The 12 Best Coolers That Can Hold Onto Ice for Days
It's simple: Everyone needs a good cooler. It not only keeps drinks and foods chilled for outdoor adventures, long road trips, and tailgates, but it also provides backup cold storage space if the power goes out. What's less straightforward is picking out the right one.
From soft-sided totes ideal for work lunches to massive chests that hold ice for more than a week, there is a wide variety of containers and bags that keep contents cool. What's more, options range from an affordable $50 to more than $400.
Rather than waste hundreds of dollars on an option that doesn't live up to its claims or fit your needs, we've done the research for you. After reading through thousands of reviews from real shoppers who purchased and tried coolers for themselves, and testing out a couple of the top picks ourselves, we've picked the 12 best of the bunch. Below, you'll find customer-loved coolers from Igloo, Coleman, and Yeti, the brand nearly synonymous with the words "ice chest."
Best Coolers for 2021
- Best Overall: Yeti Tundra 65 Cooler
- Best Rated: Igloo Polar 120-Quart Cooler
- Best Value: RTIC 45 Cooler
- Best Soft Cooler: Yeti Hopper M30 Soft Cooler
- Best with Wheels: RollR 60-Quart Wheeled Camping Cooler
- Best Backpack: IceMule Pro Cooler
- Best Budget-Friendly: Coleman Xtreme 5 Cooler
- Best Small: Pelican 20-Quart Elite Cooler
- Best Personal-Sized: Carhartt Deluxe Lunch Cooler Bag
- Best for Camping: Orca 58-Quart Classic Cooler
- Best for Wine: Tirrinia 4-Bottle Wine Carrier
- Best for Customization: OtterBox Venture 65 Cooler
From small coolers for day trips to high-end splurges that hold ice for weeks, we've found choices for every price point and experience level. Keep reading to learn more about what makes an excellent cooler and shop the options customers love the most.
What to look for when buying a cooler
While we all want our coolers to keep contents chilled, there are tons of other factors to consider, too. From durability and portability to capacity and frequency of use, you need to think about your specific needs.
If you're trying to keep food or drinks cold for a long time or during an outdoor adventure, you'll want a hard-sided cooler. Typically made from double-walled plastic and insulated with foam, they can hold ice for days and withstand everything from camping excursions to deep-sea fishing to cross-country road trips. Depending on the size or material, they can be an investment of hundreds of dollars. Most people won't need anything bigger than 65 quarts, which holds enough food to feed a family for a week. And because hard coolers can be heavy when full, comfortable handles are a must (and wheeled options are especially handy).
Soft-sided options are great for anyone who just needs a cooler for smaller groups or day-long activities, like picnics, a short hike, or carrying lunch to work. As their name suggests, they're made with more malleable materials, like polyester, canvas, or rubber, and can be flattened for storage between uses. Soft coolers are also usually designed as totes or backpacks, which don't hold as much as a hard-sided chest but are certainly easier to transport.
How to keep a cooler cold for days
A little bit of preparation can make a major difference how long your cooler will stay cold. The first step is bringing down the interior temperature of your cooler. If it's been sitting in a hot garage or shed, allow it to reach room temperature, then toss some bags of ice inside the night before you need it. You'll need to dump the ice before loading in your goods, but now you have a fighting chance to keep your chill.
Packing refrigerated or frozen food is another way to promote ice retention, and put items you'll use later toward the bottom of the chest so you minimize the amount of time the lid is open. Also, layer block ice or ice packs at the bottom of your cooler and add ice cubes to leave as little air space as possible. Yeti recommends filling two thirds of your cooler with ice and not draining the water as it melts. It insulates the remaining ice in the chest.
When your cooler is out in the wild, try to keep it out of direct sunlight. If shade isn't available, create your own protection with a light-colored towel or blanket. Also, since air exposure accelerates melt, limit the amount of times you open your cooler. One trick is to create a map of food and drinks on the lid of your cooler, or consider packing a separate container with high-use items (like that six-pack).