Home / News / The 14 Best Coolers For Keeping Your Food and Drink Cold

The 14 Best Coolers For Keeping Your Food and Drink Cold

Oct 17, 2023Oct 17, 2023

Every product is carefully selected by our editors. If you buy from a link, we may earn a commission.

Looking to hide some sandwiches and 85 cans of beer from a bear? Start here.

Outdoor coolers have the same adventurous spirit as those who carry them. They’re designed to be dropped, beaten, submerged and even attacked by wild animals, all while keeping their contents intact and cold for days.

Whether you’re planning on taking one deep-sea fishing, big game hunting, paddling down some Class 5 rapids or simply going to a tailgate, one of these coolers is worthy of the adventure. This definitive guide provides information on the best coolers available for cookouts, camping, hunting, fishing and any other activity that calls for a portable ice chest.

Here, we break down and compare each model's key features — ice retention, volume, durability, weight and additional features — to help you pick the one that suits your needs.

Coolers come in multiple varieties — that which you choose will depend largely on what you plan to use it for. The easiest way to categorize coolers is by their material and size.

A small, soft-shell cooler will be the best for daily lunches, quick trips to the beach with kids and casual outings. The best soft coolers are made with nylon, cotton-twill, heavy-duty vinyl or canvas, and are collapsible, easy to clean and last for many years with proper care. When shopping a soft-sided cooler, look for leak-resistant construction and stain-resistant material.Large, hard-sided coolers or chests, on the other hand, will be ideal for hunting, camping and extended trips. Many hard-side chests are rotomolded — made from one continuous piece of plastic, rather than individual parts joined together, so they're also waterproof and leakproof (think Yeti). These coolers come with a heavier weight but are less likely to break or crack due to high use. The traditional hard-sided cooler (like that old Coleman in your parents' garage) are injection-molded — they're sturdy and can keep ice relatively well, but not like a rotomolded option. Injection molded coolers are lighter and sometimes easier to clean than other coolers, and definitely cheaper.

Backpack coolers are similar to soft-shelled coolers in their construction, with heavier padded straps and sometimes, dry storage compartments. Cooler backpacks are ideal for day trips, and offer convenience and insulation on the go. Remember, even if your backpack cooler has a drain plug, it never hurts to turn it upside down and let it fully drain out, to avoid bacteria and mildew growth.

Packing your cooler the right way depends on which type you've decided to buy. Below, we break down three packing methods, based on cooler construction.

Pre-chill your rotomolded cooler for at least 24 hours before you intend to use it: grab a couple bags of ice and stick them in your cooler, close the lid tightly and keep it out of the sun if you can. When it's time to pack your supplies, refill with fresh ice, along with your food and drink.

Don't drain the meltwater. This liquid is its own insulator, and it helps prevent the remaining ice from melting as quickly. Use block ice if you can fit it, or ice packs if meltwater is going to be an issue. Avoid small cubed ice if possible, unless you’re willing to accept a watery mess in service of keeping your goodies cold.

Fill to the brim for maximum ice retention and use layers. Put block ice at the bottom, followed by a layer of frozen items and meat, and cubed ice on top. Then load drinks, fruits and veggies, and finally bread and eggs, with cubed ice between each layer of food. This creates an ultra-cold zone at the bottom and a chilled one at the top. It works for every cooler, but injection-molded coolers really need the help.

Our editors tested a wide variety of coolers in order to determine which made the cut for this guide. While testing, we kept in mind a few key factors: capacity, weight, ease of use (including the quality and robustness of handles and straps) and price point. What you'll find below is a range of coolers that fulfill the needs of anyone spending time outdoors.

A note on ice retention: Because there are so many variables when it comes to using a cooler (weather, cooler placement, how much ice is being used, how often it's opened, proper packing technique, etc...), it's almost impossible for a brand to claim a specific amount of days for ice retention. Additionally, during our tests — which feature multiple editors, across different time zones, for months on end — we try to maintain the same testing standards, but there is natural variability. For that reason, you won't see specific ice retention claims in our testing.

