best cooler for camping

Best Coolers For Camping [2019 Top Picks - Soft, Hard, Backpacking]

Last Update: 22 May 2019

Whether you’re camping or reeling in your catch of the day, a cooler will always come in handy for keeping your food and drinks frosty and also for preserving your catch for later. Lukewarm beer and spoilt food will be a thing of the past with a good quality cooler box.

The cooler’s insulation allows it to retain ice for long periods thus you don’t have to worry about power as would be the case with a refrigerator or freezer.

These portable ice chests can be quite hard to tell apart given their numerous features and types. Luckily, we have scoured all the resources available to determine the very best camping coolers out there so you can have an easier time deciding on which one to go for.

Below are our top picks of the best coolers for camping, as well as a few tips to help you grasp the workings and particulars of coolers in general.

If you're in a hurry, check out our top 3 picks:

best-choice-tag
Yeti Tundra 45 Ice-Blue Hard-Shell Camping Cooler

YETI Tundra 45-Quart Cooler (Ice Blue Color)

premium-choice-tag
YETI Hopper TWO Portable Soft Cooler For Camping

YETI Hopper Two 20-Quart Portable Cooler

best-value-tag
Polar Bear Coolers - Nylon Line Backpack Cooler For Camping

Polar Bear Coolers - Nylon Line Backpack Cooler

previous-pack next-pack

Else, select a category of the cooler you are looking for below:

Which camping cooler are you looking for?

The 7 Best Hard-Shelled Camping Coolers

Hard-shell coolers are chiefly designed to counter the harshness of being in the “wild”. This means that your food/drinks will not get crushed as easily as would be the case in soft-sided ones. Also, they tend to be more durable, due to the rigid build, as compared to other coolers.

Keep in mind that the period these coolers will keep the contents cool will mostly depend on the thickness and type of the insulation used.

Cooler Brand Capacity Ice Retention Rating Dimensions (Exterior) Empty Weight
Coleman Xtreme Series 70 quarts 5 days 23" x 17.5" x 17.5" 12.3 lbs.
RTIC Cooler 45 quarts 10 days 26.5" x 16.5" x 15.9" 25 lbs.
Thermik High-performance Cooler 45 quarts 5 days 26.7" x 16.6" x 16.3" 29.9 lbs.
Yeti Tundra Cooler 45 quarts 5 days 25.5" x 16" x 15.5" 23 lbs.
Driftsun Ice Chest 75 quarts 7 days 33.5" x 18.5" x 18" 32 lbs.
Klein Work Cooler 17 quarts 30 hours 16.8" x 12.5" x 13.5" 6.8 lbs.
Igloo MaxCold Roller Cooler 40 quarts 2 days 23" x 17.4" x 12.9" 9.8 lbs.

1. Coleman Xtreme Series Portable Cooler

Coming from the leading manufacturer of outdoor gear, we have the Coleman’s Xtreme Series portable cooler. The cooler is well-insulated and will definitely be the light of the party for any barbeque, tailgating and camping activity.

It can hold as many as 100 cans of cool refreshing beverages, which is an equivalent of 70 quarts. Also, you can put the same drinks into the built-in cup holders in the cooler’s lid.

Easy to Use

The cooler has a flap-like drain plug that is easy to remove resulting in a splash-free operation. Most of the meltwater will stream out with ease, but you may tip the cooler at an angle to get rid of all the water.

In comparison, screw-on drain plugs in other models cause the water to drip onto the belly of the ice chest, which is not the case in the Xtreme Series cooler.

When it comes to handling, the cooler can be lifted conveniently using the included no-pinch handle grips on either side. However, the lid takes some prying with both hands to open particularly when it’s empty.

Durable than Most Traditional Coolers

This particular product from Coleman exudes more longevity qualities, unlike other conventional coolers. First off, the hinges even though plastic appear to be sturdier and will withstand numerous opening and closing actions.

Also, you can sit on its lid without much worry about bending the lid as is usually the case in other traditional coolers. Even the walls look and feel more rigid and sturdier than in other models.

Our Verdict

The 70-quart Xtreme Series cooler from Coleman is a low budget, traditional ice chest ideal for the occasional long weekend trip or recreational activity. It will easily maintain your food and drinks cold for slightly over four days.

You may even take a chance and lug it along for a longer trip as long as you intend to refill the ice midway through your journey.

That said, the product is just that; a budget-friendly conventional cooler with slightly over four days of ice retention and a few unique benefits.

2. RTIC 45-Quart Cooler

A premium product without a doubt, the RTIC cooler kicks off our deep dive into some of the few notable high-end coolers in the market. It features rugged construction and will keep its contents frosty for up to seven (maybe 10) days.

Very Durable and Sturdy

Apart from its main function, the RTIC 45 cooler can be used as a tabletop, step stool and even as a bench. This is mainly due to its roto-mold construction, a manufacturing process that ensures optimal ruggedness and insulating qualities.

