The 8 Best Coolers for All Your Chilling Purposes

Our top performers feature portability, durability, and leak protection.

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Ultra-Light 52 qt Ice Chest

Food & Wine / Dera Burreson

Every household needs a reliable cooler, whether it's for keeping things cool at hot summer barbecues or a little bit of extra beer storage for holiday gatherings. So, we imagined nearly every scenario while choosing the best coolers on the market, from a tailgate to a picnic. So many ice coolers range from backpack style to design-forward pieces that can double as a bona fide seat. Regardless of their shape and extra features, they must keep things at the right temperature, not leak when stuffed with ice and perishables, and be easy to handle with the rest of your gear.

To test the best coolers, we looked for peak performance in insulation, the tightness of the seal for said cooling and leak protection, overall durability during various situations, and how easy it was to open and handle for one person or two. These coolers took a bruising as we put them through essential tasks such as balancing a beverage in one hand and maneuvering an ice chest along the beach or rolling wheeled versions along the asphalt. We even performed a drop test with our contenders to mimic real-life conditions. Read on for the reasoning behind our selections and the rest of our favorite ice coolers on the market.

Best Overall

RTIC Ultra-Light 52 Quart Hard Cooler

RTIC Ultra-Light 52 Quart Hard Cooler


Pros: It has an incredible cooling ability, with plenty of ice still intact after a full day.

Cons: The ropes on the handle are sometimes awkward, and it is hard to lift alone.

Testers recommended the RTIC Ultra-Light 52-Quart Ice Chest because of its perfect size for a boat or camping trip. The interior has both a divided bin and a removable wire basket so you can easily separate the contents. Food remained nice and cold, with the interior temperature holding at a cool 32 degrees on a hot day. The RITC insulated so well that much of the ice barely melted, and every can was cold after 24 hours. The tight seal means that the ice chest does not leak when tipped. While the design of the rope handles might make it difficult to lift the cooler alone, testers thought they might come in handy when lifting with multiple people.

Price at time of publish: $220

  • Capacity: 49.2 liters
  • Weight: 40.12 pounds
  • Can capacity, with ice: 78
RTIC Ultra-Light 52-Quart Ice Chest

Best Value

Dometic Patrol 20 Quart Cooler

DOMETIC Patrol 20 Quart Cooler


Pros: The cooler still had large chunks of ice and little water after 24 hours.

Cons: The latches on the lid didn't seem as secure as some other models, and they might be less durable under duress.

This cooler is an excellent choice for anyone looking for a small, durable cooler. It feels like it will last for years. The rubber feet on the bottom of the stainless steel body lend stability, and one tester said a small child or adult could comfortably sit on the ice cooler as a seat with no issues. There's a comfortable stainless steel handle that feels well-made in hand, though one tester did note it might get tiresome to carry a long distance when full. The cooler seals with rubber latches opened during our drop test (they do not sit as snugly as others), but the cooler surpassed expectations for all other tests and managed to stay very cold after 24 hours with large ice chunks intact.

Price at time of publish: $280

  • Capacity: 20 liters
  • Weight: 19.6 pounds
  • Can capacity, with ice: 9

Best Large Capacity

Orca 140 Quart Cooler

Orca Seafoam 140 Quart Cooler


Pros: The cooler is very sturdy and holds an impressive amount of cans.

Cons: Due to its size and lack of wheels, two people need to move or lift it.

Our editors loved the capacity of the "huge" Orca 140-Quart that "holds a ton of cans" — a whopping 68 with ice to be exact. Since it is one of the most oversized coolers on our roundup, it requires handling assistance. You will need another person's help loading it, keeping the top open, moving it, and draining it. This cooler is heavy when empty, but the chest also feels incredibly solid and can easily be used as a seat. It has a superior cooling ability, in this case, the temperature increased less than one degree in 24 hours. It was also difficult to tip over and didn't scratch easily. The latches were challenging to close, but there was no water or ice spillage. It's the perfect cooler to use as a second fridge or cold storage for an event.

Price at time of publish: $600

  • Capacity: 132.4 liters
  • Weight: 64 pounds
  • Can capacity, with ice: 68
Orca 140 Quart Cooler

Best Rugged

Igloo 70 Qt Premium Trailmate Wheeled Rolling Cooler

Igloo 70 Qt Premium Trailmate Wheeled Rolling Cooler


Pros: The cool and functional design features make it versatile. It holds ice well and keeps drinks cold, even after 24 hours.

Cons: It has no latches, so the lid will open if it tips over.

This Igloo Trailmate 70-Quart is perfect for outdoorsy types that want helpful design features such as a snap-on holder for umbrellas or fishing poles, two bottle openers on each side, drink holders, a basket inside the cooler, and a removable tray with two cup holders. The cooler has an excellent handlebar that pulls up and makes it easy to maneuver the rugged wheels over rough terrain. It holds ice well and keeps things cold all day long. During our drop test, the cooler came open because it has no latch, which also means it leaks when tipped over. It is heavy when full and is difficult to lift if the top is loaded with more gear, but the wheels solve for portability. It's one of the best cooler options for campers.

