When it comes to camping you always want to be sure that you have the best camping gear you can get for the job. I want to leave nothing to chance, since making the choice will be the difference between a really memorable time for you and your family or the one you may really want to forget.
Food and drinks are an extremely important part of any camping trip and keep everything cold are really important. This is where the cooler comes into play and there are many different options to choose from. This guide is designed to help demystify all of the many choices and to help you figure out which is the best choice for you and your family.
The Ultimate Buying Guide For The Best Cooler for Camping
Where to get started
You may think all coolers are created equal and just grabbing one off the shelf is all that you have to do, that will likely lead you to a really bad camping trip and an experience that you and your family will not soon forget. There is more than meets the eye on the outside and the inside of the typical portable ice chest or more commonly called the camping cooler.
Time to delve deeper into the subject of the camping cooler and discover where the differences lie and which would be the best choice for you and your family.
Your typical camping cooler is constructed with either metal shell or a molded poly plastic shell. Most manufacturers of cooler will offer a variety of each of them for you to choose from and each of the two has their good points and bad point. The differences will be discussed throughout the article.
Metal Camping Coolers
Long considered the “Gold Standard” when it comes camping coolers, the all-metal outside shell is definitely all that when you are considering your first camping cooler. It is designed to keep the cold inside and the heat from getting inside. The sturdy metal exterior will help to keep your food safe inside.
The one downside is that depending on how rough things get, it will not be long before it starts to show the scrapes, scratches, and dents. However, since the truly important job is to keep your food and beverages cold, cool and safe to eat and drink, how it looks on the outside is not nearly as important.
Molded Poly Plastic Camping Coolers
The majority of the camping coolers purchased are of the molded poly plastic and for a number of reasons. First and foremost is that the high impact plastic molded shell is designed to take a licking and keep on ticking. It is much harder to dents, dings, scratches or scrapes on the outside of good, sturdy molded poly plastic cooler.
Just like the metal shell cooler, it is designed mainly to keep your food and favorite beverages cold or cool so that is safe to eat or drink. The major advantage to molded poly plastic is that it does not show the wear and tear nearly as much as its metal shell counterpart.
Features of a Typical Camping Cooler
Water Drain Plug
When the ice begins to melt the water is collected at the bottom, this can could end up getting into your food that is not properly stored. This could end up ruining your meal and essentially messing up all of your plans.
Depending on the side of the cooler you will likely find two carry handles one on each end to make carrying it much more convenient. Some models depending on their size and function may have just a single handle to make carrying it much easier.
The lid and how it fits onto the cooler is the most important function as it is designed to keep the cold air inside and to keep the heat from getting inside. This is typically accomplished by making the fit as tight as possible.
All coolers are designed with at least a basic latching mechanism that helps to keep the lid from coming dislodged and allowing the cold air out or the warmer air in. The type of latch will often depend on the manufacturer and the models that they offer them on.
Many of the larger size coolers that have the built-in drain plug also feature raised ribs on the bottom of the inside of the cooler. These ribs are designed to create channels to the direct the water toward the drain. They can also keep your food and beverages from sitting directly on the bottom of the cooler.
Two or Four Wheels
In the case of larger capacity coolers that are bulky and oversized, some makers add wheels to one of the ends of cooler to make it much easier to transport the cooler for a single person. The wheels also help out for the times when the cooler is packed full of ice, beverages, and food for a whole party. Some may even offer models with four-wheels for additional convenience.
Large Single Pull Handle
While most larger coolers normally come with handles on both ends to ease of carrying, most models that add the wheels on one end they will attach an extended handle on the opposite end. This eliminates the need to bend or stoop to reach the smaller end handle.
A relatively new innovation that can be found on some of the higher end coolers is a rubber gasket. This gasket helps to provide a much tighter seal and they work in conjunction with bungee-style latching systems that hold the lid much tighter in place.
Molded Cup Holders in the Lid
Some manufacturers have gone another step for convenience and incorporated molded cup holders into the lid of some models of coolers. Certain models have reversible lids and have the cup holders under the lid.
