It’s a long, hot summer’s day in the national park. The kind of afternoon where you don’t need to do anything to break a sweat.
You contemplate stripping naked to cool down – but the local wildlife might be offended.
There’s only one thing for it – to break open a cold one in the shade of the forest canopy.
You eagerly unzip your old cool bag and discover to your utter horror that the entire contents are warm.
If a man screams in the woods, and nobody is around to hear it – does he really scream?!
Let’s face it, this nightmarish scenario has been experienced by all of us once upon a time.
But the good news is, cool box technology has come a long way down the years, and there’s some top quality kit available today that’s as effective as taking a portable fridge with you.
Below you’ll find the best coolers for camping in 2021 with that all important buyer’s guide and FAQ section to follow.
Never be left out in the warm again.
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- TOP 14 Best Coolers for Camping 2021
- Coleman 48-Quart Performance Cooler
- OlarHike 30 Liter Large Cooler Lunch Bag
- Coleman Wheeled Cooler
- Igloo Max Cold Quantum 52 Quart Roller Cooler
- Igloo BMX 52 Quart Cooler
- Solar Bear Performance Soft Cooler
- K-Box Electric Cooler and Warmer with Wheels
- Engel ENG35 High Performance Cooler
- Yeti Hopper Two Portable Cooler
- Pelican Elite 70 Quart Cooler
- Driftsun 75 Quart Ice Chest
- Yeti Tundra 65 Cooler
- OtterBox Venture 65 Quart Cooler
- Igloo Yukon Cold Locker Cooler
- How to Choose the Best Cooler for Camping
TOP 14 Best Coolers for Camping 2021
Coleman 48-Quart Performance Cooler
Review: Starting our selection at the budget end of the cooler scale we have camping gurus Coleman offering this 48-quart cooler that can hold 63 12-ounce cans. It features some added height so you can hold 2-liter bottles upright to prevent unwanted spills.
It has a hinged lid, two-way handles and low CO2 insulation for reduced carbon emissions from foam manufacturing. It’ll hold ice for up to three days in 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
There’s cup holders in the dual seat/lid design.
- Great price.
- No-nonsense construction.
- Name you can trust.
- As basic as it gets.
OlarHike 30 Liter Large Cooler Lunch Bag
Review: A more portable solution than your average cooler, this OlarHike bag holds 30 liters (8 gallons) and can keep your beverages or food icy cold for up to 12 hours.
It offers a load capacity of 50 lbs, and it will pack in 40 cans (330ml) or 20 bottles (500ml). The exterior is made from 600 denier Oxford fabric while internally it’s an eco-friendly PEVA foil and padded with 5mm EPE foam for great thermal resistance.
It’s 100% leak-proof, and is super lightweight while offering two ways of transportation, with a shoulder strap and carrying handles.
- Highly portable.
- Great price.
- Doesn’t last as long as other coolers.
- Not as durable as hard shells.
Coleman Wheeled Cooler
Review: Decent portability doesn’t just come with cool bags these days, as Coleman’s second entry clearly shows. This could well be one of the best coolers for camping with wheels, perfect for camping trips and picnics.
It features a telescopic handle and rugged wheel system so you don’t have to worry about dragging it across uneven terrain. Boasting a large capacity of 50-quarts, it’ll hold up to 84-cans.
More than enough for you and the squad to enjoy some cold brews. The insulated lid and walls provide 5 full days of ice retention at temperatures up to 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Portable, wheeled design.
- Large capacity.
- Long ice life.
- Doubled as a seat.
- Handles are not the best.
Igloo Max Cold Quantum 52 Quart Roller Cooler
Review: Rolling on in is another wheeled cooler, this time from Igloo, the US manufacturer of ice chests.
It might well be worth the few dollars more for this against the Coleman, with a 52 quart capacity offering what they call the ultimate in cold retention with utratherm insulated lid and body.
Like all Igloo products, it certainly looks attractive and well-built, with a telescopic handle and durable wheels. There’s an internal shelf-ledge provides usable space for setting drinks and condiments on, and molded side handles to assist in lifting when required.
- Quality construction.
- Name to trust in coolers.
- Stylish to look at.
- Still some handle problems here, too.
Igloo BMX 52 Quart Cooler
Review: Igloo don’t waste any time coming in with their second entry, a more heavy-duty cooler with blow-molded construction and a reinforced base for increased strength and protection.
