The Best Camping Cooler

Yeti Tundra Cooler

Our Top Pick for 2016: Yeti Tundra Cooler
Read our full review.

See it on Amazon for $399.99*
*Price typically updated every 24 hours. Current price may be different.
Too expensive? See our budget pick.

The value of owning a truly excellent camping cooler is not one you can underestimate. Like all your other camping gear, the cooler needs to be durable and weather resistant. The size of your cooler will depend on the size of the camping party, and it should be able to comfortably accommodate all the food you need to keep chilled for days on end. Investing in a great quality cooler will make a huge difference when you are out camping. Check out our selections below to find the cooler that works best for your trip.

Table of contents

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Press & Pull Latches
Roto-molded Construction
Holds 160 Cans
Integrated Fish Scale On Lid
Extremely Durable
ThermOZONE Insulation
Up To 10 Days Ice Retention
PermaFrost Insulation
Hinged Lid With Four Cup Holders
Freezer Grade Gasket
T-Rex Lid Latches
Two-way Handles For Easy Carrying
2″ Polyurethane Insulation
Exceptional Thermal Resistance For Unmatched Ice Retention
Keeps Ice Up To 5 Days In Temperatures Up To 90° F

*Price at time of publishing and may not reflect current pricing.

#1 Gold pick (Winner): Yeti Tundra Cooler

Yeti Tundra Cooler Gold Pick

View it on Amazon for $399.99*
*Price typically updated every 24 hours. Current price may be different.

2016-gold-winnerRoy and Ryan Seiders were frustrated with the quality of cooler available when they founded Yeti in 2006. They set out to build the best coolers money could buy, and now the name Yeti is synonymous with quality. We agree that Yeti is the best brand of camping cooler for your adventures out in the wild, which is why the Yeti Tundra Cooler is the winning gold pick in this category.

The Yeti Tundra cooler comes in five sizes: 20 quart, 35 quart, 45 quart, 65 quart and 75 quart. The many options on capacity have you covered for casual camping trips all the way up to group hunting excursions. All sizes come in the same off-white color. They are pricey, ranging from $250 for the smallest model all the way up to over $1000 for the largest. However when you invest in a Yeti cooler you are making a commitment to your gear for the long-haul.

All of the Yeti Tundra coolers are fitted with roto-molded construction, a one-piece solid and durable plastic. What this will mean for you is not worrying about various bits of plastic always busting off your cooler as it’s moved between the car and the campsite. Surprisingly, YETI does not offer a lifetime warranty for their products, though scores of satisfied customers swear by their reliability. This is an important aspect to consider in your purchase.

The coolers are outfitted with PermaFrost Insulation that Yeti pressure-injects into the coolers. Your food will stay colder longer and resist allowing the weather on the outside of the cooler to affect everything you’re trying to keep cool inside. The latches are Yeti’s own patent and keep the lid closed with the help of the ColdLock Gaskets that stop air exchange.

Depending on where you are camping, you want a cooler than can latch effectively not only from weather, but also from creatures in the wild that would like to help themselves to your dinner. The Yeti Tundra will keep your food secure, minimizing wildlife disturbances at night that might keep you on edge inside your tent. If you’re traveling to bear country you can utilize the integrated padlock ports to keep everything on lockdown.

The Yeti coolers are known for the strength they offer, and with some of that strength comes weight. Aside from the price, this may be the element of the Tundra that is occasionally griped about. However it’s important to remember that the cooler is heavier because it contains quality materials that will help maintain a cool temperature for your food. This will help protect any investment you’ve made on food, which can be substantial for a long trip! You also will not find ice-melting right after you’ve gotten to camp, and will probably be able to keep the same ice for up to several days.

For ease while traveling the Yeti Tundra has guides for strong BullDog Straps which will allow you to securely ratchet down your cooler to an exterior car rack or basket. Also make sure to use the strap guides when securing your cooler to the exterior of your car. As with all other coolers, keep latches fastened when camping with young children to prevent falls and injuries.