Some manufacturers like to add special extra features like insert trays that are placed on top of the main cooler compartment and helps to hold smaller items like condiments. These trays will ride along the top lip underneath the cover.
Dividers are not as common, but they can be found on some of largest capacity coolers (150 qt or larger) in order to better compartmentalize the storage of the food and beverage.
Picking the Best Camping Cooler
What it really comes down to when selecting the best camping cooler is getting one that fits your needs absolutely the best. There are so many different brands, models, and sizes that can make it really difficult to know which is best for every situation. The size of the cooler is generally determined by the capacity that it will hold inside, this includes food and ice to keep the food cold. Note: Manufacturers have been listing the number of cans (refers generally to a 12 oz. can) that it is capable of holding with ice.
How to Determine Which is the Best Size Cooler?
One of the most important factors to consider when you are looking for a new cooler or even a replacement cooler for one that is on its last leg is how much does it need to be able to hold. Fortunately, all coolers are sized by a standard unit of measure; the quart. However, there is a secondary unit of measure that is typically used X number of beverage cans. This usually refers to a 12-ounce aluminum can.
Fortunately, for those people who are accustomed to using precise measurements, each cooler is also listed with exact inside and outside dimensions. By using these more exact measurements you can figure out how much food, beverages, and ice can be loaded into it all at the same time.
A good rule of thumb according to expert campers is that you can determine the best size cooler based on the number of people in your party and the length of time that you will be camping. Below is a basic recommendation of what approximate size cooler would be best for the size of your party.
For 1 to 2 adults
If you are planning a short weekend camping trip you would probably be safe with at least a 54-quart cooler. To be on the safe side if you plan for a few extra days you might add an additional 16-quart cooler to fits some extra food.
For 3 to 4 adults
If your party is 3 or more friends or family you would be wise look in a larger cooler that ranges between 62 quarts to 77 quarts and consider bringing an addition cooler that is specifically designated to hold only beverages.
5 people or more
If you have a large family or group of friends that you are camping with than you really should be looking at a cooler that 100 quarts plus. You should also look into a second on dedicated for holding all of your beverages and ice for the whole weekend.
Note The primary reason that you should always consider adding an additional cooler that is dedicated to holding all of the beverages that you and your party plan on drinking. Having a separate cooler for the drinks means that the food inside the larger cooler will not be exposed every time that the cover is open for someone to grab a beverage.
How to Best Determine Which Model is Best
Now that you have decided on which size of a cooler that you are going to be looking for, it is time to figure out what model and brand of the cooler that you will be looking for. One way that manufacturers like to rate their cooler models are based on how long each model is able to keep ice frozen.
It is not unheard of to see promotions from the manufacturer to state that their model XYZ is capable of holding iced for 4 to 6 days. While other companies may offer different levels depending on their model designs. You may also see a company claim that their cooler will keep ice from melting up to 3 days.
So, with all of that information in your head, it is now time to put it all to use and search for the best cooler that will fit all of your families camping needs.
Where to get started to find your next camping cooler
There are a number of ways that you can go about finding and buying the best cooler. You will likely find that there are a number of manufacturers that have products to offer you. The prices, of course, will vary greatly depending on the manufacturer that you have decided on. The camping cooler market is dominated by five of the industry leaders and each one has created their brand loyalty among campers for many, many reasons. The five most popular brands in no specific order are Coleman Company, Inc., Grizzly, Yeti and Igloo Products Corp.
Top 4 Best Camping Cooler That They Offer
Coleman Company, Inc is the most established of all the five camping cooler manufacturers, they have been in business for 118 years and specialize in outdoor camping gear. They are continually adding new and innovative products to their core product lines. From their company headquarters in Wichita, Kansas, they have been producing mostly camping products and they are the most recognized brand of outdoor equipment in America. They offer a wide range of coolers that would likely fit most everyone’s needs.
