I have a weird and expensive fascination with finding the best coolers for a situation. For some reason, I love running tests on coolers and seeing what performs best under different results. While I haven’t tried everything, I do own quite a collection of coolers and have tested a bunch over the years. Here’s a couple of the best coolers I would recommend for any situation.
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Everyday use or a trip to the park
The best cooler for everyday use is one that’s lightweight and easy to carry. You aren’t expecting to be using them for more than 6 hours, most likely less. Buying a heavy rotomolded cooler is not the best choice in this instance, because of how heavy they are. If you go to the park for a picnic or want some water while hiking, a heavy cooler just won’t do. One of the cheapest and most trusted brands is Igloo Playmate Elite Cooler. Costing less than $25, It’s perfect for those days when you need to carry a couple sandwiches and drinks. It’s also great with ice packs. In my own unofficial test, it’s been great for a day trip or a night over with friends.
Another one of my favorites that weighs a little less and can last longer is the RTIC Soft Pack 20. This soft cooler is rugged and affordable. I found that whenever I fill it up with ice it can last a solid 24 hours. That’s my usage after opening it multiple times throughout the day and having the lid open for easy access. I don’t have to zip it up every time and that makes it great for drinking beer. Definitely one of the best coolers for your money.
Remember I talked about coolers that you can go hiking with? The Icemule Classic is great for those who still want to carry around drinks while being active. This soft cooler is perfect for a day time adventure. Use it while hiking, swimming, canoeing, and anything else in between. It’s portable and lightweight and is perfect for somebody like a college student. You will usually get about a day’s worth of ice retention, but it’s not going to keep it as long as the RTIC.
I love this cooler for the design and slim form factor. I’ve used it when walking trails and attending a local baseball game just because it’s so easy to carry. In the past when I’ve taken my nieces and nephews to the pool, I have to use the larger size because it’s still lightweight and easier to manage with kids. It’s almost on any “best coolers” list.
If you’re looking for a cooler to use often because you entertain people at your home then it’s best to err on the side of inexpensive. It can be tempting to buy a big brand name rotomolded cooler, but it’s not worth your money or physical pain at this point. You want something that can hold a lot and is easy to transport when getting ice. In addition, most hard plastic coolers are pretty tough. Also, if you plan to bring this cooler to something like a tailgate it can work in your favor. Tailgates at football games are notorious for having expensive coolers stolen. The best coolers don’t have to be expensive.
Personally, I’ve used the Coleman Portable Cooler with Wheels and had fantastic results. It has 50 Qts. worth of space and is lightweight. The wheels help me not strain my back when lifting it at full capacity. Even then, because of the plastic, it makes it easy to carry. What’s great is that it’s perfect if you do want to take it on the road with you. My family thinks this is one of the best coolers because even my wife can roll it around fully loaded with ease.
Good Soft coolers to check out in this category are the RTIC Soft Pack 40 and YETI M3 Hooper. Both of these are going to be more expensive than a brand like Coleman or Igloo. They can be worth it, though. Both are lightweight and keep ice up to 48 hours with moderate use (I find even with heavy use they still have ice for two days). They’re easy to clean and large enough for a 24 pack of beer and ice.
If you find yourself having a lot of people over and need iced drinks for all of them then the Igloo Polar Cooler is your best bet. Fair warning though: when this cooler is not full it’s easy to move and lift by yourself. However, once full, you will need an extra hand in picking this thing up. It is heavy and can hold ice for several days. However, where else are you going to find a 120 Qt. cooler that is less than $60?
Camping & Fishing
Although many people are fine using a plastic cooler when camping, I disagree, and here’s why. If you go camping and are using your cooler to keep food cold throughout your stay then you need a solidly-built cooler. You need something that can be tossed around and exposed to the elements without cracking and breaking. Also, you need something with a thick layer of foam just in case the weather turns unexpectedly hot. It’s best to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it. Whether I am doing some remote camping or just doing an overnight trip, I always take my RTIC 45. I’ve also heard great things about the Yeti Tundra Haul, and how easy it is to move around. That may be your best choice if you only want to pick up your cooler when you put it in your car.
I also own a 50 Qt. Lifetime Cooler, and although I have not used it while camping, I have gotten great results. It’s one of the best coolers for the money, and you can expect to get around four days of ice retention or more. The Igloo BMX is also making strides in this area, although it’s not my personal favorite. These also should serve for fishing just fine.
A personal trick of mine to make any of the best coolers better is to put ice packs at the bottom for better ice retention.
This is going to be directed at those who are hunting bigger game and need the extra space. Oftentimes, you have to transport meat from your kill back to your home. Spoiling that meat due to a bad cooler is going to waste a lot of time, money, and effort. The coolers in the last section are some of the best you can find, but the best coolers for this are the Pelican Elite 70 Qt., Engel High-Performance Cooler, and the OtterBox Venture. Now, these coolers are expensive, but they are the top-of-the-line in performance and dependability. You can get over a week of ice retention with these coolers. Before shelling out this cash, make sure it’s worth your time. Think about how often you go hunting and how big you need your cooler to be. In the end, it’s really what’s best for you.
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