This cooler allows for ease of packing with a removable wire tray on top. So often when camping, packing a cooler is nearly impossible to do without crushing something at the bottom. Make sure there is as little free space as possible when first packing the cooler, as excess space inside will only make ice melt faster. If in doubt, pack with more ice or something else you need, like a first aid kit, to take up empty space. For optimal performance, try cooling the entire cooler with some cold water bottles or ice packs the night before packing.

You may wonder what size cooler you need to purchase. A 45 quart cooler will be small enough to allow you to carry it by yourself within reason, while the next step up may require two adults to carry. These coolers are coveted by hunting and outdoor enthusiasts who find that the larger sizes are ideal for storing food and supplies for a hunting party of even a dozen people for up to one week.

Those searching for an incredible cooler to store freshly caught fish will be delighted with how long this cooler keeps their catch cold. When you’ve gone to the effort to catch your own dinner, the last thing you want is to risk it spoiling before it reaches the grill.

The Yeti Tundra is a significant investment but an excellent choice for your camping gear collection. You’ll save time and money by not needing to deal with wasted food and frequent ice refills, and be able to enjoy wonderful eating even when you are far away from your kitchen at home.

#2 Silver pick (Runner-up): Pelican Products ProGear Elite Cooler

Pelican Products ProGear Elite Cooler

View it on Amazon for $399.95*
*Price typically updated every 24 hours. Current price may be different.

2016-silver-winnerThe Pelican Products 65 quart cooler is an amazing investment for any outdoor enthusiast. With amazing 2 inch thick polyurethane insulation and a freezer grade gasket, you’ll enjoy up to ten days of ice retention.

Offering you a little personal flair with your purchase, this cooler comes in nine different colors that will appeal to any style of camper. Choose from the very popular army green color, or other fun choices like purple, dark blue, orange, or outdoor tan. Your choice in color may well depend on what environment you plan on using it in. The well-sized cooler retails for around $375 on Amazon and is backed by a very impressive lifetime guarantee.

Fishing and outdoor enthusiasts alike will be delighted by some of the features of the Pelican Products ProGear Elite Cooler. The sleek finish allows for easy packing into a car without extraneous pieces that might break off in a small crowded space. The strong dual-handle system secures your cooler with molded-in and hinged handles that fold down flat for packing.

Again, weight is a consideration in any cooler that is built with quality materials, and the Pelican Products cooler is no exception. At 48 pounds empty, this may be a factor if you have trouble lifting heavy gear and will be alone for your outdoor adventures. The cooler’s dimensions are 12.5 inches by 12 inches by 26.5 inches, again, for you to consider when matching your cooler to your vehicle size.

Its pretty clear from the design that Pelican is going after fishing enthusiasts when they try to attract customers. The integrated fish scale on the lid and it’s outstanding function as a cooler will make it an amazing gift for the fisherman or woman in your life. When fishing you would hope to be frequently opening your cooler and depositing your fresh catch. With this cooler that frequent opening, direct sunlight, and heat outside will not be a factor that allows your fish to spoil.

Another great feature of this cooler is the wide press and pull latches that allow for easy access even while using gloves. These latches are extremely popular among customers who find them far more operable than the latches on other coolers. Instead of wasting time while out on a boat taking gloves on and off, you’ll be thinking about where to set down your next bait.

Consider that with this larger size cooler, you may not be able easily fit it in the bear-boxes offered at some campgrounds like Yosemite. While it is possible to remove the lid to fit this cooler into most standard bear-boxes, you may want to think over your itinerary for travel and make sure this is the right cooler to bring to areas where you’ll need to keep it secure from bears.

Before any purchase it’s a good idea to go over what size cooler you really need for your adventure. This is a large cooler, no doubt, and not meant for solitary camping trips. It’s designed to be a large workhorse that will keep your food and beverages very cold for an extended period of time, and it is a fantastic value for the price.

#3 Bronze pick (3rd place): Coleman 100 Quart Xtreme 5

Coleman 100 Quart Xtreme 5

View it on Amazon for $54.00*
*Price typically updated every 24 hours. Current price may be different.

