When you're headed to a ballgame or a campground or hosting a backyard get-together, having a top-quality cooler provides enough insulation to prevent food spoilage and keep drinks cold.
We researched and tested the most popular coolers outside at our facility in Des Moines, Iowa, on 80 and 90-degree days, and evaluated them on capacity, effectiveness, and value. We left them sitting packed with ice and beverage cans overnight to determine their exact cooling capacities. On top of these insulation tests, we also pushed coolers off of tables and carried them around to understand their durability and portability.
Our top pick, the RTIC Ultra-Light 52 Quart Ice Chest, has 3-inches of closed-cell foam insulation, does not leak when tipped over, and stays at 32 degrees Fahrenheit consistently for 24 hours.
Here are the best coolers, backed by our testing.
Best Overall : RTIC Ultra-Light 52 Quart Hard Cooler
Keeps drinks cold for 24 hours
Does not leak
Removable basket and divider
Straps are awkward to hold
Could be too heavy for one person to carry full
The RTIC Ultra-Light 52 Quart Ice Chest is our top pick because it’s thoughtfully designed with a removable divider that doubles as an ice pack and can keep drinks cold for 24 hours. On top of its impressive cooling ability, this cooler is also incredibly durable and does not leak when tipped over. Our tester said it was the perfect size cooler for a boat or camping trip.
This cooler’s impressive 52-quart capacity means it can easily hold 78 12-ounce soda or beer cans. To test this cooler’s chilling power, we filled it two-thirds full with ice and 26 12-ounce cans. After two hours on a 90-degree day outside, this cooler was still holding at 32.7 degrees Fahrenheit, which means it will easily keep beverages cold through an afternoon football game or tailgate. After sitting for 24 hours with ice and cans inside of it, the cooler’s inside temperature read 32.4 degrees Fahrenheit and it still had about 20 pounds of unmelted ice in it.
This cooler’s incredible temperature performance can be attributed to its 3-inches of closed-cell insulation and its heavy-duty rubber T-latches, which hold the top firmly in place even when pushed off a table. The marine-grade rope handles are a great feature if you’re carrying this cooler with someone else, but they make maneuvering this cooler solo a bit tricky. We also appreciate the removable divider—which doubles as an ice pack— and basket to keep snacks and food dry.
With the ice and cans loaded into this cooler, it weighed over 40 pounds, which isn’t incredibly heavy but may be difficult for some people to carry on their own—especially with the loose straps. Overall, this cooler easily handled every test we put it through and exceeded our testers’ expectations.
Price at time of publish: $220
Best Budget: Coleman 48 Quart Cooler
Can double as seating
Handle design is slightly confusing
For anyone looking for a standard, yet reliable cooler, we recommend the Coleman 48 Quart Performance Cooler. While this cooler may not have any innovative features, our testers appreciated its cooling ability and hard plastic shell, which is lighter than other coolers on the market. This cooler can also double as a bench if you’re pinched for seating at a tailgate or outdoor function.
Under the lid of this cooler, you’ll find enough room to store 39 12-ounce cans without any ice. For our testing, we loaded it up with 36.2 pounds of ice and 13 cans and found that the internal temperature only increased 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit over a 24-hour period. Although 17.2 pounds of ice melted, we were still surprised by how well this cooler functioned. Keep in mind that the lid does not have any latches to secure it in place, so the contents can be spilled if it’s knocked over.
Our testers also found this cooler’s handle design slightly confusing. They thought the handles lifted up, which resulted in one of the handles coming out of its joint, but that was easily fixed and did not affect the integrity of the cooler. The handles in fact slide up, which makes for a comfortable grip whether you’re carrying it solo or with someone. Overall, this Coleman cooler is a great option, if you’re not looking to break the bank.
Price at time of publish: $60
Best Splurge: Yeti Hopper M20 Soft Backpack Cooler
Straps are easy to adjust and back is well supported
Does not leak
Straps could be better padded
YETI is known for making products that can withstand just about anything, and their Hopper Soft-Sided M20 Backpack Cooler is no exception. Although this cooler may not be able to hold much, if you’re also filling it with ice, it’s a great option to bring with you on a weekend hike or camping trip. You won’t have to worry about this backpack leaking while you’re wearing it either. It stayed dry on the outside the entire time our tester used it, and it also didn’t leak or break during our drop tests.