In fact, the manufacturer deems the cooler to be bear resistant to which we can attest that no wild animal will be able to break into. The lid can also offer the needed traction when casting fish nets or when used as a stepstool.

Practical and Premium Design

Available in arctic white, ocean blue and Mojave tan colors as well as in varying capacities, the RTIC cooler is a beauty to look at. The form factor is well thought out to not only make the included features visually appealing but also useful.

For instance, to keep the cooler in place; non-slip feet and molded tie-down slots are included. Whether you’re off-roading in your dune buggy or just set up at the beach you can be sure the cooler and its contents will be held in place.

Also, the hinge is the full-length type which ensures the lid doesn’t separate or overextend from the rest of its body.

Lastly, portability is enhanced with the included heavy-duty rope handles that also feature textured grips for even more control. The handles are long enough to avoid pinching as you carry the cooler and short enough for a comfortable experience. You can also carry the cooler by the molded handles.

Our Verdict

The RTIC cooler employs a couple of clever solutions to deliver a premium cooler capable of going the distance in terms of durability, sturdiness and ice retention. Keeping food and drinks cold for up to 10 days is no mean fit.

The 45-quart one will especially most ideal for one person for your camping, fishing trip or tailgating event. Therefore, it is safe to say that all the premium features present in this cooler commensurate to the overall price of the product.

The RTIC cooler is a decent upgrade from traditional coolers and won’t dig too deep into your pockets.

3. Thermik High-performance Cooler

Aside from their 75-quart and 25-quart variants, Thermik USA also makes the 45 quarts Thermik high-performance cooler. It prides itself of cool features and functionality and that’s why we had to test it out to believe it.

High Levels of Ice Retention

The roto-mold construction is hard to miss on this cooler as you can sit on it and even step on it without much worry. This coupled with 3-inch thick walls assures ice retention is at its peak most levels.

There’s also a large freezer grade gasket in the lid to ensure the container is tightly sealed thus keeping the cold air inside the chest for long periods.

High-quality Construction

The one-piece build reduces risks of having any vulnerable weak points that may cause the product to underperform. Also, the walls are as thick as 2-3 inches depending on the section thus ensuring optimal insulation and protection from elements and wild animals.

To affirm their indestructible nature, the Thermik cooler ships with a 5-year limited warranty which is quite bold as compared to other coolers in the market.

Incredible Features and Accessories

The Thermik coolers are packed with unique features such as a vacuum release valve, stainless steel bottle openers, a two-step drain system with a stainless-steel leash, a dry basket and so much more.

Typically, when the ice melts it causes a change in pressure due to the change in volume, which can cause the lid to get stuck. The vacuum release valve allows air into the cooler and in effect brings the internal pressure up to par with the outside pressure.

Opening a cold beer is also child’s play thanks to the built-in stainless steel bottle openers on the coolers. Carrying the cooler around is also made easy and comfortable with the fully-padded aluminum handles.

Our Verdict

The Thermik High-performance coolers pack all the must-haves you’d expect in a good quality hard-shelled and some cool extras on top to spice everything up. You get to enjoy a wide array of useful and unique features such as vacuum seal valves, easy-to-carry handles and so much more.

That said, the Thermik High-performance cooler is a great buy plus, it is priced at a hundred dollars less than other high-end models with similar functionality and features.

4. Yeti Tundra 45 Cooler

When it comes to heavy-duty outdoor coolers that can handle surprise bear attacks and weather patterns, the Yeti Tundra brand comes to mind. It is built for barbeque parties, camping and extremes like big game hunting and fishing.

Like some high-end models, this cooler has two types of carrying handles; roped handles and molded ones. The rubber T-latches, which secure and seal off the hinged lid are also quick to notice.

Unbeatable Insulation and Ice Retention

The Yeti Tundra coolers take no chances when it comes to insulation, which is evident with the thick walls, pressure-injected polyurethane foam, and one-piece roto-mold construction.

The walls are up to two inches thick while the foam is commercial-grade and pressure injected into the product. This ensures that your ice will stay icy for long periods that is 2-3 days, which is still much longer than other coolers in the same pedigree.

Our Verdict

The Yeti Company are the lead pioneers of roto-molded coolers, which have been much loved for their sturdiness and performance. Although pricey, the Yeti Tundra 45 cooler doesn’t fall far from its predecessors in terms of durability and ice retention.

If you are looking for a well-known cooler that can hold your ice the longest then the Yeti Tundra 45 cooler is the way to go. If it is too small for you or too heavy then you can always go for their larger capacity and wheeled Tundra variants.

5. Driftsun 75 Quart Ice Chest

Available in up to five bold colors namely coral, seafoam, grey, tan and white, the Driftsun Ice Chest has a lot to write home about. From the solid construction and down to the included features and accessories that make using this cooler a piece of cake, we can write on and on.

