Anyone who has ever gone on a longer outdoor trip knows just how important it is to pick out the right tools and supplies with you. You want to make sure that you’re taking only the best and that you’re going to be ready for anything that might come your way.
That means taking not only food and water, but things like sunscreen, tents, and definitely a cooler. After all, you’re going to need a way to store all of your food and drinks and having the best cooler possible is going to be extremely important for that result.
Choosing Your Next Cooler
Before you decide on just one cooler, you’re going to have to look at several different features. There are so many options to choose from that it can be overwhelming if you don’t really know what you’re doing or what you’re looking for before you walk into the store.
Even smaller stores can have a large selection and if you walk into a sporting goods or outdoors store you could be completely overwhelmed with the different varieties of coolers out there. By making some decisions before you walk in you’ll be saving yourself some time. Now let’s take a quick look at the features that actually matter.
Collapsible or Hard-Sided
Most people assume that a collapsible cooler has to be a smaller one, however that’s not always the case. Yes, small coolers, like the ones that you take for day trips, are generally collapsible. That doesn’t mean that all small coolers are collapsible or that all large coolers are hard sided. So you want to know what you’re looking for.
If you’re planning on the cooler being empty at some point you may want a collapsible cooler because it will then be easier to store. On the other hand, if you are going to keep refilling the cooler or you need something a little easier to carry you may want a hard-sided cooler that holds its shape at all times.
This is going to depend on the primary reason you need the cooler. Are you going on several long trips or do you prefer to go out for the day? If you’re going to be going for longer periods of time you’ll definitely want a larger cooler that’s going to hold more of what you really need to keep your food cold.
If you’re just going for short trips you don’t want to have to spend a lot of money or take up a lot of space with a large cooler that’s going to be mostly empty. That empty space is definitely not going to help you keep your food cold longer and it’s going to mean less other stuff that you can take with you on your trip.
Having a good amount of insulation is going to be crucial for your cooler. You want to make sure you don’t have to spend a whole lot of money on ice cubes while you’re traveling just to keep your food at the temperature it needs to be. You’d rather spend that money on other things.
The better the insulation on the cooler the longer it’s going to stay cold with a smaller amount of ice or ice packets. That way you’re going to save some money and your food is going to stay colder, without you having to worry about it.
Most coolers have a drain on the side to help you get water (from your melted ice) out when you’re done. Smaller coolers may require you to tip the cooler upside down, which is okay (though not ideal) for those smaller coolers but not so much for larger ones.
On the other hand, the drains on the side don’t always get all of the water out and you still have to dry the cooler to prevent molding. Make sure you consider how it drains and what’s the best option for you when you purchase the cooler. If you prefer tipping it or prefer something else, make sure it’s going to work.
Latches & Locks
Not all coolers have any type of latch because they seal completely and this keeps them from popping open when you don’t want them to. Still, some may include a latch or some type of lock that helps them stay closed or helps you make sure people aren’t getting into them when you don’t want them to.
These are considered extra features and you will want to look at the different coolers available to decide if one of these is the right option for you or if it’s just a bonus if it’s there with a cooler you already like.
This is usually going to be comparable to the size of the cooler that you choose but it’s also going to depend on what the cooler is made of including whether it is soft or hard-sided.
You want to make sure you’re going to be able to carry the cooler easily enough (whether by yourself or with help) when it is completely full of food and drinks you’ll need for your trip. If you get something too large you could have trouble moving it when you finish filling it up and that’s not going to help you have a good trip.
Top Coolers on The Market: Reviews & Impressions
ORCA Extra Heavy Duty Cooler
Weight: 17 lbs. (+ for larger sizes)
Dimensions: 19” x 13.75” x 15” outside 14” x 10” x 11” inside
Specific Features: Several size options, superior gasket seal, keeps ice for a long time
Best For: Any length trips, moderate to high temperature days
Description: The ORCA Extra Heavy Duty cooler is a little more expensive, starting at just over $200 for a 20 quart option, but there are plenty of different options to choose from. You can choose sizes between 20 quarts and 75 quarts and you can also choose from several different color options.
