Best Coolers for Camping: Our Top 9 Picks of 2023

Looking for a great cooler for your camping trips? In this guide, you're sure to find the perfect one for your needs, whether a lightweight model for backcountry camping or a high-capacity cooler for car-camping trips with your family and friends.

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Written by: | Reviewed by: Brian Conghalie
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The majority of the time, heading to the wilds for a few days means having to do without a few creature comforts and luxuries until returning back to civilization. The folks here at My Open Country, however, consider giving up fresh, tasty evening meals a sacrifice too far, and forgoing our ice-cold, post-hike beer bordering on sacrilegious.

Feel the same? If so, a simple solution to the problem is to kit yourself out with one of the best coolers out there.

The camping market is blessed with such a wide array of kickass coolers that choosing between them can be a time-consuming and tricky affair. To save you the hassle, and your time, we’ve put together a list of the best quality options on the market this year.

Our list of 9 top-rated coolers has something for everyone, from oversized hard-sided options for family camping trips to portable soft-sided models for backcountry adventures.

Top Choices by Category

Soft-sided: REI Co-Op Haul 12, Pelican Dayventure, and Hydro Flask 22L Unbound
Hard-sided: Yeti Tundra 65, Yeti Roadie 24, Coleman Cooler Xtreme, RovR RollR 60, Dometic CFX3, and RTIC 45
Electric: Dometic CFX3
Bear Resistant: Yeti Tundra 65, RTIC 45, RovR RollR 60, and Yeti Roadie 24

Editor’s Choice

Yeti Tundra 65

YETI Tundra 65 Cooler, Desert Tan

The Yeti Tundra has been considered the crème de la crème of camping coolers for the best part of two decades. Until they start making coolers that also do the cooking for you, take care of the kids, or massage your feet while you sip on your post-hike beer, it’s likely to remain so.

The Tundra is a bit of a beast, but it also has a wealth of uber-convenient, user-friendly features that make it a little more practical than the best of the rest.

It’s made with a combo of rotomolded polyethylene and 3 inches of Yeti’s proprietary, pressure-injected PermaFrost insulation. These materials make it one of the most rugged and durable coolers on the market and capable of keeping its contents cool for 4 days.

Features-wise, the Tundra hits the spot. It has heavy-duty rubber latches, freezer-quality gaskets, non-slip feet, military-grade rope handles, interlocking hinges that provide an air-tight seal, and a pair of tie-down points that allow you to strap it to your vehicle or boat.

The Tundra’s not going to win any prizes for affordability, granted, but its huge capacity, awesome cooling power, and user-friendly design make it good value for money nonetheless. Moreover, the build is of such high quality that you’d have to subject it to some serious abuse to do any damage.

65 quarts too much/little? Check out other sizes in the Tundra line, which range from 28 to 329 quarts!

Bottom Line: A tough, high-capacity, and bear-resistant camping ice chest that’s perfect for trips of up to five days.

Quick Recommendations

  • Editor’s Choice:  Yeti Tundra 65
    “A virtually indestructible cooler that boasts awesome cooling performance, a bear-resistant construction, and first-class features.”
  • Runner Up:  RTIC 45
    “The RTIC is reasonably priced, as durable as they come, boasts excellent ice-retention, and has all the handy add-ons you’d expect to find on a top-tier hard-shell cooler.”
  • Best Budget:  Coleman Xtreme 5-Day 70qt
    “This simple, high-capacity ice chest isn’t as tough as rotomolded models but insulates remarkably well for the price.”
  • Best Wheeled Cooler:  RovR RollR 60
    “An outstandingly well-made, rotomolded cooler with giant all-terrain tires to make transportation easier.”
  • Best Small Cooler:  Yeti Roadie 24
    “The Tundra in miniature, the Roadie is a great pick for campers who want long-term cooling without the weight, bulk, and price tag of a high-capacity model.”
  • Best Electric:  Dometic CFX3 75
    “The closest you can get to the performance of your fridge-freezer back home.”
  • Best Soft Cooler:  Hydro Flask 22L Unbound
    “As comfortable as a regular daypack but capable of keeping its contents cool for long weekends in the wilds.”
  • Best Backpack Cooler:  Pelican Dayventure Backpack Cooler
    “An extremely rugged, burly pack that’s ideal for solo hikers or couples on day hikes or overnight trips.”
  • Best Value Soft-Sided Cooler:  REI Co-op Cool Haul 12
    “A highly portable, low-cost option that’s capable of keeping food and drink cold over long weekends.”

