We chose the Yeti Tundra 65 Cooler as our top pick because it's certified bear-proof, leakproof with a great drainage system, and will keep perishable cold for days. For an all-star budget pick, we recommend the Igloo Retro Picnic Basket Cooler. Plus, it comes in a unique and colorful design that you surely won't leave behind.
When the warmer months approach, everyone starts planning their outdoor travels. Whether that looks like camping, beach time, park picnics, pool days, or even just hanging in the yard, a cooler is essential for spring and summer hangouts. Coolers also come in handy when entertaining year-round or on long road trips. From lightweight options great for hiking to large rolling models designed to hold beverages for large gatherings, there are coolers of every shape, size, and design to fit your budget and lifestyle.
To help you narrow down the choice that's right for you from all the options on the market, we tested some of the top coolers in our Lab and compared them side-by-side. We gathered extensive testing insights by loading each cooler with ice and cans to assess capacity and then recording temperature after intervals of time in order to assess their efficacy. And of course, each cooler was rated on its design, insulation, durability, portability, capacity, and value.
Here, the best coolers to keep things chill no matter where you are.
YETI Tundra 65 Cooler
Perishables will stay cold for days
Easy drainage system
Yeti is probably the most famous name in cooler-dom, and it's for good reason. The company's Tundra line of hard-sided coolers are incredibly durable, well-designed, and well-built. They are able to keep all the food and drinks cold for an entire weekend camping trip while also serving as a chair for someone to sit on around the fire. And all models are indeed certified bear-proof by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee—as long as they're padlocked closed. Tundra coolers come in a wide range of sizes, from the day-at-the-beach 35 model to the bathtub-sized 350, but we think that the 65 offers the best balance of size and cost.
Cost is the big downside: Yeti is also probably the most expensive name in cooler-dom. This cooler is a big investment that'll last a long time, but it might only be worth it if you're going to use a cooler a lot. The Tundra 65 is also fairly heavy, especially when filled up, but the heavy-duty polyester handles let two people share the load and move it around more easily.
Price at time of publish: $375
Overall Dimensions: 30.6 x 17.3 x 16 inches | Carrying Capacity: About 55 quarts, 52 pounds of ice, or 42 cans with a 2:1 ice-to-can ratio | Material: Polyurethane foam insulation, UV-resistant polyethylene exterior
"Many people would find this cooler to be a good investment. If you go tailgating or camping often, this will keep your beverages and food cold for days. It's well designed, doubles as a table, and holds a ton of drinks."
Igloo Retro Picnic Basket Cooler
Easy to carry
Not super durable
With an old-school picnic basket shape in neon colors straight out of the '90s, this cooler looks super fun. It might not be sized to feed a group for a full camping trip, but it is perfect for a day at the beach or a music festival. And for a small, cheap cooler, it performed amazingly well in our tests: a cooler full of ice and 11 cans stayed at 33 degrees for a full 24 hours.
That insulation performance is extra surprising considering how light the cooler is. It's just made of hard plastic, which cracked when dropped during our test. That didn't render the cooler useless, but a few more dings and cracks would; it's not a great choice for heavy use.
Price at time of publish: $54.99
Overall Dimensions: 19.8 x 12.9 x 13.1 inches | Carrying Capacity: 25 quarts, 23 pounds of ice, or 11 cans with a 2:1 ice-to-can ratio | Material: Plastic exterior
"If you need a day cooler (and don't need to carry it too long of a distance), this one's fine, and priced right."
YETI Tundra Haul Portable Wheeled Cooler
Keeps contents cold for days
Easy to roll and steer
Heavy for its size
No lifting handles
Yeti makes fantastic coolers. They're durable, well-constructed, and insulate their contents amazingly well. They are, however, priced accordingly. Like the Tundra 65, our overall winner, the Tundra Haul was able to keep nearly two dozen cans ice-cold for a full 24 hours without any trouble, but it's got a folding handle and set of wheels for easier transport. The one-piece plastic "Neverflat" tires are designed to be impact- and puncture-resistant and can handle rocky trails, grassy parks, potholed tailgate parking lots, and bumpy docks with ease. (Yeti states that sand won't damage the wheels but admits that they might not roll well on the beach.)