2016-bronze-awardColeman’s 6201A748 100 Quart Xtreme 5 is a heavy-duty and solid wheeled cooler at a reasonable price. At about $70 on Amazon, this Coleman is a classic design for a backyard or camping cooler.

This cooler has a huge capacity, able to hold up to 160 cans or six cases or soda or beer cans. Though it might be heavy once you’ve loaded in your refreshments and food, its base weight is only 18 pounds empty which is significantly lighter than some other coolers. Transporting this large 100 quart cooler is easy with foldable two-way handles and two large wheels.

All of the Coleman Xtreme coolers have solid insulation in the lid and sides of the case that provides competitively long cold retention times. Your ice and supplies inside will stay cold for up to five days, even in 90 degree Fahrenheit. The top of the lid has beverage holders which makes the cooler double as a side table for your drinks.

This Coleman cooler may not have all the bells and whistles and the super thick insulation as the Yeti and Pelican Products, but it is quality. Coleman products have been some of the best of the best in camping gear since W.C. Coleman founded the company over 100 years ago. Though the company began with the iconic lanterns that have become part of their logo, now their catalog is full of quality camping gear. If you care about coordinating all your camping gear by company, you could easily outfit your whole camp set in just Coleman gear.

The wheels should certainly be another factor in your decision to pick this, since higher-end coolers haven’t yet added wheels to their models. It allows transportation to be so much easier no matter what physical limitations you might have, you will not need a body builder with you to help move your cooler to your campsite.

Some customers have been unhappy with the drain location for the cooler, which while it is rustproof, lies right under the foldable handle for transport. You will need the handle in an upright position to properly access and drain the cooler. You will not, however, need to tilt the cooler to drain, thanks to its leak-resistant channel that allows water in the cooler to easily drain out.

The design and style of the cooler is pretty utilitarian, with only one color option of light blue and white. But the look is classic Coleman, and the cooler will inevitably end up as a seat when you are relaxing at your campsite. Sitting on the lid does not appear to harm the structural integrity of the cooler at all, so you can go ahead and take a load off.

To make sure this 100 quart cooler is ready for transport, Coleman integrated in 24 inch elastic cords that you can use to securely tie down and ratchet the cooler to your pickup or storage rack. In all, this Coleman 6201A748 100 quart cooler does its job and then some, and should definitely be considered if you need something easy to transport.

#4 Budget pick (Best cheap): Rubbermaid Extreme 5-Day Wheeled Ice Chest Cooler

Rubbermaid Extreme 5-Day Wheeled Ice Chest Cooler

View it on Amazon for $65.46*
*Price typically updated every 24 hours. Current price may be different.

2016-cheap-budget-pickThe Rubbermaid Extreme cooler is designed to be the perfect go-to tailer-gate or camping cooler. It’s big, strong, and easy to transport. It’s also an incredible value for the money which makes it worthy to be our budget pick for this review of camping coolers.

The Rubbermaid cooler has two wheels that allow easy transportation for your precious refreshments. Wheels and the extra large handles make for easier access for anyone not able to lift a heavy cooler, which might make this a very good pick for you if you have any problem with lifting heavy objects.

This ample size cooler is able to accommodate your large parties with room for over 130 cans plus the ice that is needed to cool them. The tow handle and easy to grip side swing handles make this very easy for you to use even when you are on your own. Easy draining, easy transport, easy price.

This cooler has built in beverage holders that can fit not just 12 ounce cans but also 20 ounce bottles. It is designed to fit easily into your life and party. The insulation is comparable to even the most expensive coolers and will allow you to keep food and beverages cold for up to five days at temperatures up to 90 degrees fahrenheit.

Though the size of the cooler is large, it fits easily into the trunk of any ordinary sized car of SUV. You will always need to itemize and prioritize what gear you take with you when camping, but this Rubbermaid cooler should be packed in first. It’s important to remember that you should always attempt to pre-cool your cooler with dry ice and then pack it with cold materials for optimal performance.