The Best Coolers for Camping: Our Top 9 Picks

Yeti Tundra 65

Editor’s Choice

Capacity: 61 qt. ⸱ Weight: 27 lbs. ⸱ Ice retention: I4 days ⸱ Other sizes: 28 to 329 qt.

The Tundra’s 65-quart capacity, combined with its ability to keep ice frozen for 4 days, makes it the perfect choice for extended trips for larger groups.

Yet its capacity and ice retention aren’t the only things that make this the best ice chest for camping.

The Tundra is also one of the toughest coolers on the market. It’s made with 3 inches of pressure-injected insulation and nigh-on indestructible, rotomolded walls.

The sheer size of the Tundra means it isn’t the easiest to transport, but it’s convenient and user-friendly in every other way. The military-grade polyester rope handles are wrapped in easy-grip rubber, a dry storage basket lets you separate beers from burgers, and the “Vortex” drainage system makes emptying melted water a breeze.

Compared to cheaper large camping coolers, the Tundra boasts a few non-standard features that make it a true standout in terms of both performance and practicality. The most notable are the interlocking hinges and “ColdLock” gasket that together provide an air-tight seal, as well as burly locking lid latches, non-slip feet, and molded tie-down points.

  • PROs

    • High capacity
    • Rotomolded construction
    • Compatible with dry ice
    • Certified bear-resistant
    • 5-year warranty
  • CONs

    • Heavy
    • Pricey

Bottom-Line: The gold standard of camping coolers. Period.


Runner Up

Capacity: 45 qt. ⸱ Weight: 29 lbs. ⸱ Ice retention: 10 days ⸱ Other sizes: 20 to 145 qt.

If you want outstanding cooling power but don’t want the bulk (or price!) of an extra-large cooler, the RTIC 45 is well worth a place on your shortlist.

The RTIC 45 has the second-best cooling time of all the non-electric models on our list, keeping ice frozen up to a hugely impressive ten days – 6 days more than our review’s winner, the Tundra.

This is mainly thanks to its rotomolded construction and 3” insulated walls, but the interlocking hinges, high-quality gasket, and thick rubber latches all play their part in making it an awesome insulator.

While the ideal cooler capacity depends on your group size and trip duration, we’re big fans of the RTIC’s 45-quart volume. This makes it a little more portable than the giants on our list (the Tundra and Dometic CFX3) and suitable for both weekend trips for larger groups or longer trips for couples and small families.

The RTIC doesn’t have any dividers or dry goods trays, but its other features hit the spot. There’s a pair of molded tie-down slots, non-slip feet, heavy-duty rope handles with a rubber grip, an easy-lift drain handle, a freezer-style lid gasket, and a “Rapid V-Drain System” that takes care of drainage just a little more efficiently than any other we’ve used.

  • PROs

    • Awesome ice retention
    • Can be carried by one person
    • Bear-resistant
    • Rotomolded construction and thick insulation
    • Nice features
  • CONs

    • Only a 1-year warranty
    • Very heavy for the size

Bottom-Line: An affordable, durable, and versatile camp cooler that offers virtually unrivaled cooling power.

Coleman Xtreme 5-Day

Best Budget

Capacity: 70 qt. ⸱ Weight: 7.1 lbs. ⸱ Ice retention: Up to 5 days (at temps below 90 degrees) ⸱ Other sizes: 28-120 qt.

Over the years, the name “Coleman” has become virtually synonymous with low-cost camping gear and gives its pricier competitors a serious run for their money. The Coleman Xtreme 5-Day is no exception.

This 70-quart camping cooler has the second largest capacity on our list, after the Dometic CFX3. For such a cheap product, moreover, it also boasts respectable ice retention. While we found the “5-day” claim a bit of a stretch, there’s no doubt it will keep your eats/drinks cold over a long weekend with careful use.

The Xtreme also has a few kinda cool features. First up, there’s the Have-A-Seat lid, which, as the name suggests, is capable of moonlighting as a chair whilst fulfilling its standard role as a closure for the cooling chamber. In that lid you’ll also find four cup holders – a feature that’s not likely to seal any deals, but surprisingly handy nonetheless.

