Camping coolers are one of the “must have’s” on a camping trip. The best ones might not be the same for everybody. If you are only camping once a year with your partner there is no need to spend the same amount on a model as the person who’s ice chest lives in the back of a truck and is used on a daily basis.
To pick the best one for your needs, we’ll have a look at all the things you need to consider.
This section of the market is fairly new. Most manufacturers were conservative in the price they thought they could ask for one. Engineering and durability were kept low to save on cost and hence performances of these units are pretty standard.
There was a shift in the market initiated by Yeti. They started to manufacture high quality, very durable units, but at twice the price. Soon other manufacturers jumped on the bandwagon.
These expensive insulators are perfect if you are going on extended trips or as an ice chest for your boat. They are also commonly seen on construction sites and you can expect a lifetime of use from these models. You can expect to pay $250 and upwards for these ice chests.
This is what most people have in mind when they think of a camping cooler. These units can be plastic or metal with foam insulation. The thickness of the insulation varies between models and you can expect them to keep ice for half as long as the high-end models.
Depending on the size you buy expect to pay less than $100.
Soft and Disposable Coolers
These models are cheap and do not have a use when you go camping. Only look at them if you need to keep your drinks cold for an afternoon at the park.
The size of the chest is dictated on how much you need to keep cold and for how long. Portability can also play a factor. A ice chest packed to the brim is a heavy and awkward thing to move so only pick the size that will fill your needs. Empty air space is detrimental to the preservation of the ice (more space to keep cold,the faster ice melts).
As a rough guide this is what to expect:
- 25-qtr. Capacity is for 1 person overnight stay.
- 25-45 qtr. Capacity is big enough for a single person for a week or for a couple’s food for a weekend.
- 45-75-qtr. This capacity is the best bang for your buck. This is the most common size on a camping or boating trip. They are big enough to contain 4-6 person food for 3-4 days and is still easy enough to transport.
- Bigger then 70-qtr falls under large groups and is too large for most camper or boaters. They are also extremely difficult to transport.
One thing to consider, all things being equal, a larger model will keep food cooler for longer than a smaller one.
If you are not too far from a store where food and ice can be purchased, there is no need to buy a massive expensive unit. Saying that, if you are going for a trip in the desert only a fool would by a small, low-quality unit.
The biggest feature are probably wheels for easy portability. Nice when you have to walk down a dock, but if it is going to live in the back of your truck you can disregard.
Carry handles are more important than you think. Like I said, a fully stuffed cooler is heavy, so feeble handles are a deal breaker. This is where the high-end models stand out.
One last thing, camping coolers ALWAYS double up as a seat. Make sure the lid of your unit is strong enough to take the weight of a person siting on it. Once the lid cracks, the ice chest has lost one of its biggest uses and insulation is also going to suffer.
Best Camping Coolers
Yeti was the original manufacturer of the high-end models and you will not find a single review without Yeti being mentioned.
Yeti Tundra Cooler are built from one-piece seamless construction that makes them extremely durable.
The lid latches down with rubber buttons that are tucked out of the way. The lid also has a rubber gasket that makes a big difference in the sealing of the chest. As simple as this might seem, the lid stays open when you open it. If you ever had a model where the lid keeps on closing when you are trying to get things out you will know how super annoying it is.
The lid has tie-down slots which is great for strapping it down on the roof of your car or watercraft and they also have slots to lock it with some long nose locks.
They have rubber feet to stop it from sliding.
You can expect to have ice in the cooler even after a 5-day camping trip.
Here is a cool video from Yeti that shows how strong their models is:
The Yeti Tundra is arguably the best on the market but obviously you are going to pay for this quality of product. It also has a 5-year warranty.
Pelican is a well-known manufacturer of very high quality cases and the same can be said for their camping coolers.
Same as the Yeti, the Pelican coolers are bear certified, meaning they are super tough. Claimed ice retention by Pelican is 7-10 days which is on par with other high-end units. The chest has a 2” polyurethane insulation wall and a freezer grade gasket to seal the lid down. The ice chest also has a dual system handle for transport and it has molded tie down to secure it.
If you buy this unit for your boat, a nice feature is the fish scale molded on the lid.
The only con is its size and weight. It draws the scale on close to 35 pounds and it’s really bulky. A fully loaded one will be very hard to carry for a single person.
If durability and ice retention is a big factor for you then this is a good choice just be ware of the size and weight. All Pelican models come with a lifetime warranty.
Here is a video show the features of the cooler:
No review can do without the Coleman Xtreme Cooler . Coleman is a well known manufacturer of quality outdoor gear at affordable prices and the Coleman model range is exactly that.
These units fall under the standard type of ice chests and will cost you almost $200 less than the high-end ones. You can expect about 5 days of ice retention if you are careful, so not too far off the high-end models. It does not have the same lock down ties or strap-down channels though.
The unit weighs a lot less than the high-end ones, but still come with rugged terrain wheels and an extendable handle for easy transport.
As far as value for money, it will be very hard to beat. If you are not in need of a long-term ice chest this will cover all your needs for a very modest price tag.
Honorable Mention: Coolest Cooler
The Coolest Cooler is a Kick starter project and has taken the world by storm. The cooler is still in the pre-order phase but this is just some of the features it will have:
• 18v Rechargeable blender
• Removable waterproof blue tooth speakers
• USB Charger
• LED lid light
• Cooler Divider/Cutting board
• Wide Rolling Tyres
• Integrated Storage for Plates and Knifes
• Bottle Opener
Have a look at this awesome video:
Tips for keeping your food cool
- Pre-chill all your food and drinks before you pack it. This will increase the lifespan of the ice significantly.
- Freeze plastic bottles of water or non-carbonated soft drinks. This will act as additional ice.
- Freeze meat and other food that can be frozen.
- Line the cooler with Reflectix (aluminum bubble wrap). You can buy it at most hardware stores and it was designed to insulate homes. Cut it to size and line the inside of the cooler and for even more insulation drape a sheet over the top.
- Pack it in in a chronological order. The food you are going to use last, pack at the bottom. Pack the ice on top when you are done. Cool air will sink to the bottom.
- Crushed ice works faster and block ice will last longer. For long trips, block ice is the only way to go.