Finding The Best Camping Cooler – Which Is The Right One For You?

Maybe you enjoy disappearing off on week-long hunting or fishing trips and it’s imperative that your food doesn’t spoil. Or maybe you just like to head into the woods for a few nights and you don’t want to drink warm beer around the campfire.

Whatever your needs, I’m here to help with a guide to finding a suitable cooler to ensure you buy the best camping cooler for you.

Buyer’s Guide

Before we look at some of the coolers currently available, let’s first have a look at some of the factors you will need to take into consideration before choosing the best camping cooler for your needs.

#1. Insulation

Plastic Camping Cooler

This is the single most important consideration when choosing a camping cooler as it determines how well a cooler can perform the basic function for which you bought it, namely keeping your food and drinks cold while you are on camping trips.

The quality of insulation of a cooler can be measured in two ways. The first is how long ice remains ice before melting. The second is how long the internal temperature remains below the recommended temperature of 40°F required for storing perishable foods.

Manufacturers often state how many days coolers will retain ice before it melts. However, it is important to note that the time stated is measured under optimum conditions and when you are in the woods, you will probably find that in reality, the time you can expect is somewhat less.

Cheaper coolers are available which are basically constructed from a layer of insulating foam sandwiched between outer and inner plastic walls. More expensive coolers feature roto-molded seamless walls with injected foam and theoretically provide better insulation.

The more expensive models also feature more efficient seals which can also help increase the length of time they can keep your food cold.

You need to consider what kind of trips you are planning to take your cooler on. Coolers can keep food cold for anything from a day or two up to a week or more. You will have to decide how long you need your food to be kept fresh and how much you are willing to spend for it.

If you are only looking for a cooler for short trips, there is no need to spend large sums on a state-of-the-art cooler which can keep your food cold for longer periods as these models can be extremely expensive.


#2. Durability

Camping Cooler In The Grass And Trekking Boots

After insulation, perhaps the next most important factor to take into account is how tough you need a cooler to be. For occasional overnight trips, you can probably get away with spending a lot less money. For something more rugged, you may have to think about spending a bit more.

When considering this aspect, the important parts to look at are the components that are most likely to break including handles, seals and drainage stoppers. If any of these fail, it will considerably reduce the usefulness of your cooler.


#3. Ease Of Carrying

Father Carrying A Camping Cooler For Family Picnic

If you fill a large cooler with food and drink, it can be very heavy, too heavy for one person to carry alone. You need a cooler that is well designed with sturdy and comfortable handles to make transporting it as painless as possible.


#4. Size

Two Men Carrying A Big Plastic Cooler

The size of the cooler is something to think about. If you are likely to use it for large groups on extended trips, a larger size will be required. If it is for fewer people or on shorter trips, a larger cooler won’t be necessary.


#5. Ease Of Use And Other Features

A Bear-Proof Camping Cooler Test

A Bear-proof Cooler - Via Popularmechanics.com

This includes features such as ease of drainage. When using any cooler, you will periodically have to drain off the melted water that accumulates inside and some coolers are designed better than others. Some tend to splash or send our jets of water which is no good for draining from a vehicle.

Other features that may be useful include things like if the cooler is lockable. One important consideration if you are likely to be camping in bear country is whether your cooler is bear proof. If you are, this is something that you really need to think about.

The way the cooler closes and fastens is another area to look at. There are different systems for opening and closing coolers and you should buy one that is easy to manipulate but at the same time closes tightly and is secure when shut.


#6. Hard Or Soft

Polar Bear Coolers Solar Bear Series Soft Cooler

Polar Bear Soft Cooler - Via Amazon.com

Coolers are available as either hard or soft models. The soft ones are only suitable for picnics, day trips or possibly overnight but allow you a lot more portability. If you require something for longer excursions you will need to invest in a hard cooler to keep food cold for longer periods.

