In this article we’ve shortlisted the best coolers and ice chests when it comes to great quality, well-insulated hard coolers and soft backpack coolers. Don’t be surprised to see a few YETI cooler options make this list – but we’ve also included more budget-friendly options as well as alternatives to YETI from brands such as RTIC, Otterbox, Hydro Flask and REI.
Depending on the type of ice cooler you buy, especially if you are considering an expensive hard-sided cooler like a YETI Tundra, you could be spending a lot of money on your cooler or ice chest, so it helps to know what features to look out for when working out which is the best cooler for you and your needs and budget.
Click here to jump down to our hard and soft cooler buyer’s guide, or read on for our list of the best coolers by type, including brief cooler reviews and video reviews we have created as part of our cooler review and testing process.
Best Coolers – Table of Contents
- Best Hard Cooler
- Best YETI Alternative
- Best Soft-Sided (Backpack) Cooler
- Best Cooler with Wheels
- Best Small Cooler
- Best Electric Cooler for Car Camping and Van Life
- Cooler Buyer’s Guide
Best Hard Cooler
1. YETI Tundra 45 [Overall Winner]
Quite simply, if you want the best insulation on the market, and a well-constructed, robust and good-looking hard-sided ice cooler, the YETI Tundra coolers are the top choice. Everything from the heavy duty rubber handles and feet to the thickness of the insulated walls screams quality.
All that comes at a price, however, but when you’re looking at buying something like a cooler that should last you decades if you look after it, then if you have the budget then the YETI Tundra is worth the investment.
- Capacity: 28 cans
- Weight: 23lb
- External dimensions: 25.75 x 16.125 x 15.4 inches
- Other sizes available: yes (65 Qt is also a popular size)
- Price: $300
- Reasons to buy: Quality construction, good looking and premium brand
- Downsides: Expensive
2 new from $399.49
1 used from $314.62
If you are looking for a YETI cooler with wheels, click here to jump down to the YETI Haul, which is in our ‘best cooler with wheels’ category. To see the YETI Tundra 45 cooler in some more detail, our brief video review below shows the cooler and talks through the key features.
Best YETI Alternative
2. RTIC 45 QT Cooler [Editor’s Choice]
If you are looking at the YETI Tundra 45 and thinking ‘this looks great but can I really justify $300 on an ice cooler?’, then we hear you. That’s a lot of cash, especially when you have companies like RTIC that make very similar coolers, which are also rotomolded plastic construction, super durable and well-insulated, but at a significantly lower price point, making them a great alternative to the YETI Tundra.
The RTIC 45 QT is a great cooler and similar in size and style to the YETI Tundra 45, but $100 less expensive – when you consider that RTIC coolers are sold direct from the company to you as the consumer, they’re able to keep the price down.
- Capacity: 36 cans
- Weight: 25lb
- External dimensions: 26.5 x 16.5 x 15.9 inches
- Other sizes available: Yes (20, 65, 110, 145 and a lightweight 52 option)
- Price: $200
- Reasons to buy: Well-made, rugged cooler, larger capacity than YETI equivalent
- Downsides: Only available online
3. Orca 40 Qt Cooler [Runner Up]
Orca is another rotomolded, premium cooler brand that is made in the USA and designed to be super durable and keep the contents cold for days. It features flexible handles with good grip, and a water-tight gasket on the lid. We also like the added cargo net on the back for extra (non-cooled) storage.
The Orca is one good-looking cooler for a wide range of uses including camping, at the beach and boating, and it’s available in a wide range of colors – including vibrant colors such as pink, lime green and orange. Never lose your beer stash again!
- Capacity: Up to 48 cans
- Weight: n/a
- External dimensions: 26.25 W x 18.2 D x 17.6 H
- Other sizes available: Yes (20, 26, 58, 75 and 140 Qt models)
- Price: $290
- Reasons to buy: Good-looking, well-built, US-made cooler with a great color selection
- Downsides: Expensive (similar price to the YETI Tundra)
Overall Best Soft-Sided (Backpack) Cooler
4. YETI Backpack Cooler (Hopper Backflip 24)
This YETI backpack cooler is comfortable to wear by virtue of its padded straps and the addition of a waist belt. It has all the features you expect of this premium brand, including a leak-proof zip and a high standard of insulation. However, at $300, the Hopper Backflip is expensive compared to alternative options like the Hydro Flask one below.
