If you’re in a rush, I’d recommend that you get the Tundra 65 cooler from YETI.
One of the biggest headaches when it comes to camping is food. You can’t bring your fridge with you, so you’ve got to bring food that won’t spoil. This seriously limits your options when it comes to meals and snacks.
That’s why you need a cooler. Pick up an outdoor cooler and throw some ice in it, and now you’ve got somewhere to keep your perishable food. You can bring meat, cheese, pre-cooked meals, or even a few cold beers.
However, there are a ton of coolers on the market. It can take hours to dig through all the options that are available to you.
If you’ve got some spare time, this article will show you what options you can choose from, with reviews of some of the best coolers for camping money can buy. You’ll also learn the criteria that you should be considering when picking out a cooler.
Let’s get right into it!
Table of Contents
Best Coolers For Camping: Our Top 10 Picks
- YETI Tundra 65 (Best Overall Cooler For Camping)
- Coleman Steel-Belted Cooler (A Good 2nd Choice)
- Grizzly 20-Quart Rotomolded Cooler (Best For Additional Features)
- Orca 20-Quart ORCG020 Cooler (Best Camping Cooler For Solo Campers)
- Igloo BMX (Best Value For Money)
- Dometic CFX3 55IM Powered Cooler + Icemaker (Best Portable Freezer)
- YETI Tundra Haul Wheeled Cooler (Best Cooler On Wheels)
- YETI Tundra 45 Cooler (Best Cooler For Sailing)
- REI Co-op Cool Trail Split Pack Cooler (Best For Backpacking)
- YETI Hopper Flip 18 Soft Cooler (Best For Picnics)
YETI – Tundra 65
YETI has always been one of the top brands when it comes to coolers. The Tundra 65 is one of their high-end models, but it’s definitely worth the price.
First of all, I was very impressed by the variety of colors that this model came in. You could go for ice blue, river green, seafoam, white, or even desert tan if you want to feel like a Navy SEAL during your next camping trip.
You’ll be hard-pressed to find a unit with insulation superior to this YETI cooler. This baby is backed by three robust inches of PermaFrost insulation, a unique material that keeps heat out. It also features a bear-resistant design to ensure that your supplies are secured from furry raiders.
One of the best things about this cooler is that it’s exceptionally durable. Nothing short of a sledgehammer will put a dent in this thing.
Lastly, the latches on this beast are made of heavy-duty rubber, which ensures their longevity and resistance to weather.
- Enough color options to satisfy everyone
- Thick three-inch insulation keeps all your food crisp
- Bear-resistant latches make this safe to use overnight
- Durable, so you won’t have to buy another cooler ever again
- Rubber latches mean your cooler won’t break while you’re out and about
- Premium pricing, but well worth it in my opinion
Best for: campers who are looking for the best cooler – this one will last you a lifetime.
Coleman – Steel-Belted Cooler
This cooler is far cheaper than the Tundra 65, making it a prime choice for those who need to keep their supplies chilled without breaking the bank. Despite the lower price, you still get a ton of storage space with this model.
Much like the Tundra 65, this cooler from Coleman comes in quite a few different colors. Green, red, and turquoise are some of the colors you can choose from. You can also go for stainless steel for a modern look or matte black for that tactical aesthetic that’s popular these days.
The total capacity for this unit stands at 54 quarts. That means it can fit as many as 85 cans. If 85 cans of Voodoo Ranger aren’t enough to keep you satisfied during a camping trip, then you might need to think about cutting down on the brewskies. In all seriousness though, you won’t fall short on capacity here.
The insulation on this cooler is thick enough to keep your ice alive for four days in temperatures of up to 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
You’ll find that the construction of this Coleman cooler is top-notch. Its stainless steel, rust-resistant hardware and ergonomic handle make this one durable cooler.
If you’re looking for a durable cooler that can fit most camping budgets, then this unit is definitely a top pick.
