3 of the Best Coolers | Camping, Bear Proof & Budget
Camping Gear

What’s the Best Cooler For Any Budget This Summer?

Pelican Elite Cooler
Tough, rugged, and ready for long trips.

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.

The top prize goes to the Pelican Elite Cooler 70 Quart ($384.95). This isn’t your everyday, sling-it-in-the-backseat cooler, this model is a tough, professional storage space with amazing ice retention that can prevent thawing for more than a week, with features specifically designed for hunting and fishing. But let’s take a look at our other top picks to see what they bring to the table!

The Best Coolers of 2019 Compared

 pelicanyetiigloo
Pelican Elite Cooler 70 QuartYeti Tundra Cooler 45 QuartIgloo Marine Ultra 36 Can
Rank#1 - Editor's Choice/Best Cooler for the Money#2 - Best Affordable Cooler#3 - Best Soft Sided Cooler
Amazon Rating4stars-new4andhalf-stars
Capacity Options30, 50, 70 quart 35 -75 quart36 can cooler, 36 can backpack
Ice Retention10 daysUnknown2 days
Extra AccessoriesMeasuring board, cup holders, bottle openerToughened hinges, extra sealingAntimicrobial liner, shoulder strap
Weight34 pounds (heaviest)approx 25 pounds3 pounds
Price$384.95$339.00$39.79
Buy NowBuy NowBuy Now

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?

#1 Pick  Pelican Elite Cooler 70 Quart – Editor’s Choice/Best Cooler for the Money

best rated cooler

Tough, rugged, and ready for long trips.

Price: $384.95 | Capacity Options: 30, 50, 70 quart | Ice Retention: 10 days | Extra Accessories: Measuring board, cup holders, bottle opener | Weight: 34 pounds (heaviest)

WHY IT’S A TOP PICK: This ultra-tough cooler is made for longer adventures.

Pelican coolers are simply some of the best around: these are extra-tough, professional products that are designed specifically for long trips. The ice retention is rated at an amazing 10 days, and the 3-inch locking latches are made to ensure that this ice chest will never pop open. The inside is a little empty, but does include a simple drain plug. On the bottom are rubberized feet to prevent any slippage on the boat or in the truck.

Yes, this is a hunter and fisher cooler, although it can be used for any long-term camping odyssey. One reason we picked the large 70-quart version is because these hardcore features work best with plenty of room – if your ice is going to last 10 days, you need enough room to make that insulation worthwhile! But the model also has some “conversation” pieces, such as four cup holders, a bottle open, and a measuring board (for measuring fish, etc.). In other words, you can pull it up and use it as a table if necessary.

And let’s not forget about the warranty! Pelican coolers come with a lifetime guarantee. If this durable cooler breaks (and that’s pretty unlikely), they’ll replace it for you, relatively few questions asked.

The only thing to note about this top-grade cooler is that it’s not especially portable. The two side handles allow you to lift and position it, but this heavy cooler is happier when it spots most of the time in one spot.

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#2 Pick  Yeti Tundra Cooler 45 Quart – Best Affordable Cooler

What is the best cooler on the market

A high-end cooler for every purpose.

Price: $339.00 | Capacity Options: 35 -75 quart | Ice Retention: Unknown | Extra Accessories: Toughened hinges, extra sealing | Weight: approx 25 pounds

WHY IT’S A TOP PICK: With a broad choice in sizes, the Tundra can be used for anything.

This Yeti cooler has one of the widest capacity ranges that we’ve seen. We chose the 45-quart version, which can fit around 26 cans plus lots of ice, as a middle ground, but you can go smaller or much, much larger as needed. We’re not sure about the exact ice retention rating, but we can confirm it will last the weekend without problems. The exterior of this model is especially simple, with the standout feature being their interesting “T-Rex” lid latches (named after the tiny T-Rex arms, we guess), which do pop open more easily than most latches.

This, plus the airtight design and general high quality of construction, make this an extremely versatile cooler that can be used for just about anything. There is a small rack in the cooler for keeping dry goods cold too, although the Tundra model prefers a minimalistic approach to stacking up features.

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#3 Pick Igloo Marine Ultra 36 Can – Best Soft Sided Cooler

Portable Cooler

More of the party type? This cooler is the answer you need.

Price: $39.79 | Capacity Options: 36 can cooler, 36 can backpack | Ice Retention: 2 days | Extra Accessories: Antimicrobial liner, shoulder strap | Weight: 3 pounds

WHY IT’S A TOP PICK: The best drink-carrying, portable coolers we’ve found.

Here’s the best soft cooler we’ve ever seen: the Igloo cooler is designed for casual use – and while the “Marine” logo does indicate beach and boat activities, this cooler is a welcome addition any time you have to tote it along to a favorite party spot. The lightweight nature, soft surface, and shoulder strap will make you sigh in relief at how easy it is to keep your drinks cold without needing to lug around a heavy box. Plus, the ice retention is still good enough to last for 2 days! There are also backpack models if you’re hiking out a bit farther and want something easier on your shoulders. We also want to point out that, unlike our other, much more pricey models, you can get this cooler for only $40, which makes it an affordable addition to any outdoor party.

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Related: Go Off the Grid For Up to a Week with Brute Box Coolers

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? One reason we like the Yeti cooler so much is that it has “T-Rex” latches that are especially easy to flip open and shut. The Pelican model, meanwhile, has extra-wide hatches that you can use with gloves on. The Igloo option has a zipper for more casual use.

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.

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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