You need a cooler, but you don't know what size to get.
One of the most challenging choices when deciding which cooler is best for you is selecting the appropriate size for your needs. But how do you determine which size cooler is best for you and how do you choose the right size?
If you choose a cooler that is too small, it won't hold all of your items and will run out of ice too quickly, leaving your belongings warm. If you buy a cooler that is too large, it will take up too much room, obstruct your path, be difficult to carry, and be difficult to transport.
Finding the ideal cooler for you is the objective. It is big enough to handle anything you throw at it, but small enough for days when you don't need to fill it all the way.
The Variations in Cooler Sizes
The shapes and sizes of coolers are diverse. Everything starting at a very small 0 the massive 400-Quart Grizzly Cooler, which is large enough for commercial use, to a 4-Quart cooler for keeping insulin medication cold.
There are many different coolers to choose from, ranging from affordable models to high-end brands, in each size range. Each size cooler has different advantages and disadvantages as well as different usage scenarios.
What I consider to be the main size categories to choose from are listed below:
4-10 Quart Mini/Personal Coolers
Small lunchbox coolers like these are made to keep food cold from the morning until around lunchtime.
Typically, you'll place your water bottle, lunch, and a few ice bricks in this cooler. By the end of the day, your food will have been consumed, the water will have been consumed, and the cooler will have warmed up.
Go home, remove the contents of your cooler, and store your ice bricks in the freezer for the following day.
These are great to bring to a picnic where you only need to bring food and drink for yourself (and possibly one other person) or to take to work, the car, or while traveling.
Like the Coleman Lunchbox cooler or the Yeti Hopper Flip 8 soft-sided cooler
10–18 quart portable small coolers
This range of cooler sizes is still compact and manageable for one person to carry, but it is beginning to get big enough to hold enough items for a family picnic, a day at the beach, or even a weekend away as a cold-camper.
Soft-sided coolers of this size will probably have ice retention of one to three days and be portable thanks to carry handles or a shoulder strap.
The Yeti Hopper Flip 18 would fall under this category.
Cooler of Medium Size (20–30 Quart)
Now that we are moving into serious cooler territory, you can purchase a high-quality cooler with enough space for food and beverages for a weekend getaway and the ability to maintain ice for three to five days.
Soft-sided coolers like the Yeti Hopper, backpack coolers like the Otterbox Trooper, and hard-sized coolers like the Yeti Roadie or the Yeti 35 (which has a 28-quart capacity) are all available in this size range. 8-quart volume)
These coolers are appropriate for shorter trips for a couple or small family of four or longer trips for a lone traveler.
They are light enough to carry and small enough to not take up too much room, but they are big enough to give you a significant improvement in ice retention and performance.
Cooler of Regular Size: 35 to 55 Quart
The most common size range for coolers is this one, and most people can usually find a size in this range that meets their needs. This size range is appropriate for most commercial needs as well as BBQs, family camping outings, boating and fishing.
I have a Coleman Xtreme 52-Quart cooler and a Yeti 45 (37-Quart), and these sizes are adequate for a camping trip with a family of five.
Although a family of five can still fit in the smaller space, it made our shopping trips more frequent. We didn't have to worry about space as much because of the larger, 50-ish Quart capacity, which was a much better size.
This size is suitable for a case of beer and a few glasses of wine at a barbecue and is ample for all of your tailgating party needs.
For a cheap cooler, ice retention lasts for one to two days, and for an expensive roto-molded cooler, it lasts for seven days.
55-80 quart large cooler
We are now moving more toward the commercial use side of things and into the territory of large coolers.
When you need to store more items or go on longer off-grid trips where you need your ice to last longer, these size coolers are ideal.
In a premium cooler this size, the ice will last 5–10 days.
For storing their kills and catches, hunters and fishermen also use containers of this size.
100-quart coolers for giants
These enormous coolers, which typically serve the commercial market, range in capacity from 100 quarts to as much as 600 quarts.
Unlikely to fit in the back of your car and far too big and bulky to move for a family camping trip View my ranking of the top large coolers.
Key Considerations for Size Selection
There are a few important factors to take into account when selecting the appropriate size cooler before making your choice.
The most important factor in selecting the proper size cooler is internal space. How much and for how long do you actually need to keep things in your cooler?
The fact that ice will occupy a significant amount of space must also be taken into consideration. To get the most out of your cooler, Yeti advises using a 2:1 ratio of ice to consumables.
Thus, only about a half to a third of the cooler's space will be available for your beverages and drinks because at least half of the cooler will be filled with ice.
You can get by with a few ice bricks to last you the day in smaller coolers, but larger coolers require a higher ice to consumables ratio.
Retention of Ice
Another important factor is how long your cooler needs to keep ice. There simply isn't enough ice to begin with, so the mini/personal coolers will struggle to maintain ice for an entire day.
In general, your ice will last longer the more you start with (and the better the cooler).
Get a medium-sized cooler if you want to keep ice for more than three days, and a large cooler if you want to keep ice for more than seven to ten days.
Check out the Yeti 10-Day Ice Test.
Your internal space requirements and ice retention requirements are combined with portability requirements.
Small coolers are excellent because they are very transportable and convenient. It gets harder to transport the cooler as it gets bigger.
If you go too big, it becomes difficult to fit in your vehicle, heavy, and difficult for one person to carry.
Here is where trade-offs between internal space/ice retention and portability begin to be made. Because you can't have everything, you must find the happy medium that works for you.
In addition to portability, a cooler also takes up exterior space.
Due to the 2-3 inches of insulation found in premium coolers like Yeti coolers, their external footprint is significantly larger than their internal capacity.
It gets more difficult to fit your cooler in some places as you get bigger.
Smaller soft-sided coolers, such as the Yeti Hopper, are slim totes that fit almost anywhere. Hard-sized coolers occupy a lot more space.
If you are limited on space (which you typically are when camping or taking any kind of trip), then how much space they take up externally should be taken into account. The bigger you go, the more room they take up.
This time, however, compromises must be made. Find a cooler that is large enough on the inside to hold all of your items and retain ice while being small enough on the outside to fit where you need it to.
Try to determine the best size for your requirements.
The cost will also influence what size cooler you purchase. On the smaller scale, smaller doesn't always equate to less expensive (eg Although a Yeti Hopper 8 costs the same as a Yeti Roadie, which is more than twice as big, bigger unquestionably costs more once the volume exceeds 30 quarts.
A consumer on a tight budget might have fewer size options than someone with more money to spend.
For instance, if you want to spend less than $100, your options are this Lifetime cooler or smaller versions of more affordable high-end coolers. Once you're willing to spend more than $200, your options start to increase.
But a Yeti 45 (my cooler) costs about $300, compared to a Yeti 110, which is almost $500.
Once you start filling that cooler up, it gets REALLY heavy because the bigger the cooler, the heavier it is.
Therefore, you might want to choose a size that you feel comfortable carrying. When the Yeti 45 was full, I could carry it short distances by myself, which made it ideal for living in the van.
Anything larger than that would have hurt so bad I might not even have been able to move it by myself.
Features can still affect your decision even though they have less of an impact on the size of cooler you select.
The size of the cooler you choose might be limited if you need a particular feature.
Assume you NEED a cooler with wheels. Wheeled coolers are only available in a limited range of sizes, so your options are limited.
Alternatively, there are only three sizes of the Ozark Trail Coolers from Walmart if you want a roto-molded cooler with cup holders.
The 80/20 Rule Regarding Coolers
Consider the 80/20 rule when deciding what size cooler you want, in my opinion.
This regulation specifies:
You will use your cooler for the same purpose 80% of the time and a different purpose only 20% of the time.
For me and my cooler, I go camping with my kids 80% of the time. Twenty percent of the time, I use it for other, distinct purposes, like a solo or joint road trip.
My Yeti 45 is actually too big for that 20% of the time, but for the other 80%, it's just right.
Therefore, try to choose a cooler that perfectly suits your needs 80% of the time, and then only use it 20% of the time, or perhaps you need to purchase a second cooler.
Do You Require Two Different Coolers?
It might make sense for some people to have two different coolers, each of which is a different size and serves a different purpose.
For camping trips with the kids, I would bring my primary cooler, a Yeti 45, and then for other occasions, I would buy a soft-sided cooler with a smaller capacity, probably a backpack cooler.
For daytime activities or quick road trips, I could use the soft-sided cooler.
Others might prefer a smaller hard-sided cooler for fishing and an electric cooler for their car.
Whether or not you need more than one cooler and what you plan to use it for will depend on who you are, what you need it for, and the types and sizes of cooler you want to purchase.
What Size Cooler Is Best for a Single Person?
You should stick to the smaller coolers if you're just looking for a cooler for yourself or a friend who will use it alone.
Anything with a capacity of 8 to 20 quarts, depending on what you plan to use it for, is a good size, in my opinion.
I like the flexibility that soft sided coolers provide for a single person. Consider the Yeti Hopper Flip, which is soft and compact while maintaining a rectangular shape for simple packing.
They have a capacity of 8 to 30 quarts and can maintain ice for two to three days. For a single person, there are excellent for lunches, road trips, beach days, and even some longer weekend trips.
View Amazon to see the costs and sizes for the Yeti Hopper Flip.
Alternatively, if you prefer a hard-sided cooler, a 20-quart or smaller model will maintain ice for 3-5 days.
This is a great travel companion because it is compact enough to fit on a seat or the floor of your vehicle but roomy enough to hold enough food and beverages for one person.
Yeti makes a 20-quart small cooler, but the Sub Z 23-quart cooler is my favorite small hard-sided cooler because it is significantly less expensive (about $120) and has a padded seat for the lid, which I really like.
What Size Cooler Is Best For a Couple?
You won't likely require a large cooler for a couple, but you'll want something bigger than a lunchbox cooler. Anything larger than 45-Quart is probably going to be unnecessary.
Most couples will likely be satisfied with the 18-45 Quart range.
Again, if you're only looking for something lightweight for a day at the beach or a road trip, a soft-sided cooler should work fine. You could check out Yeti Hopper coolers, but soft sided backpack coolers give me more mobility and freedom.
So check out the Otterbox Trooper Backpack Cooler or the Yeti Hopper M30 Tote Bag.
Visit Amazon to see Yeti Hopper M30 Cooler.
Visit Amazon to see the Otterbox Trooper Backpack Cooler.
If you're going camping with a partner, the 20-quart size might be adequate for a weekend, but you'll probably want something a little bit larger for a longer trip.
A great size for a couple camping for a week or more is in the 35–40 Quart range. You won't need to refill it very often because it has enough space to hold all of your food and beverages and should keep ice for about four to six days.
Check out the Coleman Xtreme 5-Day Cooler if you're on a tight budget, or the Yeti 45 if you're like me and want to spend more money.
Visit Amazon to see Coleman Xtreme Cooler.
Check out Yeti 45 on Amazon.
What Size Cooler Is Best For a Family of Four to Five?
Anything smaller than a 20-quart will be inadequate for a family of four to five people.
For a single day at the beach, Disney World, or a BBQ, a 20-quart container is sufficient. But at that size, there will be so much material inside and not enough ice that the maximum amount of ice retention will be one day.
I believe it's preferable to purchase a product with a 35–60 quart capacity. But for some additional viewpoints, check out these discussions.
While we used my 37-quart Yeti 45 as our main cooler while living in the van, I would have preferred something with a 50-quart capacity instead because I found it to be too small.
Therefore, the Yeti BackFlip 24 Backpack cooler is what I would suggest for a single day's worth of 25 to 30 Quart.
Visit Amazon to see the Yeti BackFlip 24 Backpack Cooler.
35-45 Quart should be sufficient for a weekend trip; I suggest the RTIC 45 for this.
Visit Amazon to view RTIC 45 Cooler.
I would advise a 45-65 Quart capacity for anything lasting longer than a weekend. If you're on a tight budget, I recommend the Lifetime cooler 55-Quart, which costs under $100. If you prefer a more expensive cooler, the Yeti 65, which holds about 57 quarts, is a good choice.
Visit WalMart.com to view Lifetime Cooler 55-Quart.
Visit Amazon to view Yeti 65 Cooler.
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