Below are descriptions of the Top 5 models that the Coleman Company, Inc has to offer
Coleman 54-Quart Steel-Belted Cooler
Coleman Company, Inc. has been making high-quality camping gear for more than 100 years. They are one of the most recognizable names and that is because they have always paid attention to details and made the best products without cutting corners. When it comes to camping coolers, you cannot go wrong with the 54-quart Steel Shell Cooler.
The cooler has a 54-quart capacity main compartment and is large enough to hold 85 beverage cans and is tall enough to hold standing 2-liter bottles of your favorite soda. The lid is sturdy enough for a person to sit on it without damaging it and it is rated to keep ice frozen up to four days.
- O-ring seal on the lid with locking latch
- Stainless Steel handles with comfort grip
- Built-in water channels and drain plug
- Large 54-quart capacity
Coleman Xtreme Series Wheeled Cooler, 50 Quart
Coleman Company, Inc., is one of the best known outdoor gear makers in America and they have been making and innovating equipment for 118 years. The Xtreme Series 50-Quart Wheeled Cooler that combines a several of today’s most popular features found in camping coolers. It features a high impact plastic shell that helps it to resist damage from day to day usage.
The lid closes snug around edges and is rated to keep ice cold up to 5 days, even with outside temperatures up to 90-degrees F. It has a capacity of 84 soda cans, ice or combination of food and sodas. It features a pair of large built-in wheels and a backside mounted telescoping handle. The large size wheels make it easier to roll it across rough terrain.
- Tight-fit seal
- Xtreme Series keeps ice frozen for up to 5 days
- Built-in telescoping handle
- Four molded cup holders in the lid
Coleman 55-Quart Heavy-duty Super Cooler
The Coleman 55-Quart Heavy-duty Super Cooler is part of their high-end line of heavy duty camping coolers that feature a high strength impact plastic shell. The lid latches and is held tightly in place against the rubber gasket seal using two recessed rubber latches. The cooler is rated to keep ice frozen for up to 6 days.
The closure and shell are sturdy enough to withstand a Grizzly Bear attack and can hold more than 80 cans of soda and ice.
- Lid seals with a rubber gasket
- Antimicrobial liner
- Recessed tie downs and carry handles
- Includes a storage basket
100 Quart XTREME® 5 Wheeled Cooler
The 100 Quart XTREME® 5 Wheeled Cooler is part of their top tier camping cooler. It also features an amazing 100-quart capacity main compartment. It is designed with Coleman’s Xtreme® technology which means that it can keep ice frozen for up to 5 days, even though the outside temperature hits 90-degrees.
The ultra large capacity will hold up to 160 cans and ice or a combination of beverages and food with ice. It has a large handle and 2 built-in wheels for easy transporting it to your campsite. It has a built-in water channel in the bottom to help direct the water out of the drain plug.
- 160 can capacity
- Ultra tight lid seal
- Keeps ice frozen up to 5 days
- 2 built-in wheels and large fold-down handle
Coleman 28-Quart Cooler With Bail Handle, Blue
The Company Company also makes portable camping coolers with a built-in bail-style handle. It is has a large enough capacity to hold up to 36 cans of soda and ice or a combination of food, soda, and ice. The lid closes tightly and keeps you soda, food, and ice cold. The lid features 2 molded cup holders. The high impact plastic shell and ThermOZONE™ Insulation combines to provide you with a cold place to put your food and drinks.
- 36 can capacity
- Oversize bail-style carry handle
- 2 Molded Cup Holders
- Tall enough to hold a standing 2-liter bottle
Grizzly Coolers has been making rugged camping coolers since 2002 and they have numerous models featuring capacities from 15-quarts up to a massive 400-quarts. All of the camping coolers feature high impact plastic shells and heavily insulated to keep the cool in and the outside heat out. The heavy-duty rubber tie-down straps help to keep the lid securely closed and the rubber gasket seals the lid tightly closed to keep the cold air in and keeps out the heat.