  • PROs

    • Affordable
    • Sit-on lid with 4 cup holders
    • Good cooling power
    • Can be used as a chair
    • Drain plug
  • CONs

    • Doesn’t maintain ice as well as top-end models
    • Not as durable as other coolers
    • No locking latches in lid

Bottom-Line: A low-cost option that comes up a little short in the ice-retention stakes when compared with its pricier competitors but is good enough for weekend trips with friends and family.

RovR RollR 60

Best Wheeled Cooler

Capacity: 60 qt. ⸱ Weight: 49 lbs. ⸱ Ice retention: Up to 10 days ⸱ Other sizes: 45 & 80 qt.

Unenthused by the idea of schlepping 50+ pounds of plastic, ice, and edibles from your car to your camping site? If so, then the RovR RollR 60 is the perfect solution.

This cooler performs well in every metric, but its undoubted USP is the duo of 9-inch, all-terrain rubber wheels and burly pull handle that allows you to transport even the heaviest of loads over rough terrain with absolute ease. Needless to say, this feature makes the RollR the most portable model on our list.

Wheels aside, the RollR is one of the best coolers we’ve ever used. It uses a similar rotomolded construction to the Tundra and high-density LLDPE plastic/polyurethane foam insulation. While this may imply little to the average buyer, in layman’s terms this simply means it’s tough as hell and one of the best insulators in the game.

  • PROs

    • Burly all-terrain wheels
    • Side-prepping board
    • Optional cup holders and bike mount (yep, you read that right!)
    • Excellent cooling power
  • CONs

    • Pricey
    • Heavy

Bottom-Line: A pricey but highly portable and robust camping cooler that’s ideal for anyone who plans on covering a bit of distance between their car and their campsite.

Yeti Coolers Roadie 24

Best Small Cooler

Capacity: 24 qt. ⸱ Weight: 13 lbs. ⸱ Ice retention: N/A ⸱ Other sizes: N/A

If you’re planning on taking shorter trips, have fewer mouths to feed, or just want a top-tier camping cooler that’s a more manageable size than a large cooler like the Tundra 65, look no further than the Roadie 24.

The Roadie, in short, is the Tundra in miniature. It has the same rotomolded construction, similarly superb ice retention capacity, and the same high-quality gasket, latches, and hinges.

While the Roadie’s 24-quart capacity means it’s a little too small for groups or multi-day trips, it weighs a mere 13 lbs and is small enough to squeeze in behind the driver’s seat in your car. The Roadie was also given a makeover in 2020 and the latest version is tall enough to accommodate wine bottles and also has a burly shoulder strap to help with transportation.

  • PROs

    • Lightweight
    • Great cooling capacity
    • Tall enough for wine bottles
    • Bear-resistant
    • Rotomolded construction
  • CONs

    • Low capacity
    • Pricey for the size

Bottom-Line: This Yeti cooler is one of the best out there for camping couples, small families, and day trips.

Dometic CFX3 75

Best Electric Cooler

Capacity: 66 qt. ⸱ Weight: 61 lbs. ⸱ Ice retention: Infinite! ⸱ Other sizes: N/A

If you are looking for a camping portable mini fridge that performs just as well as your fridge-freezer at home then look no further than the Dometic CFX3.

The CFX3 electric-powered cooler weighs a whopping 61 lbs. and costs a small fortune. If you plan on having multi-day car camping trips at sites with electric hookups, are serious about keeping your drinks and food cold – and have $ to burn – this is the cooler for you.

The CFX3’s build is very nearly as rugged as the top-end, non-electric hard-siders on our list, and to make up the difference it has burly fender frames for added protection.

Compared to those other models, however, it is a hands-down winner for long-term outdoor adventures. Why? Firstly, it has dual storage compartments with independent temperature control that allow for simultaneous cooling and freezing, and it can deep-freeze contents down to -7 degrees. And secondly, because it runs on electricity its ice-retention time is infinite!

The CFX3 also has a few endearing add-ons that make it a better pick than other electric coolers, most notably a high-resolution color display and app-based performance monitoring and temperature control.

