Let’s be real: a great cooler truly makes or breaks a camping trip.
This is no time to pinch pennies.
Sub par containers will turn your food into a melted foul mess and worst of all turn your beer lukewarm (gasp!). We can’t have that!
But don’t fret, we have researched the creme of the crop coolers that’ll keep your precious beer and cheese and brats cold all weekend.
How to Choose Your Cooler
So then, you’re wondering how to determine the best cooler for your needs, right?
In recent years, the ice chest industry has become a tad saturated with Yeti designing some snazzy high end cooler and Walmart offering their run of the mill no nonsense plastic coolers.
Selecting a model can be a semi-stressful process because no one is sure how much you should spend on a cooler, or if you even need all those extra features to simply stop your food from growing fungus and who-knows-what-else.
Fear not, we’re going to answer every burning question and break down exactly what you need to look for in your next ice box.
Table of Contents
- Should You Go High-end or Low-end?
- How Big Should Your Cooler Be?
- How Do You Pack a Cooler for Camping?
- Cooler Comparison Guide
- The 6 Best Camping Coolers Reviewed
- 1) Canyon Coolers Outfitter Series 35-qt. SANDSTONE - Bear proof cooler
- 2) YETI Tundra 35 Cooler - Editor's choice for 2017
- 3) Coleman 54-Quart Steel-Belted Cooler - Best value for the money
- 4) ORCA TP0580RCORCA Cooler, Tan, 58-Quart
- 5) Igloo Marine Ultra Cooler - Heavy duty cooler
- 6) Pelican Products ProGear Elite Cooler, 65 quart
- WINNER of the Best Cooler for Car Camping 2017 Review
Should You Go High-end or Low-end?
Besides the price tag, there are two characteristics which separate expensive and run of the mill coolers; insulation performance and durability.
Your adventure and camping situation will dictate how much of these two metrics you really require.
Cooler Insulation Explained
Obviously, your coolers keeping things cold is the your preeminent concern. Extra insulation will keep your food and goodies cool for much longer.
So if you are spending a solid week out in the middle of the desert or forest, far away from human comforts you might want to spring for a high end model that has superior insulating capacity.
Additionally, if you are packing eggs, meat, poultry, fish and milk and perishable precooked food you need to store it all at under or close to 40/F or you risk adopting some unfriendly microbes into your precious stomach.
Also, if you plan on bagging yourself some game and fishing in the river all weekend long, extra room and a super insulation cooler is vital so your fresh meat actually makes it home.
Traditional lighter coolers are typically able to reliably hold ice and stay below 40˚F for 2-3 days, which accommodates weekend adventures perfectly.
These kinds of coolers can keep your food fresh for more than a few days if you frequently stuff them with new ice, which of course requires some routine access to a fuel station (and fits more into the car camping lifestyle).
So if the bank account is looking grim you could simply keep on loading up on ice and avoid that massive price tag for hefty coolers.
Additionally, if you are just hitting the great outdoors with friends or family for the night, then a massive fancy cooler, might be total overkill.
Then finally, if you’re a truly wild person who intends on spending 7+ days camping out in the unspoiled wilderness and needs to keep hunting spoils or special treats properly preserved and frozen you might want to use dry ice.
Dry Ice temp hovers at -109.3°F, and can essentially turn a cooler into an adventure freezer.
Although that low of a temp can inflict quite a bit of stress on lower end coolers, so if dry ice is in your future, you will want to opt for a high-end cooler that can handle the freeze.
Before you click that buy button or pluck a cooler off the shelf you must consider how much stress you’ll inflict on your ice box.
High end models are food fortresses, equipped with pin style hinges, lids and walls that are incredibly tough, beefy external latching mechanisms, large handles, screw in drain plugs with rubber o-ring seals, and UV-resistant plastic.
At the other end of the spectrum, lighter coolers are made to be taken on light, picnic-like adventures and most lack sturdy construction.
They typically have screw on plastic hinges, smaller plastic handles, and pop on and off drain plugs. The lids and walls of the lighter models are also less tough than their expensive counterparts.
In summary, you could take a baseball bat to a tough high end model, while the lower end models could break if they are used as a makeshift chair.
But in the end, if you rarely go camping or spend your weekends glamping, a lower end model will meet your needs just fine.
How Big Should Your Cooler Be?
Once you have determined how much isolation and durability you want, you’re going to need to determine just how much storage capacity you’ll require.
Storage Capacity And External Size
The total size of your cooler (as measured in quarts) informs you just how much you can pack inside, and also dictates how long of a trip you can take, or reversely how many people you can accommodate on a good ol’ group adventure.
- Models under 25 quarts can carry food for one adventurer for a single night or drinks and maybe an apple for a few people.
- Then the 40 quart size can store food for one person for a whole weekend or two people for a couple nights.
- Lastly, the big honcho 70 quart containers can house food for an entire family for the whole weekend or week-long trips for couples and solo travelers.
Any cooler larger than that is quite hard to lug around and is often designated as a party or hunting expedition cooler.
Additionally, you’ll want to pay attention to the external dimensions and make sure the cooler will fit in your vehicle without forcing you to pile everything haphazardly.
