Do you know why we like coolers so much? Because they keep our stuff cold.
Whether it’s live bait for the half day fishing trip in the Bay of Banderas or a bucket of potato salad for the weekend get together, it is important to make sure everything is staying nice an cold. Not to mention your favorite canned beverages, which simply aren’t the same when warmed up.
The best coolers for camping are the ones that not only keep the ice cold for the longest, but they also carry easily, organize neatly, and perhaps most importantly, offer us a trusty place to sit when all the camp chairs are taken.
Our team has compiled the data and we’re ready to present you with our list of the 12 best coolers for camping, along with all the reasons they’ve set themselves apart from other coolers.
|Best Feature||Capacity||Ice Retention||Weight||Dimensions||Pros||Cons|
Toughest Camping Cooler
Extreme PerformanceCheck Price
|35 quart||5 Days||22.1 pounds||24.1 x 16.1 x 15.1 in||
Most Portable Cooler 2019
Xtreme CoolerCheck Price
|70 quart||5 Days||14.15 pounds||29 x 15.8 x 18.2 in||
Best for Car Camping
Ice Cube RollerCheck Price
|60 quart||4-7 days||12.2 pounds||20 x 18.5 x 20.69 in||
Best Bang-For-Your-Buck Cooler
48-Quart PerformanceCheck Price
|48 quart||2-3 days||7 pounds||26 x 14 x 14.5 in||
Best Extra Large Cooler
Polar CoolerCheck Price
|120 quart||5 Days||38.2 x 17.3 x 17.7 in||18.3 pounds||
Best Soft Sided Cooler for Car Trips
SnapBasket 50 CanCheck Price
|50 quart||1.5 Day||2 pounds||18.2 x 12.2 x 12 in||
Best Cooler for Long Trips
Super Tough 120Check Price
|120 quart||7 Days||26.5 pounds||38.44 x 17.0 x 17.75 in||
Best Cooler for Fishing Trips
Coastal ExtremeCheck Price
|120 quart||6 Days||22.5 pounds||36.8 x 18.75 x 19.3 in||
Best Cooler for Backyard Barbeque
100-Quart XtremeCheck Price
|100 quart||5 Days||21.4 pounds||36.5 x 16.8 x 17.2 in||
Best Retro Cooler for Camping – Coleman Steel-Belted Portable Cooler 54 Quart
|Advertised Ice Retention||4 Days|
The designers over at Coleman must have been feeling nostalgic, because their newest camping cooler features a retro design that nearly replicates the look and feel of one of their most iconic coolers of all time. This time around, Coleman has added a few updates in terms of insulation technology.
This is a wonderful camping cooler for no other reason than its simplicity. With no moving parts it is less likely that you will find a way to break it, and the stainless steel components won’t rust or wear down like the plastic stuff that we are all used to. A good flat top means that it makes an excellent camp chair when you need one.
This cooler doesn’t provide the best insulation out there, and there seems to be some problem with the lid’s locking mechanism as it does not look to hold the lid tightly closed. That could be one of the reasons that the ice melts a bit quicker than expected (more like 2.5 days than 4).
Best Budget Pick Camping Cooler – Igloo Quick and Cool 100 Qt. Cooler
|Advertised Ice Retention||5 Days|
This one is a big boy. With room for 145 cans and the ability to hold a 2-liter bottle of soda upright, the Igloo Quick and Cool has quickly become the cooler of choice for family camping trips and backyard barbeques. You’ll be hard pressed to find another cooler of this capacity for the price, which is perhaps another reason that we have been seeing this model everywhere.
Igloo advertises a five day ice retention capability here, though as usual our tests found this to be a slight exaggeration. Once you factor in all the hands that are getting in and out of the cooler (via one of two convenient quick-access hatches) then you actually have an ice retention capability that is closer to 3.5 days.