Firstly, we have the rotomolded thermoplastic that helps bring out the rigidity, longevity and insulative capabilities of the cooler. Despite the heavy-duty quality of the rotomolded build, the cooler still remains lightweight enough to move around considering its large capacity.

Improved Insulation

To further enhance the insulation, the Driftsun cooler packs a couple of ingenious solutions. For instance, the lid has a full-length hinge, quick-clip latches, and a freezer-style gasket seal to not only close shut but also make it easy to open the cooler.

Also, the cooler has up to 3 inches of commercial-grade insulation thus ensuring your ice remains so for the longest period possible.

Easy to Use

The Driftsun cooler is all about ergonomics, which is evident with all the cool yet useful features that are included in the product. We have molded tie-down slots with lock plates and non-slip feet to reduce any sliding or jerking motions during transportation.

Also, it has roped handles as well as molded handles to make it easy to carry by yourself or with a friend. The screw-on drain plug is also leashed and relatively mess-free, but you may notice some dripping as you unscrew.

Lastly, we have a bunch of add-on features such as a vacuum release valve, bottle opener and built-in ruler among others, to make the premium pricing all the more worth it.

Our Verdict

A no-sweat exterior that blocks off the formation of water droplets on the surface of your premium ice chest? Yes, that and so many other features and accessories are exactly what awaits you when you buy the Driftsun 75 Ice chest.

It has all the flashiness you’d expect in a high-end cooler, but worry not as the functionality is just as par at a fraction of the cost of said brands. In fact, the Driftsun brand among other new entrants is slowly edging out the long-serving top dogs of premium coolers.

6. Klein Tools Work Cooler 17-Quart

We have not forgotten our worker bees just yet as we also have in our listing, the Klein Tools’ Work Cooler, which is more tailored towards work life than recreational activities. The Work cooler is essentially your personal lunch box plus it doubles up as a seat too.

It has a capacity of 17 quarts which is enough to carry and keep cold; a full-course lunch meal, fruits, snacks, and juice. Additionally, there’s an included storage compartment inside the cooler to hold items such as napkins, utensils, keys, medicine, phone and so on.

Heavy-duty Construction

The cooler is built strong enough to withstand the unpredictable nature of the manufacturing and construction places. Plus, it can also be used as a seat so you don’t have to have your meals while standing.

It will hold a load capacity of up to 300 pounds, which is clearly an understatement.

Polyurethane foam insulation is used in the cooler to achieve the 30-hour ice retention goal, which means that you should refill the ice every day for effectiveness.

Many Convenient Features

You no longer have to fret over someone having a go at your sandwich as this “lunch box” comes with its own lockable latch. Also, the lid of the cooler opens at a full 180 degrees while the smaller compartment opens at 90 degrees to getting your items in and out of the cooler easy-peasy.

Its size and inclusion of an interior compartment to store small items make it very practical and convenient to use. The shoulder strap in the cooler also makes it very easy to move around.

Our Verdict

Klein Tools, the company, has over their 160 years of existence worked towards making the work life more efficient and worthwhile with their handy tools. The Work Cooler is well in line with its mission to provide quality products that address the needs of clients.

The work cooler, also known by its brand name Tradesman Pro Tough Box, is one of the few rugged construction-grade lunch boxes available in the market today. Thus, it goes without saying that this cooler is an economical option for the worksite.

7. Igloo MaxCold Roller Cooler

Emblazoned with jet carbon and ice blue hues, the Igloo MaxCold cooler has a very simplistic design. Perhaps, this is meant to draw your attention to its outstanding levels of performance relative to its cost.

The MaxCold cooler resembles your conventional cooler but with wheels for improved mobility as well as swing-up and pulling handles for carrying it around with ease.

Wheeled Cooler

When it comes to portability of the Igloo MaxCold cooler, you can choose to lift and carry or just pull it along. The cooler has wheels that roll nicely and an extended arm to pull it along as well as swing-up handles for the lifting option.

Particularly, the wheeled feature makes it a favorite among many customers and it overcomes such challenges as the draining the meltwater.

Our Verdict

The Igloo MaxCold roller cooler is a sturdy, easy to carry ice chest that is priced at a friendly rate. It lacks a lot of showy features present in most high-end models in favor of portability and performance.

As expected, the capacity falls short of the indicated 40 quarts and the noticeable lack of a drain plug on this cooler is quite disheartening. However, for short family weekends, this highly-portable cooler is the most economical option yet.

The 5 Best Soft-Sided Camping Coolers

These types of coolers are commonly made of vinyl or fabric and utilize soft, bendy insulation to keep the contents cool. When you’re done using them you simply fold them up and store them away. In fact, soft-sided coolers are champions when it comes to being affordable, portable and easy to use.

However, the added portability is usually at the expense of ice retention and insulation. In fact, most brands will retain ice for a maximum of only 5 days.