Typically your fully loaded ice cooler will be the heaviest piece of gear you’ll have to haul around.
Therefore, portability is going to be extremely important, especially if you are carrying it more than five feet.
As you would suspect, the smaller the cooler, the lighter it will be. So, aim for the smallest model that accommodates your needs.
But if you do opt for a 70 quart heavy hitter, make sure it has two sets of handles; one set built in close to the body for single person carry and another longer set for a two person carry.
Also, every proud cooler owner will tell you that the best coolers have wheels.
How Do You Pack a Cooler for Camping?
Here’s a one minute information video for the awesome ice chest newbies out there who haven’t packed up a cooler before (or other adventures who are trying to up their ice box game).
First step is to put your ice block on the bottom, freeze your meats to keep the perishables cooler and colder longer.
Second, place sealed and packaged items on the second layer, then put fragile grains and foods on top to avoid getting battered. And wallah, you have a perfectly packed cooler!
Well then, after that crash course you’re a bonafide cooler expert. Now you are ready to discover the best cooler for camping!
Cooler Comparison Guide
16.75 x 15.5 x 23.75"
21 x 16 x 15.5"
(Best Bang for Your Buck)
16.25 x 24.38 x 16.13"
36 x 21 x 20"
30.06 x 16.5 x 16.13"
19.75 x 20 x 37.16"
The 6 Best Camping Coolers Reviewed
1) Canyon Coolers Outfitter Series 35-qt. SANDSTONE - Bear proof cooler
The Canyon Coolers Outfitter Series 35 quart chest is a durable cooler with formidable ice retention, with a thick body it will keep ice cold for days and perhaps even more than a week.
It is equipped with 100% recessed latches and handles make for easy no snag loading into your car or tricked out truck.
It is constructed with a premium polyethylene Rotomolded shell filled with high density foam, a no loss drain plug, ice-cold air stays trapped inside to the outfitter’s ¾” thick foam air tight seal which ensures a tight, virtually leak proof closure, so if that ice does eventually melt it's not going anywhere.
Lastly it is Bear resistant certified from the interagency Grizzly Bear Committee.
- It has two handles for easy handling for ease of transport, and the brutally Tough PE RotoMolded cooler shell will keep this cooler in one piece despite whatever trauma you inflict upon it
- The IGBC Bear Resistant Certification #3769 means that this container is tough enough to make bears give up on stealing your delicious bacon and beer
- Ice Retention can last from 5 to 14 Days, which means you can set off into the remote backcountry with this high powered cooler
- At 35 quarts this cooler is definitely on the smaller size and simply won’t accommodate ravenous groups of camping friends
- Even though this is a lighter cooler, it isn’t equipped with wheels, which means you will be carrying it in your arms unless you brought a wagon along
2) YETI Tundra 35 Cooler - Editor's choice for 2017
The YETI Tundra 35 Cooler is constructed with Rotomolded polyethylene, the same construction process used to make whitewater kayaks, which ensures some hardcore impact resistance and long last durability.
Then the extra-thick walls contain proprietary PermaFrost insulation that is pressure injected, giving the cooler superior resistance to outside temperatures so your food is cool and bacteria free no matter what the weather is like.
YETI coolers are capable of withstanding super arctic temps and are thus compatible with dry ice, which provides about 3 times the chilling power of normal ol’ ice.
Pressure-injected commercial-grade polyurethane foam in the walls and lid makes sure your ice stays ice and your package of bacon doesn’t turn into a floaty device for your beer.
- The roto-molded construction basically gives this cooler knights armor. You could whack it with a barbed wire bat and nothing would even crack
- This cooler has an ingenious dry goods rack that keeps your sandwiches and other fragile dry treats from getting all soggy
- Finally the freezer-quality gasket around the entire lid to minimize air exchange so not even a whiff of beer or cheese can escape the confines of this ice chest
- Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee has certified the Tundra 35 as a bear-resistant food container, but only when used with two padlocks, which are unfortunately sold separately
- Since this cooler is built like a tank, it weighs like a tank (just kidding!) but it still is heavy and hard to lug around all by your lonesome
3) Coleman 54-Quart Steel-Belted Cooler - Best value for the money
The Coleman 54-Quart Steel-Belted Cooler brings back classic camping vibes with its no nonsense retro design.
It is constructed with a stainless steel lid for superb durability and ease of use. A solid steel latch provides air tight sealing while securing your beer and multiple packs of bacon.
All this metal is accompanied by stainless steel handles which make lugging the ice chest around a cinch. Stainless steel hinges and screws resist rusting and breakage, meaning this cooler could last you over a decade.
Additionally, a leak proof, rust-resistant drain allows for complete draining so you can easily empty that old, lukewarm water.
The durable base and lid liner of the Coleman 54-quart steel cooler are easy to wipe clean, because the last thing any camper wants is an ice chest that is hard to purge of stray food bits.