Now, the affordable price on the Quick and Cool is for a reason. Unlike Coleman’s Maxcold series, which looks pretty much identical to this model, the Quick and Cool features a hollow lid construction as opposed to something that is fully insulated. This is probably why it can’t hold a temperature as well.
If you’re in the food-service industry, spend the few extra bucks and go for the Maxcold series. Anyone else should do just fine with the Quick and Cold.
LEARN: How To Keep Your Cooler Cold Without Ice
Best Camping Cooler with Wheels – Coleman 50-Quart Xtreme 5-Day Cooler with Wheels
|Advertised Ice Retention||5 Days|
There are a couple of features that make the Coleman Xtreme 5-Day Cooler one of the most easily adaptable coolers on our list, that is to say, that it is just as useful in a tailgating situation as it is on a weekend camping trip. A pair of rear wheels and a telescoping pull handle add to the cooler’s mobility, and four molded cupholders are a nice additional feature.
We’ve got to admit, the black color is sleek and stylish, but is there a possibility that perhaps it was not the correct color for something that was designed to keep things cold? The sun certainly does sink into the surface of this thing. If you are using one, we highly recommend keeping it in the shade at the very least.
One significant inconvenience that comes about as a result of the rear mounted wheels is that the interior dimensions of the cooler are somewhat stunted by the wheel indentation. This means that the bottom of the inside of the cooler is not a flat surface, so stacking your items neatly can be something of a hassle. However, for $42 bucks we are going to let it slide. This is one of the most popular coolers on the market and that’s not looking like it’s going to change anytime soon.
Roughest & Toughest Camping Cooler – SuperSport 35 Qt. Extreme Performance Rotomolded Cooler
|Ice Retention||5 Days|
|Dimensions||24.1 x 16.1 x 15.1 in|
It seems like rotomolding is all the rage these days when it comes to high performance coolers, and for good reason. It is one of the best ways to get a truly impenetrable seal, which means top of the line insulation and a longer ice retention period that other construction methods. The rotomolding comes at a price, of course, but more and more outdoor enthusiasts are taking the plunge on the bet that they are going to get a product that lasts them more than just a few seasons.
SuperSport’s 35 qt. cooler was clearly designed to take advantage of this craze, which has been largely led by premium-cooler supplier YETI. SuperSport has managed to create a pretty comparable product here; we found the ice retention to be about the same.
Padlock corners are a great feature for anyone looking to keep their food box closed to passing wildlife. Even rodents are capable to prying open cooler lids, so any method to keep it firmly closed is fine by us.
Interior is a touch smaller than you would expect from the overall dimensions and weight, but we believe this is another side effect of the rotomolding.
Most Portable Camping Cooler of 2021 – Coleman Xtreme Series Portable Cooler 70 Quart
|Ice Retention||5 Days|
|Dimensions||29 x 15.8 x 18.2 in|
Here we have the mid-size version of Coleman’s wildly popular Xtreme Series of coolers. At 70 quarts, this thing is big enough to handle a weekend camping trip but small enough to throw in the back of the car for a day on the open road. Whatever you are using it for, you can rest assured that your food and drink will stay plenty cold. When you consider the asking price for one of these puppies, 5 days of ice retention is pretty impressive.
There are no wheels on the 70 quart model, which solves the pesky issue that the 50 quart had where the wheels were getting in the way of interior storage. That does however make it somewhat more awkward to transport as it can be difficult to get your arms all the way around this thing. The answer, of course, is to tell your buddy to stop being so lazy and to help you out with the cooler.
One thing we have noticed about the Xtreme series on all models is the tendency of the plastic lid hinges to wear out prematurely or to break unexpectedly. While this can be a real inconvenience, we’ve found that operating a cooler without those hinges is sometimes even easier.
The carrying handles are sturdy enough, but we would advise caution about treating this thing too roughly or one of them might break.