This cooler is made with the same insulation, lid design, and cold-lock gasket as the rest of the Yeti Tundra line, and performed equally well on our Lab tests. It’s virtually indestructible—absolutely strong enough to use as a chair with no damage—and the handle is a durable welded-aluminum arm with comfortable grips that tucks flat into indentations in the side. The curved design tracks left or right for easy steering. Besides the sky-high price tag, the only real downside our testers found is that it doesn't have any carrying handles: It's easy to wheel into place, but lifting a full cooler onto a table or tailgate is a bit of a pain,
Price at time of publish: $450
Overall Dimensions: 28.3 x 18.6 x 19.5 inches | Carrying Capacity: About 58 quarts, 55 pounds of ice, or 45 cans with a 2:1 ice-to-can ratio | Material: Polyurethane foam insulation, UV-resistant polyethylene exterior
"Very comfy to pull; turn radius is excellent; works great as a seat, and stayed really cold even after 24 hours. The price seems about right for the Yeti brand, which is to say expensive, but if you use your cooler a lot it's worth it."
RTIC Insulated Soft Cooler Bag
Excellent cold longevity
Floats in rivers and lakes
Heavy when full
The RTIC Insulated Soft Cooler Bag looks like a Yeti cooler, but comes at a lower price. We tested the 30-can version in our Lab (there are also options for 12, 20, and 40 cans), but to make more room for ice, we scaled down to 20 cans instead. Considering the contents, this cooler is fairly large and does get heavy, so it isn't the easiest to tote around. We just wouldn't suggest taking it on long excursions, as it comes with just two handle carrying straps and one shoulder strap. That said, there is a 20- and 30-can backpack version with a padded and ventilated back panel, shoulder straps, and waist straps that we also tested and rated highly.
As far as insulation goes, the RTIC features 2-inch closed-cell foam with a puncture- and tear-resistant liner to keep drinks nice and cold. After filling it with soda cans and ice, we left it to sit in our 70-degree Lab. After 24 hours, the temperature had only risen 11 degrees from our original temperature reading the day prior (compared to about 7 degrees for the similar Yeti we tested). About 20 percent of the ice remained, as well. And while you likely won't be getting rough and rowdy with this cooler, we did toss it off a tabletop to test its durability. Not only did it survive the fall with flying colors, but it also didn't leak a single drop.
Like most zippered coolers with excellent insulation and a leakproof design, the zipper on this cooler can be a little difficult to open and close at first, though it does come with lubricant. The super-tight seal and heavy-duty nylon shell even allow you to take this into water, such as lakes, rivers, and pools—every RTIC Soft Pack Cooler is designed to float. It's a wonderful option for boating, camping, beach days, backyard barbecues, and more.
Price at time of publish: $119.99
Overall Dimensions: 12 x 10 x 8 inches | Carrying Capacity: About 20 quarts, 18 pounds of ice, or 30 cans with no ice | Empty Weight: 4 pounds | Material: Nylon
"This is a spacious and good-looking cooler with great insulation. There is one front compartment, though it's not very large. It could fit some small belongings, napkins, money and credit cards, keys, etc."
RTIC Backpack Soft Cooler
Amazing cold retention
Water bottle holders can become worn and rip
Taking your things with you on the go? RTIC has a backpack for that. The company’s soft-sided cooler backpack can hold 30 cans and a bag of ice. Designed to keep your perishables cold for days, it features an easy-access zipper on the front, allowing you to grab a drink or snack without having to stop and dig around. Additionally, it floats, so you can take it along with you on pool and lake days.
In our Lab, we found that the zipper was hard to open (this is because of its top-notch insulation and leakproof design), but the included lubricant made the process slightly smoother. The zipper has a durable, T-shaped plastic piece instead of a traditional metal slider, which makes it easier for you to get a good grip and pull the teeth open and shut.