It has a proven ice-retention of four to five days in 90 degrees Fahrenheit, offering a 52-quart capacity of 83 12-ounce cans. It has rust-resistant, stainless-steel hinge rods and hardware that provide extended performance, while the rubberized latches keep the lid secure.
The drain plug is garden hose compatible, while the MaxCold body offers a 20% thicker foam and insulated lid. This is a solid piece of kit and no mistake.
- Tough, durable design.
- Solid hardware.
- Great cooler all-round for under $100.
- Might not retain ice as long as it’s claimed.
Solar Bear Performance Soft Cooler
Review: Polar Bear Coolers are market leaders when it comes to soft coolers, and this Solar Bear model is certainly no exception.
For a soft case it offers 24-hours of frozen ice even in the hottest conditions, in a bag that is extremely durable and tough, guaranteed to be leak-proof, UV-protected with solid, top-quality zippers and hardware.
It’s lightweight and portable, made from excellent materials and will hold a capacity of 24 cans.
If you’re looking for a cooler on the go, it doesn’t get much better than Polar Bear.
- Quality design and construction.
- Highly portable.
- Again, it won’t retain ice as long as hardshell designs.
K-Box Electric Cooler and Warmer with Wheels
Review: There’s a twist to this cooler that might be a help to some and a hindrance to others – depending on what you’re looking for. This has the option of being powered to become a portable fridge, which is excellent if you’re on the road in an RV or camper van.
At home, it’ll connect to a normal wall socket, but it does say the plugs and cables are easily stored away for convenience.
It can also keep food or any other contents hot if required, with a 48-quart capacity that stores about 60 cans of soda or 6 two-liter bottles and 15 cans of soda or beer. It’ll maintain a chilled 40 degrees Fahrenheit without any ice – providing you can plug it in, of course.
- No ice required if connected.
- Hot and cold options.
- Plug in anywhere.
- Power outlet required.
- Drains a lot of power from battery packs.
Engel ENG35 High Performance Cooler
Review: Engel have been making coolers for over 50 years and as one of the premium manufacturers on the block, they can boast that their products will hold ice for a whopping 10 days.
This chest is built to stop a bear – quite literally – and is pretty much indestructible.
It’s an IGBC certified bear-resistant container – when the two locks are used, with a silicone airtight gasket, adjustable recessed marine grade compression latches and UV-resistant construction.
It’s 35 quarts manages a 42 can capacity in this extremely well-made product that could easily be one of the best ice coolers for camping available today.
- Solid as a rock.
- Bear resistant.
- Excellent ice retention.
- On the heavy side.
Yeti Hopper Two Portable Cooler
Review: Designed to keep ice for several days, the Yeti Hopper Two is a super-portable cooler bag that’s 100% leak-proof, with a tapered construction that makes carrying more comfortable.
It features a waterproof DryHide shell with extremely durable straps that will really take a beating. The cooler will pack in 24 cans of beer, in a bag constructed of similar materials used with HazMat suits and whitewater rafts.
It’s customizable too, and you can easily attach or incorporate other Yeti accessories to this lightweight and portable cooler. If you’re on the go, this is one of the best camping coolers on the market, but like everything with Yeti – you’ll pay for it.
- Name to trust.
- Top-quality design and construction.
- Built to last.
- Very expensive for a soft bag.
- Capacity to price ratio isn’t the best.
Pelican Elite 70 Quart Cooler
Review: Pelican make hard cases to protect your stuff. In fact, they’re up there with the best in the world at it, so it’s no surprise that they can produce this top-quality cooler which offers a whopping 70 quarts of capacity.
It’s ridiculously thick, featuring two inches of polyurethane insulation with a 360-degree freezer-grade gasket which delivers extreme ice retention. It’s super-solid, bear-proof, borderline indestructible and even comes with a stainless steel bottle opener incorporated.
Because let’s face it – that’s what you’re using it for. A lid molded fish measuring scale is also a nice touch for all you anglers out there.
- Outstanding build quality.
- Name to trust.
- Choice of colors.
- Large capacity.
- On the bulky side.
Driftsun 75 Quart Ice Chest
Review: If you want a really good ice chest for camping, you’ve come to the right place with this Driftsun model.
It boasts three inches of commercial-grade insulation with a massive 75-quart capacity. it has military-style rope handles, a freezer style gasket, cold seal latches, two bottle openers and non-slip rubber feet, all incorporated in a Rotomolded thermoplastic construction that is UV protected and pretty much indestructible.