Best Cooler for Car Camping – Igloo Ice CubeRoller Cooler 60-Quart
|Ice Retention||4-7 days|
|Dimensions||20 x 18.5 x 20.69 in|
What an adorable little cooler! And yet, 60 quarts is a surprising amount of space for something that looks so small and compact. The shape in fact is one of our favorite features. It’s a cube, which makes it good for stacking, or storage, and it certainly isn’t going to take up a lot of room in the back of the SUV.
Note: Do NOT sit on your CubeRoller Cooler. The lid is somewhat hollow and it might CRACK!
What we really like here is the placement of the wheels. While they are a tad small and probably not designed for serious off-road conditions, they are mounted along a wide axle that sits further out from the cooler bottom. This conserves interior space and makes the cooler very ‘drivable’, that is to say, it handles something like a piece of small luggage.
The handle itself leaves a little to be desired. When extended it feels quite flimsy, to the point where we estimate it will probably give out over a year or two of use. Be careful when you are lugging this thing around and you should be fine.
Best Bang-For-Your-Buck Cooler for Camping – Coleman Performance Portable Cooler 48 Quart
|Ice Retention||2-3 days|
|Dimensions||26 x 14 x 14.5 in|
When you talk about a classic, you are most likely talking about Coleman’s Performance series portable cooler, which is undeniably one of the most popular coolers in the world and has been in production with the same specs (more or less) for decades. It’s reliable, sturdy, and as we enter an age of high-tech outdoor gadgetry, it takes on a certain nostalgic vibe having one around.
Of course it’s not all about looks. This cooler is tall enough to handle a 2 liter, which is important for us soda fiends. It’s wide enough to handle enough food for a weekend of camping. It is certainly sturdy enough to use as a CHAIR, and for this reason alone it might be our very favorite cooler on the list.
Oh, and did we mention that it’s super affordable? 30 bucks and it’s yours. Now, for the complaints. The hinges on this thing are poorly constructed and attached; they will likely break or fall off with the first year of use. The same goes for the carrying handles, which can be removed with a very small amount of force. Fortunately, putting them back on is not a chore.
Best Extra Large Cooler for Camping – Igloo Polar Cooler 120 Quart
|Ice Retention||5 Days|
|Weight||38.2 x 17.3 x 17.7 in|
Now for the real big boy of the evening. The Igloo Polar 120 quart cooler is the largest on our list by a solid 20 quarts. That puts it in an entirely different class of coolers known as EXTRA LARGE. And what is an extra-large cooler good for? Well, keeping an insane amount of stuff cold, for one.
This is the cooler you see at softball games. Full of ice cold beverages for the whole team. Or maybe you own a catering service. Do you have any idea how many bags of ice you could store in this thing in the hot sun and still keep them cold? Let’s just say it’s a lot.
Here’s the deal. If you are going to buy the Igloo Polar 120 Quart cooler, do yourself a huge favor and invest in a set of stainless steel hinges, made from Igloo themselves for this very model. You will be extending the life of your cooler by a considerable length, and they’re stylish to boot.
Best Soft Sided Cooler for Car Trips – CleverMade SnapBasket 50 Can Soft-Sided Collapsible Cooler
|Ice Retention||1.5 Day|
|Dimensions||18.2 x 12.2 x 12 in|
Here is a unique entry on our list of the 12 best camping coolers. CleverMade’s SnapBasket is one of the newest soft walled coolers to hit the market, and it’s already been making a splash in the outdoor community.
There are a ton of advantages to a soft shell cooler, the largest one being that it saves space and is ideal for packing and transport as you are not limited to a single, rigid size. This is where most soft coolers fail, because the walls are actually too flimsy to support the cooler’s contents. Not so with the SnapBasket. There is enough rigidity to hold all your things in place, and enough flexibility to allow it to fit into just about any space.
There is one significant drawback to the CleverMade, and that is that the collapsible internal structure sometimes has trouble clicking into place. This can make it difficult to keep the cooler in the rigid position.