  • PROs

    • Awesome ice retention (of course…!)
    • Large capacity
    • Dual storage compartments with independent temperature control
    • Heavy-duty construction
    • 5-year warranty
  • CONs

    • Expensive
    • Heavy

Bottom-Line: One of the best coolers out there for multi-day trips and undoubtedly the best car-camping cooler for trips to sites with a power source.

Hydro Flask 22L Unbound

Best Soft Cooler

Capacity: 19.35 qt. ⸱ Weight: 3 lbs. ⸱ Ice retention: Keeps contents cold for up to 48 hours ⸱ Other sizes: 15L (13.2 qt.)

Plan on venturing a little further from the roadside before bedding down for the night? If so, then the Hydro Flask Unbound is well worth considering.

What we love most about this portable cooler is that it is very nearly as comfortable to carry as some of our favorite backpacks and daypacks and yet can keep our drinks and food cold for up to a respectable 24 hours.

Cooling power and carrying capacity aside, there’s a lot more to love.

The Unbound weighs just 3 lbs., making it a whole 6 lbs. lighter than our list’s other backpack cooler, the Pelican Coolers Dayventure. It also has a durable waterproof shell, leak-proof zippers and sealed seams that make it watertight, and a food-grade BPA-free liner.

As if that wasn’t enough, there’s also a “True Access” hinged lid for easy access and cleaning, and multiple gear pockets for non-edible/drinkable gear.

The only complaint we have with the Unbound is the price. If you can stomach that, you’ll be getting a product that’s built to last, capable of keeping your food fresh over a weekend camping trip, and more suitable for far-flung adventures than almost any other option out there.

  • PROs

    • Lightweight
    • Comfortable to carry
    • 5-year warranty
    • Good cooling time
  • CONs

    • Expensive

Bottom-Line: A sleek and stylish backpack that’s a comfortable carry and capable of keeping your food fresh on weekend trips. One of the best coolers out there for backcountry adventuring.

Pelican Dayventure 22L

Best Backpack Cooler

Capacity: 16.19 qt. ⸱ Weight: 9.3 lbs. ⸱ Ice retention: 12 hours ⸱ Other sizes: 13L (11.4 qt.)

The Pelican Dayventure backpack is our favorite camping cooler for single-day trips. It’s robust, leak-proof, easy to carry, and can keep ice frozen for a modest but sufficient 12 hours.

This pack is made with 840-denier, double-coated TPU and has a compression-molded base for added durability. These materials make it among the most rugged soft-sided packs on the market and far more likely to survive frequent use and abuse than either the Hydro Flask Outbound or REI Cool Haul.

The Dayventure also has a wealth of value-adding features, most notably leak-resistant zippers, a wide roll-top opening, a daisy chain that allows you to lash gear to the pack’s exterior, adjustable chest straps, and nicely padded shoulder straps.

The compartmentalized design also allows you to separate different foodstuffs and keep things organized. The bottom compartment is big enough to host a 6 pack of beer and the upper compartment is large enough for a feast for a family of four.

  • PROs

    • Comfortable shoulder straps
    • Puncture-resistant materials
    • 3-year warranty
    • Compression-molded base
    • Leak-resistant zippers
  • CONs

    • Pricey
    • Heavy for the size

Bottom-Line: An incredibly well-made backpack that’s slightly heavy but otherwise a great option for backcountry camping adventures.

REI Co-Op Cool Haul 12

Best Value Soft-Sided Cooler

Capacity: 15.8 qt. ⸱ Weight: 3 lbs. 6 oz. ⸱ Ice retention: Keeps drinks chilled for up to 65 hours ⸱ Other sizes: 18 & 24 qt.

Looking for a simple, effective soft-walled cooler that won’t break the bank? If so, the REI Co-Op Cool Haul might well be your “bag.”

This tote-style cooler bag is one of the cheapest options on our list but offers performance on a par with many far pricier soft coolers. This, in our opinion, makes it our top pick for value buyers.

The Cool Haul consists of an insulated, leakproof inner box, a tough ripstop nylon shell, and an adjustable shoulder strap for easy transportation. There’s also daisy-chain webbing that can be used to lash other outdoor gear to the outside of the bag and an external pocket for small essentials.