Cooler Brand Capacity Ice Retention Rating Dimensions (Exterior) Empty Weight
Yeti Hopper Two Cooler 23 cans 24-48 hours 25" x 12" x 18" 5.5 lbs.
Tourit Voyager 20 20 cans 36 hours 15" x 10" x 13.2" 3.7 lbs.
Polar Bear Coolers – Solar Bear 24 Pack 24 cans 24 hours 18" x 10" x 12" 5 lbs.
Bison Softpak Cooler Bag 12 cans
24 cans
16-24 hours 13" × 8" × 11"
18" × 10" × 11"
5 lbs.
10 lbs.
Coleman 42-Can Soft Cooler 42 cans 24 hours 13" × 11" × 20" 7.4 lbs.

1. Yeti Hopper Two 30 Cooler

The Yeti brand is one of the most popular and most premium brands of coolers currently in the market. Their coolers are known for durability, performance, and portability, all of which is marked by their high costs. The Hopper Two soft cooler is a revision on their already well-loved Hopper coolers.

You can get the Hopper Two in two main color variations; with fog gray and Tahoe blue hues or with field tan and blaze orange colors.

The Hopper Two cooler differs from the original in three key areas;

High-quality Construction

Yeti makes a bold statement about their products being over-engineered and this can be affirmed particularly in their Hopper Two cooler. Its outer shell is made of the same material used in whitewater rafts; thus, it is leak-proof, insulated and puncture-proof.

Getting contents into and out of the Yeti cooler is a lot easier with the redesigned zipper location as compared to the original model. Handling and carrying the cooler is also child’s play thanks to the included adjustable shoulder straps, side handles and top handle.

Also, the liner is made of FDA approved food-grade materials that are not only mildew resistant but also antimicrobial.

Great Ice Retention and Insulation

Its walls are 1 inch at the top and 1.5 inches at the bottom making them far superior in ice retention as compared to other soft coolers. You can get up to 24 hours of ice retention in the sun and up to 48 hours under the shade.

Primarily, insulation is provided for by the integrated closed-cell rubber foam which guarantees that ice remains ice for longer.

Our Verdict

Evidently, the Hopper Two seems like an incremental update on an already great product and will most likely be a product for the real die-hards of the brand. If you are on a tight budget but would still want to go with the Yeti brand of coolers then the original Hopper soft cooler will suffice.

The new zipper placement and tapered body are perhaps the best of the overall upgrade on the design as they will greatly add to the performance of the product.

2. Tourit Voyager 20 Soft Cooler

The tried and tested design of good quality soft coolers can be seen yet again in the Tourit soft cooler. It features industry-standard insulation systems and ergonomic elements that make the cooler quite functional for everyday use.

Multi-Layered Insulation

The exterior of the cooler is waterproof thus allowing no sweating occurrence on the surface while the inner lining is made of a leak-proof material. To further improve on the ice retention in this cooler we have a high-density foam sandwiched between the two surfaces.

The multi-layered insulation allows the cooler to keep your food and drinks by up to 3 days. Additionally, the airtight zipper does a good job at keeping the cold inside the cooler.

Also, the outer shell is ready for whatever abuse you throw at it as it is waterproof, puncture proof and even resistant to UV rays.

Easy to Use and Carry Around

With its three options to carry namely; by the detachable shoulder strap, the top handles or by the reinforced grab-and-go handles, the Tourit soft cooler will be a breeze to move around. The small compact size further enhances on this portability aspect.

A solution of mild soap and warm water will be all you need to clean the cooler. Plus, some mild lubricant can be used on the zipper to make it easier to slide as it tends to be a little tight at first use.

Our Verdict

If you are looking for a heavy-duty soft cooler that will perform almost as good as the premium brands, but at an affordable price range then the Tourit brand is a valid option.

It might be a little too big for a lunch box, but for the typical hiking, picnic, sea fishing or beach bumming trip, it will be just perfect.

3. Polar Bear Solar Coolers

We will focus on Polar Bear’s line of Solar Bear soft coolers particularly the nylon one with 24-can capacity. Alike the other models in the lineup it has some thick insulation and several convenient features.

Good Insulation

Insulation is enhanced by the 1” high-density foam and leak-proof, heavy-duty exterior and interior surfaces. The outer shell is made of strong, UV-resistant nylon material while the inner lining is made of Thermoplastic Polyurethane (TPU) double coated nylon.

This prevents any water leakages and more importantly locks in the cold for up to 24 hours even at highs of 100+ degrees ambient temperatures.

Premium Additions

With the Polar Bear Coolers brand, you can expect to see sleek designs and premium features on all of their products. The Solar Bear line has soft coolers with adjustable shoulder straps and handles for optimal portability.

Additionally, there are included tie-downs to hold your cooler in place during transit. A zippered side pocket for holding all of your small-sized personal items is also a common feature in these coolers. The pocket area can be embroidered with your company logo or monogram if you so wish.