Best Cooler for Long Camping Trips – Igloo Super Tough STX 120 Quart Cooler
|Ice Retention||7 Days|
|Dimensions||38.44 x 17.0 x 17.75 in|
The Super Tough STX marks cooler giant Igloo’s entry into the high-end market, offering increased insulation, strength, and functionality for a moderately increased price. As far as premium coolers go, this one has some pretty interesting things going for it that set it ahead of the pack.
For one, Igloo is advertising a whopping 7 day ice retention period and 90F. The real number when being used in a practical setting is no doubt less than that, but it’s still more days than anyone else is willing to claim.
The STX also comes with stainless steel latches and hinges. We can’t stress this enough: this is one of the best features you can get on a cooler.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t feel like the latching mechanism was quite ready for the production line, because the actual latching function is hard to perform and it is an awkward fit. One side seems a bit worse than the other in fact, though we have not been able to confirm this default on other models.
The sleek white design sure is attractive, but we can tell you this: it makes for a remarkably dirty cooler when you’re out in the woods for a week.
Best Cooler for Fishing Trips – Coleman Coastal Xtreme Marine Cooler 120 quart
|Ice Retention||6 Days|
|Dimensions||36.8 x 18.75 x 19.3 in|
So we had to do some digging to find out exactly what it was that set Coleman’s Coastal series Marine coolers apart from all the other ones that they make, and the answer was actually pretty interesting.
The Coastal series marine coolers are constructed with specially formulated hard plastic that is treated to be both UV and saltwater resistant, so it won’t start to break down after repeated exposure to ocean conditions. It also means rust-resistant stainless steel hardware, which, if you’ve been paying attention, you would know that we are very big fans of.
It’s also BIG, meaning it can probably handle your next fishing trip, whether it’s beer of fish that you are looking to keep cold. If you’re doing it right, it will be a little of both.
One problem with coolers this size is that there is an increased risk of overloading the cooler beyond its recommended weight limit, and that can lead to broken handles. Unfortunately, replacement handles are not available from Coleman for this model, so if that happens you are looking at either a MacGuyver fix or a new cooler altogether.
Best Cooler for Backyard Barbeque – Coleman 100 Quart Xtreme 5 Cooler
|Ice Retention||5 Days|
|Dimensions||36.5 x 16.8 x 17.2 in|
We see this cooler literally everywhere. On hunting trips. At the campground. On people’s boats. In the back of pickup trucks. Coleman’s Xtreme 5 Series is so popular in fact that you’re probably the proud owner of one right now, and if you’re not, then you know someone who is.
The reason for this popularity is simple: it’s the balance of a reliable insulation at an affordable pricepoint. Coolers that are better than the cheapest ones at the store and have more features, but are still about half as expensive as what the other guys are doing.
The drawbacks are perhaps expected. Our team wouldn’t give this cooler a 5 day rating like the manufacturer claims, though we were unable to test it at a full 90F. Still, with regular operation (people opening and closing it periodically) the ice kept for about three days, which, don’t get us wrong, is awesome.
The same issues from other Coleman products are also present, including low quality hinges and handles that have a tendency to come unconnected when the cooler is overloaded and/or dropped suddenly.
Overall a very reliable cooler and the one you will probably find in my backyard.
What Makes a Great Camping Cooler? – Capacity
When it comes to coolers, there are a number of different sizes available. Choosing the right one for you is all about estimating how much you will need to keep cold, and for how long. Here is our handy guide on cooler sizes:
• PERSONAL (0 to 16 quarts) – Great for small picnics and day hikes.
• SMALL (17 to 35 quarts) – Perfect forthe overnight getaway.
• MEDIUM (36 to 59 quarts) – A solid weekend camping trip for 2.
• LARGE (60 to 99 quarts) – A weekend camping trip for 4 to 6.
• EXTRA LARGE (100 quarts and above) – Large gatherings, boat trips, food service.