Price at time of publish: $280

  • Capacity: 66.2 liters
  • Weight: 34.7 pounds
  • Can capacity, with ice: 73

Best for Picnics

The Get Out Cooler Bag

The Get Out Cooler Bag

The Get Out

Pros: The shoulder straps are comfortable, and the ice chest cools very well.

Cons: The pocket is pretty useless and doesn't even fit a phone.

The Get Out Cooler Bag was a favorite among testers for many reasons. The retro-looking backpack has a funky design, but the bag's features are for the modern user. The insulation exceeds expectations for a backpack style. While there isn't a ton of ice left after 24 hours, the temperature only dropped by 2.6 degrees and was still at a food-safe temperature. Since it keeps food cool and can also fit in a wine bottle, this is the perfect backpack-style cooler for a picnic. The soft-sided cooler is also comfortable to wear, and the zipper is easy to use, which isn't always the case with similar cooler styles.

Price at time of publish: $250

  • Capacity: 15.1 liters
  • Weight: 6 pounds
  • Can capacity, with ice: 12

Best Splurge

YETI Tundra 65 Cooler

YETI Tundra 65 Cooler


Pros: It makes a comfortable seat and can act as a small table at a campsite.

Cons: It is hard for one person to handle alone, and it got scuffed in the drop test.

Yeti Tundra 65 Cooler is a superstar from performance to design. The T-shaped latches fit into molded latch keepers, so the lid stays closed. Not only are the latches durable, but the seals shut the cooler to a freezer quality level to minimize air exchange. While this isn't the cooler for an individual since four hands are needed to manage it, it's the perfect splurge for a family that goes tailgating, camping, or to the beach often. We love that it is so durable that it can double as a table or a seat. And it's easy to transport it from place to place, thanks to the solid handles on each side. It also holds many cans and held up well during our drop and leak tests. The cooler lost half of its ice in 24 hours, but the temperature only increased to 2.2 degrees, which will keep perishables "cold for days," according to our testers.

Price at time of publish: $375

  • Capacity: 32.9 liters
  • Weight: 29 pounds
  • Can capacity, with ice: 17
YETI Tundra 65 Cooler

Best Softside

Bluu Softside Leakproof Cooler Bag

Bluu Softside Leakproof 35-Quart Cooler


Pros: It is comfortable to carry and durable when handled roughly.

Cons: The zipper can be finicky, but they provide lubricant.

One tester noted that the Bluu Softside Leakproof 35-Quart Cooler is "probably the best insulation you will find for a backpack cooler." They loved the size and durability, stating there wasn't a single scratch after the table drop test. In the padded backpack format, the Bluu is incredibly comfortable to carry for a long time, even at total capacity. It cools well, but this is not the cooler backpack for a long trip because the internal temperature rises considerably after 24 hours. Think of more day trips and picnics without any sharp edges. Some owners report that the zipper can stick or fail, but reviewers note that the company is quick with customer service turnaround and provides lubrication for the zipper, which will ease over time.

Price at time of publish: $90

  • Capacity: 33.1 liters
  • Weight: 7.11 pounds
  • Can capacity, with ice: 11
Bluu Softside Leakproof 35-Quart Cooler

Best Backpack Cooler

Hydro Flask Escape Soft Cooler

Hydro Flask Escape Soft Cooler


Pros: This cooler backpack is lightweight and has superior insulation for hiking and day trips.

Cons: It's smaller than most standard coolers, so not ideal for packing for a big group.

The Hydro Flask Escape Cooler's leakproof construction and padded shoulder straps make it the ultimate backpack cooler for anyone heading into the great outdoors. Choose between the 20-liter backpack version or the 18 or 26-liter shoulder bag, depending on your packing needs. The molded base ensures the bag won't topple over wherever you set it down, but the soft construction makes it easy to pack and store when needed. The brand offers several trendy color options, and the bag is easy to wipe clean.

Price at time of publish: $200

  • Capacity: 20 liters
  • Weight: 2.63 pounds
  • Can capacity: 16

Our Favorite

Overall, our tests showed that the RTIC Ultra-Light 52-Quart Ice Chest was the best for both performance and appearance. A close second with some of the highest scores across our test subjects was the Bluu Softside Leakproof 35-Quart Cooler, our choice for Best Softside.

Factors to Consider


When it comes to coolers, you have every style imaginable, from hard-sided, to soft-sided, to tote style. Depending on how you intend to use your cooler, these tend to have different cooling capacities and duration. If you want things to stay cold the longest, especially if you need them to stay cold for food safety over long periods of time or in hot conditions, a hard-sided cooler with a tightly sealed lid and good insulation will be your best bet. If you just need to get something from point A to point B, or for a short day trip, you can often get away with a soft-sided cooler or hamper or even an insulated tote-style cooler.