- Tons of colors available
- More affordable than a YETI, and (almost) as cool
- 54-quart capacity gives you tons of space
- Four-day ice lifespan is long enough for a weekend away
- Stainless steel construction is easy to clean and simple to use
- Ergonomic handle makes lugging your cooler painless
- Not quite as durable as the Tundra 65
Best for: campers who are looking for an affordable (yet sturdy) cooler for their next trip.
Grizzly – 20-Quart Rotomolded Cooler
If YETI is top of the line, and Coleman is more affordable, this Grizzly cooler is smack dab in the middle.
Made in the USA, this cooler boasts the usual features such as a variety of colors and reliable insulation. That being said, there are some unique traits that you’ll find with this particular model.
First off, the handle is made out of stainless steel, meaning that it can take a beating during the wet season without rusting. The feet of the cooler are made out of rubber, meaning that it won’t skid even if you place it on slippery surfaces.
Also, the drain is rather broad, with a diameter of two inches. This wide construction makes it easy to drain water quickly. That means you won’t be left waiting for an eternity as the water drips out of the cooler as slow as molasses.
In this portable cooler, the lifespan of ice is around four days in temperatures up to 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
Its plastic tray is also removable making it easier to clean the cooler when you’re done using it.
- Non-slip rubber feet help you avoid slippage
- Extensive insulation (keeps ice for four days)
- Stainless steel handle won’t rust or snap
- Tons of colors available
- Full drain for smooth water flow
- Removable tray makes for easy cleaning
- Pricier than the Coleman cooler, but similar in features
- Smaller than some of the other coolers we reviewed
Best for: campers who want premium features like rubber feet, a removable tray, and stainless steel handles.
Orca – 20-Quart ORCG020 Cooler
While the two standard colors of this cooler are the military hues of green and tan, it also comes in white or even pink if those shades better suit your taste.
The lid gasket on this model ensures that the seal is nothing short of perfect.
The stainless steel handle has a flexible grip to ensure that it’s as comfortable as it is durable. I found that the single-handle design made it easier for me to bear the weight during my trek to the campsite.
This isn’t the most affordable cooler nor the biggest, but it definitely excels in certain areas. It’s worth noting that there’s also a 140-quart model for campers with more substantial needs, but that variant won’t come cheap.
- Lid gasket seal is one of the strongest on this list
- Four colors to choose from
- Stainless steel handle that’s thick and durable
- Cargo net attachment for added storage
- 140-quart variant available, for extra-large camping needs
- Smaller than other options, but a legitimate contender nonetheless
Best for: solo campers who want a durable cooler but don’t need too much storage space.
This Igloo cooler has a sturdy case that looks like it could take quite a beating. It has a steel leg plate around the bottom part. If you’re clumsy like me and happen to trip over this cooler, let’s just say I feel sorry for your leg.
Heavy-duty body might make you think it’s heavy, but it only weighs 16 pounds. That’s great if you’re parking far away from your campspot.
This cooler has a 52 quarts capacity. If you avoid using bulky food packaging, you can store enough food for a five-day family trip.
Finally, it’s worth mentioning that it comes in six color options. You can choose the one that goes well with your other camping equipment.
- Thanks to skid pads and the leg plate, this cooler is quite sturdy
- It can keep your groceries cool for up to five days
- With a capacity of 52 quarts, this cooler can hold 83 cans of beer
- The lid has a molded-in fish ruler that lets you measure your catch right away
- For a hard cooler, it’s quite affordable
- Rubber latches tend to catch against clothes
Best for: campers looking for a premium-quality cooler at an affordable price.
Dometic CFX3 55IM Powered Cooler + Icemaker
This model from Dometic is pretty much a mini fridge for camping. You can use it as a cooler, but in case you need a freezer, it’ll work for that, too. Although, there are no separate chambers so it can’t do both at the same time.
This cooler has a 56 quarts capacity. Since it’s electric-powered, you don’t need to use ice to keep things cool. For this reason, there’s more space for your food and drink.