Made 100% in the United States with a gasket style lid seal to make sure that everything you put in stays cold, it also has a stainless steel handle to make carrying it even easier.
With the small option you can head out on a day trip or head out to the beach while the larger one will allow you plenty of space for longer trips. The cooler also includes a mesh pocket on the back to allow you to carry even more stuff that doesn’t need to be kept cold while you travel.
Pelican Products ProGear Elite Cooler, 65 Quart
Weight: 48 lbs.
Dimensions: 19.75” x 20” x 37.16” outside
Specific Features: Heavyweight, carries a lot of products, easy to drain
Best For: Long trips, large amounts of ice needed, more secure storage
Description: At 65 quarts the Pelican Products ProGear Elite Cooler is a great option for those looking to head out for longer trips. It comes in at just under $400, but that’s not bad when you consider all the features that it has. The wide latches make sure the lid stays down when you want it to but also unhook easily, even when wearing gloves.
Not only that but there’s an easy-to-use sloped drain that you can even attach to a hose and 2” insulation to keep ice for up to 10 days. With a variety of colors to choose from, this cooler is held with handles on either side which are molded in and hinged for stability.
Engel High Performance Roto-Molded DeepBlue Coolers
Weight: 25 lbs.
Dimensions: 16” x 16” x 26” outside
Specific Features: Security holes and latches, easy to use drain plug, grippy feet
Best For: Longer trips, stay cold longer
Description: With a price tag just about $200, the Engel High Performance Roto-Molded cooler is available in several fun colors including camouflage. It can even hold ice for up to 10 days so you don’t have to worry about anything melting along the way. It also has 2” polyurethane insulation and a bear resistant form to make sure your food is never going to be stolen either.
Made in the same way as whitewater kayaks and with marine grade compression latches, you’re going to love it. It also has two easy to move straps with molded handles so you can carry it with another person, not to mention it’s designed for rugged terrain and rough traveling and camping.
You’ll have absolutely no problem taking it anywhere and using it whenever you want, whether you need to leave it open to get in and out or lock it up tight.
Coleman Xtreme Cooler
Weight: 14 lbs.
Dimensions: 28” x 18” x 16” outside
Specific Features: Single handle, size options, high quality for outdoors
Best For: Short to moderate length trips, consistent outdoors people
Description: Priced low and from a company that is well known for camping and travel, the Coleman Xtreme cooler is definitely a great option for those heading out on a shorter trip. With options from a 28 quart up to 70 quarts, you’ll be able to choose several colors and still get everything you really want.
It’s easy to carry with a taller design rather than a wider one and has one large handle to make carrying easier. There’s even two cupholders built into the lid so you can set it up right next to where you’re sitting and use it as a table. You can pack up this cooler and keep it cold for several days without a problem and when you’re done it’s easy to flip over and dump out to get rid of excess water and ice.
Grizzly Coolers Tailgating Cooler
Weight: 33 lbs.
Dimensions: 18” x 18” x 33.25” outside
Specific Features: Large enough for longer trips, made in the USA
Best For: Long trips, multiple people
Description: Priced just under $400, the Grizzly Coolers Tailgating cooler is a little higher than most, but it’s definitely full of features and extras that help make it a great pick. With three latches to keep the lid closed and a rubber gasket style lid to make sure it’s sealed, you won’t have to worry about this cooler falling open or your stuff getting too warm.
It also features large drains to get rid of excess water at the end of the trip and two handles to make it easier to carry. Not only that but the entire thing is made in the United States and is 75 quarts. That means you can carry plenty for the longer trips you’re planning to take and that you’ll also have no problem with quality. You will also like that it has rubber feet that won’t skid and also won’t leave marks.
Yeti Tundra Cooler
Weight: 19 lbs.