In terms of cooling capacity, the Cool Haul lags far behind the hard-sided coolers on our list, and the Dayventure and Hydro Flask Unbound are both better options if you plan on carrying ice. Nevertheless, it’s still a good option if you’re traveling without frozen goods that have to be packed in with plenty of ice.

  • PROs

    • Affordable
    • Lightweight
    • Sustainable materials
    • Bottle opener included
  • CONs

    • Exterior isn’t waterproof
    • Only big enough for a one-night camping excursion

Bottom-Line: A budget portable cooler that performs just as well as many models that cost twice as much.

Buying Advice: How To Choose The Best Cooler For Camping

Cooler Types

Hard, soft, or electric? Below, we offer a brief overview of the advantages and disadvantages of each type.

Soft Coolers

  • Lightweight
  • Easier to transport – many models have backpack/messenger-bag-style shoulder straps 
  • Extra “give” in fabric lets you squeeze more items in and make the most of the usable space
  • (Mostly) cheaper than hard-sided coolers
  • Poorer ice retention than hard-sided coolers
  • Less durable 

Our list has 3 soft-sided coolers, the REI Co-Op Haul 12, the Pelican Dayventure, and the Hydro Flask 22L Unbound. Of the three, the Unbound offers the best ice retention and the Dayventure the best organization, but both cost more than twice as much as the Haul 12, which is a perfectly good option for day trips.

Hard Coolers

  • Superior ice retention
  • Durable
  • Often certified bear-resistant 
  • High capacity models available
  • Pricey, for the most part (the Coleman Xtreme is a notable exception)
  • Heavy 
Two people carry a hard walled cooler toward camp
Hard-sided coolers offer greater ice retention and durability, but are also often heavier than soft coolers.

Our list has 6 hard-sided coolers: the Tundra 65, Roadie 24, the Coleman Cooler Xtreme, RovR RollR 60, Dometic CFX3, and the RTIC 45.

Electric Coolers

  • Awesome ice retention (just like your freezer at home!)
  • Require a power source
  • (Darned) pricey!
  • Heavy

Our list’s lone electric cooler is the Dometic CFX3.

Hard, Soft, or Electric?

Which particular model is going to be best for your camping trips?

This depends on three things: the duration of your camping trip, where you plan on doing your camping, and the size of your camping crew.

For long-stay trips when you have access to an electrical hook-up, then an electric cooler is hands-down the winner due to its infinite (barring a power outage!) cooling power and high capacities. The downside? They cost so much you may have to rob a bank or remortgage your home to buy one…

Electrical hookup point in front of a tent
Although electric coolers are king they are only a viable option with access to an electrical hookup.

The next best thing for multi-day trips are rotomolded coolers like the Tundra, Roadie, and RovR RollR 60, all of which can keep your eats and drinks icy cold for multiple days. These coolers, however, are also unlikely to win any prizes for affordability, are far heavier than soft-sided models, and are awkward to carry. 

Soft-siders are the most portable of the bunch. They’re light, malleable, and come with handy shoulder straps that let you carry them like a regular backpack or tote. Most models are also far cheaper than similarly sized hard-siders.

On the downside, soft-walled coolers have poorer ice retention than their hard-sided siblings, so they’re usually only good for day trips or overnight stays.

Cooling Performance & Ice Retention

This refers to how well (and how long) any cooler can keep your edibles and drinkables cool or frozen, and is mainly determined by the type of insulation used and its seal. 

Manufacturers typically indicate how long their coolers can keep their contents cold. The time frames they suggest, however, are best taken with a pinch of salt. Why? First, the marketing peeps at the big brands aren’t shy about inflating ice-retention times to boost sales. Secondly, several variables can impact a cooler’s ability to keep your stuff cold.

Cans of drink surrounded by ice in a chiller
The size, type, and amount of ice you add impact the length of time the contents stays cool for.

The most important of these variables are:

  • Ambient temperature (the “maximum ice retention” of some models only applies in cool temperatures)
  • Sunlight exposure
  • The ice-to-contents ratio (i.e. how much ice you pack compared to food)
  • Whether or not you pre-chilled the cooler and/or its contents (pre-chilling the cooler can add hours to its cooling capacity)
  • How often you open the lid
  • The size of your ice cubes/blocks (larger cubes of ice melt more slowly)
  • The type of ice you use (regular or dry – dry ice aids with cooling power but isn’t compatible with all coolers)*

Of all the non-electric models on our list, the RTIC 45, which can keep ice frozen for a whopping 10 days, offers the best cooling capacity. 