When set to the freezer mode, the cooler can reach temperatures as low as -7°F. You get two ice trays with silicone lids, which prevent water from spilling before it becomes ice.
There’s a side display where you can set the desired temperature. But, you can also download an app and do all that from your phone. You can also see a complete history of the temperature settings on the app.
- The cooler can be powered by AC, DC or a solar power supply
- You can use it as either a fridge or a freezer, depending on what you need
- It comes with two silicone ice trays
- You can download a phone app where you can set the temperature
- Spring-loaded aluminum handles allow you to carry the cooler by yourself
- Even when empty, it’s quite heavy
- It costs way more than non-electric-powered coolers
Best for: camping enthusiasts willing to invest in a portable freezer.
YETI Tundra Haul Wheeled Cooler
If you’re anything like me and tend to overpack, you’ll love that this model from YETI has wheels. You can roll your food from the car trunk to the campsite and save yourself from getting a hernia.
This cooler is made of the same material used for making kayaks, so you know it’s durable and tough.
Like other YETI coolers, this model is bear-resistant. It has a thick foam inner layer that not only keeps the groceries cool but it also blocks some of the scent from the inside.
The Tundra Haul has a 45 quarts capacity. That means that, with a 2-to-1 ice-can ratio, you can store 45 cans of soda inside.
Since this is such a large cooler, having dry goods racks or dividers would be handy. For some reason YETI didn’t make this model compatible with such accessories, which is quite a shame.
- It holds your food and drink cold for several days, even when its 130°F outside
- Thanks to the T-bar handle and puncture-resistant tires, you can move the cooler around on any kind of terrain
- Since it’s wide and sturdy, you can use it as a seat too
- Like other YETI coolers, this model is bear-resistant
- You can store 45 standard-size cans (plus ice) inside the cooler
- Lacks a basket divider, which would be a nice feature to have
Best for: families or a group of friends camping together.
YETI Tundra 45 Cooler
Don’t let the number 45 fool you – that’s just the name of the model. This portable cooler has a 33 quarts capacity, which equals 28 cans of beer.
In other words, this size will suffice for a three-day camping trip with your partner, with enough room for food and a few drinks.
The Tundra 45 looks pretty basic, but it’s quite strong. Like other YETI coolers, it’s bear-resistant. That’s thanks to the thermoplastic exterior, thick foam interior and rubber latches.
I love that this model comes with a dry storage basket. This allows you to separate food from drink and find what you’re looking for faster. The less you keep the cooler open, the less it loses its cooling ability.
Thanks to the rubber feet, it won’t slide off the boat deck during bad weather. There are also tie-down slots at either end of the cooler to secure it even better. The strap, however, is bought separately.
- At 23 pounds, it’s lighter than most hard coolers on the market
- It’s bear-resistant, thanks to the thick thermoplastic it’s made of
- There are two lock points, so you can keep your food protected in case a bear visits your camp
- It comes with a dry goods rack that keeps your sandwiches separated
- It can hold the temperature for five days
- The drain plug doesn’t have a leash, meaning you can easily lose it
- The white version of the cooler is hard to remove dirt stains from
Best for: cooling food and drinks on a boat.
REI Co-op Cool Trail Split Pack Cooler
This Cool Trail Split Pack cooler from REI is great when going on a day walk in nature.
You can pack sandwiches and a few drinks – this cooler can hold 12 cans of soda. And when filled with ice or cold packs, your stuff will stay cool for the whole day.
The coolest thing about it is that it doubles as a backpack. There’s plenty of space in the top compartment for your necessities. The side pockets are great for holding water bottles, while you can put a map or a flashlight in the top pocket.
What’s also great is that you can attach bulky things to the front straps. That way, you can carry light but bulky things, like a picnic blanket or a foldable chair.
The idea behind this cooler is great, but flawed. If you incline it to the sides when there’s melted ice inside, you risk the water leaking to other compartments.
