Exploring the Best Coolers for Camping: Unveiling Reviews, Recommendations, and Superior Ice Retention

When it comes to camping, having the best cooler is a game changer. It keeps your food and drinks cold, ensuring that you can enjoy fresh meals and refreshing beverages throughout your outdoor adventure. But with so many options available, how do you find the perfect cooler for your camping needs? Don't worry - we've got you covered. In this article, we will not only give you a list of the best coolers for camping, but also share some honorable mentions, discuss important considerations before making a purchase, and provide you with reviews and recommendations based on our own tests. So, let's dive in and find the cooler that will elevate your camping experience to the next level.

Honorable Mentions

The following coolers did not make it to our final list, but they are still highly popular with many great features. Who knows, one of these coolers might be the perfect fit for you:

We own and use all of the gear we recommend.We personally use and own all of the gear we recommend.

Best Overall: RovR RollR

ROVR RollR cooler sits open on a dock.Why It Made the Cut

The RovR RollR emerged as the top performer in our ice retention test. It is easy to maneuver and comes with additional features, such as a bike attachment, which are particularly appealing for adventurous campers.

Key Features

  • Capacity: 60 quarts (claimed), 52 (measured); 45-quart and 80-quart capacity also available
  • Dimensions: 26.5 x 20 x 21 inches (exterior); 19.5 x 10.5 x 12 inches (interior)
  • Weight: 49.5 pounds
  • IGBC-certified (bear-proof locks sold separately)


  • Best-in-class ice retention
  • Easy portability with wheels
  • Excellent drainage


  • Comparatively expensive
  • Interior volume does not match manufacturer-provided measurements

Product Description

The RovR RollR is undeniably eye-catching with its bulky 9-inch wheels, roller handle, and convenient pop-top storage bin. However, its performance in our ice retention test was exceptional, lasting almost two days with just one bag of ice.

This cooler is especially suitable for rugged terrain adventures. The large wheels make it easier to navigate rooty trails, despite its heavy weight. The sitting pad on top of the cooler can be converted into a storage bin for additional items. For those venturing further, there is an attachment available to connect the cooler to a bike.

The interior design of this cooler is unique, with the wheels creating a step-down shelf. While it may seem odd at first, it becomes clear that this design ensures efficient packing and prevents food from becoming soggy in melted ice. The cooler also comes with a vertical basket, which helps in storing food and preventing items from sliding around.

The main drawback of the RovR RollR is its price, being the most expensive option in our test. Additionally, the interior volume does not match the claimed 60 quarts. Some users may find the rubber latches and drainage initially difficult, but with proper adjustment, these issues can be managed.

If you are willing to invest in an upgraded camping experience, the RovR RollR is an excellent choice.

Best for Smaller Cars: Stanley Adventure Cold for Days

The Stanley Adventure for Days cooler drains on a dock.Why It Made the Cut

This mid-sized cooler has excellent ice retention and is the perfect size for smaller cars, allowing for days of road trips.

Key Features

  • Capacity: 30 quarts
  • Dimensions: 21.5 x 18.5 x 15.5 inches (exterior); 13 x 11 x 12 inches (interior)
  • Weight: 13.6 pounds
  • Not IGBC-certified


  • Affordable price
  • Streamlined design suitable for smaller cars


  • Limited storage space for longer adventures

Product Description

If you primarily use a sedan for camping trips, a three-foot long cooler with the capacity to feed a large family for a week is unnecessary. The Stanley Adventure Cold for Days is the ideal size for a weekend trip, providing ample room for snacks and beverages. Even a longer getaway for two people can be accommodated with this cooler.

During our ice retention test, the Stanley Adventure Cold for Days performed admirably, ranking second overall. Despite not being rotomolded like some high-end coolers, it showcased several impressive features. The click latching system and waterproof drainage port cap were easy to use, making it a convenient option.

Moreover, this cooler is significantly more affordable compared to others in our test, offering great value for its size. It is an excellent choice for beginners or those looking to upgrade without breaking the bank.

Best Features: YETI Wheeled Roadie

YETI Roadie sits open on dock.Why It Made the Cut

The YETI Wheeled Roadie not only boasts good ice retention but also stands out for its ease of use with features like a telescopic handle, durable wheels, a simple latching mechanism, and a quality drain plug.

