman Xtreme Cooler is its portability-centric design. It features two heavy-duty wheels that easily roll over rocks, gravel and dirt. And with the included tow handle, you can easily pull the cooler anywhere you need, even when the cooler is fully loaded up. Of course, the cooler also includes two-way side handles to make lifting easier for you.
The overall design of the Xtreme Cooler is also impressive. The lid features four cup holders and a Have-A-Seat design that doubles as a chair for anyone weighing up to 250 pounds. This works in a pinch when you don’t have enough camp chairs to go around. You can store up to 100 quarts of food and drink in this cooler, one of the bigger options on our list, but unfortunately, the lid doesn’t provide an airtight seal so make sure you pack enough ice to keep food good. If you’re looking for an extra portable cooler, you can’t pass up the Coleman Xtreme Cooler with wheels. You’ll also need the best headlamp for your camping trip.
#4 Igloo Ice Cube Roller – Best for PicnicsWHY WE LIKE IT: When you’re out for a picnic in the park, you don’t want to bring a massive cooler, but you also want something big enough to carry all your stuff. The Igloo Ice Cube Roller cooler is the perfect cooler to bring on day trips with its compact design and unique telescoping handle.
Taking drinks and food on day trips or to soccer games on a hot day can get complicated fast, especially when you want something compact and durable. This is why we chose to include the Igloo Ice Cube Roller on our list of top picks. It’s small enough to not get in the way, but big enough to hold up to 90 cans or 60 quarts of food and drink. It’s rated for 3 days of ice retention, but we found actual retention is closer to a day or two.
One of the best features of the Ice Cube Roller is its unique telescoping handle that can be extended while in use or stored in the cooler when not in use. The handle even includes some molded notches to hang bags or other gear on it for added convenience. While the Ice Cube Roller is easy to access and get into, we had a more difficult time cleaning up after we were done using it because of the notches and grooves inside it. We also noticed that the cooler retained odors of food items we spilled during the day that weren’t cleaned up immediately. However, these small downsides are easily overlooked in the long run, especially when you consider the portability and overall durability of the Igloo Ice Cube Roller cooler. You want your cooler cool, just like the best sleeping bag should be warm.
#5 CleverMade SnapBasket Cooler – Best Budget/Best SoftWHY WE LIKE IT: The CleverMade Snapbasket Cooler features a soft design instead of the hard design we’ve seen in each of the other coolers on our list, meaning it’s made for different situations and applications than the others. With a unique foldable and lightweight design, the Snapbasket is perfect for anyone who doesn’t have tons of space to store a massive cooler or pack one in their smaller vehicles.
While the CleverMade Snapbasket doesn’t have enough ice retention to be useful on long camping trips, it’s perfect for day trips to the beach, park or woods. For starters, it features a fully collapsible design with a minimal footprint when not loaded up. When unfolded, it offers a surprising amount of capacity – up to 50 cans or 32 quarts, to be exact. It’s also made from extra-durable fabric so you won’t have to worry about rips and tears while you’re out and about. Just like the best tents.
Overall, the design of this CleverMade collapsible cooler is really high quality, but there were a couple minor things that gave us pause. For one, we wish the cooler came with a shoulder strap, which would make carrying it around at full capacity much easier. This is something that they usually think of when it comes to outdoor gear. We also wish the zippers were a little better made. We found them getting stuck at random times, which can get a little frustrating if you need to be in and out of the cooler constantly. In the end, we loved using the CleverMade Snapbasket cooler because of its unique foldable design and surprisingly large carrying capacity.
How We Choose the Best Cooler
How do we choose the best coolers? Several key features help us make our decision. At the top of the list are insulation and capacity, two of the most important specifications for any cooler. Models that have multiple capacity options are more useful to buyers since they can be customized to individual need. We also focused on coolers that will keep things on ice for at least a couple days, due to thick insulation – such as injected polyurethane foam or 2-3 inches of solid insulation.
We also took into account usability, looking for coolers that were easy to flip open quickly but also fasten tightly closed so they stay shut even after rolling around a little bit. This is closely tied into overall design, where we looked for coolers that can fit easily into everyday spaces, and have extras like cup holders, measuring boards, efficient drainage options, and similar advantages. Handles, wheels, and other mobility features helped us decided on our favorite picks as well.
