Picking the right cooler isn’t about choosing the most expensive one. It’s about choosing the one that meets your needs. Going away for a camping weekend with the boys? Going glamping with a loved one? Camping with the family at a caravan park? Hiking and mountaineering with your best mate or going solo? Most people pick coolers for multiple purposes – and you are no exception.
A majority of coolers keep food and drinks cold for two to three days. The high-end ones keep the ice frozen for up to 10 days. Your car might be full of camping equipment, so the size of the cooler is important. Coolers are also often the heaviest camping item. The average distance from the car to the campsite is about five to 10 metres. So you need to look at the handles, wheels and straps on a cooler. Here we review 10 of the best coolers for camping for 10 unique types of campers!
Best Coolers Reviewed
Best Overall Cooler
The Yeti Hopper M30 soft Cooler is our clear winner for the best coolers for camping in 2021, as it performed well in each category we tested.
What sets the Yeti Hopper M30 Cooler from other coolers is that it’s tough and durable. It keeps your beers cold for two days.
The Hopper is a very sturdy product but is also light for its size, making it perfect for camping or canoeing trips. The quick latch allows for easy access with one arm, and the new hefty hauler handle is comfortable to carry. The cooler has a never-fail hinge system, so it will never snap or break. For all that, the price is very reasonable.
- Ice stays frozen for two days
- Built sturdy
- Light for its size
- Hold upright bottle of wine
- Easy to carry
- One-handed quick latch
Best Budget Cooler
The Xtreme technology uses an insulated lid and extra insulation in the wall. Your food and drinks will stay cold for up to three days at temperatures up to 32 degrees. The cooler is big enough to keep 36 cans and tall enough to hold 2-litre bottles upright.
The Have-A-Seat lid means you can save on bringing a camp chair - there’s even a cup holder moulded into the lid. The Xtreme is easy to carry with one hand as there’s a comfort grip handle
- Affordable price
- Keeps items cold for three days
- Holds 36 cans + 2L bottles upright
- Have-A-Seat lid
- Comfort grip handle
Best Cooler for Car Camping
This Pelican beauty has a lifetime guarantee, it is tough and durable. Pelican products have survived some of the harshest conditions on earth. The Elite Cooler holds 23 cans, there’s a sloped fall drain plug and a built-in bottle opener. Moulded-in handles makes it easier to carry the Elite Cooler to the car.
On the downside, the 30 quart is big, bulky and heavy to carry so it’s best left in the trunk whilst camping.
- Extreme ice retention
- Lifetime warranty
- Built-in bottle opener
- Moulded in handles
- Drain plug
- Big and bulky
- Heavy to carry at 9.8kg
Best Backcountry Adventure Cooler
When hiking or mountaineering, sometimes you need a cold one when admiring the landscape. The Mountainsmith Frostbite Backpack Cooler has two insulated storage compartments that keeps things cold for up to 12 hours thanks to heavy-duty EVA foam insulation. There’s enough storage for a six-pack of beer with ice and a bottle opener accessory on the straps.
The Frostbite stands up to the hard knocks of outdoor use and can stand on its own when resting on the ground. This product has a lightweight design with padded shoulder straps and an airmesh back panel.
- 6-pack compatible
- Can stand on the ground
- Lightweight design with padded shoulder straps
- No seperate compartment
BEST COOLER FOR DAY TRIPS
The Day Escape is a super light cooler that delivers 36 hours of cold insulation for a day hiking or having a picnic. There are removable cross-body straps and tote bag handles to carry with ease - almost discretely (until you get into what you packed). The Watertight zipper and leakproof build ensures no water gets in and no water gets out.
- Keeps contents cold for 36 hours
- Dual-carry options
- Watertight zipper
- Cosmetic design is not for everyone
BEST HEAVY DUTY COOLER
The Elite Cooler is so strong not even a bear can open it. The Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee performed captive bear testing over extended periods. One customer described the Pelican as “built like a tank” and it’s not far off. It’s a big boy and the two heavy-duty wheels and trolley handle make a difference.
One customer jokingly said, “it could be thrown off a 10 storey building and survive.” The 43-litre cooler keeps up to 10 days ice retention. It’s ideal for camping trips where there’s no civilization to buy more ice.
- Very positive customer reviews
- Grizzly Bear resistant certification
- Up to 10 days ice retention
- Fish scale ruler on lid
- Built-in bottle opener
- Bulky and heavy
BEST LUNCHBOX STYLE
The Mountainsmith Sixer Cooler Bag holds 6 bottles or 12 cans, so it’s the perfect size when attending a party or a friend’s grill. Forget about putting your drinks in a big cooler provided by the host. Everyone else drinks your beverages and the only thing left is soft drinks and light beer.
You can carry the Cooler Cube via an adjustable shoulder sling or with the top handle. Some of the benefits include waterproof seam-sealed lining and a large flip-top zipper.