*The Tundra is the only model on our list that is compatible with dry ice. 


What makes one cooler a better insulator than another?

While a handful of factors come into play, none is more important than the thickness of the insulation. Simply put, better, thicker insulation means a cooler cooler.

Hard walled cooler filled with food
Insulation thickness affects a cooler’s ability to keep its contents cool.

All of the top models we’ve carted on our trips in the sticks have had one thing in common: around 3-inches of high-density polyurethane foam sandwiched between a pair of burly, rotomolded, compound resin or polypropylene walls, as seen on the RTIC 45, Tundra, and RollR 60.

For proof of this, we need only cast an eye toward the less impressive ice-retention times of coolers with less insulation, like the Coleman 5-Day and the 3 soft-walled coolers in our review.


A cooler’s cooling capacity depends on its ability to keep cool air in and ambient air out. This being so, the quality of the seal is of the utmost importance.

While the seals used on all the models in our review are effective and well-made, they are constructed of less durable materials (silicone) than the body of the cooler and so it’s worth noting that these will degrade over time. When this happens, the cooling capacity will drop drastically, so be prepared to purchase a new one a few years down the line.

Cooler Capacity – What Size Cooler Do I Need?

The answer to the above question depends on the following: how many peeps you’re camping with, how big your appetites are, and the duration of your camping trip. 

Car trunk filled with coolers and hiking equipment
The size of cooler you need will vary greatly depending on your trip type and group size.

Below, we’ve added an at-a-glance overview of cooler capacities and their suitability for different group sizes and trip durations. Because so many variables come into play (food type, ice-to-contents ratio, the size of your appetites), these are best viewed as “ballpark” estimates. 

  • Small (10-35 quarts) – good for a day trip for 2-4 people or an overnight camping trip for 1-3 people
  • Medium (35-55 quarts) – these are compact enough to be loaded into a car trunk and can be carried by one person
  • Large (55-75 quarts) – good for two or more people traveling for multiple days, or weekend trips for groups of 5 or 6
  • Extra Large (75+ quarts) – ideal for large groups for a 3 to 4-day camping trip or smaller groups on longer trips

Weight And Portability

Depending on whether you are car camping or have miles to cover on foot before setting up camp, the weight of your cooler may be a critical concern. 

Once you’ve loaded it with all your eats, drinks, and the ice that keeps them cool you could be looking at a 60-pound load, which ain’t ideal unless you happen to bench press small vehicles on your lunch break or have a personal Sherpa to do the carrying. 

Cooler box sitting on the back of a bicycle on a beach
Keep in mind how you plan to transport your cooler.

If you don’t have a Sherpa or daily vehicle-hoisting muscle enhancing routine then you have 3 options: 

1) Choose a soft-sider – models like the REI Cool Haul and Hydro Flask Unbound weigh in the region of three pounds, a whole 24 lbs lighter than the winner of our review, the Tundra.

2) Choose a cooler with wheels, like the RovR RollR rolling cooler. 

3) Compromise by opting for a model with a lower capacity or poorer cooling power. 

As you’ll have gathered from the above, wheeled coolers and soft-siders are the most portable options. Soft-siders are not only lighter, but almost always have backpack-style shoulder straps, chest straps, and/or hip belts to aid carrying, which makes them the best coolers for backcountry trips. 

Woman carrying a soft cooler on her back
Soft-sided coolers often have straps to make carrying them easier.

Wheeless hard-sided coolers are the least portable due to their weight, rigid construction, and unwieldy dimensions. The Tundra, for example, weighs 27 pounds and measures 30.5 x 17.4 x 16 inches, making it an uncomfortable carry and suitable for car camping only. 

Internal Organization

Most coolers are mere empty boxes, but some have storage trays, shelves, or compartments that divide the overall capacity into two or three parts. This may seem like a fairly rudimentary and unnecessary add-on, but it has two main benefits.

Firstly, it allows you to keep your food separate from your beverages, or keep certain foodstuffs like meat, poultry, and fish away from others that don’t need to be cooked before eating. Secondly, keeping things organized means you’ll spend less time fishing around inside trying to locate what you need, which improves cooling capacity by reducing exposure to warmer air. 