Durability also helped us score these top coolers, since easily damaged coolers aren’t much use on adventures. Tough exteriors and hinges that can shrug off rough treatment are important for these high end coolers! And speaking of high end, these coolers can get a little pricey, so we looked for models that didn’t overcharge for any of the above features.
Why You Should Buy a New Cooler
There’s a vast difference between these elite coolers and the “normal” coolers you may take on a picnic. Whether you are tailgating, out on the boat, deep in the trails, or just trying to combat some oppressive summer heat, these new coolers are custom made for their purposes, and they do a fine job. Don’t think of it as an upgrade to a cheap cooler you already have – think of it as the cooling solution you always needed by never had.
These coolers are also excellent picks for outfitting. If you just got a boat, why not grab one of the best coolers in the world to use in it? If you’re spending money on new camping gear, why not include a cooler that will never let you down?
What to Look for When Buy the Best Cooler
Easy Carrying Options
- Carrying may seem like a basic feature – put a handle on the cooler, problem solved. Reality is a little more complicated. Our first and second picks come with dual handles, so you’ll need both hands to make it work. Our third pick comes with a shoulder strap for easy handling. Other, smaller models have a single handle on top. Think about where you’ll be carrying your cooler, and then decide what handle is right for you (it’s a more important feature than you might guess).
The Right Ice Retention for Your Plans
- Ice retention refers to how long, on average, ice will stay in the cooler without melting. Our top picks are generally designed for more hardcore pursuits, because we believe that if you’re going to look at a best of list for cooler, you actually want the best. That’s why our top pick has ice retention of 10 remarkable days. Our third pick has ice retention of two days, which is still pretty good for daylong trips.
- Ice retention is a great stat for judging over insulation quality (and controlling costs), so look for the right kind for your adventures.
A Manageable Weight
- Some coolers rarely leave the back of your truck or that under-seat space in your boat. And that’s fine! But most coolers end up traveling a lot in parks, on beaches, on trails, etc. Since people carry it a lot, it’s important to note the weight as well as the handle. For example, our top pick is a master at ice retention, but it’s too heavy to lug around. Our third pick, meanwhile, is specifically made for a walk.
Features for Your Fingers
- How does the cooler lock? Look for latches that are especially easy to flip open and shut. Other options include extra-wide hatches that can easily be opened, even with gloves on or zippers for a different approach to keeping things contained.
Mistakes to Avoid
Assuming all coolers are the same. They really aren’t. Yes, they are all designed to keep things cold, but that’s where the similarities end. Some are made to be more or less permanent fixtures in boats or vehicles. Some are made for casual parties at the park or beach. Others are designed for serious, long-term hiking. Ultimately, you can’t just pick out the cooler that gets the best score or looks the best for parties – it takes a little research to make a good choice.
Buying too much space. Space is great, but do you need it all? If all you want to do is keep beer cold, pick a smaller size and save some money. If you’re going camping and need to hold a meal or two as well, upgrade. The largest coolers are usually made not to hold food, but to store fish or game along with a few other necessities.
Not learning proper ice management. The general rule is a 2-to-1 ice to contents ratio. However, this can change a bit based on the exact items you are keeping frosty. Research the best ice levels for your food, drink, or meat.
Ignoring your environment. We’re not talking about buying eco-friendly coolers – we mean where you’re going to store the cooler. Is there enough room in the spot you have planned? Is the cooler going to scratch anything nearby (or get scratched by anything). Will it keep its balance even when in motion? Coolers are made for rough-and-tumble activities, but you don’t want them rolling around or getting in the way.
Not cleaning out the cooler. Gross. Clean out your cooler after you use it. It’s basic health and safety. Plus, it smells better.
What Else You Should Think About
In your journey to pick up the best cooler around, remember to stay safe and never eat food that may have spoiled. There are resources available if you want to know what sort of cooler will keep food/game fresh. As far as drinks go, the best water bottle will help keep you hydrated.
If buying a cooler is just a small part of your plans for a camping trip, then make sure you check out our top lists for the best camping tents and best backpacking tents. Feel like planning for a party? Make sure you check out the best outdoor Bluetooth speakers too!
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