Although this bag can hold 30 cans and ice, we used 20 cans and ice. After filling and leaving it in the Lab for 24 hours, we were pleasantly surprised to find that just 50 percent of the ice had melted and the temperature had only dropped 11 degrees. Despite its large size, it's also really comfortable to carry, as there is a lot of padding for your shoulders and back on both the straps and the actual cooler. There's also ventilation on the back panel to ward off moisture and a waist strap to help with weight distribution. You won't feel like you have a giant backpack on filled with ice and cans despite, well, having a giant backpack on filled with ice and cans.
There are multiple places where you can attach a carabiner, and the stretchy straps at the front offer additional real estate for storing soft items, such as a small tent, towel, rain jacket, or compact sleeping bag. If you’re someone who loves the outdoors, then this cooler backpack is pretty much right up your alley. You can take it with you from the mountains to the lake—hands-free, at that.
Price at time of publish: $299.99
Overall Dimensions: 20.25 x 15 x 10 inches | Carrying Capacity: 30 cans and a bag of ice | Material: 100 percent waterproof fabric shell
"It's really comfortable to carry. When it's on your back, you don't feel like you have a giant backpack on filled with cans. It's very sturdy and can hold more than its capacity with and without ice."
Engel HD30 32 Quart Heavy-Duty Soft Sided Cooler Bag
For a large and easy-to-transport cooler, look no further than this Engel 32-quart bag. It's equipped with not only an over-the-shoulder strap, but top and side handles as well for added convenience. Plus, our Lab tests proved that this bag is capable of holding up to 60 cans, which is great for large gatherings.
Made with foam-like insulation in the interior, this cooler also has a drainage plug and bottle opener. We also appreciate the waterproof material and zipper, which ensures no leakage. One thing to note from testing is that this cooler can get rather heavy when filled up completely. Although the spacious size of the bag is ideal for holding a mini bar fit for a party, it also means the weight can get uncomfortable when carrying for long periods of time.
Price at time of publish: $239
Overall Dimensions: 20.5 x 9.5 x 17 inches | Carrying Capacity: 30 quarts | Material: Thermoplastic Polyurethane
"Very durable water-proof material, including the zipper (they include some lube to use on the zipper since it's meant to be difficult to zip to prevent leakage)."
Best for Quick Meals
Polar Bear Coolers Original Nylon Soft Cooler
Easy to carry
Small capacity for price
Leaks from zipper
A cooler's insulation can just as easily keep hot food hot as it can cold food cold. This highly portable soft bag is ideal for bringing a meal to a potluck or anybody in need of hot sustenance, whether it be a new parent or sick relative. The cooler can also keep food and drinks cold for a day hike, be used if you want to prep ingredients ahead and cook later elsewhere, or it can just keep your beer refreshingly cold for a day of fishing.
Polar Bear's soft cooler is well-constructed, using the same kind of nylon and stitching as you'd find in fancy soft-sided luggage, and it's got both a pair of handles and an adjustable shoulder strap to make carrying easy. It's also one of the rare coolers that actually held the number of cans advertised—ice included. In our tests, the bag was able to keep cans cold (44 degrees) for 24 hours, though not quite under the USDA's recommended food-safe temperature of 40 degrees. It also leaks through the zipper if turned upside down or sideways, so you have to make sure it stays upright.
The Polar Bear brand makes this cooler in a bunch of different colors and sizes—including a backpack model—so you can also customize your pick to your particular needs.
Price at time of publish: $89.97
Overall Dimensions: 14 x 7 x 12 inches | Carrying Capacity: 12 cans with ice | Material: Nylon, high-density foam insulation
"The design reminds me of an oversized tote handbag. The insulation is very thick, and it's very portable with both the short handles on the top and the included shoulder strap."
Best for Wine
Vinglacé Wine Bottle Chiller
Available in lots of styles and colors
Beautiful packaging for a gift
May not fit all bottles
Taking your vino with you when you go? We don’t blame you. But we do recommend taking this Vinglacé portable wine chiller along for the ride. This chiller can keep wine, champagne, and sparkling water bottles cold with the use of its adjustable top, which screws up and down to create the perfect size. Its stainless steel, double-walled, and vacuum-insulated construction is designed to keep the chill for hours without having to be refrigerated first.