That said, if you have the cash and love the YETI brand then it’s an excellent backpack cooler you won’t be disappointed with, and it is slightly larger in volume, too.
- Capacity: 20 cans (assuming 2:1 ice:can ratio)
- Weight: 5lb
- External dimensions: 19 H x 14 W x 10 D inches
- Other sizes available: No (although other non-backpack options are)
- Price: $300
- Reasons to buy: Quality, comfortable backpack with good volume for day-trips
- Downsides: Expensive
2 new from $410.51
5. IceMule Pro Large (24) and X-Large (33) [Runner Up]
While the Hydro Flask and YETI backpack coolers in this category use taped waterproof zip closures to seal the top, IceMule takes a different approach with their dry-bag style backpack coolers, which roll down and seal in the same way.
IceMule coolers are designed to be waterproof both ways, float in water and retain solid ice for 24 hours, which is plenty for a full day out adventuring – especially for watersports such as kayaking, SUP and boating, as well as the beach.
- Capacity: 18 cans (with ice) for Large, 24 cans (with ice) for X-Large
- Weight: 3.2lb / 3.5lb
- External dimensions: 17 H x 14 W x 11 D inches / 20 x 14 x 11 inches
- Other sizes available: XX-Large is also available
- Price: $115 for Large, $130 for X-Large
- Reasons to buy: No zippers, compact and rolls up when stored, floats in water
- Downsides: Less structure when carrying heavier contents such as cans
1 new from $114.99
6. Hydro Flask Day Escape 20 L Backpack Cooler [Runner Up]
This backpack cooler is designed to provide 36 hours of cooling – perfect for a day hike, festival or overnight camping trip where you need to keep food cool for breakfast and lunch the next day.
It is lightweight, leak-proof and made from durable construction so you can take it pretty much anywhere, and as it’s a backpack, it’s easy to carry hands-free. Plus, Hydro Flask designed this pack to have structure so heavy contents don’t dig into your back when you’re carrying it fully-loaded.
- Capacity: 36 cans (without ice)
- Weight: 3lb
- External dimensions: 17.7 H x 13 W x 7.8 D inches
- Other sizes available: No (although Hydro Flask make Tote Bag coolers)
- Price: $200
- Reasons to buy: Lightweight, portable, leak-proof and durable
- Downsides: Due to the tall shape it can be hard to reach contents at the bottom once fully packed
Best Cooler with Wheels
7. ROVR RollR 45 Wheeled Cooler [Winner]
Unlike other cooler brands such as YETI, Orca and RTIC which offer a range of hard and soft coolers, ROVR specializes in hard rollers with wheels and the RollR has 9-inch, puncture-resistant tires which make it one of the best coolers for wheeling over all terrain, even sand.
ROVR coolers also do a good job of keeping contents cold – as good as the YETI Tundras, with an advertised maximum of 8 days of ice retention. These coolers are also air-tight, bear-resistant, and come with a 5-year warranty.
- Capacity: 60 cans with 10lb of ice
- Weight: 39lb
- External dimensions: 19.3 H x 18.9 W x 22.5 D inches
- Other sizes available: 60, 85 and 85
- Price: $400
- Reasons to buy: Rugged wheels, quality built and thoughtful accessories such as a ‘wagon bin’, cup holders and a prep board (ideal for slicing limes or making tapas)
- Downsides: Very heavy and large to store when not in use
1 new from $419.99
1 used from $319.99
8. Clevr Wagon Cooler Rolling Party Ice Chest [Runner Up]
This ClevR wheeled cooler is ideal for those situations where you don’t need days and days of ice retention but want a cooler that’s easy to transport over the ground on wheels. Being a large cooler, there’s plenty of space across the two compartments to store drinks and food and keep them cool for a full day or two.