Key Features

  • Capacity: 48 quarts (20-quart and 60-quart capacity also available)
  • Dimensions: 20 x 20 x 20.5 inches (exterior); 14.5 x 11.5 x 15.5 inches (interior)
  • Weight: 25.8 pounds
  • Not IGBC-certified


  • Efficient ice retention
  • Easy to maneuver
  • Excellent latching mechanism and drainage ports


Product Description

Moving a high-quality cooler can be a hassle, no matter the lifting technique. However, the YETI Wheeled Roadie looks more like a roller bag than a typical cooler. Its maneuverability is akin to the former, thanks to the telescopic handle that extends up to an impressive 3.5 feet, providing comfortable handling for people of varying heights. The durable, large wheels are a significant improvement over traditional suitcase wheels, making maneuvering this cooler a breeze.

The YETI Wheeled Roadie fared well in our ice retention test, lasting two nights and showcasing a snap-latch design that is easier to use compared to rubber latches found on other coolers. The drainage port is also waterproof and easy to operate.

Another notable feature is the inclusion of a basket for storing delicate items above the icy water, with the option to add an additional basket and divider for better organization. YETI even provides a guide on how to pack the cooler efficiently for optimal ice retention. If ease of use is a top priority, the YETI Wheeled Roadie is an ideal choice.

Best Value: RTIC Hard Cooler

RTIC cooler sitting on a dock.Why It Made the Cut

The RTIC Hard Cooler, the largest in our test, offers excellent ice retention and maximizes interior space, all at an affordable price.

Key Features

  • Capacity: 65 quarts (45-quart capacity also available)
  • Dimensions: 32 x 17 x 18.5 inches (exterior); 26 x 12 x 13 inches (interior)
  • Weight: 36 pounds
  • Not IGBC-certified


  • Affordable price
  • Spacious interior suitable for larger groups
  • Optimal interior volume to exterior volume ratio


  • No tray insert
  • Width can make it difficult for one person to move

Product Description

If you simply need a large box to keep your provisions chilled without any additional features, then the RTIC Hard Cooler is the perfect option. Its rectangular design maximizes interior space, and the rubber T-latches with rope and foam handles make transportation hassle-free. While it may be challenging for a single person to move due to its length, it is still manageable with assistance.

During our ice retention test, the RTIC Hard Cooler performed admirably, keeping ice for an impressive amount of time, making it suitable for most camping trips. It also boasts the best interior volume to exterior volume ratio among the coolers in our test, compensating for any loss of insulation. Although it does not come with a tray insert, RTIC offers separate cooler baskets, dividers, and seat cushions for added convenience.

For those prioritizing a large cooler at an affordable price, the RTIC Hard Cooler is an excellent value.

Best Water Resistance: ORCA Cooler

ORCA cooler sits slightly ajar on dock.Why It Made the Cut

The ORCA Cooler stands out with its exceptional water resistance. It retains water inside the cooler, even when tipped in different directions.

Key Features

  • Capacity: 58 quarts (20-quart, 26-quart, 40-quart, and 140-quart capacity also available)
  • Dimensions: 27 x 19.5 x 19.5 inches (exterior); 20 x 13.5 x 13 inches (interior)
  • Weight: 36 pounds
  • IGBC-certified (locks sold separately)


  • Extremely water-resistant
  • Wide variety of sizes available


Product Description

When I first tried to open the ORCA Cooler, I struggled as it seemed to be stuck. However, after unscrewing the drainage port, the cooler released a burst of pressurized air, illustrating its remarkable ability to hold pressure.

Even when filled with room temperature water, this cooler exhibited exceptional water resistance. During our waterproofness test, the sides and back of the cooler effectively contained the water, with only a small dribble escaping from the front. When filled with ice, the cooler becomes entirely waterproof, thanks to the pressure created inside. The latches, although slightly challenging to use, contribute to this impressive water-resistance. If you plan to use your cooler on a boat or in wet conditions, the ORCA Cooler is the perfect choice.

Best Budget: Dometic Patrol

Dometic Patrol cooler sits open on dock.Why It Made the Cut

The Dometic Patrol offers effective ice retention at a budget-friendly price, making it a compelling option for those looking to upgrade without spending a fortune.

