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The best camping coolers: boxes and bags that keep your food and beverages beautifully chilled

best camping coolers: couple with a big camping cooler box in the backcountry
A camping cooler is your fridge in the wilderness (Image credit: Getty)

The best camping coolers keep your food fresh and your beverages chilled, effectively doing the job of your fridge in the backcountry, at the campsite or on the beach. With the help of an appropriate amount of ice, depending on the volume of the cooler, there's no reason to put up with lukewarm beer or rotting fruit during your camping adventures.

With the spring and summer seasons fast approaching, it's important to get the right cooler. There are broadly two types: hard-sided cooler boxes and soft-sided cooler bags. Boxes are the best option for keeping everything chilled for days on end, with the best camping coolers maintaining ice for upwards of five days. They also tend to be larger, enabling you to store enough food and drink for your whole tribe.

best camping coolers: couple camping with a cool box

If you're car camping, a cool box is an absolute essential (Image credit: Getty)

The obvious downside of a big cooler box is portability, which is where soft-sided coolers come in. These can usually be worn like a backpack and are often smaller than their hard-sided counterparts, though they don't maintain ice for as long – usually around a day or two at most. However, they are perfect for day trips with friends or family.

So, the best camping coolers for your adventures will depend on your planned activities. If you regularly head for the campsite with your dual-burner camping stove to cook up some camp cuisine, a hard-sided cooler box is the best option. For a day at the beach, it's a soft-side bag all the way.

The best hard-sided coolers

best camping coolers: Dometic Patrol 105

(Image credit: Dometic)

Dometic Patrol 105

A big rugged chilly bin that keeps food and drink cold for days

Specifications

RRP: $350 (US)
Capacity: 81 cans
Volume: 102L
Ice retention: Multiple Days
Dimensions (HxWxD): 48 x 114 x 45.7cm / 19 x 45 x 18in
Weight: 19.75kg / 43.55lb
Construction: Rotomoulded, with PU insulation

Reasons to buy

+
One-handed latches
+
Internal organization
+
Accessory dock

Reasons to avoid

-
Expensive compared to some models
-
Heavy

Freeze-dried camp food doesn’t have to be the only option for a week-long camping trip. The rugged Dometic Patrol uses thick PU insulation, rotomoulded construction and a lid seal that keeps cold air in and can keep frozen food frozen for days. Capacity is 81 cans. Rubber latches secure the lid and allow single-handed operation. Inside the cooler, a basket keeps food items organized and easily accessible. 

A large, leak-proof spout drains melting water from the cooler and helps keep the stored food cold. The performance of the interior gets most of a buyer’s attention but small design details on the exterior add value and convenience. Purchased separately, the accessory dock features a fishing rod holder, cup holder and bottle opener. Dometic supports the durable, high performance Patrol with a 7-year limited warranty. There are other sizes available too.

Best camping coolers: Coleman Cooler 36 QT

(Image credit: Coleman)

Coleman Cooler 36 QT

A well constructed, durable and classy cooler

Specifications

RRP: $42.00/£64.99
Capacity: 46 cans
Ice retention: Up to 3 days
Weight: 7.2 lbs /3.3 kg
Dimensions: 13.8” x 23” x 14.8”
Construction: Polyurethane

Reasons to buy

+
Inexpensive
+
Tall design fits 2-liter bottles upright

Reasons to avoid

-
No drain plug
-
Limited ice retention

Whether it’s for picnics, tailgating, or quick overnight camping trips, sometimes a well-constructed, durable, and simply designed cooler is all you need to keep everyone happy. The Coleman 36 QT is just that kinda cooler. This long-term favorite of weekend campers everywhere has a 46-can capacity, is tall enough to fit 2-liter plastic bottles upright, and insulates well enough to keep contents cold for up to three days.

In terms of convenience and added features the Coleman is no slouch, either, boasting a pair of unbreakable molded handles that let you share the load when carrying the cooler from car to campsite, four cup holders molded into the lid to hold your drinks, and a lid that’s tough enough to moonlight as a seat.

All in all, one of the best camping coolers out there for buyers on a budget.