Grizzly Coolers G20
The Grizzly Cooler G20 is designed to pack, grabbed and go as you are running out the door. The large bail-style handle makes it really easy to carry it around and the 20-quart capacity means that you can hold a large number of sodas, food, and ice. The rubber gasket seal means that when latched close nothing gets in or gets out without opening the lid.
- 2 BearClaw™ Latches
- Stainless Steel bail-style carry handle
- Built-in drain channel with drain plug
- Holds up to 20-quarts
Grizzly Coolers G40
The high impact plastic shell and heavy-duty insulation help to keep everything inside the main compartment cool. The rubber tie downs help to keep the lid securely in place when latched and also features holes to accommodate a padlock. The easy to hold rope-style handles makes it easy to carry to your campsite. It has a capacity of 40-quarts inside the main compartment and has a rubber gasket seal to keep the cold in and heat out.
- 2 BearClaw™ Latches
- Recessed rope-style side handles
- Holds up to 40-quarts
- Rubber gasket helps to create a powerful seal under the lid
Grizzly Coolers G60
The large size 60-quart capacity holds food, cans, and ice in any combination. The secure rubber gasket produces the perfect seal with the two rubber 2 BearClaw™ Latches in place. The built-in drain and water channel help to make it easy to drain any water out of the cooler. It has two rope-style handles recessed into each end of the cooler.
- 2 BearClaw™ Latches
- Rubber Gasket Seal
- Water drain plug
- Holds up to 60-quarts
Grizzly Coolers G75
The large 75-quart capacity gives you a massive amount of space to hold sodas, food, and ice. It has dual 2″ drain plugs on each end to make it easy to drain any water out of the cooler. The rubber gasket seal on the lid and the 3 BearClaw™ Latches latches help to hold the lid securely in place. It is easy to carry using the built-in rope-style handle.
- 75-quart capacity
- Secure, rubber gasket built into the lid
- Rope-style carry handles
- 3 BearClaw™ Latches
Grizzly Coolers G100
The Grizzly Coolers G100 is a massive 100-quart capacity cooler that will keep enough food and drinks to feed a small army. The 3 BearClaw™ Latches and built-in rubber gasket in the lid are designed to keep all of the colds in and the heat out. The rope-style, recessed handles makes it much easier to carry it to your campsite.
- Massive 100-quart capacity main compartment
- 3 BearClaw™ Latches and rubber gasket in the lid
- Rope-style, recessed handles
- Fully insulated
Yeti Coolers is an Austin, Texas-based manufacturer of camping coolers and other cooler products. They have been in business since 2006 and they have been innovating and manufacturing high-quality camping cooler gear since the beginning. They use only the high-quality materials construction processes in order to produce all of their products that they sell.
They have engineered a number of Yeti exclusive features into each and every model that they make in their All-American facility. As outdoor enthusiasts, the two co-founders decided to start their own company to help others get the most out of all of their outdoor activities.
The Yeti Coolers Roadie 20 is personal camping cooler that holds up to 20-quarts which are big enough to hold 16 cans of beverage and ice. The ColdLock™ Gasket built into the lid helps to keep the cold in and the heat out. The heavy-duty T-Rex rubber latches are virtually indestructible and when combined with gasket it will help to keep the heat out and the old in for years to come. The lightweight, the bail-style handle makes it really easy to grab it and go when you are on the go.
- ANCHORPOINT™ Tie-down Slots
- LIPGRIP™ Handles
- Rubber Gasket built into the lid
- Built-in water draining system
The Tundra Haul is the newly announced 2-wheeled mobile cooler. It features all of the usual Yeti Cooler features including the ColdLock™ Gasket and T-REX™ Lid Latches to help keep the cold in and heat out. The built-in handle makes it easy to maneuver it side to side to help get it to your campsite easier.