Key Features

  • Capacity: 55 quarts (20-quart, 35-quart, and 105-quart capacity also available)
  • Dimensions: 30 x 19 x 10 inches (exterior); 22.5 x 11 x 13.5 inches (interior)
  • Weight: 33 pounds
  • Not IGBC-certified


  • Excellent value
  • Easy-to-use latches


Product Description

The Dometic Patrol shares many qualities with the RTIC Hard Cooler, featuring a simple design and effective ice retention. While its exterior-to-interior size ratio may not be as impressive as the RTIC, its affordability is a pleasant surprise given Dometic's reputation for producing high-end and high-tech overlanding gear.

The cooler comes with a generously-sized basket, capable of storing delicate perishables above the ice. While it does not include a tray insert, Dometic offers separate baskets, dividers, and seat cushions for added convenience.

Despite its affordable price, the Dometic Patrol performed well in our ice retention test and provides great value. If you want to upgrade your cooler while staying within budget, this cooler is an excellent choice.

Factors to Consider Before Purchasing Camping Coolers


After conducting tests, we found that there was a minimal connection between the size of a cooler and the time it took for ice to melt. In terms of performance, the quality of the cooler itself is what matters most. Therefore, if space is not an issue for you, it is recommended to choose the largest cooler that meets your needs. However, if space is a concern when traveling, it would be beneficial to pair a larger camping cooler with one of the top small coolers available to maximize versatility.

IGBC Certification

For individuals planning to leave their cooler outside in areas where black bears or grizzly bears are present, it is crucial to select a cooler that has been certified by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC). The committee collaborates with the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center to certify coolers, bear canisters, and trash cans using live bears to test their bear resistance. When using an IGBC-certified cooler outdoors, whether overnight or during a day hike, it is important to lock the cooler as the rubber latches alone are not designed to deter bears.

Latching System

During our testing, we observed a significant variation in the latching systems among the coolers. Some were easy to use, while others required substantial force. However, we did not find any correlation between the complexity of the latching system and improved ice retention or resistance to unwanted access from animals such as bears. The best camping coolers feature an easy-to-use latching system that ensures consistent and secure closure for optimal cooling.

The Top Camping Coolers: Reviews & Recommendations

Camping has gained popularity in recent times due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the desire to engage in outdoor activities while avoiding crowds. As a result, there has been an increased interest in camping gear, particularly tents and water filters. Many individuals are discovering or rediscovering the benefits of spending time in nature, also known as "nature therapy." While there are numerous high-tech camping gadgets available, camping coolers remain relatively low-tech. Nonetheless, manufacturers have invested significant effort in developing materials that provide efficient insulation while maintaining portability. When selecting a camping cooler, it is important to strike the right balance between size, capacity, and portability to meet specific needs. The coolers listed below are available in multiple sizes to cater to various requirements.

Best Overall: RTIC Ultra-Light Quart Hard Cooler

RTIC Ultra-Light Quart Hard Cooler Specifications:

  • Size: 27.01 x 17.28 x 16.54 inches
  • Weight: 13.4 pounds
  • Capacity: 54 Qt.
  • Style: Hardshell
  • Materials: Closed-cell foam
  • Price: $219.99
  • Excellent weight to capacity ratio
  • Three inches of insulation
  • Affordable price
  • No separate built-in compartments
If there is one camping cooler that we would recommend for everyone, it is the RTIC Ultra-Light Quart Hard Cooler. This cooler has been meticulously designed and engineered, showcasing outstanding craftsmanship and performance. With a capacity of 52 quarts, it can accommodate up to 60 pounds of ice or 70 cans without ice, making it perfect for a two-day camping trip. Despite its generous insulation of three inches of closed-cell foam, it weighs significantly less than its competitors, making transportation hassle-free. Additional features, such as secure T-latches, non-skid rubber feet, marine-grade nylon rope handles, and the option to include a divider for separating food and drinks, enhance its appeal. With six color options available, there is a cooler to match everyone's preferences. The only minor drawback is the absence of an included divider, but this can be purchased separately for a nominal cost. For those seeking a large, lightweight, and reasonably priced cooler, the RTIC Ultra-Light Quart Hard Cooler is an excellent choice.

Best Electric: GOSun Chill Cooler

GOsun Chill Cooler Specifications:

  • Size: 23.5 x 16 x 19 inches
  • Weight: 30 pounds
  • Capacity: 42 Qt.
  • Style: Hardshell
  • Materials: Close cell polyurethane foam
  • Price: 9
  • Built-in compressor for iceless cooling
  • Solar power compatibility
  • Separate compartments for fridge and freezer items
  • Requires charging
  • Higher price point
The GOSun Chill Cooler stands out as the top choice for those seeking an electric cooler. It boasts a built-in refrigeration system that maintains a pre-set temperature range from -4 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit without the need for ice. This innovative technology ensures that the cooler's contents remain cold, making it ideal for camping trips. The cooler is equipped with a touch panel on top, complete with USB-A ports and a DC cigarette lighter for charging devices on the go. While the cooler does need to be charged, GOsun has addressed this concern by allowing compatibility with external battery packs or their Outdoor Solar Table for off-the-grid camping during sunny summer days. The GOSun Chill Cooler's exceptional cooling capabilities and high-tech design make it a standout option among electric coolers.

Best with Wheels: YETI Roadie 60

YETI Roadie 60 Specifications:

  • Size: 23.7 x 19.9 x 20.5 inches
  • Weight: 29 pounds
  • Capacity: 63 Qt.
  • Style: Hardshell
  • Materials: Polyurethane
  • Price: $500
  • Exceptional durability
  • Highly portable
  • Convenient periscoping handle
  • No major drawbacks
YETI is renowned for producing top-quality coolers, and this holds true for their wheeled version, the YETI Roadie 60. With a generous capacity of 63 quarts, it is one of the largest coolers available. Despite its impressive size, the Roadie 60 remains highly portable and easy to transport. YETI's attention to durability ensures that their coolers are bear-proof, thanks to their insulation and well-constructed latches. The single-piece tires used in the Roadie 60 can withstand rugged terrains, making it suitable for various outdoor activities. The cooler's design also emphasizes portability, with a telescoping handle that reaches a comfortable height for maneuverability and collapses out of sight when not needed. Although the Roadie 60 comes with a higher price tag, its exceptional quality and portability justify the investment.

Best Large Cooler: Driftsun 75 Quart Insulated Cooler

Driftsun 75 Quart Insulated Cooler Specifications:

  • Size: 33.5 x 18.5 x 18 inches
  • Weight: 32 pounds
  • Capacity: 75 Qt.
  • Style: Hardshell
  • Materials: Rotomolded thermoplastic
  • Price: $249.99
  • Superior ice retention
  • Spacious capacity
  • Built-in bottle opener
  • Extra weight due to larger size
The Driftsun 75 Quart Insulated Cooler is the perfect choice for individuals in need of a high-capacity camping cooler. With its impressive 75-quart capacity, this cooler can comfortably hold numerous cans with ample space for ice. Driftsun takes pride in the cooler's insulation, claiming it can keep ice solid for up to 10 days. The cooler's locking latches ensure a secure closure, contributing to its exceptional performance. Despite its size, the Driftsun cooler is relatively lightweight compared to other large models on the market. Portability was a significant factor in selecting coolers in this category, and the Driftsun meets the criteria without sacrificing capacity. Additional features, such as a built-in bottle opener, enhance the overall user experience. The Driftsun 75 Quart Insulated Cooler is an excellent choice for extended trips or gatherings with larger groups, providing ample space, robust ice retention, and an affordable price.

Best Soft Cooler: Hydro Flask 26L Day Escape Soft Cooler

Hydro Flask 26L Day Escape Soft Cooler Specifications:

  • Size: 14.5 x 14.5 x 10.3 inches
  • Weight: 3.2 pounds
  • Capacity: 27 Qt.
  • Style: Softshell
  • Materials: Polyester
  • Price: $179.95
  • Lightweight
  • Relatively spacious
  • Straps and handles for easy carrying
  • Lower storage capacity compared to hardshell coolers
The Hydro Flask 26L Day Escape Soft Cooler is the ideal choice for those embarking on a one-night camping trip with two or three people. This soft cooler is incredibly lightweight, weighing just 3.2 pounds, while its insulation allows contents to remain cold for up to 27 hours. Despite its smaller size, the cooler's thoughtful design includes side handles and a strap, making it easy to carry for multiple individuals. The strap can be detached and reattached to allow for crossbody carrying. The Hydro Flask soft cooler also boasts a durable zipper, which prevents warm air from entering or liquids from leaking. If you anticipate short and sweet camping trips where mobility and minimalism are key, the Hydro Flask 26L Day Escape Soft Cooler is an excellent choice.

Best Budget Option: Coleman Xtreme Portable Cooler

Coleman Xtreme Portable Cooler Specifications:

  • Size: 28.25 x 15.75 x 18.25 inches
  • Weight: 12.3 pounds
  • Capacity: 70 Qt.
  • Style: Hardshell
  • Materials: Plastic (with Xtreme® technology)
  • Price: .99
  • Generous capacity
  • Built-in cup holders and seating
  • Affordable price
  • No latches to keep the lid closed
The Coleman Xtreme Portable Cooler may lack some of the advanced features found in other models, but it offers unbeatable value for a full-sized hard cooler. With a capacity of 70 quarts, this cooler can accommodate large quantities of food and beverages. Remarkably, despite its spacious interior, it weighs just under 12.5 pounds, making it the lightest camping cooler in its class. The cooler's favorable capacity-to-weight ratio, coupled with its affordable price, makes it an exceptional choice. Coleman claims that the Xtreme Portable Cooler can keep its contents cold for up to five days, although the absence of latches to secure the lid is a minor drawback. The cooler includes practical features like four cup holders on top and the ability to be used as a seat or work surface with a weight limit of 250 pounds. While the cup holders do reduce insulation, these trade-offs are easily overlooked considering the cooler's affordability and versatility. The Coleman Xtreme Portable Cooler is the perfect option for budget-conscious campers who prioritize functionality and value.

Other coolers that have been tested

These coolers have been thoroughly tested among the dozens that we have evaluated in recent years. Below is a comprehensive list with brief insights for each:

  • Lifewit Collapsible Cooler Bag 24L (25 quarts): This soft-sided cooler, although popular on Amazon, did not perform well in terms of keeping its contents cool during testing.
  • Tourit Cooler Backpack (20 quarts): Another popular find on Amazon, this backpack-style cooler did not excel in terms of cooling performance. However, it does offer a stylish design and includes a connected metal bottle opener.
  • OlarHike Cooler Backpack (23 quarts): Similar to the Tourit model, this cooler backpack may not be visually appealing but offers slightly more storage capacity.
  • Amazon Commercial Rotomolded Cooler, 20qt (20 quarts): Amazon's line of roto-molded coolers performs better than most, thanks to its exceptional cooler latching designs. However, it does not secure a top-ranking position. (Update: Currently out of stock.)
  • Camp Zero 20L Premium Cooler (21 quarts): This cooler offers average performance and comes with neat color options and four molded-in cup holders on the lid. However, accessing the contents may be challenging due to its design.
  • Frosted Frog 20qt Rotomolded Ice Chest (20 quarts): This brand was requested for review by multiple CNET readers and has garnered positive feedback. While it didn't top the rankings, it performed excellently.
  • Klein Tools Work Cooler (17 quarts): Although not the best traditional cooler in terms of performance, it may still be suitable for keeping your lunch cool due to its sturdy construction.
  • Igloo Playmate Cooler 4qt (4 quarts): This cooler has a small capacity and can only offer limited performance. However, it is also one of the most affordable options.
  • Orca Light Blue 40 Quart Cooler (40 quarts): This cooler falls within the median range of performance for its category. However, it is relatively expensive compared to others.
  • Igloo BMX 52 Quart Cooler (52 quarts): This cooler has an aesthetically pleasing design but delivered the worst performance among midsize coolers. However, it is the most affordable option in the category.
  • KENAI 65 Quart Cooler (65 quarts): This cooler boasts a classic design and offers various color options. While its performance is average, it still delivers satisfactory results.
  • Frosted Frog 75QT Cooler (75 quarts): Similar to the other Frosted Frog model tested, this cooler offers reasonable pricing and excellent performance.
  • Bison Gen 2 Cooler (50 quarts): This cooler comes with a higher price tag but delivers the coldest temperature in its category. However, it falls short in terms of maintaining that temperature for an extended period.
  • Cabela's Polar Cap Equalizer Cooler (60 quarts): This cooler is one of the most expensive options on the list but has previously held the title for "best large cooler."
  • Yeti Tundra 45 Cooler (33 quarts): This small cooler is capable of reaching the lowest temperature among its counterparts. However, its higher price point prevents it from being our top pick.
  • Rubbermaid Ice Chest Cooler (48 quarts): This midsized cooler performs poorly in temperature tests. (Update: Temporarily out of stock.)
  • Coleman Xtreme Marine Cooler (70 quarts): This cooler offers a large capacity at an affordable price, making it a solid choice for consumers.
  • Coleman Xtreme Wheeled Cooler (50 quarts): Despite its poor performance in tests, this cooler offers an affordable price point. (Update: Temporarily out of stock.)
  • Rovr Rollr 60 Wheeled Cooler (60 quarts): This cooler performs well in maintaining temperature, but it may not be as cold as its competitors. It is also the most expensive option we have tested. (Update: Currently unavailable.)
  • Lifetime High Performance Cooler (55 quarts): This cooler offers excellent performance for a midsized option and is considered a good deal at just over $100.
  • Orca Classic Cooler (58 quarts): Formerly awarded as the best midsized cooler, this option comes at a high price point.
  • Pelican Elite Cooler (50 quarts): This cooler achieves colder temperatures compared to most others. However, it may not maintain that temperature for long durations.
  • Yeti Roadie 24 Cooler (20 quarts): This cooler delivers average performance, maintaining a consistent temperature once it is reached.
  • Yeti Hopper Backflip 24 Insulated Backpack Cooler (22 quarts): Although this cooler is in the form of a backpack, other coolers in the market offer better overall performance.
  • Coleman Portable Cooler (16 quarts): This cooler is one of the most affordable options but may not retain the desired temperature for an extended period. (Update: Temporarily out of stock.)
  • Pelican 20 Quart Elite Cooler (20 quarts): This cooler does not perform as well compared to other competitors in the market.
  • Coleman 24-Can Party Stacker Portable Cooler (23 quarts): While this cooler can reach very cold temperatures, it does not retain that temperature for an extended duration. It is relatively affordable, priced at $30.
  • Rubbermaid 45qt Blue Wheeled Cooler (45 quarts): This cooler performs at a median level among its competitors but offers the convenience of wheels. (Update: Temporarily out of stock.)
  • Xspec 60 Quart Roto Molded High Performance Cooler (60 quarts): This cooler is one of the best options we have tested, earning it the title of "best overall cooler." With excellent features and performance, it comes with a higher price tag of $270.
  • Igloo Trailmate Journey 70qt All-Terrain Cooler (70 quarts): This cooler offers a wide range of features and delivers excellent performance. Its price falls slightly above average.

Capacity considerations

Before discussing performance, it is essential to consider the capacity of each cooler. Although certain ice chest sizes, such as 50-quart options, are more popular, there is significant variation in size and shape among coolers. Size and shape not only impact the number of cans a cooler can hold but also have implications for its overall performance. For instance, a 75-quart cooler, like the Frosted Frog model, has a larger task at hand compared to a 45-quart RTIC when it comes to preserving ice.

To accurately evaluate performance while accounting for size differences, precise measurements of each cooler's capacity were necessary. Manufacturer capacity claims were put to the test, and a more universal metric was sought beyond simply counting the number of cans that could fit into each cooler.

cooler full of waterThe Lifetime High Performance Cooler was filled with 62.4 quarts of water, which did not cause the cooler to overflow when the lid was shut. This reflects an increase of 13.5% compared to the advertised capacity.

To accurately gauge capacity, all coolers were filled with water up to the point of water overflow when the lid was closed. The exact number of quarts each cooler could hold was then measured. This information is vital when dealing with significant amounts of melted ice. In general, smaller and more affordable models were conservative in their capacity estimates. Coolers like the Coleman Xtreme and the Igloo Latitude wheeled coolers actually had larger sizes than advertised.

On the other hand, more expensive options did not live up to their claimed capacity. For example, the $400 Rollr wheeled cooler from Rovr is advertised as 60 quarts, but it could only hold 52.8 quarts of water when measured. The $219 RTIC also fell short of expectations, with a capacity of only 39.6 quarts instead of the specified 45 quarts.

In contrast, the 55-quart Lifetime High Performance Cooler exceeded expectations with a measured capacity of 62.4 quarts. While it did not retain ice as well as the RTIC, it still performed exceptionally. The Yeti Hopper Backflip 24, a soft-sided backpack cooler, had the most understated volume among all the coolers tested. Its claimed space for 20 12-ounce cans (at a 2:1 ice-to-can ratio) amounted to a total of 22.5 quarts. However, the internal volume of the soft-sided cooler was actually 26.42 quarts, which is approximately 117% of the stated volume (equivalent to an extra six-pack compared to other 20-quart coolers). The worst offender in terms of capacity was the Tourit Backpack Cooler, which only provided 65% of its claimed 30-quart capacity.

Ice Retention

One of the most important factors to consider when shopping for a cooler is its ability to retain ice. This refers to how long the cooler can keep a full load of ice frozen, as melted ice is not as effective at keeping drinks cold. Many new and expensive coolers pride themselves on excelling in this test, with roto-molded coolers specifically designed to perform well and justify their high price tags.

While ice retention tests are useful, I felt that they alone couldn't provide a comprehensive picture of a cooler's performance. Simply measuring how long the ice stays frozen neglects other important factors. I wanted to assess performance not only after days of use but also after hours, before any ice had even melted.

To achieve this, I modified the ice retention test. Instead of using a full load of ice, I used an amount equivalent to 10% of each cooler's total volume. This reduced the amount of ice and posed a greater challenge for the coolers, allowing for a more detailed comparison of their performance.

To track the ambient temperature inside each cooler, I placed the ice in each one beneath an elevated jar containing a solution of propylene glycol (watered-down antifreeze) with a temperature probe. By elevating the jar, I ensured that the temperature at the bottom of the ice was consistent across all the coolers, making ice retention the main variable. Monitoring the ambient temperature above the ice provided additional insights and variables to consider.

small-cooler-capacity-comparison.png 9 more See all photos

It's worth noting that I conducted all these tests in one of our appliance lab's climate-controlled test chambers. To ensure consistent starting temperatures for all the coolers, I let each one sit open in the room for several hours beforehand, simulating room temperature conditions (around 80 degrees Fahrenheit) that would be typical during outdoor summer activities.

The results of the test were enlightening. After 48 hours (72 hours for the largest coolers), I had a detailed graph showing the temperature inside each cooler on a minute-by-minute basis. The differences in temperature between the coolers were significant. To make the data more manageable, I divided the coolers into different size categories, separating soft-sided coolers into their own category. This created three categories: small coolers (less than 40 quarts), midsize coolers (40-59 quarts), and large coolers (60 quarts or more).

Mobility and Durability

During the testing process, I also paid attention to the design and features of each cooler and looked out for any durability concerns. For instance, I found the lid of the Igloo Latitude wheeled cooler to be unimpressive. It lacks a locking mechanism, and the plastic nub hinges are flimsy. A slight tug can easily detach the entire lid, and the cheap plastic wheels didn't leave a good impression either, especially for camping purposes.

On the other hand, the Rovr Rollr wheeled cooler fared much better. It boasts a rugged design with heavy-duty wheels, a sturdy steel handlebar, and an optional $50 accessory that allows for towing behind a bike. I appreciated the interior divider, which makes it easy to separate items that shouldn't get wet from the ice, and the ability to customize the interior with different liner designs. My only minor complaint is that the T-shaped handlebar lacks rubber grips in the middle, where it's most comfortable to hold when carrying with one hand.

Igloo cooler openI couldn't capture all the impressive features of the Igloo Trailmate cooler in one photo. 

Steve Conaway/CNET When it comes to wheeled coolers, the Igloo Journey Trailmate 70qt All-Terrain cooler stands out with its abundance of extras and features. While it may not be as durable as the Rovr for certain activities, it serves a different purpose. If I were heading into the woods for a weekend with friends, I would unquestionably choose the Rovr. However, if I were going to the beach with my family for a day, the Igloo would be my preferred option.

For those who frequently camp in areas with bears, it's worth investing in a bear-resistant cooler. The Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee maintains a list of certified options, which includes several coolers from the selection I tested, such as those from Cabela's, Orca, Rovr, Magellan Outdoors, and Yeti.

Additionally, it's important to consider whether a cooler is sturdy enough to double as a seat, particularly for camping trips. Most of the coolers I tested were suitable for sitting on, but some went above and beyond. For example, the Bison Gen 2 Cooler is advertised as an ideal casting platform for fishing trips and even offers nonslip traction mats for the lid in various designs. While the Bison cooler felt premium in terms of build quality, it didn't retain cold air as effectively or as long as other roto-molded models, and it comes with a higher price tag compared to our most affordable roto-molded pick, the Xspec 60qt High Performance cooler.

Latches and Lids

cooler latchThe Magellan Outdoors model features four hinge latches, two on either side, so you can open the cooler from either side or remove the lid completely.

Steve Conaway/CNET Now let's dive deeper into hinges and latches. Some coolers have good ones, others have bad ones, and some don't have them at all. Coolers with removable lids tend to be more affordable, and their performance may not be top-tier, with a few exceptions. Magellan Outdoors, for instance, offers coolers with double-latching, double-hinged removable lids, which have earned our top recommendations for both small and large coolers. The easy-to-use design allows for opening the cooler from either side, and if desired, the latches on both sides can be disengaged to remove the lid entirely.

In contrast, most newer cooler designs, such as those from Yeti, RTIC, Orca, Cabela's, and Frosted Frog, feature rubber T-shaped handles that require stretching to secure the lid. These handles can be difficult to pull down, even for adults. I asked three other adults to secure these handles, and out of the four of us, two succeeded, one failed, and the final person only managed after a significant struggle. While performance is crucial, design also matters, and sometimes it can make or break a cooler.

I understand that a rubber bungee-style latching mechanism may be cost-effective and low-maintenance for manufacturers. With fewer moving parts and the flexibility of rubber, it's an efficient choice. However, I've come across a latching mechanism that strikes a good balance between rubber latches and the Magellan Outdoors design. It's present in products like the Xspec 60qt cooler, Amazon's Commercial 20qt cooler, and the Lifetime 55qt high-performance cooler. These latches feature rubber straps for securing the lid, but at the end of each strap is a plastic handle that can be leveraged against the mounting point to achieve a secure fit. This design is an improvement over rubber T handles, although Magellan Outdoors still has my vote for the best latching mechanism.

a blue backpack coolerOur first soft-sided and backpack cooler didn't perform the best, but it is durable and a great option for hikers and campers alike.

Steve Conaway/CNET The Yeti Hopper Backflip 24 was the first backpack-style cooler we tested, and while its overall performance wasn't outstanding, it had some notable features. First and foremost, it can be worn as a backpack, offering the convenience of having free hands while carrying gear to the beach or during a hiking trip. It also has numerous straps and hitching points, making it versatile for securing additional items. As a soft-sided cooler, it lacks latches and instead relies on a zipper. The zipper claims to be both water- and leakproof, which we put to the test during our capacity evaluations. We filled the cooler with water, closed it, and sloshed it around without any spills, proving its effectiveness at preventing leaks. Our previous top choice for best soft-sided cooler, the Magellan Outdoors model, features a similar zipper setup.

Final Thoughts

It's not surprising that certain brands have built a reputation for producing high-performing coolers. Yeti, for example, is often associated with excellent performance, but it also comes with a higher price tag compared to competitors. I recommend keeping an eye on other reputable brands that offer more affordable options. Magellan Outdoors, Frosted Frog, RTIC, and even Amazon Commercial have noteworthy products across their ranges, based on my observations.

Lastly, I find it curious that high-end coolers haven't made a bigger effort to distinguish themselves with innovative bonus features, such as built-in batteries for device charging during outdoor activities or even solar panels. If you're hoping for such features, crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo may be worth exploring. However, I urge caution and skepticism when backing such campaigns with your hard-earned money. Some of these projects, like the Coolest Cooler and the Infinite Cooler, have gained infamy due to production delays and unhappy customers. Reading through the comments on campaigns like the Infinite Cooler's Indiegogo page reveals the dissatisfaction experienced by backers. It's important to exercise caution and stick with reliable, traditional coolers like the ones I have recommended above.

In conclusion, finding the best cooler for camping can make all the difference in keeping your food and beverages fresh and cold during your outdoor adventures. With options like the durable and feature-packed RovR RollR, the compact and car-friendly Stanley Adventure Cold for Days, the versatile and water-resistant ORCA Cooler, and the budget-friendly Dometic Patrol, there is a cooler to suit every camper's needs. Whether you prioritize ice retention, portability, or value for money, these top picks will ensure that you have a reliable and dependable cooler to accompany you on your camping trips. So go ahead, invest in one of these top-rated coolers and enjoy your next camping trip with perfectly chilled treats and beverages.

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