Best camping coolers: Pelican 30 QT Elite Cooler

(Image credit: Pelican)

Pelican 30 QT Elite Cooler

A beast of a cooler that will keep everything fresh

Specifications

RRP: $229.99
Capacity: 23 cans
Volume: 32.95 QTs
Ice retention: Multiple days
Dimensions: 25.30” x 19.00” x 18.50”
Weight: 21.67 lbs / 9.8 kg
Construction: Polypropylene

Reasons to buy

+
Lifetime guarantee
+
Integrated cup holders
+
Tethered drain plug

Reasons to avoid

-
Heavy compared to some models

Pelican cases have a well-earned reputation for protecting sophisticated electronics, cameras and scientific instruments, and in recent years the brand has turned its attention to creating equally impressive containers for your ice, drinks, eats, and trophy fish when camping.

One such cooler is the 30 QT Elite. This beast of a cooler is one of the best camping coolers out there for peeps who are serious about the protection of their edibles and drinkables. It’s made with extra-thick polyurethane foam insulation, robust polypropylene walls, and uses a molded-in lock hasp with a stainless steel plate that ensures the contents are kept safe from animals and fellow campers.

But it ain’t all about the insulation and the build. Other endearing features in the Pelican include a built-in bottle opener, integrated cup holders, easy-to-operate and virtually unbreakable press-and-pull latches, and non-skid feet that create a solid, stable platform, even on a boat.

Best camping coolers: Stanley Adventure Cold for Days 30 QT

(Image credit: Stanley)

Stanley Adventure Cold for Days 30 QT

Beafy insulation and a leak proof lid make this cooler even cooler

Specifications

RRP: $165.00
Capacity: 32 cans
Volume: 30 QTs
Ice retention: 4 days
Dimensions: 21.34L x 15.47W x 18.46H in
Weight: 13.6 lbs / 6.15 kg
Construction: Double Coated TPU

Reasons to buy

+
Durable construction
+
Multi-day retention
+
Tall design accommodates bottles

Reasons to avoid

-
Lower capacity compared to some models

Cans and coolers go together like matches and a campfire, but if your preference is long-necked bottles of beer or wine, the Stanley Adventure is the right choice. Arriving back at camp after a long day hiking under a hot sun, grabbing an ice-cold bottle of wine from the cooler is a nice reward. And with the Stanley Adventure, the cooler’s narrower but extra-tall design will allow you to do just that.

The Adventure will also keep those bottles cold for as long as 4 days, even when temps are high, thanks to beefy insulation and a leak-proof silicone lid gasket that keeps the cold in and and the ice-melting heat out.

As regards user-friendliness, the Adventure is a bit of a winner too. It has a leak-proof drain plug that’s located low enough in the wall to save you having to lift the cooler up to empty melted water, and its sturdy build allows you to use it as a small table, stool or extra seat around the campfire (see: how to build a campfire). Living up to its long reputation for quality construction, Stanley also offers a highly reassuring lifetime warranty.

Best camping coolers: Yeti Tundra cooler

(Image credit: YETI)

Yeti Tundra 35

A robust and impressive cooler, built for life in the wild

Specifications

RRP: $249.99/£249.99
Capacity: 21 cans
Volume: 19.4 QTs
Ice retention: 4 days
Dimensions: 16 1/8” × 15 3/4” × 21 3/8”
Weight: 20 lbs / 9.1kg
Construction: Rotomolded

Reasons to buy

+
Heavy duty rubber latches
+
3” of insulation
+
Tie down points

Reasons to avoid

-
Heavy compared to some models
-
Pricey

The Yeti Tundra has long been considered the gold standard in hard-sided camping coolers. And with good reason. More than any other cooler out there, the Tundra is equipped to keep your food and drinks cool on multi-day trips, all while standing up to the rough treatment of life on the road and at camp.

The Yeti is made with three-inch-thick walls of polyurethane foam insulation and uses heavy-duty rubber latches and freezer-quality gaskets to ensure your food and drinks are kept cool for up to six days. The exterior is filled with handy features too. The most impressive and useful of these are a duo of anchor points that let you strap the cooler down to your truck, boat or gear trailer, military grade rope handles, non-slip feet, and interlocking hinges that ensure an ultra-tight seal.