Last but not least, heavy-duty YKK zippers and side-release buckles, which are world-known for their resilience, are included on each and every Solar Bear soft cooler.

Our Verdict

Insulation is not at its best with this particular cooler, but it still does a decent job at keeping its contents cold for at least 24 hours. The company does suggest that you should use a 3:1, ice to product ratio for the best results.

In a nutshell, for a standard soft cooler with just enough insulation to get you through the day then this is the one you have been looking for.

4. Bison Coolers Softpak Cooler Bags

Arguably, one of the toughest soft coolers in the market today, the Softpak cooler from Bison Coolers is tear resistant up to 375 pounds. This is mostly due to the fact that its outer shell is made of strong, UV-resistant vinyl, underneath which there’s nearly an inch of insulating material.

Also, we found the stitching on the cooler bag to be very well-done and consistent plus the zippers are durable and ideally sized.

The Softpak cooler also has an exterior cooler which you can use to store any dry foods or just your own personal items. The interior is lined up with leak-proof TPU material which adds on the ice retention and insulating capabilities of the cooler.

To carry this lightweight cooler, you can do so using the primary handles or by the detachable shoulder strap. If the 12-can version is too small for you then you can always go for the available 24-can model.

Our Verdict

The Softpak cooler bags are exceptionally built with tough vinyl and thick insulation, all of which comes at affordable prices. Bison Coolers offers a full warranty on their products thus you can be certain of their durability and resilience against the rough outdoors.

They are especially ideal for day trips, fishing, off-roading, sports event or any other outdoorsy experience.

5. Coleman 42-Can Soft Cooler

The 42-can wheeled soft cooler from Coleman marks the first cooler in our list to have wheels and a telescoping handle. Ice retention qualities in Coleman coolers have always remained at peak levels over the many decades the company has been in operation.

This soft-sided cooler simply adds some portability and space-saving features on an already trusted brand. The cooler can hold a capacity of 42 cans and features heat-welded seams to prevent any leakages or loss of insulation.

The removable plastic liner is easy to clean and makes packing the cooler a quick and easy process. You can set the liner on the kitchen table and pack your items in the desired manner then set it back in the cooler.

However, the tall, narrow design of the cooler makes it quite tedious to unpack items especially those at the very bottom of the cooler.

Very Portable

The high-quality, durable wheels and included handle make it very easy to move this cooler around especially over flat surfaces. The telescoping handle extends to a full-length of 39 inches which is a comfortable pulling position.

Furthermore, you will also get more carrying control thanks to the included lift-handles on the sides.

Space-saving Design

This Coleman soft cooler employs numerous pockets to provide extra storage space for your dry foods and personal items. Lid bungees on the top of the lid can be used to hold in place a magazine, newspaper or any appropriately sized items.

Additionally, there are two side mesh pockets, one front zippered pocket and even a dry storage pouch for better organization and extra storage space.

Our Verdict

Despite high levels of ice retention in Coleman’s coolers, this particular cooler is only ideal for short distances as it won’t keep its contents cold for too long. It does redeem itself for being easy to move around and being large enough for storing a lot of food and drinks.

This carry-on suitcase-style cooler is suitable for anyone looking for a highly portable cooler to cart their things to a family outing over short distances.

The 5 Best Backpack Coolers

Over the years, backpacking and hiking have been synonymous with a lot of roughing it out with nature and with no hope in sight for any homey conveniences. Fortunately, things are getting better on that front as more and more manufacturers are churning out lightweight outdoor gear every day.

Backpack coolers are designed to be lightweight yet insulated enough to keep your food and beverages colder for longer.

Typically, a good quality backpacking cooler will keep your items cool enough for less than 24 hours or just enough time to get to your camping site.

Cooler Brand Capacity Ice Retention Rating Dimensions (Exterior) Empty Weight
IceMule Pro Backpack Cooler 24 cans 4-6 hours 20" x 11" x 14" 3.5 lbs.
Polar Bear Coolers Backpack Cooler 18 cans 24 hours 18" × 12" × 7" 5 lbs.
GigaTent Backpack Cooler 25 cans 12 hours 15" x 12" x 11" 1.45 lbs.
Yeti Hopper Backflip 24 20 cans
24 cans
16 hours 13.75" × 19.13" × 8.5" 5.3 lbs.
AO Coolers Backpack Cooler 18 cans 24 hours 15" × 6" × 16" 2.6 lbs.

1. IceMule Pro Backpack Cooler

The roll-top design in IceMule backpack coolers eliminate the complexities and vulnerabilities posed by zippers and more so make the coolers accessible. This means packing and unpacking your foods and beverages will take less time.

Easy Movability

The XL version of this trendy line of backpack coolers by IceMule comes ready with adjustable over-the-shoulder padded straps and sternum straps to make it very easy to load and carry it over long distances. You will also remain cool even during hot days as the back of the cooler is well ventilated.

