When you go camping honestly (that is, camping with a tent and not a rolling chateau) your cooler becomes your refrigerator. While you probably don’t think too much or too often about your fridge at home, when you’re roughing it in the grit and grime of the natural world, that cooler is going to be on your mind constantly. Changing ice, draining it, and deciding what needs to stay cool is half the fight of heading into the wilderness. As such, it’s important to have a cooler that makes these things easy.
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We wanted you to have a better mobile ice-box, and so we thought it was time to find the 15 best camping coolers for the people who need more than just a styrofoam crate.
A Word of Camping Cooler Advice
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It should be noted that getting the right ice chest is only half the battle. Packing it properly and getting the size that suits your needs are also enormous factors that affect how well your cooler operates while you camp. You always want to get one that’s just barely big enough, and then pack it tight. Any loose air in a cooler still has to be kept cold by the ice or frozen packs inside. Neither too big, nor too small, if you get the right size, the right brand, and pack smart, you’ll never fail.
Best of Both: Made primarily for protecting your canned or bottled beverages, this gives you the soft, impact-cushioning sides of a soft cooler with the sturdiness of a hard. Filled with ice and beer, it could be all you need for a few days of the best camping you’ll never remember.
Picnic Pack: If you only take one cooler camping, you’re condemning yourself to lugging it back and forth, up and down, over the hill and through the woods. Get the Yodo as a backup, modular side-cooler. Silver food-grade lining and mesh pockets for ice packs give it plenty of flexibility; and the soft body packs down easily.
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Rolling Thunder: Push it, pull it, drag it, the Xtreme is basic and affordable with a set of wheels that can handle most basic bumps without tipping, and can give you 5 days of ice even when the temperature is 90-degrees and you’re camping in the sunshine.
One Track Mind: This cooler comes in several sizes, which are measured by how many cans will go into it. Those who cannot camp without a suitcase of their favorite beverage should take this with them as a survival kit. Using the included shoulder strap, it’s as good for tailgating as keeping refreshed around the campsite.
Snap To: Ready to go in a moment, the Kelty line smashes down to give you increased space when it is empty. Soft-sided with a hard top, it bleeds heat, making it best for throwing an overnight camping trip together, rather than giving you days of cold cold-retention out in the field.
Powerhouse: Not everyone believes that camping takes place miles from civilization. Some people prefer to stay on the grid, even when they’re “roughing it.” If you are going to be running an RV, or doing some car camping where there’s an outlet, the Igloo Iceless might be right for you. A low power draw and no need for ice, if you can plug it in, you’ve got all the cold you need.
Footlocker: It’s a Coleman that is made of steel with rubber handles for easy carrying. The questions is: Why don’t you have one already? It won’t defend against wild animals, but this is your standard choice for simple, inexpensive cooling, and lots of options in size. The Plain Jane looks that hide how well it works.
Eclipse Backpack Cooler
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Saddle Bag: If you’re the food-mule of your camping club, or prefer to take only perishable goods when you backpack, Eclipse has you covered. Waterproof inside and out with a UV 840 TPE treatment over 1000 Denier ripstop nylon, the single issue is the top zipper will leak if you turn it upside down. Otherwise, a comfortable soft-sided cooler backpack that keeps sweat out and food fresh.
Off-Roader: When you’re serious about camping, you park your car and walk a ways to really get away from it all. Since carrying a full cooler over tough terrain is difficult, Igloo has slapped some serious high-clearance pneumatic tires onto the bottom of the ATC. The transport is easy, and your ice will stay fresh for days. The handle is even ergonomic.
Heavy Set: Any true Bison Cooler is going to be able to keep things cool for extended periods, offer a couple of inches worth of insulation, and be harder to crack than a biometric safe. This is their smallest model, and it’s able to lock in freshness for up to 5 days. Each latch and the gasket are honest rubber that’s hard to wear out and tough to break.
Lockdown: Pelican is a serious name in the cooler game, and when they make an elite series for pros, it’s worth talking about. When you put a hand to the ProGear Elite, you’ll see why it’s considered an heirloom piece and guaranteed for life. It’s 50 lbs before you put anything into it, and once you do, even the molded handles with hinged accompaniments won’t be much help in lifting it by yourself. On the other hand, it can keep ice for 10 days.
Coolist’s Coolest: Esky is practically a brand unto itself. As the larger, more industrial, heavier line of Coleman products, Esky is truly the best of the best. Beginning at 55-quartz and rising, these are large and come with endless accessories. They also keep cold like nothing else.
Believe the Hype: Yeti gets a lot of ink for a brand that manufactures coolers, but the point is their unbreakable, heavy-duty items the manufacture really are capable of handling more than almost any other name out there. Roto-molded LEFTnotruc is used for the body and each item on the Tundra line is made like a whitewater kayak. Go ahead and hit it. It doesn’t mind.
Understated: This is the guy in jeans and a tee-shirt that knows how to fix everything. It isn’t flashy, it doesn’t brag, but then it keeps ice frozen in the Florida heat for 8 solid days. Nearly identical to Yeti, you might be able to find a deal on these, but even if you can’t, it’s worth every cent and will likely outlive you.
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Shoulder Bag: The Hopper is a wonder, there’s no doubt about it. It’s made with 840D nylon (DryHide) on the outside, with ColdCell rubber foam lining the inside so that it retains cold while reducing the heft. Able to hold 6.5 gallons, you’ll pay top price, but there is no soft-sider that can compare.