There's a reason Yeti hard-sided coolers sparked enough love to build an entire brand upon: they work. They stay colder for longer than other hard-sided coolers and they're as durable as can be. It's hard to argue with their sleek form and a palette of colors that changes annually, too.

These traits are available in every cooler in the Tundra line (additional sizes are linked below), but if we had to pick a favorite, it'd be the Tundra Haul. Yeti carefully considered how wheels and a handle would integrate into the design — the handle won't slam against the hard plastic when you drop it, and the all-terrain wheels roll so quietly and smoothly that you might wonder if the sizable cooler is actually floating behind you instead of rolling. What's more, Yeti incorporated the wheels while retaining space on the interior of the cooler without too many awkward bumps. Other wheeled coolers on the market fail to do this as sleekly.

Additional Sizes: Tundra 45, Tundra 65

The cooler with the cult following, Kong has made a name for itself in the category by producing coolers that just don't quit. One reviewer put it best: "Kong is king."

The Kong 110 is the ideal cooler for extended trips overlanding, or for larger groups that need to keep more food and drink cold. This behemoth can carry 82 twelve-ounce cans and 42 pounds of ice. Kong coolers are made in the USA and feature easy-to-manipulate, durable latches as well as comfortable and supportive handles (a must when you're moving around this much weight). You can customize your cooler with an array of useful accessories, including a divider, bottle opener, attachable tray, traction pad and handle kit, among other items.

That said, be aware — Kong calls this the "Big Daddy" of coolers, and at 48 pounds empty, it's easy to see why. Once it's loaded, you'll get in your workout for the day carrying it around.

Don't have stacks of cash to shell out for a rotomolded ice chest? That's understandable, and you can still get a great cooler for a lot less, like this 70-quart model from Igloo's MaxCold series. The sacrifices you’ll make in choosing this cooler are mostly in durability and cold retention, and there's no latch to keep the lid locked down, but it is much lighter and offers plenty of interior space. If you don't anticipate putting your cooler through the wringer and only need it to remain icy for a day or two, this is the perfect option.

Additional Sizes: 40 quarts with wheels, 50 quarts, 90 quarts with wheels, 100 quarts

In the spring of 2023, this new cooler hit the market and made waves with its claims of not needing ice to keep things cold — and after testing, we're here to confirm that the Tempo indeed does not need ice to keep drinks and food frosty. What's more, it's got a capacity that rivals rotomolded coolers twice its weight: it can fit 36 cans and two thermal batteries, which are the brand's version of the standard ice pack.

I pre-chilled my Oyster before using it, which is the correct way to use any cooler if you want maximum cold retention, but worked just as well with an ice pack, rather than bags of ice. The Tempo is sleek, sophisticated and easy to use. The aluminum handle can be easily swapped for the adjustable carry strap, and the latch to open and close the lid is tight without being difficult to undo. I found myself being a little gentler with the Tempo than it probably needed — aluminum dents much easier than rotomolded plastic, after all — but the Tempo was just fine in the back of my car, down by the pool and hanging outside with friends. If you want the coolest (literally and figuratively) cooler around, pick one of these up.

When RovR brought its RollR coolers to Kickstarter, it optimistically promised: "the most feature-packed cooler ever!" That upbeat attitude worked because 580 backers funded the project to more than $100k beyond its asking goal.

While many of the other hard coolers on this list seem to be emulating Yeti (there's a reason we keep mentioning the brand), the RollR is unique. Its shape is boxier, its finish is shinier and its interior is wholly novel. The inside is stepped to accommodate the axle supporting its built-in wheels, but RovR has worked that potential flaw into the design, using the cavity to create a slot for its removable dry storage container. It claims to keep ice frozen for ten days, a duration that has become industry standard, with the rotomolded construction.