The interior and exterior of the IceMule backpack cooler are made of durable, waterproof which allow the cooler to float on water.

Well-insulated

The rugged, waterproof shell together with the insulation foam help keep the contents cold for many hours. Additionally, you can also add air into the cooler for additional ice retention thanks to the included air valve.

The air valve can also be used to release air from the cooler and in effect making it easy to roll and pack away.

Our Verdict

The IceMule backpack coolers are available in a variety of sizes and colors such as our review product, the 33L Realtree Camo backpack cooler. Zippers normally compromise on the overall ice retention quality in any cooler thus an alternative to this is a very welcome feature.

To overcome such inefficiencies, you can go with this heavy-duty, backpack-style cooler that is not only very portable but also much insulated. Its ability to float is also quite the conversation starter, however, to avoid injuring your back don’t overload it.

2. Polar Bear Coolers Backpack Cooler

Following the adaptability of actual polar bears to their harsh and cold surroundings, the Polar Bears Coolers seek to replicate the same features towards keeping things cold in the challenging outdoors. Particularly in the backpack cooler, we can find the brand’s tough construction and excellent insulative qualities.

The open cell insulation foam used in this cooler will have your foods and beverages remaining cool for many hours. Plus, the backpack style is always convenient for hiking and other hands-on activities without having to worry about the cooler.

Heavy-Duty Construction

The liner and the zipper system are usually two of the major weak points when it comes to soft coolers. The tough as nails TPU double-coated liner is in this cooler is puncture-proof, in fact, it survived the jaws of a K9 Unit dog without a scratch.

Consequently, the liner seems a bit stiff and thick so much that getting your items in and out of the cooler won’t be so easy. We also have the rugged nylon outer shell and heavy-duty YKK zippers that cement on the overall long life of this product.

Our Verdict

Quite underrated is the fact that most if not all of the Polar Bear Coolers can be personalized with an embroidered logo or monogram. That aside, the backpack cooler brings with it a polar bear-like performance in terms of ruggedness and matches the same with its ice retention qualities.

The liner eats up quite some space in the interior of the cooler, but perhaps that is the price to pay for a rather impressive backpack cooler.

3. GigaTent Backpack Cooler

Resembling your typical backpack, this handy cooler is perfect for fishing, hiking, and camping. Its leakproof and waterproof qualities make it a go-to item for packing meals and refreshing drinks whether for parties, sporting events or barbeques.

Multiple Pockets

Apart from the main cooling compartment, the cooler also has two mesh side pockets and two cargo pockets. The pockets provide extra storage and organization functions for small personal items such as a smartphone, keys or even a flashlight.

To carry it all, the GigaTent cooler comes with comfy adjustable shoulder straps and a center stretch bungee cord to compact the cooler. The cord too helps hold the contents of your cooler securely in place as you move around.

Strong, Durable Build

Solid polyester material with a 600-denier rating forms most of the components of the cooler thus you can expect it to be considerably robust. The heavy-duty zippers allow for easy access to the contents in cooler and also provide unmatched storage for your everyday items.

The cooler is not rigid thus it can be folded down into a flat, compact form when it is not in use without any loss in its structural integrity.

Our Verdict

The GigaTent backpack cooler ideal companion for all types of outdoor activities owing to its ice retention abilities and convenient form factor. Plus, it is loaded with lots of pockets and side compartments for extra storage and organization.

Everything about the cooler is quite acceptable but since most of the materials used are not waterproof or leak-proof then leakages are bound to happen. It is advisable that you use ice packs instead of actual ice in order to mitigate this issue.

4. Yeti Hopper Backflip 24

The Backflip 24 is a variant of the popular Hopper line of coolers from the Austin-based Yeti brand. We were quick to notice its backpack-style design, which was complete with two over-the-shoulder straps and a waist belt.

Superior Insulation

Primarily, insulation in the Yeti line of coolers is taken care of by the included closed-cell rubber foam insulation. The wall of insulation is at its thickest at the bottom (1 inch) and at its narrowest at the top (0.75 inches).

The thick layer of insulation ensures ice retention for hours on end, but this may vary depending on a couple of factors.

Strongly Built

As with all of their products, Yeti uses high-quality materials to make the Backflip cooler so you can get the most life out of it. A durable 840D nylon which is further TPU-coated is used to make the outer shell while an antimicrobial liner makes up the interior of the cooler.

The liner is mildew and mold resistant and the outer shell is tough enough to resist any scratches and punctures. Additionally, the cooler features the popular HydroLok Zipper which is leak-proof and is partly responsible for keeping in the cold and the hot air out of the cooler.

Our Verdict

The Yeti Backflip 24 is a durable soft cooler that does its job exceptionally, but as a backpack cooler, it fell short of our expectations. It is literally a cooler with backpack straps and even worse the company tries a hard sell on their costly accessories such as the Sidekick bag.

A side pocket could have been easily added to the cooler to make it into a more practical backpack cooler.

