What to Look for in a Cooler
Any soft-sided cooler can keep things cold for an afternoon picnic or a Labor Day cookout. But if you keep food fresh for several days into a camping trip or want to bring back fish or meat, fresh, from hunting or fishing trip, you are going to need something that keeps it cool for longer.
It takes a higher quality, better insulated hard cooler to keep food and drink cold for several days and even though the outlay for a elite cooler can appear significant, the value lies in not needing to run to pick up more ice or having it lose its cool.
Since you want an ice chest to keep your food and drinks cold, the most important feature is going to obviously be the quality of its insulation. The better its insulation, the better a cooler can be expected to retain its ice and therefore, its cooling capabilities. While more insulation would at first blush seem better, there will, of course, be a trade-off between insulation, weight, and capacity.
The best camping coolers improve their ability to retain cold not only with rigid sides and foam insulation inside its walls but by having lids that form airtight seals, locking in cold and keeping any heat outside the cooler.
Almost as important as how well it holds in the cold is how much your cooler holds. Striking that balance between size and weight can easily be determined from how long (and for what purpose) you want to use your ice chest for.
If you are planning a short camping weekend by yourself, then a cooler up to around 25 quarts will most likely see you through. Camping coolers between 25-45 quarts will see you through a long weekend, or for two people over a weekend trip. Coolers in the 45-70 quart range will see you and a partner through a long weekend camping trip or for nearly a week on your own. Alternatively, if you are planning on keeping meat or fish fresh on coming back from a hunting or fishing trip, then likely you’ll want to pop for the bigger sized ice chests, no matter the duration you’ll be out.
Another important factor in choosing the best cooler is finding one that is durable. Not only do you want it to handle the jostling that comes from sitting in your vehicle while on or off road, but another factor is to protect it from animals, especially bears or raccoons.
Lids need to lock tight and potentially have a second locking system to ensure the security of its contents. The best camping coolers will have steel walls that can take a beating as well as the ability to fasten its lid tightly and potentially redundantly to prevent animals from stealing your food. These same protections from animals can also prevent foraging from other hungry campers too if the need arises.
While on its face, these coolers claiming to retain ice for a few days, let alone several or more days would appear preposterous. But on top of their well-designed seals, thick insulation and other features meant to help coolers retain cold temperatures long, all of these coolers recommend that time is spent preparing the cooler for usage at home before you go out in the wilds. The suggestion is to fill the coolers with ice meant to sit in the cooler for twelve hours to a full day to work the temperature of the interior and the insulation as close to freezing as possible before loading for actual usage.
This is actually where another important factor can come into play, how easy it is to clean and drain your camping cooler. A cooler that has a well-placed drain plug can be drained quickly and refilled without the interior and insulation warming up too much, ensuring that the preparation work you did does not go for little or nothing. Much of the key to a relaxing camping, fishing or hunting trip is diligently preparing beforehand; your ice chest is no different than any of the other equipment you will take.
Engel Deep Blue 65ENGEL ENG65 High Performance Cooler – White
- Best in class ice retention and overall performance, holds ice for up to 10…
- Rotationally molded with 2 inches of high density closed-cell polyurethane…
- IGBC Certified bear resistant container – when 2 locks used
- Silicone airtight gasket, adjustable recessed marine grade compression…
- Dry Ice compatable. Non-Marking rubber feet. 10 year warranty
The Engel Deep Blue 65-quart cooler includes several interesting features that are beneficial but not often thought about. One issue that plastic coolers can have over time if out in the sun frequently is degradation of the plastic from ultraviolet radiation. Engel has extended the life of what is already a durable cooler by treating it’s heavy-duty plastic shell to withstand the harsh effects of UV light.
On top of the durability of this cooler is the quality of its seals. The Deep Blue has maritime grade, silicone gaskets forming the seal around the lid and the drain spout, ensuring, along with the two inches of polyurethane insulation inside its plastic walls, that if the lid is closed that very little cold is getting out of this cooler. We’ve found that this cooler can keep ice cold for up to 8-9 days.
There are some minor drawbacks to the Deep Blue, though. That plastic shell, high capacity, and thick insulation leads to a heavy cooler that because of its shape is a difficult fit in some vehicles or boats. In addition, we would like to see the drain plug physically attached to the cooler to prevent losing it accidentally.
- Can keep ice frozen for up to eight to ten days
- The latches are made from a durable, marine grade material and has a dual locking lid that is bear resistant
- Stain and odor resistant interior
- Features two inches of insulation and has a simple one twist drain plug
- Engel Deep Blue 65 measures 31 x 18 x 19 inches, weighs 26.1 pounds (empty) and holds up to 53 quarts (internal capacity).
