The 11 Best Coolers to Stay Refreshed All Summer Long
"Buying a cooler is more than a fashion statement. Invest in a cooler that will not let you down," says Misty Banchero, a backyard barbecue expert from Seattle, Washington. "Keeping your food safe while on the go is important for your health and peace of mind."
To help you choose which is the best cooler for you and your family, we researched a variety of picks, taking into consideration each cooler's ice retention, style, material, and capacity. We also spoke with Misty Banchero, a Seattle-based backyard barbecue expert.
Overall, we recommend the Yeti Tundra Haul Wheeled Cooler, a wheeled style that can hold lots of ice and cans.
Here are the best coolers.
- Best Overall: Yeti Tundra Haul Wheeled Cooler
- Best Budget: Arctic Zone Titan Deep Freeze Premium Ice Chest Roto Cooler
- Best Backpack: Yeti Hopper M20 Backpack Cooler
- Best Budget Backpack: Coleman 24-Can High Performance Soft Cooler Backpack
- Best Eco-Friendly: Igloo Recool 16 Quart Cooler
- Best Lunch Bag: Arctic Zone Titan X Fridge Cold Dual Compartment Expandable Insulated Lunch Pack
- Best Portable: Pelican 20 Quart Elite Cooler
- Best with Extra Features: Igloo 70 Quart Trailmate Roller Cooler
- Best Basic: Coleman 24-Can Party Stacker Portable Cooler
- Best for Wine: Tirrinia 4 Bottle Wine Carrier
- Best Collapsible: Maelstrom Soft Cooler Bag
What We Recommend
Best Overall: Yeti Tundra Haul Wheeled Cooler
Best Budget: Arctic Zone Titan Deep Freeze Premium Ice Chest Roto Cooler
Best Backpack: Yeti Hopper M20 Backpack Cooler
Best Budget Backpack: Coleman 24-Can High Performance Soft Cooler Backpack
Best Eco-Friendly: Igloo Recool 16 Quart Cooler
Best Lunch Bag: Arctic Zone Titan X Fridge Cold Dual Compartment Expandable Insulated Lunch Pack
Best Portable: Pelican 20 Quart Elite Cooler
Best with Extra Features: Igloo 70 Quart Trailmate Roller Cooler
Best Basic: Coleman 24-Can Party Stacker Portable Cooler
Best for Wine: Tirrinia 4 Bottle Wine Carrier
Best Collapsible: Maelstrom Soft Cooler Bag
The Bottom Line
What to Know About Coolers Before Shopping
Something important to consider when choosing a cooler is size and how much space you'll need—for both food and beverages as well as for storing the cooler when it's not in use. Consider how many people you usually pack for when going on a trip with your cooler. You may want to get a slightly larger cooler than you think you'll need so you can be flexible if another guest decides to join.
You'll also want to measure the storage capacity in your home and your vehicle. If you're tight on space, you'll want a smaller or collapsible option that won't take up too much room.
Most hard-sided coolers are bigger and hold more food than their soft-sided counterparts, as they require less ice or freezer packs to stay cold. Most cooler companies suggest a 2:1 ratio of ice to your food, so you can take more food and pack more ice with a hard-sided cooler.
"If you are a camper and plan on staying put for a few days but need a reliable cooler for all of your packed proteins, fruits, veggies and dairy then you'll want the same thing, a nice medium or large sized hard sided cooler," Banchero says.
Hard-side coolers are also a great choice for outdoor patio parties and any situation where the cooler might be squashed, such as in a packed car on a road trip, since hard-side coolers are sturdier than their soft-sided counterparts.
On the other hand, a smaller, soft-side cooler is a better choice for day trips as well as for storage between uses.
"If you're just meeting a few friends at the beach and you want to bring along a snack and a couple drinks, the soft sided cooler makes more sense," Banchero says. "If you're a parent who needs to be hands-free on your outing you may consider a cooler backpack."
Weight is another consideration. Hard-side coolers, overall, are going to be heavier than their soft-side counterparts, due to the materials and difference in insulation. It's worth keeping in mind if a cooler starts on the heavier side, as it'll only get tougher to transport once it's full of ice and cans.
For hard coolers, look for longer handles that will keep the bulk away from your body as you carry them. Consider investing in a cooler with wheels if you need an extra-large cooler.
Soft coolers are going to be lighter when they're empty, and many are collapsible, allowing them to be stored more easily. Once they're filled with food and ice, however, they're going to be heavier, so look for soft coolers with shoulder, cross-body, or backpack-style straps if you'll be hauling your cooler a distance.
Some hard-side coolers can keep ice cold for a week or longer, making these a great choice for extended camping trips. Keep in mind, though, that these coolers are usually the most expensive models on the market and might be overkill if you don't need ice to last for days at a time.
Soft-sided coolers and cheaper, less-insulated hard coolers have a shorter ice retention time, sometimes only a few hours. But these models are generally more comfortable to carry and are budget friendly.
Your Questions, Answered
What is the best type of material for a cooler?
According to Banchero, the kind of cooler you need, whether it be hard-sided or soft-sided, all depends on what you'll be doing with the cooler.
"The soft coolers are fantastic for a quick on-the-go day trip where you will be moving about frequently. They are just so much easier to carry," she says. "The hard-side coolers offer stability of the temperature. They just perform better, especially for longer periods like a weekend getaway or at a baseball tournament in the heat."
Most hard-side coolers are made with closed-cell polyurethane foam. This type of insulation is very dense, which allows for increased insulation along with added strength. On the other hand, this foam also makes coolers heavy. Soft-side coolers (and some cheaper hard-side coolers) usually use regular polyethylene foam, which is lighter and less dense.
What activities should you use a cooler for?
As you're shopping, you'll want to keep in mind your plans for the season, and beyond, so that you select the right cooler for your activities. For example, if you're using it to go camping, double check that it has durable wheels, is easy to carry, and is bear-proof, as approved by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC).
If you're planning a beach trip, are sitting on the sidelines at a sporting event, or are going on a picnic, you'll have more flexibility in the cooler style you choose. Just keep in mind how long you plan to be out for, as some may only keep food and beverages cool for just a few hours.
What is ice retention and why does it matter?
Ice retention refers to how long the cooler can keep ice cool before it melts. While many brands claim days of ice retention, a lot can come down to how you use and place your ice.
"For soft sided coolers, I like to use ice packs. That way you keep the lining in top shape," Banchero says. "For hard coolers, I use large ice blocks at the bottom of a large, hard-sided cooler. I also use ice packs near the top in between my food and drinks, keeping it all fresh for a very long time."
Who We Are
Tanya Edwards is an award-winning writer and editor with bylines at The Boston Globe, CNN, Glamour, Yahoo, Allure, Refinery29, Aol, Huffington Post, and many more. She spent half a decade running culinary programming for Food Network digital and has been writing about food, dining, and food products for over a decade. Due to the pandemic, she's spent a lot more time outdoors in the past few years and has become quite an outdoor cooking and eating enthusiast, and food safety is always a priority. To make this list of the best coolers, she considered each pick's size, capacity, and ice retention. She also consulted Misty Banchero, a backyard barbecue expert from Seattle, Washington.