5. AO Coolers Backpack Cooler

AO Coolers has a standardized approach when it comes to making their coolers with only slight variations in form factor across their line of products. You can expect their coolers to be waterproof and to retain ice for long periods.

Good Insulation and Waterproofing Qualities

The 18-can backpack cooler from AO Coolers has their brand’s trusted TPU-coated liners and 0.75-inch closed cell foam insulation. The two elements are primarily responsible for the cooler’s high ice retention and insulation levels.

The cooler will maintain your meals at cool temperatures for hours or at least up to when you get to an ice refill point.

Extra Storage

The backpack cooler also has built-in zippered pockets; one large back pocket and two smaller side pockets. Either of the two pockets can be used to store dry items such as keys, phones and so on.

Our Verdict

Best known for being waterproof and leak-proof, the AO Coolers backpack coolers are excellent for boating, hiking, and other short trips. The 18-can cooler is just like your regular backpack but with a wider base and rigid structure.

It generally does a good job at retaining things cold for at least 24 hours. However, do make sure that it doesn’t tip over or get off balance as the meltwater may leak out from the top.

Your Buyer’s Guide on Choosing the Best Camping Cooler

First off, you will only need a cooler if you intend to keep perishable foods and drinks cold for more than a day, else they take up a considerable amount of space. A soft cooler should be your go-to when it comes to shorter trips such as a day at the beach or just a picnic at the park.

It usually makes more sense considering getting a cooler for large parties and longer and multi-day excursions. In which case you will need to consider familiarizing with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) food safety guidelines. The guidelines outline the safest temperatures to maintain certain perishable foods to prevent food poisoning.

Before we get ahead of ourselves it’s important to point out the various elements that we found to be key when buying a good quality esky, as the Australians call it.

Types of Coolers

Conventional Coolers

These are your generic, entry-level types of coolers that can be found pretty much everywhere. They mostly feature foam insulation in between plastic shells that have been joined together with epoxy or glue.

Conventional coolers are an economical option for many people and will normally keep their contents cold for up to 5-6 days maximum. They prioritize on delivering the most insulating performance for a relatively low cost.

High-End Coolers

A step up from traditional coolers, we have some high-end ones that seek to maximize durability and insulation with their designs. These coolers are made with the rotational molding manufacturing technique to ensure longevity and insulating performance.

The coolers have thicker walls and feature rubber gasket sealed lids to pump up the insulation factor. Notably, this increased insulation is usually at the expense of capacity and also it results at a higher price tag of the product.

Pin style hinges, UV-resistant plastic shell, and rigid walls among other features in the hard-shelled ice chests make them very lasting and ready for the extremes of the great outdoors.

It should be noted that despite the obvious high quality of these types of coolers, they are mostly more economically sound for people who are constantly on the road. Otherwise, a conventional cooler will suffice for week-long excursions.

Roto-molded Coolers

As you have read in our reviews, roto-molded coolers are also very common in today’s market. The underlying technology, rotational molding, make these kinds of coolers very durable and insulating.

The manufacturing process entails applying a softened material onto a mold that is rotating slowly, which results in a thick, uniformly insulated container.

Specialty Coolers

Soft-sided

A contrast to hard-shelled coolers, we have the soft-sided coolers which are not only easy to carry but also take up very little space. Most of these types of coolers will come backpack or over-the-shoulder styles.

Clearly, soft-sided coolers are most ideal for short trips and more so for anyone prioritizing the convenience of transportation and storage over insulation performance.

Thermoelectric

If refilling your cooler with ice or just the whole concept of keeping food and drinks cold with ice sounds cumbersome, worry not as there are also thermoelectric coolers. These types of coolers can be plugged into a car cigarette lighter or a wall socket.

As long as you have a source of power thermoelectric coolers have an indefinite cooling capacity and are especially ideal for long road trips.

How to Pick a Cooler

Apart from tie-breaker elements such as; coolers having built-in rulers to measure your catch or the included wire baskets and cup holders, we found the following factors very crucial in determining the right cooler for you.

Longevity

Most if not all coolers are particularly designed to be submerged, beaten, dropped and even attacked by wild animals, while still maintaining their contents at cool temperatures for days.

Rotomolded coolers are at the forefront when it comes to durability and ruggedness. Their rotational molding manufacturing process ensures the container is a single-piece cast free from any imperfections and seams.

Even though most coolers are particularly designed for the extremes of the outdoors usually the wear of their carrying handles and hardware are the first sign of a not-so-durable product. So be sure to stress test your cooler of choice before committing to a buy.

If your cooler will be intentionally be put through abuse like the bouncing around a boat or being stepped on as a ladder then a hard-shelled cooler will be a worthy investment. In fact, some models are certified to be bear-resistant as per the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC) requirements.

Size and Capacity

A few questions to ponder on before settling for a particular cooler size include the following:

As is tradition, the size of the ice chest is measured in quarts and mostly ranges from 20 quarts to 70+ quarts.