While it is heavy, and not as durable and adventure-ready as other cooler options, this ice chest on wheels is ideal for parties – and the bright color makes it easy for everyone to know where the cool drinks are.
- Capacity: 70+ cans
- Weight: 42lb
- External dimensions: 13.75 H x 15 W x 30.5 L (cooler excluding wheels and handle)
- Other sizes available: No
- Price: $175
- Reasons to buy: Large 10 inch all-terrain wheels, one of the best coolers for parties, big enough for plenty of food and drinks
- Downsides: Heavy and large, limited durability
9. YETI Tundra Haul [Runner Up]
Surprise! It’s another YETI cooler here. It didn’t win in the coolers with wheels category, though, because the ROVR cooler is also great quality and offers more capacity and added features for the same price.
That said, you really can’t go wrong with a YETI cooler, and if you’re already a fan and prefer the sleek look of the Tundra Haul wheeled version then it’s a solid choice.
- Capacity: 45 cans of beer (using 2:1 ice:can ratio)
- Weight: 37lb
- External dimensions: 19.5 H x 18.6 W x 28.25 L
- Other sizes available: Not in the wheeled version
- Price: $400
- Reasons to buy: YETI quality
- Downsides: Not as spacious and feature-rich as the ROVR Rollr
4 new from $399.98
If you prefer the hard coolers at the top of this list but would like to wheel them at least some of the time, then you could also consider buying add-on wheels that you can use with those YETI and RTIC coolers when needed and remove when not required.
Best Small Budget Cooler
10. Igloo BMX 25 Quart Cooler [Winner]
This little cooler is super-popular if you’re looking for a smaller cooler made with heavy duty construction that won’t break the bank. It’s not a rotomolded cooler like a YETI or RTIC but it’s well-made and lightweight, and can hold ice for a couple of days.
Other features of this Igloo cooler include a comfortable rubber grab handle and four tie-down points to keep it in place when traveling.
- Capacity: 37 cans
- Weight: 11.3lb
- External dimensions: 19.59 L x 13.25 W x 15.7 H inches
- Other sizes available: 52, 72
- Price: $80
- Reasons to buy: Budget value everyday cooler with heavy duty construction
- Downsides: Not as robust as rotomolded options, and the lid is not sealed
2 new from $69.99
4 used from $62.78
11. Stanley Adventure Cooler – 30-Quart [Runner Up]
This Stanley cooler is another lightweight, budget-friendly cooler with a larger capacity than the Igloo option above. Its shape means it can store taller soda bottles upright and it also makes a convenient seat or table. This also means it is easier to lift by yourself when full.
It features a leak-proof drain plug and leak-resistant lid gasket and should keep your ice and contents cool for several days, and comes with a Stanley lifetime warranty.
- Capacity: 40 cans
- Weight: 13.6lb
- External dimensions: 21.34 L x 15.47 W x 18.46 H inches
- Other sizes available: smaller sizes are available (6 and 16 qt)
- Price: $150
- Reasons to buy: More convenient shape for transporting in and out of cars
- Downsides: Doesn’t look at fancy as rotomolded options
1 new from $164.99
Best Electric Cooler for Car Camping and Van Life
12. Dometic CFX3 35 Powered Cooler
If your main motivation for researching coolers is because you are looking for the best coolers for car camping or for use in a camper van, then an electric cooler is the way to go if you have access to an electricity supply, either at your campsite, in your vehicle, or with a portable power station such as a Jackery.
This Dometic electric cooler will keep your food and drink cool without ice. So it’s a mess-free, super convenient option.
- Capacity: 50 cans
- Weight: 37lb
- External dimensions: 27.5 L x 16 W x 16 H
- Other sizes available: Yes – Dometic make a whole range of powered coolers
- Price: $900
- Reasons to buy: Ideal if you enjoy car camping or van life and have a power source, no ice needed or water to drain
- Downsides: A much more expensive option than a regular ice cooler.
Cooler Buyer’s Guide
- Types of coolers [hard shell vs soft-sided]
- How long do coolers stay cold?
- What size cooler to choose
- Comparing cooler weight and portability
- What is a rotomolded cooler?
- RTIC vs YETI
- Bear proof coolers
- Cooler features and accessories
Types of cooler
When the majority of people think about ice coolers they’re thinking of hard-sided coolers, which are typically made from well-insulated, rotomolded plastic and are pretty chunky. It’s this size that helps these coolers offer good durability and insulation to keep the contents cool for several days, or at least a weekend in the case of cheaper ice chest options.
Depending on the level of quality and insulation you’re looking for, these coolers can cost anything from around $50 for a cheap cooler like this Coleman option, to $300+ in the case of the larger YETI Tundra models. The higher-end models can keep your food and drink cool for a long weekend of camping and then some, and are great to have not just for car camping, but also tailgating and parties where you don’t have to carry them far – these coolers get heavy, and can be difficult to transport far, even with wheels.
Because in this list we’re talking about the best coolers, generally cheap does not equate to best, unless your priority criterion is saving money on the initial purchase – so we’ve prioritized features, including durability, longevity and insulating properties in selecting the best hard and soft coolers that made it on to this list, and this is the reason why most of the options here are priced between $100 and $300, rather than being under $100.
Soft coolers (backpack coolers)
The main advantages of soft-sided coolers over hard coolers are their lighter weight and portability. Backpack coolers are getting very popular now with traditional cooler companies as well as hydration companies and other outdoor gear businesses getting in on the act, with the advantage of the backpack-style rather than tote-style or hard-sided coolers being that the shoulder straps make it easier to carry them around and keep your hands free.
Every year now we see more brands entering the backpack cooler market, as it’s being recognized that customers want portability as an option when it comes to carrying coolers on trails and even to and from events such as parties and festivals.
You can also get shoulder-carry cooler bags that are not backpack-style have the advantage of a wider, easier access opening in the top, so you don’t have to take everything out to reach down the bottom, and they’re easier to sling in the car than a larger, hard cooler, but given the portability benefits of the backpack style, that’s what you’ll find on this list.
Soft coolers tend to be less expensive than hard coolers, and are made from durable and waterproof fabric with tough rubber lining, similar to what you’d find on an inflatable SUP. The downside to soft coolers is that they lack the same level of insulation and so will not keep the contents as cool for as long.
It’s also important to choose a good quality soft cooler to ensure that it is made of waterproof and water-tight construction and won’t leak once the ice inside starts to melt – which is a big issue with cheap soft coolers. Soft cooler waterproofing features to look out for include taped, rubberized zippers to prevent leaks, a welded (rather than stitched) liner, and a thick, reinforced base to minimize risk of scuffs, tears and other damage.
How long do coolers stay cold (and keep the contents cold)?
Cooler ice retention (or how long it will take for ice in your cooler to melt) is the subject of much debate, and unlike other outdoor gear which have standardized, universally recognized ratings for things such as waterproofness (reference IPX ratings in our best running headphones guide, as an example), cooler manufacturers sometimes give an indication of how long their products can keep the contents cold for but the way this is measured is not standard so it’s hard to compare like-for-like.
The general rule when it comes to coolers is that you get what you pay for in terms of ice retention, with the more expensive hard-sided coolers such as YETI and RTIC keeping contents cooler for longer (several days depending on use and the exterior conditions the cooler is stored in) and the cheaper options may keep things cold for a weekend at most.
Generally, it follows that the thicker the walls in a cooler (which usually corresponds to the purchase price), the more well-insulated it is and the longer it will keep ice and food inside cold, all other factors being equal.
What size cooler to choose
When considering what size ice cooler to buy, also think about how they work. While small coolers, and especially the soft-sided ones, are more portable and convenient, they are also going to be less well-insulated than a larger cooler. If a larger cooler is full of frozen or cold food and drink (and ice), then it will stay cooler for longer than a smaller one as there is more cold stuff in it to keep it all staying cold. So if the length of chill time is important, it’s best to buy a larger cooler.
When thinking about how much you may want to store in your cooler, bear in mind that even if a cooler looks big, they can be much smaller inside once you account for the thick, insulated walls, and you should be aiming to have twice the volume of ice to food (or drink), in order to keep the contents cool, so this is another reason to think big, if you have the budget and space for a larger cooler model.
To given an example of how much you can fit in a cooler, have a look at this picture of our RTIC 45 QT Cooler and you can also watch the video review of the YETI Tundra 45 which we’ve included further up in this article.
Coolers’ internal capacity is measured in several different ways depending on the manufacturer, including cans, quarts and liters, and this is not as simple as the number that is often in the name – the internal volume can be much smaller once you consider the thickness of the cooler’s walls. We’ve stated coolers’ internal volumes, where available, in cans in this article, to give a basis for comparison and help get a feel for how much food and drink you could fit inside each.
Comparing cooler weight and portability
If you need to carry your full cooler any distance, then consider getting a cooler with wheels. Most good quality coolers, including those selected for this list, are well-built, durable, well-insulated and – well – heavy – even before you’ve put anything in them.
If your cooler is going to live in a van or on the back of a truck, then portability is less of a priority – and they do have handles on either side so you can move them even if it takes two people.
If you are looking at ice coolers with wheels, it’s worth thinking about what terrain you will most likely be wheeling it on. If it’s on a trail or beach, then make sure the wheels look like they’re up to the challenge – generally the larger, the better, so they can turn and not get stuck on loose and uneven ground.
What is a ‘rotomolded cooler’
Rotomolding is a technique for molding plastic using rotation-molding – this technique is used for loads of products, including, in our outdoor-focused world, kayaks, as well as many hard-sided ice coolers including YETI and RTIC models – and the great thing about this technique is that there are no seams – great when your product needs to hold and retain ice, which becomes water.
Another advantage of roto-molded coolers is that many of them are designed and built to be bear-resistant, which is important in certain parts of the world where bears may be present.
RTIC vs YETI
If you’re new to choosing a cooler, and especially a hard-sided cooler, then you may have seen or heard of YETI coolers and also RTIC coolers and wondered how different they are – because they look so similar.
While YETI has been around longer and is undisputedly a very popular high-end cooler option in terms of price and build quality, RTIC coolers offer very similar size options and similar ice retention.
Are expensive coolers like YETI worth it? Depending on who’s done the test, some will say that, yes, because YETI coolers do keep the contents cooler for longer, so they may have the edge in that department, however on balance an RTIC cooler may be a good choice for you given it is similar to YETI but at a lower price point and if you aren’t dead set of having the longest ice retention in the market.
Finding a bear-proof cooler
Many hard-sided cooler manufacturers state that they are bear-proof. If a cooler in this list has this label, we have included that information to help you choose the best cooler for you – especially if you live in, or plan to use your cooler in, Bear Country where it’s important to ensure that if a bear can get to your cooler, they can’t get into it (or it would take them a very long time to do so, as bear-proofing is not necessarily a guarantee).
Cooler features and accessories
While coolers are pretty simple pieces of outdoor gear, it’s worth thinking about what cooler features are, or may be, important to you, aside from the key question of how long a cooler keeps things cold for. Coolers are built to hold ice and/or water, as well as your food, drink or whatever else you want to keep in it (such as fishing bait). Most good coolers will have a drain so you can easily empty out the water in the bottom, rather than having to tip it upside-down. This is also helpful for cleaning out.
Larger coolers may be sold with storage baskets which can help organize the contents and keep softer items away from heavier items inside the chest. You can also buy reusable ice packs, which help to reduce the amount of ice you need to buy and which will eventually melt. Lastly, certain coolers come with other features such as optional cushions, to make them more comfortable for casual seating.
Find a cooler
Now you know what to consider when choosing the best cooler for your needs, click here to jump back up and see the list.