Not only is this bottle chiller wonderful for on-the-go and gifting, but it’s also a great way to transport wine, too. No longer will you have to worry about how to bring a perfectly chilled host gift when this can do the work for you.
Price at time of publish: $89.95
Overall Dimensions: 11.69 x 6.5 x 5.55 inches | Carrying Capacity: 1 (750-mL) bottle | Material: Stainless steel
How We Tested
Our Lab purchased more than 40 coolers of all shapes, sizes, and configurations, and tested them on their capacity and ability to keep drinks cool, as well as several other factors. We measured each cooler's capacity in standard 12-ounce cans, ice, and cans mixed with ice in the recommended one-third-cans-two-thirds-ice ratio, comparing all of those numbers to the manufacturer's stated capacity. After filling the coolers with ice and cans, we measured the cans' surface temperature after 2 hours and again after 24 hours to test their ability to keep things cool.
We also tested the coolers' durability and construction in a bunch of ways. We turned them upside down and on their sides to check for leaks and poor-fitting hinges. We picked up the coolers and carried them around to assess portability, also testing how wheeled coolers moved and steered with both pushing and pulling motions. We dropped each cooler—fully loaded—off a table onto concrete and checked for damage. And for coolers large enough to serve as a chair, we even sat on them to make sure they didn't buckle or crack.
Other Options We Tested
- Engel 65 High Performance Hard Cooler: This is a solid cooler with bear-resistant construction and a hefty capacity. And its UV-resistant colors are a plus. However, it lacks wheels, making transport a bit more of a challenge.
- Cotopaxi Helio Cooler Bag: We love the colorful design of this soft cooler, and the padded shoulder strap makes carrying it a snap. It also did a great job on our insulation test. But there are some issues with construction: The fabric and zipper leaked liquid, and both were heavily damaged in a drop from only table height.
- Igloo Ecocool Latitude 52-Quart Cooler: This capacious cooler holds a huge amount for its price. We weren't quite able to cram in the 85 cans it claims, but we did manage five dozen. The main problem is that its lid doesn't have a latch or any way of sealing closed. If the cooler gets tipped over, the lid pops right open and spills the entire contents.
- Polarbox Pop 21 Quart Cooler: This cooler's retro style and pastel color options are attractive, but we found that the top doesn't seal perfectly and leaks liquid, which also made it not perform very well on the insulation test.
What to Look for in a Cooler
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?
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.
Should you get a hard or soft-sided cooler?
It all comes down to how you're going to use the cooler. Soft-sided coolers work for those everyday events and are easy to store. Hard-sided coolers are better for camping and road trips, tailgating events, or large gatherings and parties.
How long do soft-sided coolers stay cold?
These lightweight coolers are great for day trips to the beach, hiking, or car trips. Some will keep food and drink items cold for as long as three days.
How long do coolers last?
Coolers can last five years or longer. It depends on how well they're taken care of and how much use they've had.
Why Trust The Spruce Eats?
Emily Cappiello has been a housewares journalist since 2006. She was an editorial assistant and then a senior editor at trusted housewares trade magazine HomeWorld Business, and she was the executive editor of Gourmet Insider Magazine, a trade publication that focused on the independent housewares audience. She has spent her career testing products, hosting panels, aiding in product development and marketing, and in sales-focused training courses by housewares vendors.
This roundup was updated by Taylor Rock, Commerce Editor for The Spruce Eats. She knows how important it is to keep food and drinks chilled for an extended period of time, especially at the beach on a hot summer day when refreshments are vital. Taylor and other staff members from The Spruce Eats, Simply Recipes, TripSavvy, and more, personally tested two soft coolers on this roundup at the Dotdash Meredith Lab in Brooklyn, New York.
The Spruce Eats Commerce Writer Jason Horn updated this roundup with further testing insights. He's not really one for camping and hiking, but he did once cram an entire full punchbowl (it was sealed with plastic wrap!) with glasses into a cooler for a holiday party.
CDC. Game day food safety tips. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.