The coronavirus pandemic has changed a lot about how we travel in 2020, especially how we eat when we’re away from home. Whether restaurants are still closed where you’re going or if you’re planning to BYO food and drinks to maintain social distance from others, a cooler is a must-have for any last-minute camping trips or beach getaways this summer. (Don’t forget, you’ll need a place to stash all your road trip snacks, too.)
If you’re not sure where to start, our guide to the best coolers will help you find one with features that fit your style of traveling and a price point that matches your budget.
What to look for in a cooler
The right cooler depends on the kind of trip you’re taking, how many people are coming with you, and how long you’ll have to carry it. Here are features to consider when shopping for a new cooler:
Material. You’ll have to determine if a soft or hard cooler is best for your trip. The most durable hard coolers are made with rotomolded construction, a process that ensures the plastic has a consistent thickness, essentially making the cooler indestructible because it has no weak spots. Weight. Hard coolers usually keep ice colder for longer but can also weigh you down if you’re not planning on leaving them in the car. For shorter day trips, you’ll want to consider soft-sided materials that are easier to carry. Additional features. Wheels and backpack straps make coolers more portable, while campers will want to look for a hard cooler that can be locked to prevent bears from breaking into it.
1. Yeti Tundra Haul
Best cooler with wheels
Buy now: $400, yeti.comStyle: Hard coolerWeight: 37 lbs.Dimensions: 28.25 x 19.5 x 18.63 inchesFeatures: Puncture-resistant wheels, durable welded aluminum handle, rotomolded construction
If you’re going car camping, you’ll want a cooler with wheels to easily transport your food from the trunk to the picnic table. Even though the hard-shell construction and thick insulation of the extra-large Yeti Tundra Haul means it weighs a whopping 37 pounds, tug handles and puncture-resistant wheels make it easy to move. Plus, all that extra insulation means it can preserve ice for days. Seriously. One reviewer on REI.com wrote, “My husband is a goof and wanted to really test it. Put some ice in it and left it in the HOT summer car for 5 full days and when we opened it, it still had almost all the ice left!”
2. Corkcicle Eola Bucket Cooler Bag
Best stylish backpack cooler
Buy now: $130, corkcicle.comStyle: Soft coolerWeight: 3 lbs.Dimensions: 8.5 x 11 x 14 inchesFeatures: Padded backpack straps, rear accessory pocket, vegan leather
Those relying on bikes as their main mode of transportation right now will need a hands-free way to bring their picnic supplies to their next socially distanced meetup at the park or beach. Made with vegan leather, this Corkcicle Eola cooler looks like a regular backpack instead of a heavy-duty cooler and will surely drum up a few compliments from passersby this summer. It can hold up to 12 cans, or 8 cans and 2 wine bottles, comfortably, and also has a rear accessory pocket with a zipper closer to keep your phone and wallet separate from the ice.
3. Pelican Dayventure Backpack Cooler
Best rugged backpack cooler
Buy now: $250, pelican.comStyle: Soft coolerWeight: 9.30 lbs.Dimensions: 12.1 x 7.1 x 21.7 inchesFeatures: Padded backpack straps, wide roll-top opening, dry storage compartment, water-resistant outer shell
Hikers who need to pack more than just a few picnic supplies will welcome the extra space the Pelican Dayventure cooler provides. The insulated bottom compartment is built to fit a six-pack of 12-ounce cans and has a leak resistant zipper to keep ice in. The top section, which has a wide roll-top opening, features lighter insulation so you can use it for storing additional food—or a picnic blanket.
4. Diamond Brand Double Take
Best small cooler
Buy now: $69, diamondbrandgear.com; amazon.comStyle: Soft coolerWeight: 8 oz.Dimensions: n/aFeatures: Built-in bottle opener
If you’re looking for something smaller to carry your lunch in, the Diamond Brand Double Take comes with a removable insulated roll-top “Chilly Bag” that can be strapped to your bike or backpack, or even carried over your shoulder. Another versatile feature? The closure on this cooler bag doubles as a beer opener so you can pack one less thing.
5. Kelty 45L Folding Cooler
Best foldable cooler
Buy now: $110, kelty.com Style: Soft coolerWeight: 4 lbs. 2 oz.Dimensions: 20.5 x 14.5 x 13.5 inchesFeatures: Carry handles, cup holders built into the lid
For those of you who live in apartments or houses with limited storage, this soft-sided cooler from Kelty collapses to just four inches high when it’s not in use. Unlike other soft coolers, it features cup holders on its hard plastic top so it can double as an extra dining surface on camping trips. It’s also available in a smaller 25-liter size for $90.
6. OtterBox Venture 25 Cooler
Best modular cooler
Buy now: $184, otterbox.comStyle: Hard coolerWeight: 16.79 lbs.Dimensions: 26 x 18.76 x 16.08 inchesFeatures: Bear-resistant when secured with locking kit, OtterBox Limited Lifetime Warranty
Camping cooks who plan on doing more than throwing a few hot dogs on the grill will love the add-ons that can be attached to the OtterBox Venture 25 Cooler. (A cutting board! Cup holders! Dry storage trays!) The Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee has also certified this cooler to be bear-resistant when secured with a specially designed lock, sold separately.
7. Yeti Hopper M30
Best tote bag cooler
Buy now: $300, yeti.com; rei.comStyle: Soft coolerWeight: 7 lbs.Dimensions: 25 x 12 x 17.5 inchesFeatures: Wide-mouth magnetic opening
If you’re going to the beach or on a picnic, you won’t want to drag a hard-sided cooler through the sand or grass. The Yeti Hopper M30 can easily be carried over your shoulder and at seven pounds, it won’t weigh you down. The latest version of this soft cooler has been reengineered with a wide-mouth magnetic opening that makes accessing your food and drinks much easier than coolers with zippered openings. It also comes with two quick-release buckles to guarantee it stays closed, even if it happens to tip over in the trunk.
8. Coleman Performance Cooler
Best budget cooler
Buy now: $25, amazon.comStyle: Hard coolerWeight: 7.16 lbs.Dimensions: 26 x 14 x 14.5 inchesFeatures: Leak resistant drain
It’s unlikely you’ll find unmelted ice in this Coleman cooler five days after your camping trip starts, but its $25 price point makes it ideal for backyard barbecues or day trips to the beach. Tall enough to hold two-liter bottles upright, this classic also includes a drain so you can empty out the melted ice at the end of the day without needing to flip over the entire cooler.
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>> Next: The Essential Camping Checklist
Lyndsey Matthews Lyndsey Matthews is the senior commerce editor at AFAR who covers travel gear, packing advice, and points and loyalty.