Discover the Ultimate Outdoor Companion: Unveiling the Best Coolers for Remarkable Camping Experiences
Looking for the best cooler to keep your drinks ice-cold during your next outdoor adventure? Look no further! In this article, we've tested and rounded up the coolest coolers in the market, perfect for camping, beach trips, and even those epic backyard barbecues. From ruggedness to ice retention, we've scrutinized every aspect to help you choose the best cooler for your outdoor gatherings. So, sit back, relax, and get ready to discover the coolest companions for your next escapade!
Other coolers we've tested
These coolers are currently available commercially, and we have tested dozens of them over the past few years. Here's a list of them with some brief information:
- Lifewit Collapsible Cooler Bag 24L (25 quarts): A soft-sided cooler that can be carried by the handle. It's popular on Amazon, but it didn't perform well in terms of keeping things cool during our testing as expected due to its soft sides.
- Tourit Cooler Backpack (20 quarts): Another popular cooler we found on Amazon. These backpack coolers didn't perform well in terms of cooling, but this one is stylish and includes a metal bottle opener.
- OlarHike Cooler Backpack (23 quarts): Similar to the Tourit cooler. Not as attractive, but it has slightly more capacity.
- Amazon Commercial Rotomolded Cooler, 20qt (20 quarts): Amazon has a line of roto-molded coolers that perform better than most, although they are not the top performers. They also have one of the best cooler latching designs. (Temporarily out of stock.)
- Camp Zero 20L Premium Cooler (21 quarts): Offers average performance. It has neat color options and four molded-in cup holders on the lid, which can be great unless you need to open the cooler.
- Frosted Frog 20qt Rotomolded Ice Chest (20 quarts): This brand was recommended by multiple CNET readers, and we have come to love it too. It offers excellent performance, although not the best. (Temporarily out of stock.)
- Klein Tools Work Cooler (17 quarts): Sturdy, but not as good as a traditional cooler in terms of performance. It may be suitable for keeping your lunch cool though.
- Orca Light Blue 40 Quart Cooler (40 quarts): It has a high price tag for average performance in this category.
- Igloo BMX 52 Quart Cooler (52 quarts): Looks cool and "BMX-y" and is the lowest-priced midsize cooler we tested, but it also performed the worst.
- KENAI 65 Quart Cooler (65 quarts): Has a classic design and great color options, but its performance is only okay.
- Frosted Frog 75QT Cooler (75 quarts): Similar to the other Frosted Frog model we tested, it offers reasonable pricing for excellent performance.
- Bison Gen 2 Cooler (50 quarts): It is one of the most expensive coolers that we tested, but it can achieve the coldest temperature in its category, although it doesn't maintain it as well as others.
- Cabela's Polar Cap Equalizer Cooler (60 quarts): One of the most expensive coolers on our list, but it used to hold the title for the best large cooler.
- Yeti Tundra 45 Cooler (33 quarts): It can reach the lowest temperature among small coolers, but its high price tag prevents it from being our top pick.
- Rubbermaid Ice Chest Cooler (48 quarts): It has one of the worst temperature performance among midsized coolers. (Temporarily out of stock.)
- Coleman Xtreme Marine Cooler (70 quarts): This cooler has a large capacity, and at less than , it's a solid choice.
- Coleman Xtreme Wheeled Cooler (50 quarts): This cooler has poor performance in the midsize cooler category, but it's priced at less than $50. (Temporarily out of stock.)
- Rovr Rollr 60 Wheeled Cooler (60 quarts): It holds its temperature well, but not as cold as its competitors. It is the most expensive cooler we tested. (Currently unavailable.)
- Lifetime High Performance Cooler (55 quarts): It is one of the better performing midsized coolers, and it's a good deal at just over $100.
- Orca Classic Cooler (58 quarts): It used to be awarded the best midsized cooler for a reason, but it comes with a steep price.
- Pelican Elite Cooler (50 quarts): It can get colder than most coolers, but it can't maintain that temperature as long as others.
- Yeti Roadie 24 Cooler (20 quarts): It has average performance and can hold its chosen temperature well.
- Yeti Hopper Backflip 24 Insulated Backpack Cooler (22 quarts): It is a backpack cooler, but almost any other cooler will perform better than this one.
- Coleman Portable Cooler (16 quarts): It is one of the cheapest options, but it won't hold its temperature for very long. (Temporarily out of stock.)
- Pelican 20 Quart Elite Cooler (20 quarts): It is not a strong competitor compared to others.
- Coleman 24-Can Party Stacker Portable Cooler (23 quarts): It can get super cold, but it won't maintain that temperature for long, and it's only $30.
- Rubbermaid 45qt Blue Wheeled Cooler (45 quarts): It offers average performance, but it's only $33 and comes with wheels! (Temporarily out of stock.)
- Xspec 60 Quart Roto Molded High Performance Cooler (60 quarts): It is one of the best coolers we have ever tested and was even named our best overall cooler. It is priced at $270 and offers top-notch features and performance.
- Igloo Trailmate Journey 70qt All-Terrain Cooler (70 quarts): It has a lot of features and performs well. It is priced slightly above average.
If we are going to discuss performance, it is important to consider capacity. While some ice chest sizes are more popular than others (such as 50 quarts), coolers come in a variety of sizes and shapes. Apart from determining how many cans a cooler can hold, size and shape also impact performance. For example, a 75-quart cooler like the Frosted Frog has a larger task than a 45-quart RTIC when it comes to keeping things cool, assuming the amount of ice is the same.
To accurately assess performance, I took into account these size differences. However, first, I needed to ensure accurate measurements. This involved testing the manufacturer's capacity claims and finding a more universal metric than simply counting cans.
I filled the Lifetime High Performance Cooler with 62.4 quarts of water, and the lid closed without causing any overflow. That's 13.5% bigger than the advertised capacity.
