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Well-insulated, sturdy build
Includes a locking latch
Small gap between lid and body of cooler
The most important function of a cooler is insulation. If the box isn’t keeping food and drinks at an optimal temperature or allows too much heat inside, it isn’t worth your time. The best cooler also needs to be a decent size for parties or family outings. After all, if you can’t hold more than your lunch in it, why bother? The Coleman 54-Quart Steel-Belted meets both of these requirements with a solid, well-insulated build and a 54-quart carrying capacity. Plus, it sports a vintage look.
This cooler is a solid box with steel accents for a strong build and easy upkeep. The stainless steel latch will keep the lid secure during transportation while the steel grips make it comfortable to carry along with the rubber handles. Reviewers who frequently go on camping trips praise the solidness and secureness of the cooler, particularly how well it keeps ice when exposed to various elements. The built-in drain also makes it simple to drain melted ice or other beverages from the cooler without tilting it over. This one is also a good choice for larger meals. The total carrying capacity is enough to hold 85 cans or several 16-ounce bottles at once.
Lid sometimes difficult to open
Saving some money while purchasing a new cooler means you will most likely be downsizing if you want to keep the same level of insulation. Many budget options are large enough for parties or picnics, but they may sacrifice on the build quality which diminishes insulation. Therefore, a budget cooler like this 10-quart model from Rubbermaid is a great option for personal meals. Many reviewers also rave about the cooler's portability, allowing them to store it comfortably underneath their car seat or carry it around during day trips with relative ease.
The budget cooler uses Rubbermaid’s standard, dependable hard-shell construction to keep everything together while in use. The double-walled insulation offers multiple layers to separate the inside temperature from the outside. For walking around, the cooler’s top handle is comfortable to hold and easy to store out of the way to access the lid.
Shape fits well behind car seat
Hard to open lid
At 15 x 13 x 9.5 inches, this classic-looking cooler from Igloo has a 24-can capacity that’s perfect for a long car trip, an overnight at your favorite campsite, or an afternoon at a sporting event. The unique dimensions of this cooler are the standout feature for many reviewers—the taller, narrower design makes it a perfect fit for the floor of the car (tucked neatly behind the front seat) or under the seats at a sports stadium. Plus, they love that it doubles as an extra seat, which is perfect for hiking or camping trips.
Most coolers tend to be short and wide with bulky latches or irregular shapes, which can make them inconvenient to transport or pack. But the Igloo Legend is about as compact and streamlined as it gets. The handle even folds flat with the cooler profile so it takes up a minimum amount of room when space in the car is tight. If you’re in the market for a smaller cooler, the price, size, and quality of the Igloo Legend will be hard to beat.
Many storage compartments
Insert shelf tricky to remove
Large hardshell coolers are often the best for insulation, but they take up space. The larger the box, the more space you need in your garage, basement, or trunk. A good alternative is a soft cooler. Flexible and often collapsible, soft coolers offer great insulation with better storage options when not in use. You might not keep things cool quite as long as hardshell coolers, but they will still get the job done for several hours before the food is affected.
The Arctic Zone Titan Deep Freeze is a top softshell choice due to its plethora of storage compartments and high-performance insulation. The Rhino-Tech exterior resists scratches and stains and will insulate small items alone in the outer pocket. Inside, you will get the benefit of hardshell insulation with the removable HardBody liner. The liner will keep the cooler rigid and sealed when you need the most insulation. Plus, reviewers love that the lid uses a hook-and-loop fastener strap instead of a zipper to close. It creates a good seal, allows for ease of access, and is one less thing for customers to worry about (no more zipper to wear out or break!).
Comes with wheels for easier transport
Lid has built-in cup holders
Hinges are made of plastic
Do you have a long way to walk with your cooler before you can set it down and use it? Large coolers are heavy. Unless you have a couple of people to carry it over long distances, it can be difficult to transport it to its final location for an event. That’s why some manufacturers, like Rubbermaid, offer some options with wheels you can conveniently push or pull along for transportation.
Many reviewers point out that the two outstanding features of this 75-quart Rubbermaid are how easy it is to travel with and how roomy it is. The cooler uses two heavy-duty wheels to take the load of the cooler during transport. The inside can hold up to 130 standard soda cans and is accessible via a split hinge door to minimize the amount of cool air lost while the door is open. On top, 12 built-in cup holders allow the cooler to double as a side table during parties or camping trips.
Three inches of insulation
Easy to secure
A rugged outdoor adventure requires an equally-rugged cooler that can handle the elements—and any potential encounters with curious wildlife. That’s where the YETI Tundra 45 comes in. This thing is built like a tank, fabricated with extra-thick walls, military-grade polyester handles, and a rotomolded construction that is “virtually indestructible.” The latches are also built tough with YETI’s patented T-Rex design. And yes, the whole thing is fully bear-proof. If you’re transporting your gear by truck, trailer, or boat, the Tundra 45 has built-in tie-down slots so it can be easily secured.
