The Ultimate Guide to Top Personal Size Coolers for Every Budget
If you're in need of a reliable personal cooler that can keep your drinks and snacks chilled during your outdoor adventures, look no further. We've researched and selected the top contenders in the market to bring you our list of the top personal size coolers. Whether you're planning a day at the beach, a camping trip, or a picnic in the park, these coolers will ensure that your food and beverages stay fresh and cold. From the spacious and feature-packed Kula 2.5 to the budget-friendly and durable RTIC Soft Pack 30, we've got you covered with options for every need and budget. So, let's dive in and discover the perfect personal cooler that meets all your requirements!
Best Overall: Kula 2.5
The Kula 2.5 small cooler stood out as the top choice due to its exceptional qualities: near-waterproof construction, user-friendly design, and outstanding ice retention performance.
- Capacity: 9.5 liters (also available in a 22 liter size)
- Weight: 3.5 pounds
- Ice retention time: 61 hours per bag
- Unmatched ice retention capability
- Water resistant
- Can be used as a beverage dispenser
- Relatively expensive
- Less comfortable to carry compared to other tested models
I didn't anticipate that the best small cooler in our test would be in the shape of a bucket, but the Kula 2.5 exceeded expectations with its outstanding performance in ice retention, waterproofness, and usability. Even under extremely hot and humid conditions (70-80 degrees with 50% average humidity), it took over 2.5 days for a bag of ice to melt in this cooler. While other coolers struggled with difficult latches during our ice retention test, the Kula's rubber toggle was effortless to operate. Its cylindrical shape, however, made it slightly cumbersome to carry over long distances. For hikes or any situation requiring portability, it may be better to opt for a more compact cooler from our list.
In addition to its bottle opener feature, the Kula 2.5 offers two drainage options: a standard port located under the cooler and a built-in spigot, making it versatile as a beverage dispenser. Rest assured, it is made from food-grade plastic.
Best Value: Dometic Patrol 20
Combining excellent ice retention with a user-friendly latch system, the Dometic Patrol 20 offers outstanding value for consumers seeking an optimal balance between performance and cost.
- Capacity: 19 liters
- Weight: 17.6 pounds
- Ice retention time: 56 hours per bag
- Impressive ice retention capacity
- Easy-to-use latch system
The Dometic Patrol 20 stands out with its scaled-down aesthetic, resembling a regular-sized cooler compacted into a child-sized version. This design choice, however, comes with some drawbacks, such as increased bulkiness and weight, which can make it less comfortable to carry even when empty. Nevertheless, the positives overshadow these minor inconveniences. The Dometic Patrol 20 not only exhibited exceptional ice retention, lasting well over 48 hours in August heat but also featured one of the most user-friendly latches in our test. If you're in need of a smaller cooler for storing perishables during an extended camping trip, this is a smart choice.
Best Hybrid: OtterBox Trooper 20
The OtterBox Trooper 20 combines the cold-retention advantages of a hard-sided cooler with the convenience of a soft-sided cooler, making it the top choice for a versatile and adaptable cooler.
- Capacity: 19 liters
- Weight: 6.5 pounds
- Ice retention time: 45 hours per bag
- Best ice retention in the soft-sided cooler category
- Excellent waterproof performance
- One of the most comfortable small coolers to carry
- The latch can be somewhat fiddly to use
- Relatively expensive
The OtterBox Trooper 20 is a soft-sided cooler that shares important similarities with the hard-sided coolers in our test. Notably, its lid is made from heavy-duty plastic, providing overall structural support superior to other models we examined (despite the soft foam on top, sitting on the cooler may cause it to collapse). Furthermore, it exhibits remarkable ice retention capabilities, outperforming other soft-sided coolers in our test and rivaling some traditional hard-sided coolers in terms of longevity.
However, one downside of the Trooper 20 is its hard plastic latch. During our evaluation, it proved to be the most challenging to operate, often slipping down the hook instead of securing tightly. Additionally, it produced a noticeable squeaking sound, suggesting excessive tension on the plastic latch. Fortunately, this cooler offers a limited warranty in case of latch breakage.
Other notable features include a spacious waterproof front pouch capable of accommodating multiple phones, battery packs, and a bottle opener. The Trooper 20's balanced design, with a flat side and an outward curve, reduces awkwardness when carrying, contrasting with the more traditional rectangular design seen in other models.
Most Portable: Hydro Flask Day Escape
The Hydro Flask Day Escape stands out as a lightweight and waterproof backpack cooler, offering exceptional portability and convenience, making it a popular choice among consumers.
- Capacity: 20 liters
- Weight: 3 pounds
- Ice retention time: 37 hours per bag
- High comfort level during carrying
- Complete waterproofness
- Narrow design makes accessing the bottom of the cooler more challenging
- Adjusting the backpack straps can be difficult
If you plan to transport your cooler over distances greater than a hundred yards, you'll soon discover the inconveniences of carrying a traditional cooler: sharp corners, abrasive fabrics, and unbalanced loads. Backpack coolers offer a solution to these issues by incorporating straps and support structures typically found in day hiking packs. Hence, it comes as no surprise that the Hydro Flask Day Escape was the easiest to carry among the small coolers we assessed. However, there are a few design aspects I wish were improved. The backpack straps, in particular, proved exceptionally difficult to adjust, requiring considerable force to move. Additionally, the sternum strap was positioned unusually high, reaching just below my neck at its highest point, with minimal extension beyond that. Nonetheless, the light padding on both the pack and straps compensated for these inconveniences, ensuring a comfortable carrying experience.
I also appreciated the fully waterproof construction of the Hydro Flask Day Escape, allowing it to tip in any direction without any moisture leakage. However, in case you work up a sweat on your day hike, pouring some runoff over your head may be a refreshing idea.
Best Budget: RTIC Soft Pack 30
The RTIC Soft Pack 30 offers exceptional value with its excellent ice retention, waterproof construction, and comparatively affordable price, making it an ideal choice for budget-conscious consumers.
- Capacity: 21 liters
- Weight: 4 pounds
- Ice retention time: 38 hours per bag
- Good ice retention (for a soft-sided cooler)
- Relatively low price
- Zipper can be tough to open and close
- The boxy shape makes it less comfortable to carry compared to other models in our test
The RTIC Soft Pack 30 ticks all the essential boxes: waterproof, long-lasting ice retention (over 36 hours), visually appealing design, and a reasonable price point that is less than half that of other high-end models we evaluated. As an added bonus, it also includes a waterproof side pouch that can accommodate a phone (though not much else).
While the overall aesthetics of this soft cooler are pleasing, it can be quite cumbersome to carry. Its rectangular shape often hits against your thighs, whether you use the haul handles or opt for the shoulder strap. Additionally, the zipper on the RTIC Soft Pack 30 proved to be one of the most challenging to open during our test. Nevertheless, if your intended use for a soft cooler primarily revolves around boating or stationary settings, where you only need to access the cooler infrequently, this model provides excellent value for your investment.
In conclusion, when it comes to personal size coolers, there are plenty of fantastic options to choose from. Whether you're looking for the best overall performance, the best value for your money, or a versatile hybrid cooler, there is something for everyone. If portability is your main concern, the Hydro Flask Day Escape should be your go-to option. And for those on a tighter budget, the RTIC Soft Pack 30 offers great performance without breaking the bank. So, no matter your needs or preferences, you can find a top personal size cooler that will keep your beverages chilled and your adventures cool.
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