The best coolers for your next picnic, tailgate, or camping trip

The best coolers for your next picnic, tailgate, or camping trip

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The Insider Pick:

To the fisherman, a reliable cooler makes the difference between bringing home fresh fillets or wasting the catch as it spoils in the heat. At the tailgate party or picnic, a good cooler means cold beer and soda instead of warm swill. For the campers, a cooler keeps food chilled and safe for days on end even when the nearest refrigerator is a three-day hike back out of the woods. And so forth. Frankly, I feel confident that you know plenty about using coolers. When it comes to choosing a cooler, however, I think I can help.

I own four coolers, which I readily admit is a bit excessive. But they're just so damn handy, right? I only use two of them all that often, these being a large hard-shelled classic and a soft-sided compact cooler. There's nothing wrong with the other two coolers, one is just a bit small for the family and the fourth is simply redundant, yet I can't bring myself to part with it.

It's probably going to surprise you just how much some coolers cost. But what also might be a surprise is the fact that a great cooler can be a lifetime purchase. No, buying a cooler is not as important or complicated a decision as selecting a car or a major appliance, but you will almost surely have the cooler for many years more than any vehicle, fridge, or washing machine, so you owe it to yourself to choose wisely. Be ready to spend a few bucks if it turns out the cooler that best suits your needs happens to be pricey.

How to choose the right cooler

When choosing the best cooler for your needs, first consider where you will most often use the thing. That's the single most important factor, really. If a cooler is too big to bring along on a camping or fishing trip, it's essentially useless. If it can't retain ice well enough to keep things fresh during a weeklong stay in a cabin or camper, same deal. If its only purpose is for convenient beverage chilling in your own backyard during cookouts, that's going to have a huge impact on how much you need to spend. 

Next, of course, you need to think about what you'll be keeping cold, and how much of it. It's easy to judge cooler capacity. Almost all coolers explicitly list their interior quart size and many state a can capacity. Also don't forget to note the overall size of the cooler, as some are much larger on the outside than their interior dimensions will have you think.

The five coolers on this list are all distinct from one another in multiple ways. There's a good chance that a few of them will be the outright wrong choice for some people, but there's a great chance that at least one will be the absolute best cooler for you. Read on to see which of our picks fits your needs.

Although the Coleman Performance 48-Quart Cooler is our top pick, for the reasons laid out in the slides below you should also consider the Igloo Marine Ultra Backpack Cooler, the YETI Tundra 75 Cooler, the Pelican Elite Soft Cooler, and the Rachael Ray Jumbo ChillOut Thermal Tote.

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The best cooler overall

Why you'll love it: The Coleman Performance 48-Quart Cooler is a classic hard-shelled cooler with multi-day ice retention and an all but indestructible design.

If Coleman's cooler weren't such a simple, reliable, and all-around great piece of hardware, I would have called it the best low-cost cooler instead of the best overall cooler. It costs less than thirty dollars, but it will last you thirty years or more provided you take the time to wipe it clean now and then and you don't run over it with a truck.

This is the cooler your dad brought on family camping trips, it's the cooler of your childhood, and it's still an awesome buy.

Coleman's 48-quart cooler can hold 63 standard 12-ounce cans and is tall enough for two-liter soda bottles to stand upright with the lid closed. It's more than sturdy enough to double as a seat, yet still light enough for one rather fit person to heft alone or for two people to easily carry down the dock, into the park, or onto the beach. Empty, the cooler weighs about seven pounds, so you can easily lift it up onto the top shelf of the garage for storage, too.

The Coleman Performance 48-Quart Cooler has a drain built into the bottom so you can let out any spilled beverages or ice melt without dumping the entire contents, but for the record, there won't be much meltwater provided you keep the lid secure most of the time. This cooler offers three-day ice retention even when the mercury tops 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Oh, and this cooler is made in America, too.

It's no surprise that people love this thing — with hundreds of ratings logged, the Coleman Performance cooler gets a 4.2-star rating. One customer calls it "still the best design on the market," while another gets right to the important details, with his entire review consisting of four words: "It keeps beer cold."

In a write-up fromShedHeads.com, a gear tester called this cooler a "great icebox for beach days or picnics with the family," adding: "It’s also a versatile size that can be used for drinks at parties." ASears Product Review video reviewer praised its "sturdy construction" and called it "great for our family."

Pros:Great price, sturdy construction, large capacity, trusted legacy brand

Cons:Hinges on lid prone to eventual breaking

Buy the Coleman Performance 48-Quart Cooler on Amazon for $29.99

The best cooler for work and commuting

Igloo/Business Insider

Why you'll love it: The Igloo Marine Ultra Backpack Cooler lets you go hands-free while carrying plenty of cold, fresh food that stays chilled for hours.

The Igloo Marine Ultra Backpack Cooler is not going to keep ice frozen for a week, but that's not what you buy it for. You chose this cooler because you need to keep a day's worth of food and beverages chilled and you don't want to lug around a bulky, boxy piece of hardware to do it.

Whether you work in construction, landscape design, field research, or any other profession that keeps you outdoors and/or often on the move (or if your hobbies involve spending the day outside), this is a great cooler to consider.

The Igloo Marine Ultra has a crush-resistant compartment accessed through a zippered top. It has the capacity for about a dozen 12-ounce cans, which is more than enough room for all the food and beverages a single person should need for a single day. The cooler has more than enough insulating foam to keep things cool all day provided you slip in an ice pack or two (or just a bag of ice) and keep the lid zipped shut.

A front zippered compartment is perfect for stashing a wallet, phone, and keys, while side pouches can hold a water bottle, piece of fruit, and so forth. The Igloo Marine Ultra Backpack Cooler has padded adjustable straps and should comfortably fit almost any teen or adult. Kiss the brown paper bag goodbye and keep things fresh and cool while you're on the go with this handy Backpack Cooler.

Most people who own a Marine Ultra love it. One gentleman who relies on the backpack daily for work says: "The insulation in this cooler is impressive and much better than the majority of soft-sided coolers that I have previously used." Another satisfied owner said simply that it's "extra easy to carry."

Professional reviewers also love this Backpack Cooler. A writer withwiki.ezvid.com noted that it has "plenty of foam to keep your food cool," while the gear testers atBest Cooler Reviews said the Igloo Marine Ultra was capable and durable and lauded its "leak resistant anti-microbial liner."

Pros:Great for commuting or travel, adjustable straps for comfort, additional storage areas

Cons:Only maintains chill for about a day at best

Buy the Igloo Marine Ultra Backpack Cooler on Amazon for $39.98

The best cooler for long-term use

Yeti

Why you'll love it: The YETI Tundra 75 Cooler can keep ice frozen for more than a week even if you're using it in the middle of the summer.

To deal with the elephant in the room first, yes, this cooler costs almost five hundred dollars. That's a lot of money to spend on a cooler, no two ways about it. But for that price, you will get one of the absolute best coolers on the market today. Let's just rattle off a few highlights, shall we?

The YETI Tundra 75 Cooler's rugged rotomolded design makes it tough enough to be certified as bear-resistant. That's right, in a fight between a bear and this cooler, the cooler will probably win. Its three-inch thick PermaFrost insulation and ColdLock gasket allow the cooler to keep ice frozen for days on end. You can expect at least a week of sub-zero temperatures within provided you loaded it up with sufficient ice.

It has a 50-can capacity and also comes with a dry goods basket that holds a selection of foodstuffs above the ice. Its BearFoot non-slip feet and AnchorPoint tie-down points help you to secure the cooler in the bed of a truck or aboard a boat. 

Do most people need this level of cooler? Probably not. But if you're a serious fisherman, if you're on a road trip and you want to stay self-sufficient, or if you're stocking a cabin or campsite for an extended stay, you'll be glad you have the YETI Tundra 75 at your disposal, no buyer's remorse involved. Just note that the cooler weighs 30 pounds even when empty, so if you have trouble lifting heavier loads, you might need to look elsewhere.

One wilderness guide left a review saying: "The YETI legends are true. This is one badass cooler. We have left this cooler sitting in the sun on our back patio and found cold beer and ice cubes 5 days later." Overall, the cooler has a 4.5-star rating.

A video reviewer withAble2Survive conducted a seven-day test and deemed the cooler a success, showing that a decent amount of the ice he loaded in on day one remained frozen a week later. A writer withCoolersOnSale.com was impressed with the cooler's "ice retention time" and its tough construction.

Pros:Amazing ice retention, rugged construction, great for boating or long road trips

Cons:Very expensive, very heavy

Buy the YETI Tundra 75 Cooler on Amazon for $449.99

The best soft cooler

Pelican

Why you'll love it: The Pelican Elite Soft Cooler weighs about half as much as most hard-walled coolers, but it will still keep its contents reliably cold for several days at a time.

Don't let the word "soft" mislead you hear: This is not an insulate tote bag style of cooler, but a sturdy, durable option that can be shoved in the back of the car, schlepped to the campsite or beach, or tossed into a canoe or boat without concern for the foods and beverages within. Its walls are sturdy and it retains its shape well, it's just not made from rigid materials.

The exterior of the Pelican Elite Soft Cooler is made from a tightly woven fabric coated in thermoplastic polyurethane, which helps keep the cooler watertight and protected against the elements. The insulation comes thanks to closed-cell foam walls that are more than an inch thick. The interior of the cooler is made from a liner approved as food grade by the FDA.

I've easily fit a dozen cans, snacks, grilling foods, and condiments into my Pelican Elite and still had ample room for ice packs. This cooler performs every bit as well as a hard-shelled cooler of similar size, it just happens to weigh much less ... and cost much more, for the record. 

We use ours pretty much every time we need a cooler anywhere away from home, and the only complaint I've ever had about it is that the zipper can be hard to pull. But that's thanks to the rugged construction of the zipper, not due to a design flaw.

The Pelican earns four out of five stars on the average, with the only complaint most owners have been about the price. A customer named Jon said this is the one to get "if you want a cooler that is going to hold ice for a super long time," while another person called it a "ridiculously well-built cooler."

In a review from trusted sourcePopular Mechanics, a gear tester called the Pelican Elite Soft Cooler "100% leak-proof" and praised its "dual-lock buckle system."

Pros:Lightweight, multi-day ice retention, great for travel

Cons:Quite expensive, zipper can be stubborn

Buy the Pelican Elite Soft Cooler on Amazon for $279.99

The best cooler tote bag

Rachel Ray/Business Insider

Why you'll love it: The Rachael Ray Jumbo ChillOut Thermal Tote keeps its contents hot or cold for hours on end, and it rolls right up when you're done. 

If you want to keep your food cold in style, then the Rachael Ray Jumbo ChillOut Thermal Tote is a fine way to do it. This isn't the right cooler for the hunter or fisherman hoping to preserve meat during a weeklong expedition, nor is it the right choice for serving beer or soft drinks at a party. But for bringing snacks or dinner to the park or to a performance or for keeping your groceries cold on the trip home from the market, it's the ideal choice.

A layer of SuperFoam insulation and in internal Thema-Flect radiant barrier lining helps to keep foods and beverages cold and it's reliably watertight, resisting leaks even once the ice starts to melt. This cooler tote is also great for keeping foods warm, and can even be oriented sideways thanks to cleverly adjustable handles, letting you keep a pizza or casserole intact and warm when you're on the go.

When you don't need to ferry around hot or cold foods, the Rachael Ray Jumbo ChillOut Thermal Tote doubles as a fine beach bag or carry-all tote, or it folds flat or rolls up for compact storage.

This cooler bag has a solid 4.4-star rating with hundreds of ratings and reviews posted. One reviewer points out two of the tote's top attributes — its size and efficacy — in one sentence when she says: "We've had 3 gallons of milk in the bag for 4 hours because of traffic one night and they were still very cold. I was very impressed."

Avideo review on YouTube noted its "easy-clean and leak proof lining," while a blogger atBargainBabe.com highlighted how well it "folds flat for easy storage."

Pros:Folds up for easy storage, keeps foods cool or warm, great low price

Cons:Limited ice retention ability, middling quality zipper

Buy the Rachael Ray Jumbo ChillOut Thermal Tote on Amazon for $23.99 (prices vary by color)

Source : http://www.businessinsider.com/best-cooler

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