The RollR earns its rank due to its potential for customization. The dry storage is a great organization feature that makes packing for a multi-day camping trip compact and organized. The RollR also can hold a prep board, cup holder and other small accessories. One unique add-on is a collapsible bin that sits on top of the cooler when closed, which can hold things like beach towels, clothing or any other supplies that are easier rolled than carried. The RollR also can rig up behind a bicycle with an extra attachment.

Those looking for specific use options will probably opt for less customization, more space and a lighter package; the RollR is comparatively heavy. But it's also a great cooler that opts for fun instead of intensity, and stands up to the rest of this list all the same.

Additional sizes: 45 quarts, 80 quarts

While many rotomolded coolers are similar in construction, ice retention, sizing and even looks, there isn't much to differentiate between them beyond price. RTIC knows that and has staked its place as the go-to brand for saving some cash without sacrificing quality. Compared to Yeti's Tundra hard coolers, RTIC's run roughly $100 cheaper in similar sizes. While they don't retain temperature quite as well, they’re perfectly capable of keeping their cool, and taking a beating when necessary (these might not be differences you’ll notice, especially with the extra dollars in your pocket).

Additional sizes: 20 quarts, 65 quarts, 145 quarts

Need something quick and handy for day trips? Pelican's rep for tough, dependable cases extends to coolers, including this easily transportable injection-molded offering. The Elite 20 packs a number of handy traits, including self-draining cup holders, locking latches, tie-down slots and an integrated bottle opener. While it lacks a drain plug and its ice retention is not extraordinary (a couple of days), the small size and intended use (a day at the beach or the lake or the park or the job site) don't necessitate such features. It can stand out in a crowd, too, via seven tri-toned colorways.

Additional Sizes: 30 quarts, 45 quarts (wheeled), 50 quarts, 70 quarts, 80 quarts (wheeled), 95 quarts

With its rectangular, rigid walls, detachable internal food shelf and comfortable, padded shoulder straps, Camelbak's first foray into the world of backpack coolers has quickly become our favorite. Our tester used hers carrying snacks down to the beach, in the cab of her truck on a road trip and on numerous camping trips.

While the ice retention is solid (72-plus hours, if it stays closed), that wasn't necessarily the standout feature — it was the group-oriented design of the backpack that really put it over the top. The Chillback comes with a water reservoir zippered compartment, which means along with the beers and sandwiches inside, you can also keep everyone hydrated on adventures.

Sure, the whole unit is a little heavy — especially when full — but the padded shoulder straps help ease the load. Besides, after a full day of adventuring, it's likely to be much lighter after all the snacks are gone.

At less than $10, Igloo's Recool is by far the cheapest cooler on our list. Its 16-quart capacity is small — ideal for a day trip but probably not an overnight — too. Also, while every other cooler here is nigh indestructible, the Recool is markedly destructible; it's made of molded pulp that's biodegradable.

The Recool doesn't aim to replace Yetis or OtterBoxes anyway; it replaces those cheap styrofoam coolers you buy last minute at a gas station or grocery store before heading to the beach or a music festival. Igloo claims the Recool is strong enough to carry 75 pounds (I flipped ours over to stand on it, and it didn't buckle) and that it’ll keep ice frozen for up to 12 hours and hold water without leaking for five days.

Our tests confirmed these claims (although the bottom did leak very slightly after roughly 20 hours), and even after leaving water in it for over a week, we were still able to dry it out and use it again.

Clearly, the aforementioned Recool deserves some points when it comes to the environment, but what Taiga is doing in the non-disposable space is laudable as well. Launched last fall, the Terra cooler is the first high-performance cooler to incorporate an FDA-approved hemp-filled polypropylene material rather than fossil fuel-based polymers.

The move cuts down on harmful petroleum plastics but not at the expense of keeping your drinks and food cold — two inches of foam insulation plus a three-inch lid add up to at least a week's worth of ice retention, not unlike Taiga's Original cooler line. The American-made unit also features a leak-proof lid gasket, heavy-duty rubber latches, tie-down slots, an oversized drain plug and a lid lock hole for extra protection against beer theft.