The best soft-sided coolers

best camping coolers: Otterbox Trooper 20

(Image credit: Otterbox)

Otterbox Trooper 20

Keeping essentials cool on the move

Specifications

RRP: $250 (US)
Capacity: 6 cans
Volume: 19L/20 qt
Ice retention: up to 3 days
Dimensions (LxWxD): 36 x 44.5 x 26cm / 14.30 x 17.50 x 10.25in
Weight: 3kg/6.5lb
Construction: TPU Coated Nylon

Reasons to buy

+
Lightweight
+
TPU coated nylon construction
+
Padded shoulder straps
+
Accessory mounting system

Reasons to avoid

-
Expensive compared to some models

Spend a few hours hiking to a hidden trout stream or paddling down a mirror-flat river and a cool drink is a welcome respite. Since hard-sided coolers work better in base camp situations, cooler brands have launched a new category of soft-sided models. Combining the best attributes of Otterbox hard sided cases with two-inch wide padded shoulder straps, the Trooper allows you to bring thirst-quenching cold drinks, fruit, snacks and food with you.  A heavyduty zipper offers wide, fast access to cold contents. 

The rugged TPU coated nylon exterior is rugged, water resistant and tough enough to endure long days in the woods. Duraflex hardware and an accessory mounting system lets you keep small pieces of gear close at hand and reduce the need for another pack. 

Best camping coolers: Pelican 30 QT Elite Cooler

(Image credit: Pelican)

Pelican Dayventure Backpack Cooler

Comfort is king for this superb soft-sided cooler

Specifications

RRP: $249.99
Capacity: 6 cans
Volume: 19.4 QTs
Dimensions: 12.10 x 7.10 x 21.70 in
Weight: 9.3 lbs / 4.2 kg
Construction: Double Coated TPU

Reasons to buy

+
Leak-proof zipper
+
Dual compartments
+
Padded shoulder straps

Reasons to avoid

-
Expensive compared to some models
-
Slightly heavy

Feature by feature, detail by detail, the Dayventure Backpack Cooler is one of the best camping coolers out there for single-day trips. There’s a long list of reasons to make this your go-to soft-sided cooler when you head into the wild. First, there’s the dual compartment approach. The smaller pocket fits a 6-pack of cans, ice or ice packs. The top, larger compartment offers dry storage, or if needed, more insulated cooler space. The wide roll-top opening offers convenient access and a durable leak-proof zipper keeps wet and dry separate. A compression-molded base also creates a stable, stand-up platform, meaning the pack won’t topple over when placed on the ground.

What we really love about this pack, however, is just how comfortable it is to wear. Pelican uses authentic, backpack style shoulder straps with an adjustable chest strap, making it not entirely dissimilar to many of the best daypacks we’re used to wearing on hikes. Also, anticipating plenty of use in rugged conditions, the outer shell is water-resistant, tearproof and puncture resistant.

Best camping coolers: Orca cooler

(Image credit: Orca)

ORCA Walker Softside 20

A bulletproof, rugged, easy to carry cooler that keeps everything nicely chilled

Specifications

RRP: $199.99
Capacity: 20 cans
Volume: 26 QTs
Ice retention: up to 24 hours
Dimensions: 14.5” x 11” x 13.25”
Weight: 3.6 lbs /1.65 kg
Construction: Rotomoulded, TPU and Meta-Polymer

Reasons to buy

+
BPA Free Food grade liner
+
Waterproof zipper
+
Padded shoulder straps

Reasons to avoid

-
Expensive compared to similar models
-
Single shoulder strap

Perfect for more urban adventures, the Walker Softside is a bulletproof, rugged, easy carry that’s capable of keeping beverages, fruit, snacks and lunches cold all day long. The Walker can be carried using a single padded shoulder strap or an easy-to-open magnetic split handle. It’s constructed with a food-grade, BPA-free and anti-microbial liner and has a waterproof zipper that prevents leakage, even when you’re on the move and jostling through crowds or over rough trails. The man compartment can hold up to twenty cans and a series of nylon webbing straps and a bungie net on the exterior offer extra storage possibilities for your best waterproof jackets or any other essentials you want to bring along for the trip.