It’s kind of crazy how well insulated coolers have become these days. While the higher end coolers charge more for this feature, the more affordable coolers on our list are often just about as good at doing the job. Besides, not everyone is going to need to keep ice cold for a full week.
The coolers on our list can keep ice for anywhere between 1 and 7 days, so it goes without saying that there is a wide difference when it comes to insulation.
Insulation is actually far more important than just keeping your favorite beverages cold. A poorly insulated cooler, for instance, might not be able to keep your food as cold as it needs to be to remain safe, and this can lead to severe foodborne illnesses.
Be sure to follow the United States Food & Drug Association’s recommended guidelines for food storage in order to remain safe, because the last thing you want on your camping trip is for everybody to get sick because the chicken went bad.
The Key to Good Ice Retention in Your Camping Cooler
It is a sad truth that no cooler seems to hold ice for quite as long as the manufacturer advertises that it does. That’s because those tests are performed in closed environments, likely where people’s grubby paws aren’t reaching in and out of the cooler every five minutes.
Fortunately, there are a few ways to keep your cooler ice last longer, and we are happy to share them:
- Organize Cooler Contents to Limit Exposure Time
If you have to rummage through all the food every time you open the cooler, you are causing the ice to melt more rapidly, and you need to knock that right off. A well organized cooler means knowing exactly where everything is and how to get to it.
- Utilize Dry Ice for Beverage Storage
A single block of dry ice can go a long way in keeping your sealed drinks cold. Although we do not recommend using it with food storage as it can lead to some strange (but harmless) off flavors.
- Don’t Drain the Cooler as Often as You’d Think
There is an ongoing debate about this, but we are going to let you in on a little secret. Draining the water out of your cooler will cause the ice to melt faster. This is because the water you take out is then replaced with air, and air tends to be significantly warmer than ice water. It’s thermal dynamics, folks, but no big deal.
It took a lot of bags of ice to figure out exactly which of these 12 coolers our team would dub best of the best, and even after all that, we are hard pressed to come up with an answer. Camping coolers these days have gotten so good at keeping things cold that we have already forgotten what it was like to have ice kept cold for only a day or two.
In terms of insulation, which is arguably the most important thing to think about when it comes to coolers, the clear winner is the Igloo Super Tough STX.
However, when it comes to overall value (price vs. quality), we are going to have to go with the Coleman Performance. Nothing beats a classic, and hey, we’re suckers for that nostalgic shade of green.
Frequently Asked Questions
The weight for the different models are as follows:
- 35 Quart – 8.5 pounds
- 50 Quart – 13 pounds
- 54 Quart – 14.5 pounds
- 75 Quart – 16 pounds
- 100 Quart –18.5 pounds
- 120 Quart – 22.5 pounds
A brand new cooler is going to smell like just that: a brand new cooler. While it doesn’t hurt to give your new cooler a good wipe down before use, there probably isn’t anything dangerous on the surface.
The Key to keeping your cooler smelling fresh is by washing it out with soap and water between each use, and not leaving standing water or liquid inside for extended periods of time.
If you are referring to the hardware that comes installed on the cooler, such as the latches and the hinges, then they are either available in the standard plastic, or in special cases in stainless steel. The steel tends to be exclusive to more expensive models or as a special add-on purchase, but it can go a long way to increasing the lifespan of your new cooler.
This is an important distinction so we are going to go ahead and underline it for clarity. Unless your cooler says specifically that it is bear proof, then it is not bear proof.
In addition, most coolers are actually easily accessible by common forest critters like raccoons, skunks, and even smaller rodents and squirrels. Some coolers have padlock loops available on the lid allowing you to lock it shut, but many others do not.
If you are worried about bears, you should watch How to Hang a Bear Bag.
Camping coolers some in a variety of sizes and construction materials, so the amount of time one will keep ice depends greatly on the details of its construction.
While most run of the mill coolers will keep ice for at least 2 days, the standard lately is closer to 5 days, with premium and more expensive coolers boasting ice retention periods of closer to 7 days.