- This stainless steel cooler can keep ice up for to three full days in temperatures up to 100 degrees Fahrenheit
- It comes with a full 6-year warranty, meaning Coleman is willing to give you a brand spanking new cooler if the other one deteriorates ahead of schedule
- A stainless steel lid, handles, screws and hinges mean that this container is a tank
- This cooler doesn't have any trays or inserts to keep your food elevated above the ice in the chest
- The drain plug has a history of becoming accidentally dislodged, so you'll need to be a little careful while packing the cooler into your car
4) ORCA TP0580RCORCA Cooler, Tan, 58-Quart
The ORCA TP0580RCORCA Cooler, Tan, 58-Quart cooler is roto-molded, lockable and comes with an assuring lifetime guarantee.
The premium insulation keeps your treats and beverages properly chilled and makes ice last days instead of hours. The padded carrying handles make it painless to transport the cooler from your car, to your house, and even to that semi remote campsite.
The lid gasket ensures a perfect seal and the extendable flex-grip handles for comfortable solar or tandem portage. Lastly, it is outfitted with an easy flow drainage spout.
Every ORCA cooler sold benefits conservation throughout the United States so even though you drop some pretty pennies towards that cooler, some of the chunk of change is going to help keep the wild, wild.
- Flex grip handles make it easier on your hands when it comes time to haul it around
- It boasts integrated insulation for maximum cold retention that’ll keep your stowed food fresh for up to 10 days, so you can worry about finding the perfect Sunday hike instead of worrying about salmonella
- Lid gasket with cute little whale clips ensure an air tight seal that locks in cold air and keeps muggy hot moisture from invading your food stash
- Since the nifty pocket is on the back of the cooler, it is sometimes difficult to grab items (like bottle openers) from the pouch
5) Igloo Marine Ultra Cooler - Heavy duty cooler
The Igloo Marine Ultra Cooler allows anyone to easily transport food goodies and drinks onto your sea faring (or maybe lake faring?) vessel.
It is constructed with a 72-quart capacity, a single latch closure and easy-to-grip handles. The Ultratherm insulation in body and lid keeps ice frozen up to 5 days and the threaded drain plug lets you hook up a hose for ultimate easy-to-drain performance so you can get rid of fishy water quickly when the time comes.
It is equipped with other marine-grade features such as UV protection and rust-proof stainless-steel hardware, meaning this 72-quart cooler is constructed to brave wet, messy storms and keep you refreshed all the while.
This sizable cooler is often utilized to store fish caught on a fishing trip and transport large quantities of meat or other perishables.
- The UV protection shields from sun damage so this cooler can stand up to constant sun
- Non-slip, comfort-grip handles make it easy to haul this beast of a container around, especially when trudging through water
- Its marine-grade, extended-life hinges stand up to the high friction and detonation of water environments
- Apparently the lid is not insulated, which means this cooler is best suited for short term adventures or voyages where you have routine access to ice (aka plenty of pit stops to town)
- Ultratherm insulation in body and lid keeps ice frozen up to 5 days, which is not long compared to other techy ice chests
6) Pelican Products ProGear Elite Cooler, 65 quart
The Pelican Products ProGear Elite Cooler is engineered with heavy-duty polyethylene plastic for durability and guaranteed to last through years of high adventure.
This marine cooler is made with 2" thick insulation which can withstand hours of sunlight and provides up to 10 days of ice retention to keep food as fresh as the day you bought it. In other words, this is an all-purpose cooler, great for hunting, fishing, tailgating, and camping.
No one likes soggy food, so to prevent leaking and ensure extreme water tightness, it is equipped with freezer-grade gaskets. On top of that, the sloped drain allows for sensible drainage while the threaded recessed plug allows you to attach a garden hose.
It also has high-quality, extra-wide press and pull latches to ensure contents are completely secured and the molded-in lock and tie downs are made with non corrosive stainless steel hardware.
- Space grade edge insulation preserves ice for more than a week to cut down on the gas station pit stops to refill
- An extremely tough exterior stands up to brine and sun exposure so your cooler can handle all of your hardcore antics and adventures (did we mention it is guaranteed for life?)
- Sloped drain (that you can attach to your garden hose) and tethered threaded plug makes it easy to clean out this chest when the camping trip is finished
- Then molded-in tie downs for easy carrying and non-skid and non-marking raised feet make transporting this little tank a tad easier
- As a fishing ice chest, it has an extremely large exterior and thus it is quite heavy when loaded up with all of your camping goodies
WINNER of the Best Cooler for Car Camping 2017 Review
YETI Tundra 35 Cooler
So after days of research and testing we found that the YETI Tundra 35 Cooler is dominating the ice chest world and for good reason.
Its pressure-injected commercial-grade polyurethane foam in the walls and lid will keep your food cold in scorching temps, the roto-molded construction makes this cooler near indestructible (which is exactly what you want to hear when you're investing in quality goods.)
It also has dry good racks that will keep your most previous treats from getting soggy even if you mistakenly let all your ice melt.
Although in the end, these six ice chests are truly the best camping coolers on the market and would make any adventurer happy.
So pack up some frozen goodies into a brand spanking new cooler, hop into your car (or boat, or go-kart) and get to some luxurious adventuring.