- There’s plenty of storage space for things like a lunch box or a water bottle
- The cooler holds the temperature for the whole day
- Front straps allow you to attach bulky items to it
- The cooling section is removable, so you can precool it in the fridge
- Padded straps help with taking some of the weight off of your shoulders
- It’s not entirely waterproof
Best for: carrying food and drinks on day hikes.
YETI Hopper Flip 18 Soft Cooler
For a soft sided cooler, the Flip 18 has great ice retention. It can keep food cool for up to three days.
However, there’s only enough space to put a few steaks and maybe 16 cans of beer. By the time the ice melts, your food and drinks will be long inside your stomach.
Since it’s soft sided, it’s not bear-proof. But, it’s waterproof and puncture-resistant. For a soft cooler, it’s pretty tough.
The cooler has a top handle and a shoulder strap for carrying. It’s somewhat bulky so it’s not really suitable for day hikes, but carrying it for a few miles shouldn’t be a problem. The strap has an ergonomic pad, which prevents it from cutting into your shoulder.
This is a high-quality cooler that performs very well. However, it also comes with a premium price tag. Considering that for the same amount, you can find a hard cooler with a larger capacity and bear resistance, some might opt for a more economic option.
- The outer part of the bag is resistant to punctures, water, mildew and UV radiation
- A padded shoulder strap makes carrying more comfortable
- Thanks to the rubber foam insulation, it keeps groceries cool for up to three days
- Daisy chain straps at the front are great for attaching a bottle opener or a pocket knife
- Thanks to its cubic shape, you can pack things like long-neck wine bottles
- Very expensive for a soft cooler
Best for: couples going on a picnic.
Types Of Coolers
Camping coolers can be sorted into four categories. You’ve got soft coolers, hard coolers, electric coolers and styrofoam coolers.
Here’s a brief explanation of each of these types:
Soft coolers are basically a stiff bag with insulation.
They’re usually on the lighter side and can be carried across your shoulder, in hand, or sometimes even as a backpack.
Since they’re smaller and can’t hold temperatures for as long as hard coolers, these are more of a single-day option. They’re perfect for day hikes, picnics and fishing trips, to name a few.
Because of their small size, they usually use ice packs or small ice blocks to keep the contents of the cooler bag cold.
A hard shell cooler is the most common type of cooler used for camping.
Most of the time, they’re either made of plastic or fiberglass and steel.
While fiberglass and steel coolers are more durable, they’re also heavier than plastic.
When compared to soft coolers, a hard sided cooler is heavier and more cumbersome, but has better insulating ability.
Most of them can keep food cold for about four or five days, providing you keep them in the shade as much as possible and don’t open them too often.
This type of cooler is basically a portable mini fridge.
They require a power source, whether it’s your car’s DC outlet, a portable power station or a generator.
Additional Reading: How To Quiet A Generator For Camping And Enjoy The Sound Of Nature
They cost way more than hard and soft coolers, but they can keep your food chilled and fresh for an unlimited amount of time, as long as you have power.
Since they don’t use ice for cooling, you can use them at their full capacity.
If you’ve got access to a power source, it’s definitely worth investing in an electric cooler. You’ll be able to kick back at the campsite and relax, without having to worry about ice melting and food going off.
These are the most basic of coolers.
They use styrofoam for insulation, which makes them quite lightweight. This is great if you need a cooler that’s both large and easily portable.
However, it also means they can’t hold temperatures for as long as other coolers can. So, if you need a cooler that’s going to be effective for more than a day, a styrofoam cooler might not be the way to go.
In general, they’ll serve you well for a single-day trip, making them great for family barbecues, birthday parties and sporting events.
Choosing The Right Cooler For Camping Trips
There’s a lot more that goes into picking the right cooler than you might think. Everything from insulation, seals, and even drains can be factors that need to be considered when you’re choosing a unit for your next camping trip.