Ry Crist/CNET To accomplish this, I carefully filled each cooler with water until closing the lid caused some water to overflow. I then measured the exact number of quarts that each cooler could hold, which is crucial information to have when dealing with melted ice in large quantities. In general, the smaller and cheaper models tended to be relatively conservative in their estimates. The Coleman Xtreme and Igloo Latitude wheeled coolers, for example, had capacities several quarts larger than advertised.
On the other hand, some of the more expensive coolers fell short. Rovr's Rollr wheeled cooler, which is priced at $400, claims a capacity of 60 quarts but only held 52.8 quarts of water when I measured it. Similarly, the RTIC, priced at $219, had a smaller capacity than expected, holding just 39.6 quarts of water before overflowing, whereas it was specified to have a capacity of 45 quarts.
In contrast, the 55-quart Lifetime High Performance Cooler, which is priced at around $100, exceeded its specified capacity, holding 62.4 quarts of water. Although it didn't retain ice as long as the RTIC, it still performed excellently. The Yeti Hopper Backflip 24, a soft-sided backpack cooler, had the most underrated volume among all the coolers we tested. While it claimed space for 20 12-ounce cans at a 2:1 ice-to-can ratio, totaling 22.5 quarts, I found that its internal volume was actually 26.42 quarts. This is approximately 117% of the stated volume, equivalent to one extra six-pack compared to other 20-quart coolers. The worst offender was the Tourit Backpack Cooler, which could only provide 65% of its claimed 30-quart capacity.
Best Coolers For Camping: A Comprehensive Review
Let's delve into the specific details of the coolers we tested so that you can determine which ones are best suited for your camping needs. First, we'll provide an overview of each individual cooler we tested, and then we'll compare their performance based on various measures, features, and specifications.
Tips for Maximizing Cooler Performance
To ensure optimal performance from any cooler, regardless of whether it's a top-tier option or a more budget-friendly choice, there are several things you should do. While some of these may seem obvious, they require intentional planning to maximize the cooler's performance.
COOL THE COOLER
One less commonly practiced tip that significantly enhances your cooler's performance is cooling the cooler itself. If you store your cooler in a hot garage or shed and immediately fill it with ice and food (as many of us tend to do), the cooler's performance will be greatly reduced. This is because the ice first needs to cool down the entire cooler before it can effectively cool and maintain the temperature of your food and beverages.
To overcome this issue, place one or two frozen gallon-sized water containers in the cooler the night before your trip. Then, only put pre-chilled food and beverages into the cooler. This same principle applies to warm food as well. By adhering to these guidelines, you'll maximize the performance of any cooler. Remember to chill the cooler overnight before heading out and only store chilled items in the cooled ice chest.
MINIMIZE OPENING THE COOLER
It's a given that the less frequently you open the cooler, the longer it will keep your food cold. However, this can be challenging when your favorite snacks and beverages are inside, and family members might be accessing the cooler 20-30 times a day without much thought.
DO NOT DRAIN THE WATER
The melted water in the cooler actually helps maintain a cold internal temperature. Unless the water is damaging your food, it's best to leave it in the cooler. Whenever possible, elevate items off the bottom of the cooler to prevent them from getting ruined by the melting ice. Placing your drinks at the bottom is a great option.
USE SUFFICIENT ICE
When packing your cooler, it's easy to skimp on the ice, but this can be problematic, especially on longer trips. For extended periods of time, it's recommended to use a 2:1 ratio of ice to food. In other words, put twice as much ice as food in the cooler to maximize its performance. Of course, this is the ideal situation, but if limitations prevent you from bringing an additional cooler or a larger one, be prepared to visit a convenience store frequently to replenish your ice supply.
Choosing the Right Cooler Size for Hunting and Camping
WEEKEND CAMPING TRIPS
When considering cooler size for a camping trip, several factors come into play, such as the number of people you're packing for. As a general guideline, a 65-quart cooler is an excellent starting point for a weekend camping trip. If you're packing for more than four people, you might want to consider upgrading to an 80 or 100-quart ice chest.
WILD GAME STORAGE
Storing large game harvests requires a different approach. If you're fortunate enough to have harvested a deer, elk, moose, or pronghorn and plan to continue hunting, you'll need a larger cooler. Based on our testing during the last hunting season, the following sizes serve as a starting point:
- 65-75 quart: 1 deer plus ice; 2 deer with limited space for ice
- 110-125 quart: 3 deer with some room for ice
- 140-165 quart: 4 deer or 1 deboned elk with some room for ice
For extended hunting trips, it's recommended to have a dedicated cooler solely for your game meat. Pre-fill the cooler with blocks of ice or, even better, frozen jugs of water. Using ice jugs prevents water pooling at the bottom of the cooler, which is advantageous when storing wild game. Ideally, you want to avoid having your game meat sitting in water, even if the water is ice-cold.
Interesting Discoveries: Insights into the Best Coolers for Camping
- Some coolers exhibited greater temperature variations throughout the day compared to others.
- The longevity of ice retention is not solely indicative of a cooler's ability to maintain a safe internal temperature for storing meat (the temperature needs to be below 40°F).
- While some coolers were able to maintain sub 40°F temperatures until all the ice melted, many struggled to do so.
- Ultralight coolers generally compromise thermal retention performance.
In conclusion, when it comes to outdoor gatherings and camping adventures, having the best cooler is essential. After testing several options, we can confidently say that these coolers have proven to be the cream of the crop. With their durable construction, excellent insulation, and convenient features, they are sure to keep your beverages chilled and your food fresh for a long time. So, whether you're planning a weekend camping trip or hosting a backyard barbecue, be sure to consider these top-rated coolers for an unforgettable outdoor experience. Happy chilling!
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