It’s packed with features and offers an ice retention of seven to ten days. Ain’t no critter anywhere going to get into this beast, so you’ve got peace of mind whatever you’re doing in the great outdoors.
- Outstanding ice retention.
- Solid build.
- Choice of colors.
Yeti Tundra 65 Cooler
Review: Yeti’s flagship model is a cooler of epic proportions, and one of the finest products in its class on the market.
Whether you’re using it for hunting, fishing, camping or just a tailgate night out, it’s got three inches of PermaFrost insulation and an extra thick FatWall design that is certified bear-resistant should any unwanted furry guests turn up.
Its rotomoulded construction ensures it is virtually indestructible, with T-Rex lid latches made from heavy-duty rubber with and has patented keeper technology so you’ll never see another busted latch. Loaded with features, the Yeti Tundra is up there with the very best of the best.
And at these prices – you’d certainly hope so.
- Top quality name and construction.
- Built to last a lifetime.
- Excellent ice retention.
- Choice of colors.
OtterBox Venture 65 Quart Cooler
Review: Otterbox are usually synonymous with making their market-leading protective cases for cell phones, but they venture easily into the cooler department with this excellent product.
It claims to retain ice for a jaw-dropping 16 days length of time (given premium conditions) and it can take 36 12-ounce cans in its generous 65-quart capacity. It has two-inch refrigeration grade insulation foam built-in, with a slanted interior bottom for ease of drainage.
A bottle opener and dry storage tray is also included, but there is a mounting system for scope in adding additional accessories.
- Tough and durable.
- Bear resistant.
- Excellent ice retention.
- Awesome color schemes and designs.
Igloo Yukon Cold Locker Cooler
Review: Now, we really are going top-of-the-line here (for price at least) with this Igloo Yukon cooler. With a capacity of 50 quarts, it is insulated with three inches of polyurethane in the gasketed lid and two inches in the body to help keep everything frozen for the long haul.
This is practically like taking a freezer unit camping with you. There’s an integrated fish measuring tool and non-slip textured surface on the lid to make it easy to store a catch if you’re taking it angling, but this is just as versatile for any situation you need a world-class cooler for.
- Heavy-duty build and performance.
- Packed with features.
- Bear (and probably bomb) proof.
- Excellent ice retention.
- Exorbitantly expensive.
- Bit bland looking.
How to Choose the Best Cooler for Camping
It might not be rocket science, but there are certainly a few things one should be aware of before parting with one’s hard-earned cash.
Below you’ll find some advice on what to look for before purchasing your camping cooler. The FAQ section will follow close on its heels.
But you should start by getting yourself an awesome cabin tent from that review link. Especially if you’re a big group who like to enjoy the outdoors together – so go and check them out, too.
It’s debatable what is the most important thing to look for when it comes to your new cooler, but I would argue that before you look at how cold it’s going to keep your provisions, you should first make sure it’s going to hold them all.
And because it might be difficult for most of us to wrap our heads around that, cooler manufacturers have been kind enough to specify how many cans the cooler will hold, either of the soda or the (more important) beer variety.
With this in mind, you can get a good idea if the unit will be sufficient to your needs.
Make sure you take into account the size of your group when it comes to purchasing a cooler with the right amount of capacity.
It is often a regular mistake and rookie error to underestimate just how much space you’re going to need.
In layman’s terms – how long will the ice keep in a cooler before it melts?
Obviously, the longer the ice can remain without turning into a pool of water the better the insulation of the cooler and the more chance you’ll have of keeping things fresh and cold.
Generally speaking, the better quality the insulation and the thicker the cooler walls, the higher the ice retention time is likely to be.
But aside from how good the cooler actually is, there are a number of other factors to consider when it comes to ice retention.
How hot the day is can have a big effect. Most coolers are tested to around 40 degrees Fahrenheit to see how long ice lasts in the cooler at that temperature.
Whether or not you pre-chill the cooler beforehand can also have a say.
How often you open the lid will make a huge difference.
And where the cooler is being stored – sitting in a cool pond or in the full blaze of the sun on a beach will give decidedly differing results.
For lengthier trips, look for something with better insulation for longer-lasting ice.
If you have regular access to the frozen stuff, or it’s just for day-tripping, you don’t need to worry too much about getting a high-end cooler.
Choose the cooler that best suits your needs for ice life, and while you’re at it, don’t forget about a camping cookware set – because you’re going to need to be able to actually prepare all that food you brought.