I’m going to go over all the criteria that you should look at before making your decision in this section.
The first thing that you should analyze when choosing between coolers is insulation. There are various types of insulation across different units. Each one has its own level of effectiveness in keeping everything inside sufficiently chilled.
While there are different materials used to insulate the coolers, you should be more focused on the thickness of the foam.
This is because the thickness makes a major difference in performance, while the material only makes a marginal difference.
All the insulation in the world won’t do you any good if the seal on your cooler isn’t up to par. If the warmer air outside can make its way into the cooler (due to poor sealing), then the cooler essentially becomes useless.
There’s simply no margin for error here, and thus, any cooler worth its cost should seal correctly. If you notice weak seals or faulty mechanisms, then swipe left on that unit and find a better one.
Lid gaskets are the best type of seal that you’ll find in a camping cooler, but other varieties are okay too as long as they’re well-made.
If you’re really intent on checking the seal of your cooler, you can attach an air compressor to the drain of the cooler and checking for any escaping air. But, most of the time, you can eyeball it.
The drain of the cooler is another element that you should be paying attention to if you hope to find the right unit. That’s because there’s really no avoiding wetness within your cooler.
After all, ice won’t remain a solid unless you’re camping in Antarctica – but then, you wouldn’t need a cooler to begin with. When the ice inside your cooler inevitably melts and fills your unit with water, a reliable drain is required to get rid of all that excess liquid.
Draining your cooler when it gets too full will help conserve the remaining ice. You should pick a cooler that has its drain fixed into the interior of the unit so that it won’t come off if something impacts it.
There was this particular cooler that I brought along on a camping trip with my boys. They were skipping rocks when they let a rock slip out of their hands and accidentally hit the cooler. Since the drain was fitted to the exterior of the unit, it immediately came off and was beyond repair.
You should also make sure the drain is reliable and sturdy. The last thing you want is a leaky drain that soaks the backseat of your car.
You might think that the handle of a cooler is nothing more than a trivial detail, but you’d be surprised how useful it can actually be. When your coolers are filled with ice, food, and bottles of water, you’ll be thankful that you have an ergonomic handle to hang onto.
Comfort is vital, but you should also ensure that the handle on your cooler is durable. You don’t want it to come off in the middle of a hike to your campsite. It’d be a tragedy if all your perishable supplies were sent rolling down the hill.
Lastly, you should look for a handle that tucks in flush so that you can easily store your cooler when you’re not using it.
Never forget the golden rule when testing out handles: if it feels cheap, it probably is.
Cooler Tips & Tricks (How To Get The Best Use Out Of Your Cooler)
Different models have different cooling abilities. But even if your cooler is capable of keeping your food fresh for a week, if you don’t use it properly, you can end up halving that period.
Luckily, there are some tricks that can help you use your cooler to its full potential.
One of the things you can do to improve your cooler’s cold retention ability is to pre-chill it before filling it up with food and drinks.
To do this, fill it with ice a couple of hours before the trip. When the time comes to hit the trail, remove some ice to make space for your groceries.
If you plan on eating steaks or poultry on your camping excursion, freeze them before packing. Do the same with water bottles. That way, they help with lowering the overall temperature inside the cooler.
Bigger ice blocks melt slower, so go for them instead of the standard ice cubes you’d put in a drink.
Finally, this goes without saying – keep the cooler patched and closed. If you don’t close it right after you’re done taking stuff out, you’re going to let the hot air in. This will result in your food going off quicker, which could lead to food poisoning and you wouldn’t want that.
When you cross-reference the criteria we discussed with the products we reviewed, it’s clear that the YETI Tundra 65 is by far the best cooler of the ten.
Its thick insulation, rubber latches, and bear-resistant design make it a top-level cooler. You can’t go wrong with any of the models on the list, but the Tundra 65 is the clear winner in my book thanks to its supreme durability.
Stay tuned for upcoming articles on the latest and greatest camping gear!