The bottom line? It may be pricey, but this is one of the best camping coolers out there for backcountry adventurers.

The Walker Softside comes in grey, slate blue, tan, seafoam green and olive, and also in a variety of sizes.

Best camping coolers: IceMule Classic

(Image credit: IceMule)

IceMule Classic

A superb lightweight, frill-free, sling-style dry bag

Specifications

RRP: $69.99
Capacity: 12 cans
Volume: 15 L
Ice retention: up to 24 hours
Dimensions: 10" x 10" x 16
Weight: 2.0 lbs / 0.9 kg
Construction: proprietary PolyLayer insulation foam

Reasons to buy

+
Waterproof
+
Floats
+
Roll-up for storage

Reasons to avoid

-
Limited ice retention compared to other models

Sometimes, the names brands give to their products feel well wide of the mark. In the case of the IceMule Classic, however, the name-givers are on the nose.

The IceMule Classic is a simple, frill-free, sling-style dry bag that can haul a load of beverages, snacks, food and all the nice you need to keep them chilled in one incredibly lightweight, easy-to-use, and trail-ready carry system.

Using innovative construction materials, proprietary insulation foam, and a sleek, low-profile design, this soft-sided cooler is an excellent option for hikers who want to enjoy chilled eats and drinks at the end of a long, hot day on the trails - without having to spend a fortune for the privilege.

The IceMule features a roll-top closure and welded seams, meaning there are no zippers to snag, break, or leak, and you don’t have to worry about any latches springing open when carting the cooler over bumpy trails. This airtight design also makes the IceMule “floatable” (meaning it will float if dropped in water), which makes it a winner if you intend on using it  for adventures out on the lake or river.

The IceMule also rolls up and takes up far less space in your gear closet than most comparable models, and it’s wide opening makes it very easy to clean.

Camping coolers comparison table
CoolerRRPStyleCapacityIce Retention
Dometic Patrol 105$350 (US)Hard-sided cooler81 cansMultiple Days
Coleman Cooler 36 QT$42 (US) / £64.99 (UK)Hard-sided cooler46 cansUp to 3 days
Pelican 30 QT Elite Cooler$229.99 (US)Hard-sided cooler23 cansMultiple days
Stanley Adventure Cold for Days 30 QT$165 (US)Hard-sided cooler32 cans4 days
Yeti Tundra 35$249.99 (US) / £249.99 (UK)Hard-sided cooler21 cans4 days
Otterbox Trooper 20$250 (US)Soft-sided cooler6 cansUp to 3 days
Pelican Dayventure Backpack Cooler$249.99 (US)Soft-sided cooler6 cansNot stated
ORCA Walker Softside 20$199.99 (US)Soft-sided cooler20 cansUp to 24 hours
IceMule Classic$69.99 (US)Soft-sided cooler12 cansUp to 24 hours

How to choose the best camping cooler

There's plenty of choice out there in terms of camping coolers. Here we break down the key considerations to help you arrive at the optimum choice...

Hard-sided or soft-sided?

Because of their weight and unwieldy dimensions, hard-sided coolers work best for car camping, base camping, or boating trips (see: how to store food when camping). The main advantages to this type of cooler are that their rugged construction, beefier insulation materials, and accessories like integrated handles, bottle openers, drain plugs and leakproof lids all make them more hard-wearing and more convenient, and also capable of keeping your stuff cooler for far longer than their soft-sided siblings. Most of today’s brands also stand by their coolers with multi-year or lifetime warranties.

If you plan on putting in the miles on the trail before setting up camp, soft-sided coolers are a far better option. Backpack-style padded shoulder straps, chest straps and waist belts, leak-proof zippers, and exterior attachment points all help to turn soft-sided coolers into technical equipment that’s just as sophisticated and trail-worthy as the rest of your camping gear, with plenty of space for your camping utensils too. These coolers typically lack the insulating capacity of hard-sided varieties but are easy to carry, lightweight, and usually much cheaper.

best camping coolers: man sat on hard cooler

One advantage of a hard-sided cooler is that it often doubles up as a camping seat (Image credit: Getty)

Ice retention

Once thought of as generic, low-cost products for tailgating and beach trips only, today’s coolers are sophisticated pieces of equipment that have transformed the scope of outdoor adventures there’s no need to settle for lukewarm drinks, freeze-dried meals or canned foods, after all, when a quality cooler can keep steaks frozen, fish fresh, and bottles and cans icy cold.

But for how long? Two days? Three days? A week? How long will you be out? Heavy-duty hard-sided coolers with advanced insulation can keep food and beverages ice cold for as long as a week, while soft-siders can usually keep your contents chilled for anything from 24 hours to a weekend – at a push. 

When buying, take the quoted ice-retention durations with a pinch of salt – these are often exaggerated and how long a cooler retains ice depends on numerous variables, such as how much ice you use, ambient temperatures, how well you pack the contents, and where you store the cooler at camp. 

best camping coolers: cooler box on a bench

A good camping cooler will keep your beers (and other stuff, if that's your thing) cool for days on end (Image credit: Getty)

Volume

After asking 'how long will you be out?', the next question is 'how much will you need to bring?' This, of course, entirely depends on the size of your group and the size of their appetites.

Both hard-sided coolers and soft-siders come in a wide range of sizes. From small, one- or two-person coolers for overnight trips all the way through to extra-large units that come along with the family tent and can keep groceries cold for a week, there are cooler capacities to accommodate every application, group size, and trip duration. The volume of coolers is usually listed in quarts.

For solo camping trips over a weekend, a model in the 16 to 25-quart range will probably do the trick, whereas a 25- to 50- quart cooler will likely be ideal for couples heading on a weekend trip. If you’re camping for more than a weekend, or have a larger group, something in the 50 to 75-quart range will be required, as well as a double-burner stove for those evening meals.

Take care to select the model that matches your needs. If your cooler’s too small, someone will miss out on a cold drink; if it’s too big and the cooler space isn’t used efficiently, your food won’t stay cold as long as it would inside a more appropriately sized model.

Latches

Coolers work best with quality latches that seal the lid tightly to the main body. Silicone gaskets, and heavy-duty hinges and rubber latches keep cold air in and the warm air that’s the biggest enemy of ice, out.

Organization

Most coolers are a simple empty box, though some brands add storage trays or dividers to keep food, snacks and beverages organized and separate. Because digging through the cooler to locate your stuff exposes your ice to warm air, organizational features like shelves, trays, and dividers are handy features to have, and a compartmentalized design will also let you keep different foodstuffs separate.

Convenience

Keeping food and beverages ice cold is the primary purpose of any cooler. Once that’s accomplished, a few product details that add convenience will keep customers loyal to the brand. Details like integrated handles, bottle openers, drain plug tethers (replacing a lost drain plug can be a hassle), drink holders, and rubber feet to prevent slipping are some features to look for before clicking buy or heading to the checkout.

What to look for when buying soft-sided coolers

best camping coolers: people carrying cooler box to the beach

A big ol' cooler box for the beach just isn't quite as portable as a soft-sided cool bag (Image credit: Getty)

Zippers

Hard-sided coolers use hinges, silicone gaskets and rubber latches. Soft-sided coolers rely on heavy duty waterproof zippers to seal the cooler compartments. When buying your cooler, be sure to check that the zippers are leak-proof and, for easy access to your eats, opt for a hinge-top model with a zipper that extends all the way around the upper portion of the pack.

Carry straps

The straps used on soft-sided models can make a big difference comfort-wise.  When weighing up the options, look for, nicely padded, adjustable backpack-style shoulder straps that distribute weight and increase comfort. Some soft-sided cooler carry systems also include chest straps and waist belts, both of which increase stability and make carting heavier loads a whole lot easier.

A journalist specializing in outdoor recreation, Lou has covered product design innovations, participation trends and environmentally sustainable manufacturing for over 20 years. On the other hand, he’s had some less than successful outdoor adventures: once, completely spent after a hard day on the trail, he managed to set a vintage MSR Whisperlite stove ablaze before accidentally kicking the burning contraption into a lake. A published author, his book about invasive fish threatening the Great Lakes watershed will be published in 2021. craftedwords.com