The Ultimate Guide to Finding the Best Cooler for Hiking Adventures
Are you ready to take your outdoor adventures to the next level? Look no further than our guide to the best coolers of 2023! Whether you're planning a day trip, a hike, or simply need a budget-friendly option, we've got you covered. In this article, we'll dive into the top choices for every occasion, including the best cooler for hiking adventures. But that's not all – we'll also share expert tips on how to properly pack a cooler for maximum performance and the critical considerations you need to keep in mind. Get ready to revolutionize your outdoor experience with the coolest gear on the market!
Best Coolers of 2023
When it comes to enjoying tasty food and cold drinks in the great outdoors, having a high-quality cooler is essential. With so many options available, it can be overwhelming to choose the right one. But don't worry! We've done the hard work for you.
We've gathered some of the most highly praised coolers on the market and put them to the test to determine which ones are truly the best.
Coleman Xtreme 70 Quart is an excellent performer at an affordable price.
DURABILITY - If you frequently put your gear through tough conditions, it's worth investing in a rugged cooler that can withstand it all. Our top picks for durability are sturdy enough to handle even a grizzly bear's attack.
The YETI Tundra 65 is a bit heavy, but it's one of the toughest and best-insulated coolers available.
YETI Hopper Coolers are durable, easy to carry, and perfect for day trips.
VOLUME - Coolers with thick walls provide excellent insulation, but they also have less space for storing items. If you want a cooler that can hold plenty of ice, food, and drinks without needing a larger size, a lightweight cooler with average insulation may be the best choice.
The Rovr Rollr 60 Cooler is built tough, provides long-lasting cold storage, but has less interior space.
BEST COOLER OVERALL FOR VALUE & PERFORMANCE
EMPTY WEIGHT: 13.4 lbs.
VOLUME (liters): 66.2 L
SIZES: 50, 62, 70, 100-quart with wheels
PROS: Affordable, lightweight, spacious interior, remains icy for up to five days
CONS: No latch for secure closure, not as durable as some brands
BOTTOM LINE: You don't need to spend a fortune to get an excellent cooler. The Coleman Xtreme 70 Quart performs exceptionally well in keeping items cold for multiple days, rivaling more expensive brands. We find ourselves using it the most due to its lightweight design, maneuverability, and ample interior space. While it may not be as rugged as high-end coolers, it fulfills our needs for most trips without being excessive, making it an incredible value.
SPACIOUS & STYLISH COOLER WITH A VALUE PRICE
EMPTY WEIGHT: 15 lbs. 11 oz.
VOLUME (liters): 51.1 L
PROS: Durable, lightweight, generous interior space
CONS: Less insulation compared to some, exterior can become hot in sunlight
BOTTOM LINE: Add a touch of style to your outdoor adventures with the retro Coleman Steel-Belted Cooler. Its classic metal exterior offers timeless appeal and reliable durability. Use it as a seat, side table, or step stool at the campsite. This cooler is ideal for weekend trips, offering plenty of room for ice, food, and drinks without being overly bulky or difficult to transport. It's a fantastic value for the money, ensuring a charming companion for your camping escapades. For a modern matte finish and a built-in bottle opener, consider the Reunion Steel-Belted Cooler.
BEST INSULATED COOLER FOR THE PRICE
EMPTY WEIGHT: 36.5 lbs.
VOLUME (liters): 49.2 L
SIZES: 20, 45, 65, 110, 145-quart
PROS: Retains ice for up to 10 days, durable, certified bear-resistant
CONS: Heavy, reduced interior space due to thick insulation
BOTTOM LINE: If you're looking for improved performance and durability without breaking the bank, the RTIC 65 is an outstanding choice. It's one of the most affordable roto-molded (super insulated) coolers available and performs just as well as pricier brands. With its toughness and ability to keep ice frozen for over a week, the RTIC 65 strikes a fantastic balance between cost and quality. It's the practical solution for keeping your food, especially meat and fish, reliably cold on extended trips.
BEST SOFT COOLER
EMPTY WEIGHT: 3.4 lbs.
VOLUME (liters): 12 L
SIZES: 8 L, 12 L, 18 L
PROS: Durable, excellent ice retention, portable
BOTTOM LINE: For those with an active lifestyle, the portable YETI Hopper Flip soft cooler is a must-have gear. It combines impressive ice retention and rugged durability, making it suitable for various activities such as camping and BBQs. The Hopper keeps your items ice-cold throughout the day, even under the sun. It also performs exceptionally well on multi-day trips and fits perfectly in the car's backseat for easy accessibility. Although the Hopper comes with a higher price tag, it's a worthwhile investment for its superior quality and longevity.
BEST WATERPROOF BACKPACK COOLER
EMPTY WEIGHT: 7.5 lbs.
VOLUME (liters): 30 L
SIZES: IceMule Pro, IceMule Classic, and IceMule Jaunt (lighter and smaller with backpack straps)
PROS: Easy to carry, retains ice for up to three days, durable, waterproof, floats, doubles as a dry bag, pockets and gear loops
BOTTOM LINE: The IceMule BOSS is the ultimate choice for water-based activities such as rafting, kayaking, fishing, and paddleboarding. It features comfortable and well-padded backpack straps and a hipbelt, ensuring easy carrying. With its impressive ice retention and 100% waterproof construction, the BOSS can even float if accidentally submerged. Furthermore, it doubles as a dry bag, offering extra storage for your valuables. The BOSS is a highly durable and top-quality backpack cooler that will last through countless adventures.
DURABLE & WELL-INSULATED COOLER FOR LONG TRIPS
EMPTY WEIGHT: 29 lbs.
VOLUME (liters): 57.6 L
SIZES: YETI Roadie (24), 35, 45, 65, Haul (with wheels), 75, 105, 110, 125, 160
PROS: Retains ice for up to 10 days, durable, certified bear-resistant, includes a dry goods basket
CONS: Expensive, heavy, less interior space due to thick insulation
BOTTOM LINE: The YETI Tundra 65 is widely recognized for its outstanding performance. Its superior insulation ensures ice remains frozen during long trips. Additionally, the Tundra is exceptionally durable, capable of withstanding rough treatment without denting or damaging its hardware. While it may be challenging to carry due to its weight, its durability and ice retention capabilities are unmatched. The Tundra is an attractive and well-crafted cooler that can handle even the harshest conditions.
BUDGET SOFT COOLER FOR DAY TRIPS
EMPTY WEIGHT: 1.6 lb.
VOLUME (liters): 32.2 L
SIZES: 6, 12, and 24 - cans
PROS: Affordable, lightweight, easy to carry, convertible, space-saving, pocket and gear loops
CONS: Less insulated than some, potential zipper leakage
BOTTOM LINE: For lunches, day trips, and potlucks, our top choice is the REI Packaway 24 Soft Cooler. It can be converted from a tote to a cube-shaped bag with just two buckles, and it folds flat when not in use for convenient storage. While it may not retain ice as well as some other coolers, its lightweight design and easy portability make it a frequently used option. Due to its affordability and versatility, we own multiple sizes of the Packaway Cooler and are delighted with each one.
BEST VALUE SOFT COOLER
EMPTY WEIGHT: 2 lbs. 8.3 oz.
VOLUME (liters): 20 L
SIZES: 12 L, 20 L
PROS: Lightweight, compact, multiple carrying options, retains ice for up to three days
CONS: Less insulation compared to some, slightly less durable
BOTTOM LINE: The Hydro Flask Carry Out is an excellent choice for active individuals who need a high-quality, grab-and-go cooler. It works well for day trips, camping, and various other activities. It's small enough to carry on your shoulder and doesn't take up much space in the car. Surprisingly, it offers ample space to hold an entire case of beverages and plenty of road trip snacks. The cooler's flat top also serves as a convenient side table between camping chairs. With its durable construction and stylish design, the Carry Out is the best value soft cooler available.
Best Budget Friendly: Coleman Chiller Series Backpack
Jason Hitchcock, founder of Survival Stoic, recommends the Coleman Chiller Series Backpack as the best budget-friendly option. According to Hitchcock, it is comfortable to carry during hiking trips and becomes lighter as the day goes on. The backpack features a bungee cord on the front that allows you to attach light items such as a rain jacket. It also has a front pocket for storing non-perishable items like silverware, napkins, and salt and pepper. However, Hitchcock advises against loading it completely full with heavy items like canned drinks, as it may not perform well. Therefore, it is best suited for couples or small groups.
- Capacity: 10 liters
- Weight: 17 ounces
Backpack Cooler Comparison Chart
Best for Day Trips: Hydro Flask 20L Day Escape
The Hydro Flask 20L Day Escape cooler is highly recommended as the ideal companion for beach trips. According to travel blogger Shelley Marmor, its sturdy base allows the backpack to stand unsupported, preventing the food from getting sandy. The well-cushioned straps add to the comfort, allowing you to take your time finding the perfect spot. Despite being soft-sided and lightweight, it performs exceptionally well, keeping items cold for up to 36 hours.
During a hike to a waterfall in Iceland, Thomas used the Hydro Flask Day Escape to transport a picnic of cheese and cold cuts, which stayed fresh throughout the trek and enhanced the overall experience.
- Capacity: 20 liters
- Weight: 2.63 pounds
Best for Hiking: Icemule Boss
For extensive hiking trips, the Icemule Boss is highly recommended. According to Nina Cuthbertson, an Australia-based traveler, it has a supportive strap system and is incredibly durable and comfortable to carry, even on long hikes. The cooling performance of the Icemule Boss also adds to its appeal.
Coty Perry, an avid fisherman and editor of Anglers.com, also swears by the IceMule Boss. He praises its waterproof feature, hands-free design, and ability to float when it's full.
- Capacity: 30 liters
- Weight: 6.6 pounds
HOW TO PROPERLY PACK A COOLER FOR PERFORMANCE
Let's face it, most of us simply throw a couple of bags of ice into our coolers and call it a day. However, if you want your cooler to retain ice for longer periods, follow these steps to enhance its performance:
- Freeze or refrigerate items before placing them in the cooler.
- Pre-chill the cooler itself by placing some ice inside an hour before loading it.
- PACK IN ORDER
- Place foods you'll consume last at the bottom and store frequently used items near the top.
- CHOOSE YOUR ICE WISELY
- Crushed ice cools food and drinks quickly, while block ice lasts longer.
- Consider freezing drinking water in bottles and jugs as an alternative to store-bought ice.
- ADD ICE LAST
- Place perishable foods towards the bottom and layer ice on top, as cold air sinks.
- For coolers used only for beverages, load cans and bottles first, then cover with ice.
- PACK IT FULL
- A completely full cooler will remain colder than a half-empty one.
- Use as much ice as possible (cooler manufacturers recommend a 2:1 ratio of ice to food and drink by volume).
- KEEP IT IN SHADE
- Store coolers out of direct sunlight to extend ice retention. Adding insulation, such as sleeping bags or clothing around the cooler in the car, provides further insulation. Packing blankets are especially effective and can also be used to cover the cooler at the campsite.
- KEEP IT CLOSED
- Only open the lid when necessary to keep warm air out and cold air in. For larger groups, consider using separate coolers for beverages and food to reduce the frequency of opening the food cooler.
- DON'T DRAIN
- Avoid draining the cold water from melted ice, as it preserves the remaining ice better than air. Only drain the water when necessary to remove cooler contents or before adding more ice and chilled items.
The IceMule BOSS is an excellent choice for water-related activities, thanks to its full waterproofing and floating capability.
CRITICAL COOLER CONSIDERATIONS
CHOOSING A CAPACITY - Cooler capacity is usually measured in quarts or liters. The appropriate way to pack a cooler depends on individual preferences and needs. Some prefer less ice to accommodate more cans, while others prioritize maximizing cooling performance with more ice. It is recommended to find a balance between storage and ice longevity.
ROTO-MOLDING - Roto-molding, or rotational molding, is a process that involves injecting liquid insulation evenly into the walls of hard-sided coolers using specialized machines. This method results in thick, rigid walls that are both durable and excellent at retaining cold.
The Rollr Rovr 60 Cooler is ideal for walk-in campsites due to its portability and convenient storage bin for hauling gear.
HINGES, LATCHES, HANDLES & DRAINS - Hardware such as hinges, latches, handles, and drains are often the first components to break on coolers, especially if they are made of plastic. Fortunately, many companies offer replacements, and some coolers even have metal upgrade options available. Coolers known for their durability, such as the RTIC 65, Rovr Rollr 60, Pelican 50QT Elite, YETI Tundra 65, and Coleman Steel-Belted Cooler, experience fewer hardware issues over time.
The YETI Tundra 65 is known for its incredible durability, featuring rubber latches, built-in hinges, and rigid insulation.
The IceMule BOSS is our top choice for day trips on the water.
In conclusion, when it comes to finding the best cooler for your hiking adventures, it is crucial to consider both performance and budget. Whether you are embarking on a day trip or a lengthy hike, having a reliable and efficient cooler can make all the difference in enjoying fresh and chilled snacks and beverages. From the budget-friendly Coleman Chiller Series Backpack to the durable and spacious Icemule Boss, there are options available to cater to every hiker's needs. Additionally, learning how to properly pack your cooler can enhance its performance and keep your items cool for longer periods. So remember, choose wisely and pack smartly, and get ready to embark on an unforgettable hiking adventure with the perfect cooler companion.
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