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The 7 best coolers for camping and roadtripping

We take a look at a variety of camping coolers of all sizes and price points—including some personal favorites

Photo: Jeremy Puglisi

Our family brings a cooler on every single RV and camping trip we take—whether it be for a weekend or a longer adventure. Why bring a cooler if your RV has a refrigerator? Well, for a variety of reasons. First, because we can never have enough storage for cold drinks, and our RV fridge fills up pretty quickly. Second, because we don’t want our kids coming in and out of the RV every time they get thirsty. And third, because when we go camping we often head out for day trips and want to bring a cooler filled with food and beverages.

If you’re shopping for a cooler for the campground, you’ll quickly be deluged with dozens, if not hundreds of options. Price points will also vary widely, and it can be hard to sort out which cooler is right for you and how much you should spend on it.

Yellow cooler in front of a campfire with storage box on top
Photo: Jeremy Puglisi

Types of camping coolers

Soft coolers are great for day trips away from the campground and are comfortable and convenient to carry. They also come in a variety of sizes and price points, and good ones are made by dozens of different companies. Ice retention varies widely.

Inexpensive hard coolers, like the ones made by Igloo and Coleman, can also work well for day trips, but would not make great options for those looking to supplement their refrigerators for an extended camping trip. High-end rotomolded coolers, like the ones made by OrcaYETI, and RTIC, work well for longer trips where lengthy ice retention is key—but you’ll pay a premium for these thick and rugged performance coolers. 

Twelve-volt powered coolers, like the models made by Dometic and Truma, are even more expensive than rotomolds but they can truly serve as an RV refrigerator for those who need more space, or might not have an RV refrigerator to begin with. Powered coolers do not require ice, so they offer more storage space than a comparably sized traditional cooler.

The best coolers for campers

So how should you pick a cooler for your next camping adventure? First, decide how much ice retention you need (single day? multi-day?) and how much money you want to spend. The list of my seven favorite coolers below is also a great starting point. 

I’ve tested all of these personally and like each of them for different reasons. Prices range from $20 to $450, so there should be something here that is perfect for you—no matter your price point or how much ice retention you need.

The bargain day-tripper: Igloo Playmate Elite MaxCold 16QT 

Looking for a cooler for day trips to the ocean or lake, and don’t need extended ice retention? The Igloo Playmate series is fun and functional, comes in a variety of sizes and colors, and has been around since the 1960s. The Elite MaxCold 16QT model has enough room to pack cold drinks (and a few snacks) for the whole family. Its budget price point also means that you won’t be heartbroken if it gets lost or stolen. 

Soft-sided cooelr sits on sandy beach with two children playing in the sand nearby
Photo: Jeremy Puglisi

The high-performance soft cooler: RTIC Soft Pack Cooler

Soft cooler technology has improved dramatically over the past decade and performance can, at times, rival that of comparably priced hard coolers. So why go soft? Soft coolers like the RTIC Soft Pack (offered in a variety of sizes and colors) are much lighter and easier to carry and store. RTIC’s largest model in this line holds up to 30 cans and retains ice for several days. The exterior pocket is also nifty for your phone and keys. 

The roadtripping car cooler: Pelican 20QT Elite Cooler 

Why spend money on overpriced drinks at a roadside rest stop when you can buy them in advance? The Pelican 20QT Elite Cooler is designed for storage on an empty car seat (or on the floor behind a seat) and is easily accessible while driving. The “press and pull” latches are rugged and easy to use, and the built-in bottle opener seems unbreakable to me. When you get to your destination, these colorful coolers also work perfectly as an extra seat because of their taller profile. Ice retention can last for several days depending on how you pack it.

The old reliable camping buddy: Classic Coleman coolers

Love the look of the classic Coleman coolers that your mom and dad used to bring camping when you were a kid? Then why not buy one of your own on eBay or Facebook Marketplace? Coleman sold millions of these handsome and durable steel-belted coolers, and it’s easier than you think to find a good used one. A classic Coleman Cooler will serve as a conversation piece around the campfire and will still perform incredibly well. The best part? You can often find one in very good shape for $50 or less. Ice retention is not as good as a high-end rotomold like a YETI or RTIC, but these classic coolers will definitely stay cold all weekend long.

The family favorite: Cabela’s Polar Cap Equalizer 60QT

YETI dominates the market for expensive rotomolded coolers because of their legendary quality, terrific marketing, and cool color selection. But I love the Cabela’s Polar Cap Series because it offers the same quality, with more features, at a slightly lower price. The built-in bottle openers on both latches are a nice touch, and so is the lanyard on the leakproof spigot. Two days of ice retention is possible—if you pack it perfectly and make sure your friends close it up after grabbing those ice-cold brews.

Hard-sided cooler is open in a field with drinks and food inside. Outside there is a cutting board attachment with wheel of cheese and two cup holders.
Photo courtesy of RovR

The portable party on wheels: RovR RollR 

The RovR RollR is more than just a cooler. It’s a mobile base camp for outdoor beverages, snacks, and meals. The included interior “deepfreeze” dry bin and exterior “wagon bin” make organizing your food and gear an absolute delight and make other high-end coolers with wheels look a bit boring. Accessories like a cutting board and drink holders take the RovR RollR over the top. The all-terrain rubber wheels will also ensure an easy pulling experience at the beach or in the park. This aesthetically pleasing cooler can also be hooked up to a bike with the BikR Kit for those with more ambitious adventures in mind. Ice retention easily competes with other high-end rotomolded coolers.

The go-anywhere backpack cooler: YETI Hopper Soft Backpack Cooler

Want to be the hero of your hiking party and carry cold drinks to the top of the mountain? Then check out the YETI Hopper Soft Backpack Cooler. YETI products aren’t cheap, but this handsome backpack is built to last and it never leaks. I haven’t climbed a mountain with it, but I have taken it down to the river for a day of cliff jumping and picnicking. It was amazing to have my hands free to help the kids navigate the shallow river until we found the perfect spot for lunch. Ice retention is solid, not spectacular.

Tips for packing your camping cooler

No matter which cooler you choose for the campground or the road, learn to pack it correctly to maximize ice retention. 

  • Buy a solid ice pack (or packs) that cover the bottom of your cooler and then add drinks on top of them. 
  • Then, pour ice over the drinks and fill up the nooks and crannies in between your cans. 
  • All dry goods should be stored at the top of your cooler in a bin that keeps them separate from the ice. 
  • As your ice melts and hits the ice packs on the bottom, it will refreeze and give you extra bang for the buck.

Good luck choosing an awesome cooler for your next camping adventure, and make sure to pack a few extra drinks for family and friends who join you around the campfire. 

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