Picture this scenario: you arrive at your campsite, family in tow. You set up your tents, roll out your sleeping bags, set the charcoal under the grill, and light up a fire. Then you call your family, telling them to gather around for a nice, cool drink.
You reach out to open your cooler, only to find out that all your ice is melted and everything inside is just as warm as if you have left it out on a regular summer day. Now what?
Well, if you’ve gone camping a few times, chances are this has happened to you at least once, especially if you just picked up the first cooler you saw in the grocery store.
Luckily, all that stress and trouble can be avoided, as long as you have the best cooler for camping. And I’m here to help you find it.
Why Is A Cooler For Camping Important?
You’re probably wondering, what’s the big deal? Why do you need to have the best cooler, when a regular one will do just fine? Or why is a cooler for camping even so important?
Let’s look at the facts.
If you’re cooking for your family, friends, or even just for yourself, you probably want food that doesn’t have any germs or bacteria that can get you sick, right?
Well, when storing fresh food (especially meats), they need to be kept at a cold or freezing temperature in order to keep any harmful bacteria away.
If you’re out on the trail without your refrigerator, your cooler is what will keep you away from your toilet seat – if you know what I mean.
A cooler is so much more than just for keeping your drinks cold. While that is a really great bonus, especially during those hot summer days, the most important reason is to store all of your food safely. End of story.
What Makes A Cooler The Best One For Camping?
If you’re looking for a cooler or an ice chest to keep your drinks cold for a few hours or so, then having a good cooler is fine.
But, if you need a cooler that will last over night and safely store food to feed your whole family, then you need to have the best cooler. But what makes a good cooler, the best? Three simple things:
Locking and Protection
Bears! Yes, every so often, you might find yourself in a campsite that is surrounded by bears, so you’ll probably want one that is bear-proof, just in case.
Or, if the “bears” come in the form of your little children, you’ll still want a cooler that can secure all the contents inside. There’s nothing worse than waking up in the middle of the night to a bear (or your kids) ransacking your only food supply!
A good locking system is also important when transporting your cooler. If it has a flimsy lock and a loose lid, then your cooler tips over, say goodbye to all your ice and everything inside that box.
Let’s face it. Sometimes we like to throw our things around, or we don’t really care when we knock our camping gear around on rough terrain.
Flimsy handles, ridiculous locks, and wheels that break on the first roll just won’t cut it. Having a cooler with a strong, solid handle and structure should be a major consideration when making your final decision.
You’re cooler will most likely get a beating, so ideally, one that can put up with all your crazy, is the best kind there is. It would be even better if you invest in a really good cooler that will last you many years and many camping trips.
This is probably the most important factor that makes for the best cooler. I’ve gone through quite a number of different coolers over the years because most of them just can’t hold the ice long enough. What’s the point then, right?
The best cooler will have really good insulation, in order to keep all of your contents nice and cold inside.
Other Points Of Consideration
Apart from those three main factors, there are three more points that you can consider before selecting which cooler is the best one for you.
In camping, weight is almost always a factor. The only exception is when you’re car camping and can load everything in your vehicle.
But even then, you still have to unload and carry your cooler to your campsite, so you don’t want a cooler that is ridiculously heavy.
Check out how much it weighs empty because remember, you’ll be filling it with ice, drinks, and food. If you feel like 25 – 30 lbs is just too heavy because you’ll be carrying it far, consider going for a smaller cooler.
Draining and Cleaning
One of the things I hate most about coming home from a camping trip is cleaning. But it has to be done.
So my advice for you is to look for a cooler that has a drain plug. While most coolers have a drainage system, some will have extra features like a sloping drain or a wide plug to make drainage faster and easier.
If you can, look for coolers with an easy to clean surface. Some coolers may even be antimicrobial, like the Esky Series (read about it in the next section).
There’s no denying that every single one of us is always looking for the best value for our money. What better way to feel happy about our purchase, than having a product with cool bonus features that we never really expected?
Although not so important, bonus features give you that little smile on your face and a surprised, “Oh, that’s pretty neat”
For example, some coolers may come with a drinks holder or external pockets. Others might have a fish ruler or wheels to help you move it around. Those little things really do add value for your money.
And now, for the best part!
Top Five Picks
There are so many coolers out there – it’s no joke. So to make your life a little bit simpler, I’ve narrowed it down to the top five best coolers for camping.
**Below, you’ll find our more detailed reviews, but you can also click the links above to see current prices or read customer reviews on Amazon.
#1: YETI Tundra 35 Cooler
It’s hard to go wrong with a Yeti. They’ve been making coolers, drinkware, and outdoor gear since 2006 that’s “built for the long haul” – or so their motto says.
Two brothers, Roy and Ryan Seiders, who had a passion for the outdoors, hunting, and fishing, started the company. They developed their Yeti Coolers with a mission to “build the cooler they’d use every day”.