Latch And Closure Systems

Premium cooler models mostly have integrated hinges and rubber latches that create an air-tight seal between the lid and the storage chamber. These enhance cooling capacity by locking cool air in and keeping ambient air out, and also prevent spillage during transportation. 

Cheaper coolers, like the Coleman Xtreme, have no latch. This means you have to take care while you’re on the road to ensure the lid doesn’t pop open and then weigh the lid down with a rock/human/other objects when at camp.

Bear-Resistant Ratings

Some coolers on our list are certified as bear-resistant by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee. While no 100% guarantee can be made that the product cannot be opened or destroyed by a bear, it certainly means it’s less likely and, just as importantly, tells you that the cooler is also less likely to leak any scents that might attract bears to your campsite.

Need a bear-resistant cooler? Check out the Yeti Tundra 65, RTIC 45, RollR 60, and Yeti Roadie 24.

Brown bear walking over picnic table at
Bears can be attracted to your campsite by the smell of food.

Cooler Drain Systems

Drainage systems are one of those features that most buyers don’t think they need at the time of purchase. However, when it’s time to empty your cooler post-trip or drain melted ice to make room for fresh ice you’ll be mightily glad it’s there! 

The reason for this is simple: a cooler plus ice plus meltwater plus frozen food equals a lot of weight, which means a lot of effort if you have to repeatedly tip the cooler up to make room for fresh ice and/or clean it.

All of the hard coolers on our list have drainage holes/spigots, though we’re particularly big fans of the RTIC 45’s “Rapid V-Drain” system, which is just a little easier to use than the rest. 

Most soft coolers aren’t blessed with drainage systems but do have removable inners (REI Cool Haul) or wide-mouth, hinged openings (Hydro Flask Unbound) that simplify post-trip cleaning. 

Accessories And Add-Ons

A couple of non-standard add-ons can enhance the overall convenience and user-friendliness of a cooler. With hard coolers, things like drink holders, integrated handles (as opposed to rope handles), a built-in bottle opener, and anti-slip rubber feet are well worth having. With soft coolers, look for exterior pockets, daisy chains, attached bottle openers, and carabiner clips.

Hard sided cooler box and flask against a snowy mountain backdrop
Accessories such as integrated handles and anti-slip feet greatly enhance the practicality of a cooler box.

Cooler Warranties

Warranties do two things. 

First, they give you added peace of mind in knowing that your pricey purchase will be replaced or repaired if it breaks. Secondly, they demonstrate that the manufacturer has so much faith in their product’s durability that this shouldn’t be necessary in the first place. A lengthy warranty should inspire more confidence than any of the gushing praise they might lace their product descriptions with.

The Top Insulated Cooler: The Final Verdict

Ready for a quick roundup of our top picks? 

Our favorite cooler on the market is the Yeti Tundra 65. This robust hard-sided model has too many practical and performance-enhancing features to repeat again! This is reflected in the price tag though so if you are on a tight budget you can’t go wrong with the Coleman Xtreme 5-day. It has a good cooling power for its price and even has a cooling drain, it is, however, lacking a latch so you do need to be more careful with it.

Want to go electric? Then our top pick is the Dometic CFX3. This is very much at the top end of the price spectrum but with its rugged build, dual compartments with independent temperature control, and infinite ice-retention time it is worth the money if you do long-term camping with an electrical supply.

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Kieran James Cunningham is a climber, mountaineer, and author who divides his time between the Italian Alps, the US, and his native Scotland.

He has climbed a handful of 6000ers in the Himalayas, 4000ers in the Alps, 14ers in the US, and loves nothing more than a good long-distance wander in the wilderness. He climbs when he should be writing, writes when he should be sleeping, has fun always.

Kieran has taught mountaineering, ice climbing, and single-pitch and multi-pitch rock climbing in a variety of contexts over the years and has led trekking and mountaineering expeditions in the Alps, Rockies, and UK. He is currently working towards qualifying as a Mountaineering and Climbing Instructor and International Mountain Leader.

Kieran’s book Climbing the Walls—an exploration of the mental health benefits of climbing, mountaineering, and the great outdoors—is scheduled for release by Simon & Schuster in April 2021.

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