Dimensions: 15.5” x 21” x 16”
Specific Features: PermaFrost Insulation, ColdLock Gasket lid, NeverFail Hinge System
Best For: Short to moderate trips, need cold stuff to stay longer
Description: You can choose from a 20 quart cooler all the way up to a 70 quart option and with prices that start just under $300 and go up from there with the Yeti Tundra cooler. This cooler is roto-molded, which means it’s made in one piece just like a whitewater kayak, making it sturdy and strong.
Not only that but it has pressure injected Perma-Frost Insulation to keep everything cold much longer and two latches to keep the lid closed when you want it to be.
Inside the cooler is also a basket to make sure you have plenty of space to store your stuff but also to keep it sorted better. Not to mention the ColdLock Gasket lid ensures that the cold stays in and the heat stays out.
Igloo Yukon Cold Locker Cooler
Weight: 41.9 lbs.
Dimensions: 21” x 17” x 36”
Specific Features: 3 inches of polyurethane in the lid, easy drain plug release, fish measuring tool
Best For: Long trips, multiple people going, need cool longer
Description: If you’re looking for a large cooler that’s going to help you have a better trip then the Igloo Yukon Cold Locker cooler is definitely a great option.
It has a textured lid that you can use as a work surface and also has a fish keeper scale to help you measure easily. It’s offered in sizes from 50 quarts all the way up to 150 quarts so even if you’re taking a very long trip you’ll be able to take everything you need.
With dual lid locks everything will stay secure and the three inches of polyurethane insulation keeps it all cold for a long time. It’s made with one piece of polyethylene to ensure there are no cracks that water or cold air can seep out and to drain all you need to do is pull the drain plug on the side. This cooler is a little heavy, but you’ll be able to carry it with the help of another person and put plenty of food inside.
Rubbermaid Extreme 5-Day Wheeled Ice Chest
Weight: 14.9 lbs.
Dimensions: 16.9” x 33.3” x 19.4”
Specific Features: Holds up to 130 cans, keeps ice up to five days, split lid
Best For: Moderate to long trips, multiple people, lightweight
Description: If you’re looking for the traditional picnic cooler then this is definitely it. You can store plenty of stuff inside and it has wheels on the end so you can easily pull it along. The Rubbermaid Extreme 5-Day Wheeled cooler can keep your ice for up to five days no matter what it’s like outside and it has an easy pull drain to get rid of excess water.
Not only that, you also have side handles that allow you to lift and carry the cooler just as easily and you can set it down and use the cupholders for your drinks. Open one side of the lid or the whole thing to get at your food and drinks and don’t worry about cold air seeping out because the lid seals tightly. This cooler is designed for any of your outdoor activities.
Polar Bear Coolers Soft Cooler
Weight: 2 lbs.
Dimensions: 14” x 7” x 12” outside
Specific Features: Easy to carry with shoulder or hand straps, heavy duty shell
Best For: Short trips, only a few people going
Description: This cooler may look more like a briefcase but it’s actually a great option for those who want something easy to carry and store. It’s small enough to sling over your shoulder, but large enough to carry plenty of drinks or food.
With size options for a 12-pack, 24-pack or backpack style, you can transport whatever you need in style, because there are plenty of color options as well.
The Polar Bear Coolers soft cooler is designed to fold up easily when you’re done with it and it zips closed so it’s easy to open as well. Not to mention the zipper is extremely easy to keep the cold in and the heat out. The shell is 1000 denier Cordura nylon and open cell foam to keep cold in even better as well.
Finding The Best Cooler for Your Trip
No matter what type of cooler you get, the best thing you can do is make sure that you get one that works for you. No one else can tell you which cooler is going to be the best for you because only you know that for sure.
You want to make sure that you pick one that’s just the right size and weight, but remember that you’re going to want it for more than one trip.
That means you just might need something a little bigger than you would normally pick for a two-day trip, so it’s going to be ready for your next five-day trip (though if you’re going to take extremely short and extremely long trips you may need to get more than one cooler to alternate). That’s how we go about choosing the best cooler, but for you it might be completely different, so let us know, what’s most important to you when choosing a cooler for a trip?