The Yeti is a pretty impressive cooler, with many users commenting on its incredible durability. I’ve heard this thing can stand up to a grizzly bear clawing at it, without breaking into it. Why not try it out, and let me know if it’s true.
It is made with a rotomolded construction, which makes the structure incredibly strong and built for abuse. It also uses 3 inches of PermaFrost Insulation and an extra thick FatWall design, so your ice stays ice for a long time.
It also uses what they call a “T-Rex Lid Latch” made of heavy-duty rubber. It measures 20” long x 16.125” wide x 14.25” high, and weighs 20 lbs when empty.
The 35-quart version has a very simple design and is available in ice blue, white, and desert tan.
- Certified bear-resistant
- Durable rubber latch
- Simple and rugged
- Good drainage (almost all water drained out)
- Quite heavy, even when empty
- Slightly pricey for its size
#2: Grizzly Coolers Hunting Cooler
So far, this is one of the highest rated coolers on Amazon.
The Hunting Cooler from Grizzly Coolers comes in 16 different designs and colors and ranges in capacity from 15 quarts to 75 quarts. The price ranges from $145.99 to $503.99 depending on what size you get.
This cooler also uses rotational molding for its construction, making it pretty tough. What’s great about this cooler is that they use an environmentally friendly pressure-injected insulation.
The hinges are molded in along with a stainless steel pin, while it makes use of “BearClaw Latches” for a secure grip. It is also an IGBC Certified bear-resistant product.
The product measures 16” x 16” x 26” and weighs 26lbs when empty.
- Certified bear-resistant
- Strong latches and hinges
- Nylon tug handles are also really strong and ergonomic
- Just the right size
- Still a bit pricey
- Also quite heavy
- Average ice-retention
#3: Esky Series 55 by Coleman
You all know the name Coleman. If you’re a lover of the outdoors and adventures, you’ve heard of Coleman. You probably have one of their products stashed away in your cupboard somewhere.
Well, they’ve created a pretty high-end product in the form of their Esky Series, which is specifically made to handle the outdoors.
It has an anti-microbial liner that protects the cooler from odor, mold, and mildew. It makes use of 2-inch all-around insulation and has a scratch-resistant outer shell with UV-inhibiting technology to keep the contents inside colder, longer.
Talk about a pretty nifty cooler. To top it all off, it even comes with an integrated cutting board that you can remove and a fish ruler. Score!
The dimensions of the 55-quart are 27.4” x 19.6” x 19.6” (WxDxH).
- Manageable price for its size
- Certified bear-resistant
- Great ice retention (3-7 days)
- Comes with a chopping board
- Heavy (29 lbs)
#4: Igloo Yukon Cold Locker
Just the name of this cooler makes you feel cold! This cooler is great for fishermen since it has an integrated fish ruler with it. But even though you aren’t heading for the seas, you can still use the Igloo Yukon.
The sizes that are available are 50 quarts, 70 quarts, and 150 quarts so you’ll have more than enough space available.
Just like the Grizzly Cooler and the Yeti Tundra, the Yukon makes use of rotational-molded polyethylene – a method of construction that’s proven to make these coolers incredibly tough.
The Yukon also has a dual lid lock for extra protection, as well as an oversized drain plug for easy cleaning.
- Comes with a fish ruler
- Certified bear-proof
- Great ice retention
- Might have issues with the drain plug
#5: Pelican Products ProGear Elite
Last, we have the ProGear Elite Cooler from Pelican Products. Right off the bat, it claims to hold ice for up to 10 days because of its freezer grade gasket and 2-inch polyurethane insulation.
It comes in six colors: dark blue, light blue, marine white, OD green, outdoor tan, and purple, with measurements of 19” x 12” x 12” (L x W x D).
The ProGear Elite is made of a heavy-duty polyethylene plastic for durability and can last many years of adventures. The drainage system is sloped while the drain plug is threaded so you can attach a garden hose on it if you prefer.
Finally, it makes use of “press and pull” latches to ensure that the cooler is locked tightly.
- Good ice retention
- Best warranty (if it breaks, they’ll replace it)
- Tough exterior
- Sloped drain
- Drain plug is quite flimsy
- Large and heavy
I have to say that this is a tough one. All these products are really strong and durable, with really good ice retention and bear-proof protection. So I choose the Yeti Tundra and the Esky Series by Coleman.
As I’ve said, it’s hard to go wrong with a Yeti. If you’re really looking for a rough and tumble cooler, Yeti is the one to beat.
Although, I seriously love the features of the Esky – especially the UV protection and the integrated chopping board. It just makes me feel like I’m getting more value for my money.
I also really appreciate the fact that it is antimicrobial, which as a mother, is always very important to me.
So really, the decision lies with you. These are the five best coolers you can find, so it’s up to you to decide which specific one you want.
Remember to consider what you’re using it for, how much you’re willing to spend, and all the other features we talked about in this article.