- It is built with high-quality materials that will last for decades
- The seal is airtight to ensure that the ice stays cold for up to 10 days
- Easy to drain and clean
- The cooler is fully secured from critters when it is closed with latches and locks (bear proof certified)
- Even though there are a few color options, the overall aesthetic is plain
- More ergonomic handles would make it easier to transport
- The drain plug can be lost easily because it is not attached to the cooler
Orca Quart 58SaleORCA TP0580RCORCA Cooler, Tan, 58-Quart, TP058ORC
- Roto molded construction
- Integrated insulation
- Lid gasket for perfect seal
- 100% USA Made, Lifetime Warranty
- Lid Gasket to ensure a perfect seal
Orca delivers a practical and impressive cooler. The Orca is clearly designed and made by people who understand what you need of a cooler at the campsite as it drains quickly and easily, and much more so. Where this cooler shines is when it is being moved. The Orca’s flex-grip handles make this cooler easy and comfortable to move whether alone or in tandem. As well, the Orca has a cargo net attached for extra storage space, which can be helpful in terms of saved trips from car to campsite.
Fortunately, this cooler can be moved easily because when full of ice, it weighs as much as larger, 65-quart camping coolers. While the ability to be moved easily is nice, the Orca 58 only seems capable of keeping ice for multiple days as opposed to the ten or more days of the leader coolers in this review. But if you are only planning on camping trips that go a week at most, or expect to need to return to civilization to restock after a few days, this cooler is a great choice.
- Thick insulated walls, lid, and bottom made from a heavy-duty, roto-molded construction
- Flexible handles make it easy to carry and attached cargo net will help save trips to and fro
- Find your own style with four colors to choose from
- 58-quart capacity and 18.5″ x 12.3″ x 13.375″ in size
- Tight-fitting lid gasket and easy drainage spout make it well insulated by easy to drain.
- Lifetime warranty
- Probably the best insulation in the business
- Can easily be carried by one person
- Holds enough food to get stranded on a desert island
- Heavy-duty and durable; can stand up to lots of abuse
- Bear proof
- The lid closes on you when you least expect it!
- Listed price is a little more expensive than some competitors models with the same capacity
Yeti Tundra 65YETI Tundra 65 Cooler (Desert Tan)
- The YETI Tundra 65 is just as adept at keeping your catches cold in the…
- Ice stays ice thanks to up to 3 inches of PermaFrost Insulation and an…
- The Rotomolded Construction makes the Tundra armored to the core and…
- All Tundra coolers feature T-Rex Lid Latches constructed of heavy-duty…
- The Tundra 65 dimensions are 30 1/2 in long x 17 1/2 in wide x 16 in high…
The Yeti Tundra 65-quart’s most impressive feature is that even with its three-inch thick insulation, it still weighs a little less than 30 pounds when empty, and its Fat Wall design made to withstand whatever beating is unleashed upon it. It’s heavy-duty rubber T-Rex latches are guaranteed not to break no matter how many times you open and close the lid over its lifetime.
One of the top performers in terms of insulation, this bad boy, can keep food at safe to store temperatures for 5-6 days at a time, and will maintain a fairly chilly interior for a couple of days beyond that.
While it generally, performs well across the board, some improvements could be found by redesigning the handles to be a bit more ergonomic. The rope wrapped, plastic handles are pretty darn uncomfortable when toting a full load.
- Has around 61 quarts of internal storage, weighs 27 pounds and is 30.5 x 17.4 x 16 inches in size
- Rotomolded polyethylene construction gives the cooler a pretty much indestructible exterior
- Walls are extra thick, and contain PermaFrost™ pressure injected insulation to keep temperatures cool inside, no matter what is happening outside.
- YETI coolers are designed to handle extremely low temperatures and are compatible with dry ice; dry ice provides about 3 times the cooling power of regular ice
- Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee has certified the Tundra 65 as a bear-resistant food container
- Haul handles on the ends are designed to make carrying a loaded cooler easier for 2 people; textured grips are secured with marine-grade nylon rope
- One of the top performers when it comes to insulation.
- Tough and durable
- Non-slip feet, prevents sliding in your flat-bed or on your boat
- The handles aren’t pleasant to get to grips with when hauling the Tundra when full.
- Draining the Tundra is messy (partly due to the handle placement)
Igloo Yukon Cold LockerSaleIgloo Yukon Cold Locker Cooler (White, 70-Quart)
- Integrated fish keeper scale measuring tool on lid
- Constructed of ultra durable rotational-molded polyethylene
- Raised, textured work surface on lid
- Oversized tethered drain plug for easy draining and cleaning
- Dual lid locks for maximum security
The Igloo Yukon Cold Locker retains ice for between seven to fourteen days, but closer to seven days and holds more than other similarly priced coolers, with an impressive 70 quart capacity.