- 2 Never Flat tires
- STRONGARM™ Handle
- Holds up to 45 cans of beverage
- T-REX™ Lid Latches
The Tundra 45 is the ultra-capable camping cooler with a 45-quart capacity large enough to hold up to 28 cans of beverage. The heavy-duty construction can handle anything that mother nature can dish out. The powerful seal keeps out the heat and holds in the cold. The molded in tie downs means when you secure it in place it will not come loose.
- Built-in tie downs for securing it in place
- FATWALL™ DESIGN
- PERMAFROST™ INSULATION
- T-REX™ LID LATCHES
The Tundra 75 is a massive camping cooler that is capable of holding a large amount of both food and beverages. The exclusive insulation design that makes it possible to keep everything cold for as long as you need it to. The powerful rubber latches help to keep the lid securely against the rubber gasket.
- DOUBLEHAUL™ HANDLES
- T-REX™ LID LATCHES
- COLDLOCK™ GASKET
- ANCHORPOINT™ TIE-DOWN SLOTS
The Igloo Products Corp. has been making and innovating coolers since 1947. Since then they have become one of the most recognizable makers of personal coolers in America. They have created and sell 500 products from their manufacturing facility in Katy, Texas. Igloo Products Corp. Igloo’s Yukon Series camping coolers are designed to keep ice frozen for up to 7 days.
SUPER TOUGH™ STX-150
The Igloo SUPER TOUGH™ STX-150 is the supermassive 150-quart camping cooler designed to hold an unbelievable 248 cans of your favorite beverages and ice. No need to worry about whether or not your food and beverages will stay cold thanks to Igloos Ultratherm® insulation in body and lid holds ice up to 7 days. The heavy duty and well-secured handles will not pull away from the cooler even when it is filled to capacity.
- Ultratherm® insulation in body and lid holds ice up to 7 days
- Triple Stainless Steel Hinges
- Two buckle-style latches
- Four-molded cup holders
WHEELIE COOL™ 38
The WHEELIE COOL™ 38 has a large capacity main compartment that is large enough to hold up to 53 cans of your favorite beverages and ice. The Ultratherm® insulation keeps contents colder longer. The large built-in wheels are puncture resistant and the large pull-down handle makes moving it to your campsite much easier.
- Large, oversized pull down handle
- Large, sturdy built-in wheels
- Sturdy, High Impact Plastic Shell
- Molded recessed handles built-in
YUKON® 50 50 Qt Rotomold Cooler
The Igloo YUKON® 50 50 Qt Rotomold Cooler is part of one of the top camping coolers in the market. The exclusive construction puts 3″ of foam in the lid and 2″ of foam in walls of the cooler and it creates conditions that will keep ice frozen up to 7 days. Oversized molded handles can be used as anchor points to tie the cooler down anywhere.
- Up to 7-Day ice retention
- Dual Stainless Steel Hinge Pins
- Virtually indestructible rotational-molded construction
- Holds up to 72 cans of your favorite beverages
SPORTSMAN™ 20 20 Qt Rotomold Cooler
The SPORTSMAN™ 20 20 Qt Rotomold Cooler features Igloos exclusive Rotomold high impact plastic construction. The combination of ultra thick insulation on the lid and all of the interior walls produce an amazing amount of protection against the encroaching heat from outside and keeping all of the colds from inside. The bail-style handle makes carrying the SPORTSMAN™ 20 personal cooler.
- Extra large drain plug
- Aluminum bail-style handle
- 2 molded cup holders in the lid
- 2 Durable rubber T-bar latches
YUKON® 70 70 Qt Rotomold Cooler
The YUKON® 70 70 Qt Rotomold Cooler is part of the Yukon Series of camping coolers that are being constructed in a way that delivers the unequaled amount of cooling power. The 3″ of insulation in the lid and 2″ packed into each of the walls of the cooler. The combination of the insulation and the rubber sealing gasket mounted on the lid allows the YUKON® 70 to keep the ice inside frozen up to 7 full days.
- Tethered drain plug cap
- Oversized Stainless Steel hinge pins
- 2 Sturdy, rubber latches
- Oversized molded carrying handles that double as tie-down anchors