The double closure at the top—MagShield magnets and clips—keeps this backpack completely secure and cold. With 15 pounds of ice in the cooler, we fit 9 12-ounce cans, but YETI says this backpack can hold up to 18 cans. This backpack stayed consistent at around 32 degrees for 24 hours, and only half the ice had melted.
Our tester did note that this backpack cooler might be slightly more comfortable to carry if it had more padding in the straps, but overall they were satisfied with the adjustable straps and the feel of the bag while wearing it. Although this is certainly an expensive option, if you’re an avid camper, hiker, or beachgoer, this backpack cooler can certainly be a justified splurge purchase.
Price at time of publish: $325
Best Hard-Sided: Pelican 20 Quart Elite Cooler
Intuitive built-in features
Tall enough for wine bottles
No drain plug
There wasn’t much our testers didn’t like about this hard-sided cooler from Pelican. While it’s certainly not the largest cooler we tested, it was one of the most intuitively designed coolers in our testing pool. We appreciated the conveniently placed built-in cup holders on the lid of the cooler and the bottle opener located between the latches. This cooler also has non-skid feet, which is especially helpful if you’re using it on a truck bed or in a boat. The molded-in tie-downs also offer a quick way to secure this cooler while in transit.
Aside from its intuitive features, this cooler also boasts a 2-day cooling duration. Although we didn’t test it for two days, it was still holding at 32 degrees Fahrenheit after 24 hours and more than half the ice had melted. This cooler can hold up to 26 12-ounce cans with no ice in it, and it is also tall enough to hold 4 standard wine bottles. Even though this cooler doesn’t have a drain plug, our tester said it would still be easy to empty while holding onto the handle. It also did not leak or break during our drop test, which means it's durable enough to survive just about any rowdy tailgate or boat ride.
Price at time of publish: $253
Best Soft-Sided: YETI Hopper M30 Soft Cooler
Multiple carrying handles
Magnetic and clip closure
Can hold a 24-pack of beverages
Soft-sided coolers are much lighter than traditional hard coolers and can be easier to transport if you’re also wrangling little ones or multiple bags. The YETI Hopper Soft-Sided M30 cooler, a larger version of the Hopper Soft-Sided M20 Backpack Cooler, has multiple carrying straps, and a MagShield closure that prevents leaking. It can also hold an entire 24-pack of beverages—talk about a stocked party.
One of our testers pointed out that soft-sided coolers often don’t keep their contents as cold as hard-sided coolers, but our test results argue differently. This cooler not only kept drinks in a steady 33-32 degree Fahrenheit range but also only half of the ice had melted after a 24-hour period. Keep in mind that testing was conducted on a 93-degree Fahrenheit day with 37 percent humidity. Although all of YETI’s products come with a hefty price tag, you can’t knock their performance and thoughtful designs. We do recognize that this cooler’s use is limited, as it cannot double as seating, and snacks or other food may not fare well unless placed in a dry goods pouch, but its capacity and cooling performance set it apart from competing designs.
Price at time of publish: $350
Best Large: Orca 140 Quart
Holds over 200 cans without ice
10 day cooling duration
Can double as seating
Not easy to carry
Top does not stay open on its own
A large capacity cooler will not only require zero refills, but will also take your hosting game to the next level. This 140-quart cooler from Orca claims to retain its inner temperature for up to 10 days and it can hold up to 200 cans without any ice in it. For our testing, we filled it with 99 pounds of ice and 68 cans (one-third of the can capacity), and were blown away by the temperature consistency over a 24-hour period—the cooler only gained 0.9 degrees—and only about 25 pounds of ice melted.
However, this cooler’s size does lead to some complications. It’s incredibly heavy—64 pounds to be exact—without anything inside of it, and when we loaded it up with ice and drinks, it weighed over 100 pounds. Its size alone requires two people to carry it and it doesn’t have wheels to aid the transport process. The top also does not stay open on its own, so you’ll need to use both hands to prevent it from closing on you while loading and unloading its contents.
We’d be remiss though to address the positive aspects of this cooler’s size, other than its capacity. Our push test proved that this cooler is not top heavy and is hard to knock over, and two people could easily sit on it for additional seating. This cooler is also an investment, so we recommend considering your cooling needs before splurging on it. The cost is definitely justified based on this cooler’s capacity and cooling duration alone, though.
Price at time of publish: $600
Best with Wheels: XSpec Roto Molded Wheeled Hard Cooler
Rolls well on pavement and grass
Engraved scale for measuring fish
Bottle opener and drain plug
Handle doesn't feel sturdy enough
A rolling cooler can make game day setups and beach days hassle-free, but finding a cooler with durable wheels is a task in its own right. We ran the XSpec Roto Molded Wheeled Hard Cooler through grass and on pavement to make sure it could handle just about any terrain. The large wheels made it easy to roll over the softer grass and they weren’t caught up on rocks or pebbles while on the pavement. Our tester did note that the handle, which is adjustable to several heights, might not fare well against a super heavy load, but was definitely sturdier at a lower height.
An engraved scale is even included on the top of this cooler so that avid fishermen can easily measure their catches. We also appreciate that the drain plug on this cooler is connected by a chain, so it won’t be misplaced. Only four pounds of ice melted during our 24-hour cooling test period, and this cooler only leaked slightly when knocked on its side (handle side, not hinge or latch side). It also barely showed any scratches during our drop test. It’s hard to point out any downsides to this cooler, which is also reasonably priced compared to similar models and capacities.
Price at time of publish: $240
Best Backpack: BLUU Softside Leakproof 35qt Cooler
Zipper is difficult to pull
If you’re carrying multiple tote bags down to the beach, a backpack cooler may be the easiest way to transport your snacks and beverages. After testing this cooler from Bluu in the lab our tester said: “This is possibly the best insulation you will find for a backpack cooler.” Although the majority of the ice from our test—10 out of 14.5 pounds—had melted, the cooler’s internal temperature only increased by 4 degrees over a 24-hour period.
The waterproof zipper passed our drop and leak tests with flying colors, and our tester noted the padded straps and back support were very comfortable while wearing this cooler. Keep in mind that the waterproof zipper may be slightly difficult to pull over time, but you can purchase a wax lubricant stick separately to loosen it. The extra mesh pockets also make it easy to store dry snacks that may not need to be chilled.
Price at time of publish: $140
Best for Wine: The Get Out Cooler Bag
Can hold up to six bottles of wine
Waterproof material to withstand rain or wave splashes
Easy to carry
Limited use for front zipper pocket
For some, a picnic isn’t complete without a bottle of wine, so we completed the search for you to find a cooler that can hold not just one but six bottles of wine. The Get Out Cooler Bag impressed our tester so much that she said she’d consider buying it at a good sale price. “This is more than I would have expected to pay for a small soft-sided cooler, but it has all the potential,” she adds. “[It’d be] great for the dock, outdoor concerts, picnics, hiking, and camping—any BYOB gathering really.”
Although most of the ice from our test had melted after 24 hours, the 12 cans we placed in this cooler were chilling at a cool 39.7 degrees Fahrenheit, and the cooler’s inner temperature had only changed by one degree. This cooler did not leak at all during our drop test, and the bottom also did not become wet during any part of our testing period. Our tester also noted that both carrying options—the backpack handles and side handles—were both comfortable to use and much easier to navigate than a hard-sided cooler. Although the front pocket is rather flat to really serve any true purpose, a fishing license or koozie could easily be stored in it.
Price at time of publish: $250
Best for Tailgating: YETI Tundra 65 Cooler
Dry goods rack included
Freezer-quality gasket seal
Designed to accommodate long neck bottles
Requires two people to transport
If you’re hosting a tailgate event, you’ll want the YETI Tundra 65 Cooler as your sidekick. It’s hard to know where to start when listing off this cooler’s features. A freezer-quality gasket seal minimizes air exchange while this cooler is shut, long neck bottles lay flat in this cooler, and to top it off: it’s bear-resistant according to the manufacturer, when secured with two padlocks (not included in cooler purchase).
This cooler is surprisingly lightweight at only 29 pounds with nothing inside of it. We loaded it with 22 cans and 37 pounds of ice during testing, which weighed it down to 84 pounds. We recommend having an additional person to help transport this to your tailgate destination. About 18 pounds of ice melted in this cooler over a 24 hour period, but its interior was still resting at a chilly 32 degrees. All in all, YETI has yet again proven that their price tags are backed by quality goods and thoughtful design practices.
Price at time of publish: $375
Best for Camping: ROAM Adventure Co. The Rugged Cooler
Holds up to 42 cans with ice
Doubles as seating
Integrated bottle opener and fish scale
Might be uncomfortable to carry for long periods of time
When you’re camping, it’s helpful if your accessories serve double duty because less is always more in the wilderness. ROAM Adventure Company’s 45-quart cooler is a great option to take camping because it has multiple thoughtful features: an integrated bottle opener, an engraved measuring scale for fishing, a dry goods rack, and an internal divider that doubles as a cutting board. It can also be used as a table, if you’re sitting on the ground, or can be a bench while you warm yourself by a fire.
This cooler is large enough to hold 42 12-ounce cans, plus ice, and would definitely keep your food and drinks cold for a short weekend trip. During our 24 hour test, none of the ice we added had melted and the internal temperature only increased by 1.7 degrees. Although this cooler isn’t innately heavy, when loaded down with supplies, it may be difficult to carry solo, so we recommend having a buddy nearby to help. The carrying strap also may not be comfortable, if you’re carrying it for a longer period of time. Overall, it’s a great cooler that competes with other major brands in the market at a slightly lower price.
While all of the coolers we listed in this roundup had an impressive cooling capability, the RTIC Ultra-Light 52-Quart Ice Chest stood out for its durable construction, including marine-grade rope handles, 3-inch insulation, and rust-proof hinges. The provided divider and dry goods basket also set it apart as a truly multi-functional cooler. If you’re looking for a more affordable cooler that’s still capable of keeping drinks cold for at least 24 hours, we recommend the Coleman 48-Quart Performance Cooler. It not only surprised our testers with its cooling capabilities but also had a sturdy exterior that could be resistant to cracking or damage over time.
How We Tested the Coolers
Before purchasing the 48 coolers we tested at our Des Moines, Iowa, Lab, we conducted thorough research to consider the different styles of coolers and all of the various situations that they’re used in. Our group of volunteer testers ran every cooler through multiple tests to evaluate not only their designs, capacity, and value, but also their insulation, durability, and portability. As part of our design tests, we asked testers to look at each cooler’s closure, any additional features, and the material. Every cooler we tested was also evaluated for its food-safe temperature control (at or below 40 degrees Fahrenheit), and all of the coolers featured in this roundup surpassed that required during the 24-hour test. Every cooler was filled with one-third of its 12-ounce can capacity and two-thirds of its ice capacity, and the initial temperature of the outside environment was noted. Our testers checked the cooler’s inside temperature as well as the cans’ surface temperature at the two-hour mark and at the 24-hour mark, then noted temperature increases and weighed the remaining non-melted ice as well. Before conducting the insulation test, testers also filled each cooler to the brim with as many 12-ounce cans as it could hold to cross-test the capacity listed by retailers.
Our durability test consisted of knocking each cooler on its side off a table and noting any damage such as scratches or cracks and any leaking that occurred. Testers also carried or wore the coolers to judge their portability and lifted them onto tables to see whether it was comfortable to hold solo. Coolers with wheels were rolled along pavement and grass to test their portability.
After all of our physical tests were conducted, we revealed the retail value of each cooler to the testers and asked them to consider their value based on performance. We also asked them to add any notes on where each cooler might perform best and if they’d consider purchasing the cooler themselves.
What to Look for in a Cooler
Coolers come in a wide range of sizes. Based on the primary use of the cooler, determine the right size for you. Are you using it for camping? If so the cooler needs to hold food and drink for an entire weekend. Our best for camping pick, the ROAM Adventure Co. Rugged Cooler, has one of the largest capacities of the coolers we tested. Plus, it also comes with a divider and dry goods rack to keep your food separated from drinks.
If you plan on using a cooler primarily to bring home perishables from the grocery store in the trunk of your car, then you might not need a very large cooler, so an option like our best soft-sided pick, the YETI Hopper Soft-Sided M30, may be your best bet. While certainly expensive, this cooler does not leak and has just enough space to keep your dairy, eggs, and other perishable items cool while running multiple errands throughout the day. This is also a great option if you're bringing a bottle or two of chilled wine to a party or want to keep sandwiches cool for a sporting event.
The better the insulation, the longer the cooler will keep things chilled. When you go on a trip, it is crucial that that the food you bring along stays cool as long as possible. Check the product information for how many days food will stay at FDA-recommended food safe temperature of 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below even in hot weather. While all of the picks in this roundup offered impressive insulation during our 24-hour test, our best overall pick, the RTIC Ultra-Light 52-Quart Ice Chest, had a consistent inner temperature of around 32 degrees Fahrenheit, which is well under the 40 degrees FDA-recommended temperature.
A fully packed cooler can be a bear to carry so if you know you will be moving more than a few feet, having a cooler with sturdy wheels is important. For rugged terrain, the wheels should be puncture- and impact-resistant. Our best with wheels pick, the XSpec Roto Molded Wheeled Hard Cooler, rolled over grass and concrete with no issues, and the large tires also should handle sand with ease.
For uses where a standard cooler is out of the question, consider getting one with a special design, such as a backpack cooler for hiking and biking, or a floating cooler for your pool. Our best backpack pick, the Bluu Softside Leakproof 35 Quart Backpack Cooler, has padded straps and extra pockets to store other essentials you may need like a bottle opener or napkins. The waterproof zipper also ensures that none of the cooler's ice will leak on you as you carry it.
How does a portable cooler work?
The combination of the cooler’s insulation layer, usually foam or plastic, with ice that you place inside—either ice cubes or ice packs—slows down the circulation of warm air inside the cooler and keeps things cool.
Does food stay cool in a portable cooler without ice?
Yes, but not as long as when you also put ice in the cooler. The insulation of the cooler prevents the food from warming up as quickly as if it was left outside the cooler. How long food stays cool in a cooler without ice depends on how cold the food was initially, and also the temperature inside the cooler. In a cooler that was kept in the trunk of a car on a hot day food, even frozen food-will warm up much quicker.
How long does a cooler stay cold?
That depends on the efficiency of the cooler’s insulation is, the outside temperature, the initial temperature of the food, and the way it’s stacked. With ice in the cooler (a must), food can stay cold anywhere from two to four, under ideal conditions and in a high-end cooler even up to 10 days.
Why Trust The Spruce?
Emma Phelps is an updates writer for The Spruce, specializing in converting testing data from a variety of subjects into comprehensible buying roundups on the site. She’s written about everything from the best outdoor solar lights to the best vacuums for pet hair—truly nothing is off limits under her byline. For this roundup, Emma consulted testing data from the coolers test and researched reasonable price points for coolers on the market. She also researched common features in coolers such as dividers, cold packs, cup holders, and more to consider which options from our tests stood out as going above and beyond on design.
What Is Spruce Approved?
Here at The Spruce we want to ensure we fully stand behind every product we recommend, and that when we say something is the best, we mean it. You might have noticed The Spruce Approved badge next to the products on this list. Every product with this badge has been rigorously tested in person and carefully selected by our expert team of lab testers and editors. In most cases, we buy all these products ourselves, though occasionally we get samples provided to us directly by companies. No matter how we procure products, they all go through the same tests and must meet the same strict criteria to make the best-of cut. We also pride ourselves on transparency and will always let you know if we received a product for free.