Capacity will always be one of the main things to consider when purchasing a cooler. It will be important to think about how much internal volume will be taken up with ice or ice packs when deciding how large a cooler you might need. Remember that it is the inside capacity that is the most important, for some coolers, there can be as much as a three- to four-inch-thick insulation wall, so the exterior dimensions can be misleading. Finally, consider the overall size in terms of transportation. Do you need to be able to carry it alone? Put it on your bike? While a huge cooler might fit in your car or on your boat, will you be able to lift it when it is full? Sometimes you might be better off with two smaller, more manageable coolers rather than one huge one for better flexibility.


Coolers can range from truly inexpensive to wildly pricy, so some of these choices will come down to budget. Having said that, it is one of the areas where some of the high-end products really do perform in ways that simply outshine their less costly competitors. So, some of your decision-making should involve how often you need to use a cooler and under what sort of conditions. It might be that making a larger initial investment will ultimately serve you better. This is especially true if you are going to rely on a cooler to keep perishable food at safe temperatures. If you mostly want to keep your beer cold, you can achieve that with a cheap cooler. But if you don't want everyone at the family reunion to get food poisoning from the warm potato salad, you might want to invest a bit more in your own peace of mind.

Bluu Softside Leakproof 35-Quart Cooler

The Tests

After researching the best in the market, our experts worked through a rigorous testing process with 48 coolers in every form and function one can imagine. We simulated the way one might use an ice cooler in everyday life. Cooling was a primary concern, so we performed multiple steps to measure cooling ability with ice and cans, taking the temperature after specific periods. We lifted the coolers full of ice and cans to feel how easy they were for people to handle and tipped them on their sides to see if they leaked, and knocked them off raised surfaces to see if the lids popped open. Although many coolers performed well, the ice coolers we selected are designed to impress with extra fun features and comfort, which made them stand out from the competition.

Coleman Rolling Cooler

What Didn't Make the List

Strong Contenders

  • Pelican 20-Quart Elite Cooler ($254 at Amazon)
  • Cabela's Polar Cap Equalizer 80-Quart Cooler ($350 at Cabela's)
  • Lifetime 65-Quart High-Performance Cooler ($170 at Home Depot)
  • Yeti Tundra Haul Wheeled Cooler ($400 at Amazon)
  • Ozark Trail Cooler ($215 at Amazon)
  • Herschel Pop Quiz 30 Pack Soft Cooler ($100 at Hershel)
  • Engel HD30 ($240 at Amazon)
  • XSpec Roto Molded Wheeled Hard Cooler ($240 at Amazon)
  • XSpec Roto Molded Ice Chest ($240 at Amazon)
  • Roam - The Rugged Cooler 45-Quart ($279 at Amazon)

Other Coolers We Tested

We tested over 30 additional coolers within several different categories that didn’t quite make the grade, including options from Pelican, Igloo, Rover, Coleman, Polarbox, Icemule, Cotopaxi, Arctic Zone, and Yeti. A previous version of this roundup included the Yeti M20 Soft Backpack Cooler and the Yeti Hopper Soft-Sided M30, which have been recalled. Find more information here.

REI Co-op Cool Haul 24 Soft Cooler

Pro Panel Q+A

Are hard or soft coolers better?

"Both are great options, and it really depends on your specific needs," says Chris Welch, Senior Manager of Category Management at Yeti. In terms of design, hard coolers are constructed with thick walls that serve as stronger insulation. "They are great for those looking for maximum ice retention to stay out longer and are in need of an ultra-durable cooler built to last, the hard cooler is the way to go. Soft coolers are usually engineered to really maximize portability, without sacrificing durability, and should feature a leak-resistant and puncture-resistant construction." A soft structure and straps help with portability, so users can tote them anywhere.

Which coolers can float?

Generally, it is soft-sided coolers that can float, which can be helpful if they fall out of your canoe but should not be relied upon as floatation devices. The RTIC Soft Pack cooler does have the ability to float, so if you frequently enjoy time in the pool or at the lake, it might be worth prioritizing.

What ice packs are best for coolers?

Welch likes the use of reusable ice packs (like his company's Yeti Ice) when using coolers, especially in conjunction with regular ice. "You want to find packs that are built with a durable design that is break-resistant and comes in multiple size options, which means you can outfit everything from your smallest hard cooler to biggest soft cooler," he says. "No messy cleanup, no puddles to drain — just toss it back in your freezer."

Our Expertise

Jennifer Zyman is a Senior Commerce Writer for Food & Wine and a recovering restaurant critic with a culinary school degree and over 15 years of food writing experience. Her work has appeared in Atlanta Magazine, Bon Appetit, Eater Atlanta, The Kitchn, Local Palate, National Geographic, Southern Living, and Thrillist. To write this story, she used our testers' insights and extensive data, and her culinary expertise. Stacey Ballis contributed our factors to consider and the Q&A using her research and advice from cooler industry experts.

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