This cooler measures 25.5 x 16 x 15.5 inches, with three solid inches of YETI’s PermaFrost Insulation keeping the contents cool. It also has a rubber gasket around the edge of the lid for superior cold retention and protection against leaks. At 22 pounds (when it's empty), it isn’t the lightest piece of gear. But if you need a tough-as-nails cooler with unparalleled cold retention—a must-have for a trip into the wild—then the YETI Tundra 45 fits the bill. Many reviewers, in fact, are so satisfied with how long their ice keeps in this cooler compared with similar competitors that they think it well worth the high price tag.
"I own soft- and hard-shell YETI coolers and love them for their rugged durability and incredible insulation. Plus, I have to admit it feels pretty cool to pull up to a party toting one." — Taysha Murtaugh, Associate Editorial Director, Commerce, The Spruce Eats
Collapsible for easy storage
Responsive customer service
No shoulder strap
It’s nice to have a cold lunch every now and then. Preparing your own meals and bringing food from home is often more affordable while giving you creative control over your food. The best way to keep these meals cool long enough to enjoy is with a small cooler like the CleverMade SnapBasket. This cooler outperforms other options by offering the same level of insulation as its bigger cousins.
The SnapBasket is a soft, collapsible tote bag with the capacity to hold 50 cans of soda. Reviewers cheered the ease with which they were able to fold the bag flat and fit it in their luggage or trunk when traveling, camping, or grocery shopping.
Furthermore, the SnapBasket is made of rip-stop fabric, meaning both the exterior and interior are extremely durable and spill proof. The top grips are soft and secure when bound together. When carrying food, the bag has enough rigidity to keep contents from spilling inside or over the top. This a great option if you picnic often.
Inexpensive for the quality
Quick-access hatch on top
Hinges and latches are made of plastic
Most coolers are good at keeping their contents cold for a few hours. This is enough for most occasions, but if the duration is an important consideration, you will need more. Long-term coolers require more insulation to keep temperatures down. The Igloo Quick and Cool is a top pick anytime you want a cooler for an all-day trip or party.
Using a polyurethane hardshell, the Quick and Cool is well insulated for extended use. The lid sports a solid latch, and reviewers love the addition of the quick-access hatch on the top, making the retrieval of everything from snacks and drinks to fish bait easy. It also minimizes temperature loss.
Additional storage in front-pocket
A backpack cooler provides you with refreshing drinks and snacks when you are on the go. This favorite from outdoor brand Coleman can hold up to 28 cans with plenty of room for sandwiches and such. This backpack has padded straps and a waist buckle which will keep it comfortable on a long hike.
Many reviewers have said this is a great cooler for Disney trips and say at this price, it is a smart buy.
Our top pick is the Coleman 54-Quart Steel-Belted Cooler because it combines sturdiness, thick insulation, and high carrying capacity. Plus, it sports a cool, retro design (see it on Wayfair). If you care more about ruggedness than design and have the extra cash to spare, try the YETI Tundra 45. The cooler's construction is virtually bear-proof (check it out on Amazon).
Why Trust The Spruce Eats?
Austin Fracchia is a freelance writer for The Spruce Eats and a self-professed outdoor guy. In addition to our picks for the top coolers of 2020, Austin has also written roundups on the best barbecue tools and beer growlers of the year—basically, he's an expert on anything key to a good outdoor party.
Construction and Insulation: Coolers have either hard (metal or plastic) or soft (fabric or vinyl) shells containing insulation. Look for closed-cell foam insulation, as it’s more efficient than open-cell foam, and check that the lid is sufficiently insulated and that it seals tightly when shut.
Hard-shell coolers are typically better insulated, more durable, and keep food colder longer than soft-shell ones. Some are even built certified bear-proof, meaning they are designed to protect your food or hunting-trip hauls from bears and other animals you might encounter in the wilderness. However, hard-shell coolers don't collapse, so they’re harder to store (but sometimes get recruited to serve as extra seating).
Soft-shell coolers are more lightweight. They often feature non-insulated storage on the exterior and can collapse. They usually don't retain cold as long as hard-shell coolers.
Size and Capacity: You'll want to take two things into account: storage capacity and the footprint of the cooler itself. If you're going on a quick day trip or to the grocery store, a capacity of 25 quarts or less will likely suffice—and for soft coolers, that’s about all you’ll be able to comfortably carry. But if you're embarking on a seven-day hiking journey, a hunting trip, or even a tailgating party, a hard-sided option that can hold 50 to 100 quarts or more is a better bet.
In terms of footprint, consider the following questions: Is the cooler able to fit in your vehicle? And when you're not using it, can you stow it in the garage or the trunk of your car? If soft, does it collapse for easy storage?
Portability: A metal cooler might suffice for a large backyard barbecue, but it could take a beating bouncing around the back of your truck or getting lugged around to various campsites. Think about how you’ll transport your cooler. Look for design elements such as wheels, handles, and shoulder straps.