There are multiple sizes available in the Rubbermaid Extreme line, but the 75 quart size will probably prove the most functional if you hold lots of parties in your backyard or go camping for more than one night. This large cooler is an inexpensive problem solver, with so much space to provide you ease while camping while also allowing your pocketbook a bit of a break.


Pre-purchase considerations

Where Do You Plan To Go?

Let’s be honest, car camping does not equate to backpacking. Not one of these coolers is really a choice anyone going out in the wild without a vehicle would choose, so its important to decide on the qualities of a cooler that are most important to you.

If you are car camping, especially with little children, consider transporting your most valuable asset, your food! When camping this is one of the most important considerations you could make. If you don’t have your kitchen sorted while camping you will be facing so much unnecessary stress. Buying the correct cooler for your particular locale is essential. Choose wheels if you can’t easily transport a heavy cooler by yourself.

Are You Going Fishing?

If you are going fishing, it’s doubtful that we need to remind you of the value of your catch. There’s been a lot of coolers designed to keep the fish you catch cool until you can eat them own your own grill or in the kitchen. But only a few are truly designed for fisherman.

If you are looking for a permanent cooler for your fishing boat you need to invest in the product with the absolute best insulation and easiest to use hinges. You should try out the hinges, opening and closing your cooler, with gloves or whatever gear you’ll have on. Spend time with friends on boats and you will discover what the most important elements of your fishing cooler should be.

Can You Transport Your Cooler?

Its important to remember the shift in weight that will certainly occur when you pack you cooler with ice and goods. It’s equally important to determine how you will plan on transporting that cooler. Depending on what activity you decide to indulge in the weight will significantly increase.

Many high quality coolers have dual handles are easily handled with two or more persons transporting your precious food cargo. It may be an option to also bring a hand-truck if you feel the need to go for a cooler without wheels. But its also important to understand the benefit of portability for your own enjoyment of your vacation.

Consider how you will secure your cooler to the outdoor of your vehicle if you plan on transporting in outside of your vehicle. Most models come with built in harness holds to help you secure and ratchet down your cooler and keep it from moving when on the outside of your vehicle.

How Long Will You Camp?

Most of these coolers come with guarantees about how long ice will last and your beverages will stay cold. But if you are headed out on a week long camping trip, beverages are not what you are concerned with. You need a refrigerator that you can transport with you, to feed and sustain your friends while you enjoy your time outdoors.

All coolers will function best when filled to capacity, so consider what you pack and fill that cooler to the best of your ability. Most if not all of the coolers rated here will be able to provide for a large group of people for a long amount of time, but depending on your diet and whats on the menu, some may be more functional than others.

Conclusion (Wrapping it up)

Camping is an excuse to let go of your worries and create a new home in the outdoors. Food is such an important element of that equation, providing you with sustenance and joy as you enjoy a meal over the bbq with friends and family.

Your cooler is your kitchen when you are camping. It is possibly the most essential part of you’re camping gear, and choosing the right cooler is a very important decision. Consider your most frequented camping locals, your vehicle, and the exact amount of food you need to transport, and one of these coolers will be the perfect fit for your trip.

Discussion and comments

We want to know what you think. Do you own any of the products we discussed? Which did you buy and how did it work out for you?

Do you know of an even better product?

Comment below and help your fellow consumers make the right choice. Over to you!

Resources

  1. Jeremiah Breeze, Gear Review: YETI Tundra 45 cooler, Open Air Life, September 7, 2012
  2. Amy Oberbroeckling, Cooler Review: Ice ‘Death Match’ Challenges with 90-Degree Heat, Gear Junkie, September 13, 2013
  3. Taylor Welden, Road Tests: YETI Tundra 50 Cooler, Carryology, June 4, 2014
  4. Josh Burns, Pelican ProGear Elite Cooler Review, Off-Road.com, February 13, 2014
  5. Michael Deming, Extreme Coolers, Sportsman News, May 27, 2013
  6. Max Mutter, The Best Cooler and Ice Chest Review, Outdoor Gear Lab, June 8, 2016
  7. Camping Life, Ice Chest Shootout, August 2, 2011

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