A 25-quart cooler is enough for a one-night stay for an individual and can hold about sixteen cans or 20 pounds of ice. On the other hand, 70+-quart coolers are ideal for longer stays in the outdoors for caterers and large parties.

The overall dimensions of the cooler will also come into play when carrying or storing it. Do consider the available storage space in your vehicle before buying your desired ice chest.

Portability

Most coolers can be carried around by one person while others are usually a two-man job. The included handles and shoulder straps make this quite easy for movability.

If you suffer from back problems or find that the required cooler size will be too heavy then you can always consider the many available wheeled ice chests in the market. Also, a possible workaround on maintaining a large capacity cooler is to have it centrally located to the party to prevent moving it around a lot.

Ice Retention Ability

Normally, if you want a cooler that will keep its contents chilly for longer periods then it must be able to retain ice in its form for longer periods. You can expect a higher price, thicker walls and more rigidity in this type of coolers.

Portability is also a bit compromised in favor of better and more effective insulation. However, if you don’t intend to be out and about for long periods then there are tons of options to choose from will lower ice retention abilities.

Use of dry ice especially on high-end hard-shelled coolers can also greatly improve on the insulation ability of the product. Also, a fully loaded cooler will retain the ice in its form for longer as opposed to a half-empty one.

It is also important to note that even though most of the coolers are rated to retain ice as ice for many days, it is not always the case in real life applications. This can mostly be attributed to changes in temperature and environment.

A good practice to best prepare for this is to test out the ice retention on your own by leaving an ice block in the cooler for a couple of days to see when it will fully melt.

You can also test the seal on the lid for any weak points that may seep in/out any air by carrying out the “flashlight test”. Place a torch inside the container and check for any glows along the edges of the lid seal.

Draining

Inevitably, the ice in the cooler will eventually melt thus you will need to get rid of the melted water. The drain hole is usually located at a low point of the ice chest for faster and complete drains.

For these reasons, the draining plug is always the weakest link in the overall insulation of the cooler. Therefore, you must always consider a cooler with a plug that closes tightly and also to prevent losing it, it must be attached to the container possibly with a lanyard.

Some models use a hose to empty the melted water while others will require you to turn the whole container upside down. So, go for a cooler with a suitable draining mechanism that is most convenient and practical for the type and size of the cooler.

Overall, the ease of use of the cooler is mostly dependent on the draining mechanism as you can always adapt to other factors such as the opening/closing and latching mechanism. As long as the lid doesn’t randomly shut on you when loading or unloading the cooler’s contents then you are good to go on that end.

Budget

On a more personal note, your budget always seems like the most prioritized factor. Nonetheless, just make sure you go for a cooler that closely matches your needs and budget. It is also noteworthy to point out that a higher price doesn’t always translate to a higher quality product.

Also, a good quality cooler will employ high-quality, durable materials to ensure the best possible insulation, longevity, and portability, which typically leads to a higher price tag on the product.

That said, some of the highest rated and equally premium-priced brands of coolers are the Coleman, Pelican, and Yeti brands.

How to Efficiently Pack Your Cooler

Firstly, to bring the internal temperature down, you need to prechill the cooler overnight before packing for your trip. Also, ensure you refrigerate as much food and drinks as possible overnight. When you’re ready to pack, toss the prechill ice and layer in ice blocks or ice cubes at the bottom.

The new ice will without a doubt stay frozen for longer and will further the cooler’s ice retention performance. The bottom layer of ice also keeps the contents away from the least insulated sections of the cooler.

Secondly, place your food and drinks in an efficient and practical manner that ensures that the cooler doesn’t stay open for long hours. For instance, you can keep your evening meals and morning meals on opposing sides. Least used items can also be placed at the bottom while regularly used ones can come at the top.

Wire trays can be used to hold food items like sandwiches, beer or everything else that you don’t want too cold and within reach. All gaps and holes should be filled up by lots of ice cubes to maximize insulation.

Finally, put an additional layer of ice on top and you will be set for your adventurous journey.

Conclusion

Whether you are prepping for kayaking, big game hunting, fishing, camping or just sunbathing excursions, be sure to take along a suitable cooler with you. A good quality cooler will withstand the harshness of the great outdoors and more so will keep your beer or beverage cool and your food fresh.

Author-bio

ABOUT DANIEL MSANII

When he's not camping or adventuring the outdoors, you'll find him grinding hard on his keyboard to put up some super-awesome content on campingmaniacs.com. Starting off on camping escapades back in 2011, he has grown fond of the activity over the years. His exposure to a myriad of different camping terrains, gear and the outdoor atmosphere has hitherto changed his perception of the entire outdoor life. He enjoys sharing the experiences of his adventures and gear reviews with the awesome camping community on this platform. Read more about us.

LEAVE A COMMENT

Subscribe to comments

Submit Comment
scroll-to-top