Or that whopper of a catch you landed today.
With the obvious exception of the cool bags/soft coolers, most coolers are well built and can take a good beating.
But for the real hard-as-nails quality, you’ll be wanting to look at the more expensive end of the market.
This is especially vital if you’re likely to be in bear country.
Because if you’re keeping any kind of foodstuff, catch or kill in a cool box and you’re in the wilderness, you can bet your bottom dollar a critter or several will sniff it out.
Rotomoulded construction is something to keep an eye out for – products that are entirely fashioned out of one part, rather than several cobbled together.
Aside from that, look for heavy-duty hardware made from premium materials. Latches should be firm and sturdy, seals should be top quality, handles need to be strong and well made.
And make sure it’s UV-protected, so your cooler won’t look like it’s been out in the sun for years when it’s only been out in the sun for a day.
Finally, you should take into consideration how portable you need your cooler to be.
Most of the coolers I’ve included in this review are of the ice chest variety. They’re more suitable to car camping or kayaking, where you have a vehicle to do the heavy lifting.
If you’re looking for something a little more portable – perhaps to take on a hike – check out these awesome backpack cooler systems instead.
However, you’ll notice that there are still some products here that offer excellent portability as a camping cooler, made from lightweight materials with plenty of carrying options.
And even the ice chests – while certainly looking the same with regards to their durability, can vary greatly in weight and portability.
Then there are the coolers with wheels, which significantly increasing ease of transportation.
Again, have a think about how you’re going to be using it and purchase accordingly.
How Big Does an Ice Cooler Need to be for Camping?
It depends on two things really – how many people are in your group and how long are you going to be camping for?
The more people, the larger it will need to be. But you can always take two smaller ones if you prefer.
It’s also highly recommended that you have a separate cooler for drinks. A drinks cooler will be the one that is opened the most frequently so any food it contains will spoil faster.
It’s entirely up to you, but just don’t underestimate how much room you’ll need. As I said, buying a cooler that is too small is often a common mistake.
What’s the Best Way to Pack a Camping Cooler?
Anyone who has ever been camping with a cooler with have their own personal preferences when it comes to how to pack a cooler efficiently.
What kind of ice to use.
How to layer the meat, dairy and produce.
Where and how to store the drinks.
I could write an article in itself about tips, tricks and techniques, but I found the video below to be very useful and informative – and I think you will too.
Or, just chuck a cooler full of ice and ram it with beer. Simple.
What is the Best Make of Camping Cooler?
It is widely understood and accepted that Yeti are the market leaders in cool box technology – but they’re also by far and away the most expensive.
Don’t get too caught up in the brands – do your research on the cooler that best suits your needs.
It’s like trying to choose the best camping grills – there are awesome makes and there are not so awesome makes. Check them out to find out which is which – because everyone needs a good grill when camping.
Can You Keep Medicines in a Camping Cooler Safely?
A very good question. There are many reports and reviews citing that people can safely store medication that needs to be kept chilled in a camping cooler.
It’s certainly a better option than not going at all or having your meds in a warm place.
When in doubt, I’d look at a portable fridge/electric cooler (there is one included in the review) so the unit will constantly be kept chilled when it needs to be.
Or, a cooler that is specifically designed for medication.
Of course, it depends on how long you’ll be camping for and how much medication you’ll require.
Also, I’m no doctor. Most med users will know perfectly well how best to store their medicines, anyway.
How Long Will My Beer Remain Cold in a Cooler?
It depends on the cooler, the conditions and how many times you’ll be opening the unit to access the sweet nectar contained within.
Hopefully, you and your party will have drank it all long before it has even the slightest chance to warm up!
Are All Camping Coolers Bear Proof?
No – most certainly not.
This is especially true of coolers at the budget-friendly end of the scale.
Those things will disintegrate with one gentle swipe of a paw.
If you’re concerned about bear activity in your chosen camping region – or even at home for that matter – then you need to purchase a cooler that has been certified as bear-proof.
This is particularly essential if you’re hunting or fishing with your cooler to keep your quarry fresh and away from thieving critters.
I hope this review and guide has assisted you in choosing one of the best coolers for camping in 2021.
Let me know in the comments section which unit you prefer and why, or if you have any general questions or observations about camping coolers.
Something else you need to be cool about is solo travel safety – so why not download my e-book for more tips, tricks and advice when you’re out exploring on your own?
Stay frosty, everyone!
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