The Yukon has hinges made of more durable stainless steel, as opposed to the aluminum hinges used on many other coolers. Both will resist rusting, but stainless steel is less prone to bending or breaking. As well, the polyethylene plastic body resists not only damage but scratching better than most other plastic coolers.
Unfortunately, some users report issues with leakage of the drain plug, which can not only limit the ice retention but can also lead to leaks and spills.
- Three-inch thick polyurethane insulation and Cool-Riser-Technology will keep ice frozen for days on end
- Extremely durable and bear resistant (IGBC Certified)
- Integrated fish measuring tool on lid
- 67 quart interior capacity, weighs 33.6 lbs (empty) with exterior dimensions of 35.5″ L x 17.19″ W x 20.38″ D
- Oversized tethered drain plug
- Anti-skid feet prevent slippage during transport
- Large capacity
- Extremely durable – will last a long time, especially with great care and attention
- Oversized drain plug means easy to drain with swift flow
- Steady wide grip handle for better heavy handling
- Bulky exterior build and heavy weight
- At a higher price point than similar products tested from competitors
Canyon Cooler Outfitter 55 QuartCANYON COOLERS Outfitter Series 55qt- White Marble
- 55-quart all-purpose multi-day cooler: hunting, overnight camping, fishing,…
- 3-7 days ice retention when properly pre-chilled.
- Rotomolded Low Density Polyethylene (LDPE) Construction: kayak-grade…
- Environmentally friendly, pressure-injected HUNTX foam insulation (made in…
- Lifetime Warranty, AirTight Seal, Molded-in hinge with stainless steel pin,…
The Outfitter may not be the largest cooler of its class, but in exchange for a few quarts of capacity, you get a cooler that is compact and the leader in ice retention. Everything about this cooler is focused on it being as unobtrusive as possible. The body is tapered and squared off similar to a tool box with the idea that it can be fit into a tighter space than many heavy-duty coolers. As well, the insulation is thinner in places to maximize capacity while keeping the overall dimensions as small as possible. All of this makes for a cooler that is efficient not only in temperature control but also in taking up precious space in your boat, vehicle or campsite.
Most impressive though is that in spite of its aggressive focus on design for efficiency, the Outfitter is comparably one of the more value-friendly coolers in its class. While the search for quality should carry no cost objective, value is always appreciated. But even beyond its price tag, this cooler performs better than almost any other cooler in its class. While the capacity is a touch lower than you might desire and the handles are a little tight, for a total package, it is difficult to find a cooler better than the Canyon Cooler Outfitter 55.
- Weighing in at 24 lbs and 28 x 15.5 x 16.25 inches in size, this cooler has a capacity up to 54 quarts
- Has an ice retention time of 5 to 14 days
- 100% recessed marine grade EZCAM latches and integrated bullet proof, marine grade hinge
- Brutally tough PE RotoMolded cooler shell that holds IGBC Bear Resistant Certification #3769
- All purpose cooler; hunting, fishing, tailgating, and camping. That can be easily carried by one person and is great for multi-day trips
- No-lose drain plug – screw-in, gasket assembly with a tethered center plug to allow for quick and easy drainage without removing the entire plug
- Lifetime warranty
- Superb insulation
- Durable and bear resistant
- One of the easier coolers to cart around
- Simple to drain and clean
Grizzly Cooler 75 QuartGrizzly 60 Quart Rotomolded Cooler
- True 60 quart capacity
- Made in the USA with a Lifetime Warranty
- Roto tough rotationally molded construction with environmentally friendly…
- Features molded in/rope handles, a large 2 inch drain plug and plastic dry…
- Bearclaw latch System requires no hardware to keep a secure grip
The Grizzly Hunting Cooler has the durability and aesthetics you will want when hunting or fishing, as well as features like an on-lid ruler for measuring catches that you would expect with a fishing cooler.
As with most of the high end coolers in this review, the Grizzly is durable and of course Bear resistant. It’s a reasonable performer when it comes to insulation, keeping food below safe to eat temperatures for around four days in our tests. Where it really falls short is on it’s handle design and it’s drainage plug. While neither are ultimately why you would choose a cooler, we feel that they bring down the overall experience.
- RotoTough rotationally molded construction with pressure injected insulation
- BearClaw™ Latches require no hardware and keep a secure grip
- Rope Handle with nylon sleeved rubber handle
- Dual 2” drain plug for easy, quick draining
- Embossed 30” ruler on lid
- Lifetime Warranty and Made in USA
- At or close to being the most durable cooler in our test
- The worst handles/portability in our review
- Drainage is a hassle
- Very poor insulator when compared to cheaper competitors
Related Camping Food Related Articles
If you enjoyed this article, then check out some of our other posts on camping food: