CAMPING & HIKING

Best Cooler Bag: Keeping your Meals Fresh

Cooler bag on beach
Mark Foster
Written by Mark Foster

When looking for the best cooler bag, you will need to consider what you will be using it for. Is this primarily for day trips or will you need it to hold ice for longer than a few hours? These bags have more versatility than the large plastic cubed and rectangle versions.

It is because they can be carried much more easily and can be compressed into a smaller size when not in use. The large plastic coolers can take up a lot of space and become essentially dead weight to carry when you’re no longer using them.

Woman with lunch cooler bag

But it’s not always easy to know what you should be looking for in a cooler bag. There are a lot more features than you may realize, and getting the wrong one can make your camping trip a little less enjoyable. With that in mind, let’s take a look at what you should be keeping an eye out for when shopping for a new cooler bag.

What’s inside

Whether you are packing your lunch or heading out with a six pack, you are relying on your cooler to keep things the right temperature. Camping trips make it very easy for you to get food poisoning, especially if you’re not keeping certain foods like meat and dairy products at the right temperature. But it’s also very easy to avoid that problem by getting a cooler bag that can handle the food you’re carrying with you.

Certain features matter when it comes to choosing the best bag for you. When looking, you need to factor in what each bag offers in order to find one that best fits your needs. Some of the most important features to look for are:

  • FDA liners
  • Durability
  • Weight
  • Carrying options
  • Carrying capacity

FDA Food Grade Liner

When it comes to determining whether plastics are food grade, the FDA must look into its manufacturing. They want to make certain that there is nothing in the material that can harm food if it comes into contact.

Beverage from cooler bag

The liners inside certain coolers have been evaluated and will come with a stamp of approval from the FDA, so keep an eye out for this. This could be important if you are worried about your food coming in direct contact with the liner or if you will be leaving your food in the cooler for longer than a few hours.

While this is an important feature, if you will mostly be carrying something to drink then it is not a cause for concern.

Durability

The durability of a cooler is questioning how well it will hold up with wear and tear. Whether it is mild day-to-day use or if it is being taken out into nature and in jeopardy of being hit, tossed, dropped or smushed, you want something that will last a very long time.

Some of the lower priced coolers will have a lightweight to medium nylon external fabric. This is good for normal everyday use. However, if you are planning to be outdoors hiking or taking this on extended trips, then more durable coolers are offered.

Red cooler bag

They are made with heavier fabrics and integrated rubber so that it can handle more punishment during your camping trip. You also want to take a look at the durability of the carrying straps of your bag, as low quality ones are going to break very easily, and that will make it more difficult for you to carry your cooler around.

Leakproof

There’s no point in spending a lot of money on a cooler if it’s going to leak everywhere. Typically, a cooler that has great insulation is going to keep condensation and melted ice inside so that your other belongings are not getting wet. However, it also depends on the kind of bag you’re getting.

Some of them may have a plughole near the bottom of the bag so that you can just open it and let the water drain away. Options like this can tend to leak if you’re not careful. Others may not have this option, and require you to remove your items from the bag before upturning it to get the water out. It makes the process a little more cumbersome, but they’re less likely to spill.

Cooler Weight

A lightweight cooler will hold ice for only a few hours while a heavier cooler has better insulation technology and will be able to hold ice for up to 48 hours.

Lightweight cooling bag

A lightweight cooler may be preferable and is still a great choice, it all depends on how long you need your contents to stay cold. On average most consumers only need the cooler to keep ice for 6-8 hours. Most lightweight options can do this, making them great for a day trip or for packing lunch.

The heavier fabric provides better insulation so that heat cannot easily penetrate through and melt the ice. If you are planning to be away from home, or need to keep things cool for a long trip, then it would be wise to choose a heavier cooler to ensure it holds ice for a longer period.

Carrying options

When choosing a cooler bag, you are already looking for easier carrying options, but which is the best? This will be more of a preference when you are looking.

Some models will give you the option of carrying it on your shoulder. An adjustable shoulder strap will be included and most will offer padding to keep it comfortable. This allows your cooler to be easy to put on and carry but it can be heavy if you pack it full.

Cold cans in cooler bag

If you are planning to walk long distances or need better stability carrying it, they offer backpack coolers. A backpack version is a good choice if you are looking for something that you can strap on and go. The dual straps on your back even out the weight and allow you to carry with ease. Backpack coolers are also more likely to have external pockets that make it easier for you to carry your smaller belongings with you without overburdening your hands.

Carrying capacity

Most coolers will refer to a certain can capacity number. This number is determined by the manufacturer and includes a non specific amount of ice on top.

Some are overestimated while others are going to fit 12 cans with only a few chunks of ice. It should be noted that this is a rough estimate and you should use your best judgement for what size and carrying capacity you need.

Other Considerations

What to use in your cooler – Most coolers are usually packed down with ice, but for a fabric cooler, is this the best choice?

One of the biggest factors against using ice is that there is a possibility the cooler will leak. If you are carrying a back pack cooler, then this could mean a wet back. Since some fabric coolers are smaller, consumers have turned to using ice packs or ziplock bagging their ice to reduce the chance of leaking. Using ice packs or bagged ice also reduces the need to dump out any standing water. Since fabric bags do not have a drain spout, you will need to tip the bag upside down and let it dry.

Multicolored cooler bag

In the end there is no right or wrong way to keep your stuff cool. Most cooler bags are non-leak, and a home test can let you know if there are any weak spots that let water out if the bag is tipped or turned sideways.

Hot or cold – Just because it is called a cooler, doesn’t mean that it stays cool. You can also put warm food in your insulated bag. The bag will radiate the heat and keep your food warm for a few hours, which is a great option for those who’ve just cooked a meal and want to have something ready to eat when they get to their destination.

Now that you’ve seen how beneficial a bag cooler can be on your trip, regardless of where you’re going, let’s take a look at some of the current cooler bag models available.

Polar Bear Coolers Backpack

Polar Bear Coolers BackpackHow to Carry: Backpack

Size: 18in H x 12in W x 7in L

Weight: 3 pounds

Features: Nylon outer shell; Side pocket with rubber coated zipper; Bottle opener;  FDA food grade.

Easy to carry, this backpack cooler can be made into a one-of-a-kind staple with personalization. Made from heavy-duty 1000 denier Cordura nylon and high-density foam, it can keep ice for at least 24 hours in 100 degree heat or or 2-3 days when kept in a shady location.

The Polar Bear Coolers Backpack comes with an FDA food grade liner and has been insulated with the thickest and highest density insulation. It is also great for storing drinks and other smaller items, and reviewers state that it can hold a case of beer with ice.

The backpack cooler is small and easy to store when you are not using it, reducing your burden while you’re traveling. The added bottle opener ensures that you can always have that cold drink on hand without having to worry about how to get it open.

Check the price on Amazon

Igloo MaxCold Coolers

Igloo MaxCold CoolersHow to Carry: Backpack

Size: 11.75in L x 8.5in W x 16in H

Weight: 1.35 pounds

Features: MaxCold insulation with 25% more foam; Crush-resistant EVA zip top; Leak resistant antimicrobial liner.

The Igloo MaxCold Cooler is made to keep your stuff colder for longer. This cooler features an expandable front pocket to keep small items within reach.

This cooler bag is equipped with MaxCold technology, which means the liner has 25% more foam imbedded inside, so you’ll never have to worry about your food spoiling. This bag can be folded down to a smaller size when not in use so you take more great with you.

It is large enough to hold 18 cans and has a leak resistant, easy to clean microbial liner. Mold is a constant problem, given how moist it can get inside a cooler, so this liner ensures that that never happens.

Check the price on Amazon

Igloo Real Tree Softside Hunting Cooler Backpack

Igloo Real Tree Cooler BackpackHow to Carry: Backpack

Size: 13.78in H x 19.29in W x 9.84in L

Weight: 15.2 ounces

Features: Camouflage color; Exterior pockets for drinks and gear; Adjustable padded straps

Stand out at work or blend in with nature, the Igloo Real Tree Softside Hunting Cooler Backpack is equipped to keep your stuff cool or hot. Great for carrying your lunch or drinks while you are out.

The shoulder straps are fitted with adjustable comfort pads for ease when carrying.This backpack has an 18-can capacity. On a warm day it can hold ice for 5-6 hours.

This cooler bag is fitted with extra outside pockets, so that you can carry your dry belongings with you. A heat sealed liner keeps your items fresh and safe from leaking. Two quick access drink holders on the side keep your beverages within easy reach.

Check the price on Amazon

Mountainsmith Deluxe Cooler Cube

Mountainsmith Deluxe Cooler CubeHow to Carry: Handle/Shoulder strap

Size: 15in H x 15in W x 7.5 D

Weight: 2 pounds

Features: Barrel top closure; Adjustable handle converts to shoulder carry; Side mesh pocket; Bottle opener included.

Featuring a built in drink tray, the Mountainsmith Deluxe Cooler Cube is made to please. This cooler is waterproof with seam-sealed PEVA lining pads that insure it won’t leak. The front pocket of this cooler unzips and folds flat, revealing four cup holders so that you can enjoy refreshments anywhere.

There are two mesh pockets on each side for dry items and a backside sleeve pocket for carrying small flat items like a tablet. The barrel top gives extra room to hold tall bottles. This cooler is easy to wipe clean and has an adjustable handle that can convert to a shoulder strap.

Check the price on Amazon

Coleman Collapsible Sport Cooler

Coleman Collapsible Sport CoolerHow to Carry: Two side handles

Size: 20.5in W x 13in H x 13in D

Weight: 4.8 pounds

Features: Heat welded seams prevent leaks; Interior collapses down; Bottle opened included; Antimicrobial liner.

Great for day trips and prefect for storing, the Coleman Collapsible Sport Cooler is ready for some weekend fun. When not in use, this cooler collapses down flat and can be stored or packed away.

With heat welded seams, this cooler won’t leak. The antimicrobial liner will resist mold, mildew and odors. Two side handles make this cooler easy to grab and carry.

On a mild day it can hold ice for about 24 hours. Also, it has four cup holders built into the top and a mesh front pocket for holding small items. This cooler has a 75 can capacity and features a bottle opener on the zipper.

Check the price on Amazon

Polarbear 24 Pack Eclipse

Polarbear 24 Pack EclipseHow to Carry: Handle/Shoulder strap

Size: 12in H x 18in L x 10in W

Weight: 3 pounds

Features: Custom embroidery; Double coated nylon liner; High-density foam; Leak-proof and sweat-proof

Waterproof and rugged, the Polarbear 24 Pack Eclipse cooler is ready to travel. This cooler can easily hold 24 cans plus ice. Fitted with reflective layering, it can hold ice in direct sunlight with ease for several hours.

You are able to customize the front with any letters, monograms or a logo. This updated version has double coated nylon for better durability. Also there is a side zipper pocket to store dry items. Side clips double as bottle openers and a rubber bottom stops this cooler from slipping and sliding.

Check the price on Amazon

Blackburn Local Cooler Saddlebag Pannier

Blackburn Local Cooler Saddlebag PannierHow to Carry: Made for hooking onto a bike

Size: 18in x 15in x 5in

Weight: 3.4 pounds

Features: Insulated; Integrated bottle opener; Interior mesh pockets; Bag can be secured with interlock racks; compatible with all standard racks.

With the Blackburn Local Cooler Saddlebag Pannier you can easily transport groceries or a picnic on the back of your bicycle. This dual bag cooler fits easily on a bike rack and can be locked on for added security.

A vintage looking integrated bottle opener is on the side for quick use and a stylish flare. This waterproof cooler has multiple internal mesh organizers for small items like utensils that you want to keep dry.

With two separate bags, one can hold cool drinks while the other can carry an extra change of clothes. This cooler is compatible with all standard bike racks. The panniers are sewn together and cannot be used as single units.

Check the price on Amazon

So what’s your bag?

With cooler bags becoming more popular, they are able to offer many different features. It is common that most will come with insulation that lasts about 5 hours and will have a secondary pocket for dry items.

Small water cooler bag

Which cooler you ultimately decide on, whether a lightweight or a heavy duty one will be entirely up to you and what you will be using it for. At the end of the day you want your cooler to fit your lifestyle.

Have any questions or thoughts regarding this article? Leave a comment and let us know what you think!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Foster
Mark Foster

Mark Foster loves to push his limits when it comes to survival in the wilderness. He might go for a 30-days adventure without any food or equipment except for a survival kit and a knife. We should mention that his survival kit has 122 items in it, so he know what he is doing. Mark is working on his book to share with the world all his experience gained during those brave adventures.

  • Phyllis Perez

    I watched the ice challenge and found that Yeti was not actually the best insulated cooler. I don’t know I’ve never had anything by Yeti. The other coolers you listed did just As well or better than Yeti. Sometimes I think people just buy names.

  • Tonya Murphy

    I use ice packs in mine. I always have some frozen and ready to go because I’m very much an outdoorsy spontaneous person. Wanna go camping in two days? I’m ready! Wanna go hiking and stop somewhere and picnic? Got my cooler and ice packs ready, lets go!

  • Mark Foster

    People should buy trusted brands, not just any brand will do. My dad offered one piece of advice that stuck throughout the years: invest in a good product, don’t settle for lemons. At that time, I was serious about trekking and camping and he knows that being safe and surviving in harsh environments are vital.
    I can’t speak for other persons but the reason for my reviews is to give more options to people to choose wisely. At the end of the day, it’s still you who decides what’s best.

  • Mark Foster

    That’s great advice Tonya! In addition to ice packs, having the right cooler bag is important in order for your food and beverage to stay cold for hours. During a day trek, it’s great to have a cool drink and some fresh food to eat during the day. And an excellent cooler bag will do the trick!
    I have the Igloo Real Tree Softside Hunting Cooler backpack and it works like a dream!
    I wonder what cooler you have? 🙂

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