Reviews

YETI Tundra 45 Cooler

YETI Tundra 45 Cooler

Via Amazon.com

Quality

Price

Our Rating

This is a 45 quart or 26-can capacity cooler from Yeti, inventors of the original high-end cooler. It’s available in three colors, is made from roto-molded polyethylene and is highly insulated to remain cold for extended periods. It is UV proof, features strong rope handles and is fully bear proof.

The best thing about this cooler is that it does what it was designed to do exceptionally well and that is to keep whatever you put inside cold for long periods. The excellent insulation on this cooler means that if you need to keep stuff cool for a long time, this could be a great choice for you.

It is also a very rugged and durable cooler that is designed to last. You will be able to give this box some pretty rough treatment without having to worry about it breaking. It’s also available in a larger size if this model isn’t big enough or your needs.

I think the handles on this box make it a little uncomfortable to carry when it is fully loaded and it can leave your hands a bit sore. Another issue is the drainage valve which tends to splash and spray but this is not a huge problem. Bear in mind, this box is not particularly light either.

Overall, this is a good choice for someone who needs a box that will keep things cold on extended trips. This cooler’s performance comes at a price. If you only need a casual box, it’s probably not for you but if you want to pay to keep your food colder for longer, you might consider investing in a Yeti.

Pros

  • Keeps food cold for a very long period, over a week
  • Rugged but elegant design
  • Bear proof
  • Available in different sizes so you can find the right one for you

Cons

  • Handles are a little uncomfortable when fully loaded
  • Drainage valve splashes

Pelican Products ProGear Elite Cooler

Pelican Products ProGear Elite Cooler, 65 quart

Via Amazon.com

Quality

Price

Our Rating

The very rugged-looking 65-quart cooler from Pelican features two-inch polyethylene insulation and the manufacturer claims it can retain ice for up to ten days. It also features large handles and clips for easy handling and includes a lifetime guarantee.

This is another top-end cooler which promises to keep your food and drinks cold for extended periods. I’m not sure about the manufacturer’s ten-day ice claim but it will certainly keep everything chilled for over a week.

I like the way this cooler looks so rugged and in fact, it really is a tough piece of kit. It has a heavy gasket and the lid closes securely. It has big handles and is as comfortable to carry as can be expected for such a large cooler loaded with food and drinks.

The weight might be considered a negative by some, but if you’re going to buy such a heavy-duty cooler then you can’t expect it to be light. The valve is designed so you can attach a length of hose but for me, it seems to splash a little too much.

Overall, a good choice of cooler if you are aiming to invest in a rugged and durable box that will keep everything cold for a very long period. This is not a good choice for someone who is looking for a portable cooler for occasional use.

Pros

  • Seriously rugged design, looks the business
  • Keeps food cold for in excess of a week
  • Really well-designed handles for ease of carrying
  • Lifetime guarantee

Cons

  • Valve not well designed and splashes
  • Heavy (but to be expected)

Grizzly Coolers Hunting Cooler

Grizzly Coolers Hunting Cooler

Via Amazon.com

Quality

Price

Our Rating

The Grizzly 60-quart cooler features a large two-inch drain and rubber feet to stop it from sliding about. There is a rubber gasket in the lid to ensure it closes securely and it’s generally strong and durable. It’s mainly designed for hunting but is also suitable for fishing or camping trips.

The best thing about this cooler is that it’s a seriously sturdy box. Everything about it is designed to last and you won’t have to worry when you’re throwing this about and giving it the treatment. Even though it is so rugged, it still manages to be one of the best-looking coolers available.

It features comfortable handles that make it easy enough to lift and I also like the big drainage system. It comes with a lifetime warranty and you will also have the peace of mind that if there are any problems you can get in touch with Grizzly’s excellent customer service team.

The big drawback is that compared to the other coolers in the same price range, this box won’t retain ice as long. It performs ok but to be honest, for this price you want it to do better, and you can probably find other much cheaper coolers that do just as well in this key area.

Overall an aesthetically pleasing and sturdy piece of kit that is built to last. However, it is hard to justify spending this kind of money on a cooler which just doesn’t perform as well as it should in the most important area of all.