- Price is reasonable
- Keeps 12 cans cold
- Dual ways to carry the cooler
- Waterproof seam-sealed lining
- Available for delivery worldwide
- Not as sturdy as a hardcase
BEST FOR WATER SPORTS
The Day-Venture Sling Cooler by Pelican sheds water while you're out for a little more active beach time and want to frolic in the water. The leak-resistant zipper and waterproof seal combine with puncture-resistant material to make the backpack is tough as nails. The dry haul straps are as durable as the bag.
- Holds 4 wine bottles
- Puncture and abrasion-resistant
- 1 exterior pocket
BUYING GUIDE: WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN COOLERS
When shopping for the best coolers, there’s a lot of jargon and it could sound like a new language. Once you know what kind of camping you’ll be doing, you should pay attention to the following factors.
TYPES OF COOLERS
It depends on how many days you’re camping for, but let’s say it’s for a weekend away. Most campers will lean towards a hard cooler that’s over 30 litres, hence the reason they’re known to be big and durable. Focus on ice retention which means the product’s level of cooling is measured in how many days it can retain ice.
The durability of hard coolers makes them great seats and tables and it’s one less camping item you need to pack. Remember, the Pelican Wheeled Elite Cooler 45QT/ 42.59L is so strong not even a Grizzly Bear can open it.
Cooler Bags & Totes
Cooler bags are ideal for day trips like hiking, picnics, grills or going to a family or friend’s house for a meal. Look for a 15-20 litre cooler bag that can fit anywhere from six to 12 cans.
When there’s not much walking or hiking involved, look for a tote with strong carry handles. Make sure the waterproof seamed lining as the tote will often be carried on an angle.
A backpack probably isn’t big enough to go camping, but it’s sufficient for a day hike or small mountain climb. You’ll need at least 1.5 to 2 litres of water-packed away from the food.
When looking for a lunchbox-style cooler, make sure there’s enough room for a six or 12 pack of cans. Or a slab of meat to take to a friend’s grill. A waterproof seamed lining bag is another feature to focus on when looking.
A sling will carry about four to six cans and it’s the ultimate man bag, even though slings are unisex. Slings are great for fishing or day hikes so look for something easy to carry up to two litres.
SIZE AND PORTABILITY
Some may live by the popular phrase bigger is better but this mantra shouldn’t apply to coolers. You need to factor in how big your vehicle is and the duration of your camping trip. Think about the amount of alcohol you’ll drink and the amount of food that needs to stay frozen or cold.
In regards to portability, the same applies to the above. However, some coolers are “built like a tank”, hence the need for wheels and a trolley handle. In most cases, the cooler needs to be portable enough to carry from the trunk to the campsite.
The Cooler capacity is in quarts and one quart equals 75% of a can, so a 20-quart cooler holds 15 cans. It’s important to also weigh the space that ice will take up.
Look for decent-sized side handles on the bigger coolers as they’re the most common type of carrying tool. Some have built-in cavities, others are hefty hauler handles or swing up handless.
Generally, the shoulder strap is available with the smaller or day pack coolers. A strap allows you to carry other items in both hands, when carrying camping equipment from the car to the campsite.
Draining the water is debatable, especially when items are left in the cooler. If you have meat, the water should be drained to prevent the meat from going off. If there are only drinks in the cooler, leave the water in. Keep in mind, only the big coolers have a drain nozzle in them.
- Cup holders
Having a cup holder is like having an extra arm. The bigger coolers that have them are Yeti, Coleman and Pelican. The only small coolers that have a cup holder are the slings.
There are not many submersible products on the market. There’s the Yeti Panga Submersible Backpack 28L and the Yeti Panga Submersible Duffel 50. If you have a passport that needs to be 100% waterproof during a water safari, the Yeti Submersible Backpack is your best bet.
Are expensive coolers worth it?
A high-end cooler might alarm you when you first notice the price tag. But you should take into account the technology and new designs over the past 10-20 years.
Critics might say they’re status symbols and lifestyle brands. Expensive coolers have better quality insulation and thicker walls for preserving the ice.
Do coolers have locks on them to stop thieves or wildlife from getting in the cooler?
There is no product on the market that has a lock on the cooler. The best option is to buy a Master Lock Python Adjustable Locking Cable and secure it to the trunk.
Which cooler keeps ice the longest?
After reviewing the 10 Best Coolers for Camping, we found the Pelican Wheeled Elite Cooler 45QT/ 42.59L has up to 10 days ice retention.
There you have it—the best coolers for camping in 2021. Focus on choosing a cooler that meets most of your personal and leisure needs. For us at Altitude Sports, the Yeti Roadie 24 Cooler performed exceptionally well in every category that we tested. Cheers to your new cooler!