Hydro Flask's success in creating insulated water bottles that look great and work to keep beverages cold (or hot) for extended periods of time signals that the brand has a particular knack for insulation. Getting into the cooler category was a logical next step, and the company recently revamped its line of soft-sided coolers and renamed it Day Escape.

Like its predecessor, Hydro Flask's 20L Day Escape Soft Cooler Pack is easily the prettiest of the group that we tested. It's sleek, with an exterior stretchy mesh pocket for things like keys or a wallet that don't impede its design or add unneeded bulk (there are also attachment points for modular dry storage pouches too). The cooler is also watertight, thanks in part to a new Tru Zip zipper that has a toothless design and is a lot easier to pull open than that of Hydro Flask's previous cooler pack, as well as others we tested.

Inside, there's an FDA-approved, food-grade liner and enough soft insulation to keep food, drink and ice cool for roughly two days. Our one minor gripe is that the top zipper placement can make it hard to see down into the cooler, but it's a small enough container we haven't found it much of an issue — and we feel that the zipper upgrade is worth that trade.

Because it's a backpack, the Day Escape Soft Cooler Pack also has to be comfortable enough to wear, especially fully loaded. We found that it is, and handles on each top corner make it easy to carry between two people as an alternative.

Yeti is the king of rugged coolers, and when the brand launched the Hopper Flip 8 in 2016, it brought that title to a new category: lunch boxes. Now, the company makes actual lunch boxes, but the Hopper still fills a need to carry and keep small amounts of food and beverages icy. The Hopper 8 is the smallest in the series, but there are also medium, large and backpack sizes. (The backpack is great for jaunts that might include a hike.) Between the group of them, there's definitely a Goldilocks-approved size for whatever your needs are.

Additional Sizes: Hopper 12, Hopper 18

When you need a no-nonsense, large-capacity cooler for parties or backyard barbecues, reach for this Coleman giant. At 120 quarts it's one of the largest on this list, and can hold a whopping 204 cans and retain ice for six days. It's not rotomolded like its Yeti or Otterbox counterparts, which actually works in its favor — with a cooler this large, cutting weight is a requirement if you want to take it anywhere without a skip loader. It's stain-resistant, has large swing-up handles for easy carrying, and the Have-a-Seat lid supports up to 250 pounds.

Stanley is a heritage brand in the outdoor space, but it's not resting on its laurels — the brand continues to innovate. Case in point? This adventure-ready 16-quart cooler features an easy-to-grab, durable handle among other features. The Adventure Easy Carry cooler contains twice the foam insulation of a standard cooler and can hold 21 cans comfortably — enough for you and your closest friends to share. The lid has a bungee system built into it, so you can stash your favorite insulated water bottle on top. The attention to detail, technical features and approachable price of this cooler make it an easy buy, in our book.

Have you ever opened your cooler on the second day of your camping trip, or a few hours into your beach day, only to notice with dismay that half your ice is melted? If you just dropped a couple hundred bucks on the thing, this can even more insult to injury. If you don't follow the proper procedure when packing a cooler, you're bound to run into this situation again, and again.

The first step in cooler prep is to chill the cooler before use, especially if it's rotomolded and has a thicker construction. Stuff your cooler full of ice the day before your trip, keep it in a cool and shaded place, and let the ice sit overnight. Replace with fresh ice in the morning, and pack your items. If embarking on a multi-day trip, you should also consider freezing the food you plan to use on the third or fourth day - they'll thaw over time, and help maintain the temp of the cooler in the meantime.

Additional tips include using ice blocks instead of cubes, packing in layers, and keeping the lid closed and latched as much as possible. If a cooler says it can keep ice for five days, that's because it didn't get left open during testing. Keeping these tips in mind when packing for a trip will preserve your ice, and your sanity.

soft-shell cooler hard-sided coolers chests Backpack coolers Additional Sizes: Additional Sizes: Additional sizes: Additional sizes: Additional Sizes: Additional Sizes: