This guide to the best camping coolers covers everything you need to know, with picks for different budgets and needs.
One of the biggest struggles on any camping trip is finding a way to keep your food fresh and cold in hot weather.
Thankfully, a quality camping cooler can get the job done for you, ensuring that you always have great ingredients for your tasty meals in the outdoors.
But, finding the right camping cooler isn't as simple as it might seem. With so many great options to choose from, it's easy to get overwhelmed.
We know how important it is to get the best camping cooler for your needs, so we put together this guide to doing just that.
Up next, we'll review our favorite models that are available on the market today.
Then in our buying guide we'll then offer some top tips to ensure that you end up with the perfect cooler for your upcoming adventures.
Best Overall Camping Cooler
The Roadie 24 is YETI's lightest and most compact hard-sided cooler. Specifically designed to be a trusty companion on weekend camping trips, kayaking adventures, or any outdoor getaway, the Roadie is built with YETI's proprietary rotomolded plastic construction.
- Capacity/Size: 18 cans
- Weight: 12.8lbs (5.8kg)
- Lightest hard-sided YETI cooler available
- Rotomolded construction for ample durability
- High-quality insulation keeps ice cold for days
- No side handles
Thanks to this rotomolded build, the YETI Roadie 24 cooler is among the most durable in the industry. It also has an interlocking NeverFail hinge system that prevents damage to the lid, even after years of use.
To help keep your food and beverages cold, the Roadie 24 also comes with PermaFrost insulation.
This insulation can keep ice cold for days on end without fail. Plus, this cooler has a 13" (33cm) internal height, so it's even tall enough to accommodate most standard wine bottles and 2L soda bottles with ease.
The YETI Hopper Flip 18 is a reliable alternative to the Roadie 24 for campers that prefer a soft-sided cooler. It is substantially lighter at 5.1lbs (2.3kg) and can hold 20 cans in its spacious interior.
While it is a bit more expensive than the Roadie, the Hopper Flip 18 is also super durable and fully waterproof for your adventures.
- Capacity/Size: 37 cans
- Weight: 11.29lbs (5.1kg)
- Affordable price point for a large carrying capacity
- Padded carry handle for comfort
- Multiple tie-down loops for transport on a boat
- Non-rotomolded construction leads to lower insulation quality and durability
The Igloo BMX 25 QT is made from blow-molded plastic and has a steel kick plate at the bottom for added reinforcement in rough terrain.
When it comes to keeping your good cold, this cooler has extra-thick foam walls and an insulated lid. This allows it to keep ice cold for up to 4 days at 90ºF.
Other useful features in the Igloo BMX 25 QT cooler include a built-in fish ruler so you can quickly measure your catch after hauling it out of the water. It also has four tie-down points for securing it to your boat or car, and a padded carry handle to provide extra comfort in transport.
If you're looking for a soft cooler that's highly affordable, the IceMule Classic 15L is a great option. This innovative cooler has a 15L capacity and weighs just 2lbs (0.9kg) for maximum portability.
It is built just like a standard dry bag but comes with an extra thick layer of IceMule's proprietary insulation system. That way, it's highly portable, functional, and affordable, all at the same time.
Best Bearproof Cooler
- Capacity/Size: 15 cans
- Weight: 12lbs (5.4kg)
- Rotomolded LLDPE plastic for extra thickness and durability
- IGBC Certified for bear-resistance
- BearClaw latches for a secure closure system
- Heavy for relatively small volume
Thanks to the Grizzly 15's rotomolded plastic shell, this cooler is tough enough to withstand regular trips into remote environments. For superior insulation, the Grizzly 15 has environmentally friendly pressure-injected insulation designed to keep your food as cold as possible.
To seal out the heat, this cooler has a built-in premium rubberized gasket. Plus, the Grizzly 15 has two BearClaw latches that provide a secure grip between the lid and this cooler's body.
Finally, the Grizzly 15 Cooler comes with a measurement ruler embossed on the top of the lid. That way, you can quickly measure your catch while out for a day of fishing.
If you want all the Grizzly 15 Cooler benefits but with more carrying capacity, the Grizzly 60 Cooler is your best bet.
Although it's heavier and more expensive, this cooler comes with enough storage for up to 72 cans plus 20lbs (9.1kg) of ice. That makes it an excellent choice for longer camping trips where you need to store a lot of food and drink.
- Capacity/Size: 28 cans
- Weight: 23lbs (10.4kg)
- Two inches of PermaFrost insulation creates an extra-cold environment
- FatWall design for maximum ice retention
- Vortex drain system for easy cleanup
- Heavy construction
The YETI Tundra 45 's FatWall design allows it to hold 2 inches (5.1cm) of thick PermaFrost insulation, which is an industry leader in terms of ice retention. Moreover, the Tundra 45 has a ColdLock gasket that provides a freezer-quality seal to lock in cold on hot days.
Although the YETI Tundra 45 is pretty heavy for a cooler this size, it does come with two sets of handles for easier transport. It also has non-slip feet, AnchorPoint tie-down slots, and even a Vortex drain system to make cleaning up quick and simple at the end of your trip.
If you love the ice retention capabilities of the YETI Tundra 45 but wish that it was slightly larger, the Orca Classic 58 Quart might be a good option.
This cooler also has a rotomolded construction and can hold up to 72 cans. Although it's a bit more expensive, the Orca Classic can keep your food fresh for up to 10 days without the need for more ice.
Best Wheeled Cooler
Quality camping coolers can be pretty hefty, so having a set of wheels can make a huge difference in portability. The Tundra Haul takes YETI's classic Tundra cooler base and adds a set of NeverFlat wheels to make it easier for you to cart around your food, beverages, and ice while camping.
- Capacity/Size: 45
- Weight: 37lbs (16.8kg)
- NeverFlat wheel design for maximum durability
- FatWall design with PermaFrost insulation for maximum cold retention
- Large, burly haul handle for transport
- Very heavy
- One of the most expensive coolers available
The YETI Tundra Haul Cooler is built with sturdy rotomolded construction and a NeverFail hinge system that prevents the lid from breaking off. For insulation, YETI built the Tundra Haul with a FatWall design that packs in 2 inches (5.1cm) of pressure-injected PermaFrost Insulation to keep your food cold.
Thanks to its burly wheels and an extra-durable pull handle, this cooler is easy to roll around at the campsite. Additionally, the YETI Tundra Haul comes with LipGrip handles to make it easier to lift and lower from your car to the road.
Alternatively, if you need a rolling cooler that can keep ice cold for up to 10 days, the Pelican Elite Wheeled Cooler might be your answer.
This burly wheeled cooler has molded handles, large locking lathes, and a fully leakproof construction for maximum performance outside. It also comes with a lifetime guarantee. So, if you manage to break this burly cooler, Pelican will send you a new one - no questions asked.
- Capacity/Size: 18 cans
- Weight: 3.2lbs (1.5kg)
- Great value for the money
- Convenient backpack carry system for portability
- Fully waterproof construction
- Best for food and drink, not ice
Lightweight and compact, the IceMule Pro has a set of backpack straps built-in, so you can carry it hands-free when you're outside. Its roll-top design removes the need for pesky zippers and provides quick access to your food.
This cooler has MuleSkinET exterior fabric for durability and a thick sheet of PolarLayer Insulation. That means the IceMule Pro Cooler can keep your ice cold for up to 24 hours, perfect for short camping trips or even day hikes in the mountains. Oh, and it floats, too, so it's also a great choice for water-based expeditions.
For the same great portability that you get in the IceMule Pro, but a bit more in insulation, the YETI Hopper Backflip 24 is a good alternative.
This backpack-style cooler also has two shoulder straps for easy transport. It can hold up to 20 cans of beer and is fully waterproof. It comes with a pretty high sales price but is unmatched in terms of insulating ability.
Camping Cooler Buying Guide
Camping coolers are surprisingly hard to choose because there are so many great options available.
So, here are some of the most important things to know before you shop.
Types of Coolers
There are three primary types of coolers out there. Here's how they perform in the real world:
Soft-sided coolers have the primary advantage of being lightweight and portable. They also tend to be more affordable than hard-sided alternatives, which makes them ideal for budget-wary campers.
The downside to soft-sided coolers is that they usually offer less in terms of insulating value than their hard-sided counterparts. So, they're generally preferred for shorter camping trips or day-long adventures where you only need to keep food cold for a couple of days.
Hard-sided models are what many people think of when they think of camping coolers. These coolers provide superior insulation and durability when compared to any other option on the market.
Of course, all this added insulation and their bulky plastic construction mean that hard-sided coolers are usually quite heavy.
When loaded, some of these models require two people to actually lift them off the ground. But, if insulation is your priority, then a hard-sided cooler is hard to beat.
Powered or Electric Coolers
The third type of camping cooler is an electric cooler. These models are sort of like a cooler/refrigerator hybrid because they actively cool your food instead of just insulating it from the heat.
While electric coolers are perhaps the most effective option for keeping food and beverages cold, they are heavy and expensive. Plus, they require a constant power source, such as a campground hookup or a 12V outlet. So, they're best for car camping trips that are close to the road.
We like the Knox Gear 48 quart Cooler & Warmer.
Camping Cooler Buying Considerations
A cooler might seem like a simple piece of gear, but you should consider a lot of things when choosing your next camping companion.
Here are some of the essential features and design factors to keep in mind:
The primary purpose of a cooler is to insulate your food, drink, and ice from the cold. So, having a well-insulated model is a significant plus.
Hard-sided coolers feature pressure-injected insulation, which is generally better at keeping hot air out.
On the other hand, soft-sided models usually have closed-cell foam insulation (or something similar), so they're less effective in terms of ice retention.
Many hard-sided coolers come with drain ports, which help you plan to use ice cubes or block ice to keep your food cold.
With one of these nifty drains, you can simply open up a spot to allow all the ice meltwater to rush out of the cooler.
A drain simplifies the entire cooler clean up process at the end of your camping trip. So, they're an excellent option for campers who rely more on actual ice than ice packs.
Handles are an essential part of any cooler because they allow you to transport the cooler to and from your vehicle more easily.
At a minimum, quality hard-sided coolers come with either two side handles or one large central carry handle. These provide ample functionality when it comes to carrying the cooler over short distances.
Alternatively, soft-sided coolers often have shoulder straps instead of handles.
Many models will have just one shoulder strap so they can be carried like a duffle bag. Meanwhile, others will have backpack straps for hands-free transport.
Size & Capacity
The size of the cooler you need will depend greatly on what you plan to use it for. In general, one-night camping trips can make do with a cooler that's between 20-40L in size (about 16-36 cans).
Longer trips will require coolers that are up to about 75L in size (about 100 cans).
Camping coolers run the gamut in terms of weight. While some soft-sided models are just a minuscule 2-3lbs (0.9-1.4kg) in weight, other hard-sided alternatives can weigh up to 40lbs (18.1kg).
Keep in mind that these statistics refer to the weight of a given cooler when it's empty. So, if you load a 40lb (18.1kg) cooler up with ice, your cooler will likely weigh upward of 80lbs (36.3kg).
For really big and heavy coolers, a set of wheels is very helpful for transportation. Additionally, heavier coolers tend to provide more in terms of insulation and durability. So, weight savings is often a trade-off with ice retention.
Some camping coolers are now Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC) certified. This means that they've been designed specifically to prevent bears from getting access to your food. If you are looking for a bearproof cooler, we recommend checking out the Grizzly 15 Cooler.
IGBC certification is relatively new in the camping cooler world, but it's likely to become more popular as campers look for ways to keep bears out of their food.
Keep in mind that all camping coolers that are IGBC certified require the use of padlocks to bolt the cooler shut and to be able to fend off a bear.
Additionally, it's worth noting that IGBC certification doesn't ensure that a cooler will 100% keep a bear out of your cooler. The organization states that any coolers with their certification have been tested to meet their standards. But that this is "not a guarantee that a grizzly bear cannot gain entry."
Finally, most public lands managers do not allow campers to use IGBC coolers instead of a specialized bear canister. So, it's best to contact your local land management agency (e.g., National Park Service or National Forest Service) to see what's allowed in your area.
A quality camping cooler means you can keep your food fresh and cold in hot weather.
There are a lot of great coolers on the market but once you know the types and your needs, then you can choose the best camping cooler for you.
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