Pros

  • Attractive design
  • Rugged and durable
  • Lifetime guarantee and excellent customer service
  • Lid closes securely

Cons

  • Insulation doesn’t perform well enough for the price
  • Expensive

Coleman 30-Can Soft Cooler with Hard Liner

Coleman 30-Can Soft Cooler With Hard Liner

Via Amazon.com

Quality

Price

Our Rating

This cooler from Coleman is something completely different from the other ones I’ve looked at. It is a small-sized soft cooler with a removable hard liner. It is marketed as being able to hold 30 cans, it is lightweight and easy to clean.

The whole point of this kind of soft cooler is that it is not heavy and is easy to carry. It is designed for use by one person and has a shoulder strap so that you can just throw it over your back.

Compared to the other coolers I’ve looked at, it is in a completely different price bracket and is a great choice for someone looking for an inexpensive cooler for one day or overnight trips.

This cooler is not in competition with the heavy-duty coolers I looked at above. It is small so you won’t be able to fit much in and can only keep your stuff cold for a day or so at most. It is not an option for someone who needs a week or more of storage – and it’s not meant to be.

This is a good option for someone who enjoys day trips and the occasional overnight camping expedition and its size means it’s also perfect for use on a motorbike. If you are looking for a cooler for longer camping trips, I suggest you look elsewhere.

Pros

  • Super affordable
  • Lightweight and easy to carry
  • Extra pockets for convenience
  • Great for one-day trips or on a motorbike

Cons

  • Not useful for longer trips, only keeps food cold for a day or so
  • Too small if you want to carry lots of food or drinks

Igloo Glide PRO Cooler

Igloo Glide PRO Cooler

Via Amazon.com

Quality

Price

Our Rating

The first thing to note about this 110-quart/150-can cooler by Igloo is that it is huge, far bigger than any other cooler I’m reviewing here. It is made from polyethylene, has a rugged but attractive design and features wheels for ease of transport – which you’re really going to need.

Obviously the main reason you would buy this is the size. If you need a large amount of cold storage space, then this could be the best choice. Being so big, it is handy that it is on wheels as otherwise it would be practically impossible to move. As it is, no problem!

The other attractive thing about this cooler is the price tag since it costs around a third of the price of the high-end coolers on the market. If you don’t need such long storage options, then this cooler performs pretty well. It’s also quite light considering its dimensions.

Having said that, this is not a top-end cooler and it cannot match the performance of the most expensive boxes out there. You can reasonably expect the Igloo to retain ice for three to four days but if you need longer, you’re going to have to pay for one of the premium coolers.

All in all, a great option if you need a huge cooler that will keep your stuff chilled for a few days but not the right choice for someone who needs longer than that, and also certainly not the right option for someone who needs something that’s small and convenient.

Pros

  • Huge!
  • Big wheels make it easy to move, even on relatively rough ground
  • Affordable
  • Performs well for the price, keeps food cold for a few days

Cons

  • Doesn’t keep food cold as long as top-end coolers
  • Too bulky to be easy to transport in cars etc.

My Choice

Overall, these coolers are all sound items and all of them would be suitable in the right conditions. The Coleman soft cooler is perfect for short trips where you need portability more than the ability to keep things cold for a long time.

The Igloo is a real monster and is most suitable for when you need plenty of storage but is less good for the longest trips.

For longer trips, the three top-end coolers would all be perfectly good choices but the Grizzly offers a slightly shorter amount of ice time than the other two.

There’s not a lot to choose between the Pelican and the Yeti as both offer top performance to match their top-end price tags but for me, the Yeti just takes it. I like the combination of high-performance insulation, ruggedness and aesthetic appeal. Yeti is the original and for me, still the best.

What do you think? Do you have a cooler that you’ve had for years and you love? What do you need it for, food – or just beer? If you have anything to say, I’d love to hear from you – and if you’ve enjoyed my article, please don’t forget to share!

Julie McClain
 

Chief editor here at Outdoorzer. I'm an outdoor lover and ever since I was a little girl, I've worked hard to learn all I could from my Dad about Camping, Hiking, RVs and surviving in the woods.

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