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.
With cost in mind, it’s important to know what features to look out for when working out which is the best option for your needs and budget.
IF YOU’RE SHORT ON TIME, our favorite all-round cooler right now, and the cooler that came out top in our tests, is the YETI Tundra 45 – but keep reading this post to see all the other great options available.
At the end of our best hard and soft cooler roundup, you’ll find our educational guide on all the different types of coolers and also a guide on how to choose the right one for you.
Read on for our list of coolers by type, including concise cooler reviews we have created as part of our cooler review and testing process.
Best Coolers – Table of Contents
The Best Coolers Roundup [With Reviews]
1. YETI Tundra 45 [Overall Best Hard Cooler]
- Capacity: 28 cans
- Weight: 24.6lb
- External dimensions: 25.75 x 16.125 x 15.4 inches
- Other sizes available: yes (65 Qt is also a popular size)
- Price: $325
- Reasons to buy: Quality construction, good looking and premium brand
- Downsides: Expensive
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 and it’s why the Tundra sits at the top of our cooler reviews.
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.
If you are looking for a YETI cooler with wheels, check out the YETI Tundra Haul, which is in our ‘best cooler with wheels’ category below.
To see the YETI Tundra 45 cooler in some more detail, our brief Tundra cooler review video below shows the cooler and talks through its key features.
3 new from $325.00
1 used from $285.37
out of stock
2. RTIC 45 QT Cooler [Best YETI Alternative]
- Capacity: 36 cans
- Weight: 26.6lb
- 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: $220
- Reasons to buy: Well-made, rugged cooler, larger capacity than YETI equivalent
- Downsides: Only available online
If you are looking at the YETI Tundra 45 and thinking ‘this looks great but can I really justify more than $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.
3. Orca 40 Qt Cooler [Runner Up]
- Capacity: Up to 48 cans
- Weight: 30lb
- 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: $320 at Amazon | orcacoolers.com
- Reasons to buy: Good-looking, well-built, US-made cooler with a great color selection
- Downsides: Expensive (similar price to the YETI Tundra)
To learn more about this premium hard cooler, read my ORCA Coolers 40 Quart review next.
Orca is another premium rotomolded 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.
Color options include vibrant colors such as pink, lime green, and orange. Never lose your beer stash again!
9 new from $314.98
4. YETI Backpack Cooler (Hopper Backflip 24) [Best Soft-Sided (Backpack) Cooler]
- 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
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.
1 new from $849.99
out of stock
5. ICEMULE Pro Large (24) and X-Large (33) [Runner Up]
- 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
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.
3 new from $133.40
out of stock
6. ICEMULE Classic – Medium (15 L / 12 cans plus ice) [Runner Up]
- Capacity: 12 cans with ice
- Weight: 2lb
- External dimensions: 10.25 L x10.25 W x 18 H when closed
- Other sizes available: Mini (9L), Small (10L), Large (20L)
- Price: $70
- Reasons to buy: No zippers, compact and rolls up when stored, floats in water, lightweight
- Downsides: Less structure when carrying heavier contents such as cans
For more about this cooler including photos of it in use, read our IceMule cooler review.
This sling-style backpack cooler is great value and perfect if you don’t plan on doing any long hikes with your cooler but want an easy way to carry cool food and drinks to the beach, a party, boat or campground.
The medium is the most versatile sized ICEMULE Classic cooler, and has plenty of capacity to carry 12 regular cans, with ice, or 4x 750ml bottles.
It’s lighter and less expensive than the two-strap backpack-style ICEMULE Cooler above, but with the same zip-free, roll-top design.
2 new from $84.95
out of stock
7. ORCA Walker Tote Soft Cooler [Best Soft Cooler – Traditional Style]
- Capacity: 18 cans (with ice)
- Weight: 3.6lb
- External dimensions: Length 15”, Width 9.5”, Height 15.25”
- Other sizes available: No
- Price: $225 at orcacoolers.com
- Reasons to buy: Stylish, lightweight, portable, leak-proof, and durable
- Downsides: None to speak of except the high price tag
To learn more about this premium soft cooler, read my ORCA Walker Tote review next.
This soft cooler is designed to provide 24 hours of cooling to around 18 cans of beverage and food. This is 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 it comes with a detachable shoulder strap which makes it very easy to carry when fully loaded.
I am also a huge fan of the magnetic handles which snap together quickly and easily when you need to grab the bag and go fast.
6 new from $199.49
8. ROVR RollR 45 Wheeled Cooler [Best Cooler with Wheels WINNER]
- 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: $429
- 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
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 choices 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.
2 new from $429.68
9. Clevr Wagon Cooler Rolling Party Ice Chest [Runner Up]
- 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
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.
10. YETI Tundra Haul [Runner Up]
- Capacity: 45 cans of beer (using 2:1 ice:can ratio)
- Weight: 37.5lb
- External dimensions: 19.6 H x 18.6 W x 28.1 L
- Other sizes available: Not in the wheeled version
- Price: $450
- Reasons to buy: YETI quality
- Downsides: Not as spacious and feature-rich as the ROVR Rollr
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 a similar 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.
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.
3 new from $450.00
2 used from $394.02
out of stock
11. RTIC Soft Pack Cooler (Size 8) [Best Leakproof Soft Cooler]
- Capacity: 6 cans
- Weight: 2lb
- External dimensions: 12 H x 10 W x 8 D
- Other sizes available: 12, 20, 30, 40
- Price: $70
- Reasons to buy: Leakproof, puncture-resistant, lightweight soft cooler ideal for work, camping and boat trips
- Downsides: Hard to fault if you’re looking for a highly portable, leakproof cooler
If you don’t need the extra straps of a backpack cooler, or want a more traditional open-top shape but in a portable soft-sided cooler, then these RTIC soft coolers are a great choice. What makes them so great?
They’re leakproof, lightweight, puncture-resistant, come in a great range of sizes and colors, and all for less than $70.
12. Igloo BMX 25 Quart Cooler [Best Small Budget Cooler WINNER]
- 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 cooler options, and the lid is not sealed
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.
13. Dometic CFX3 35 Powered Cooler [Best Electric Cooler for Car Camping and Van Life]
- 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.
To learn more about this great electric cooler including photos of it in use, read our Dometic CFX3 45 review next.
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.
LEARN MORE: Read our ‘Best Portable Power Stations‘ Buyer’s Guide next.
This Dometic electric cooler will keep your food and drink cool without ice. So it’s a mess-free, super convenient option.
Cooler Buyer’s Guide | How to choose a cooler
- 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 for tailgating and parties where you don’t have to carry them far.
The above point is important because these coolers can get heavy, and can therefore 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 onto 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.
The advantage of the backpack-style rather than tote-style or hard-sided coolers is 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.
They’re also 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. This 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.
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.
The way this is measured is not standardized, however, 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.
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, it can be much smaller inside once you account for the thick, insulated walls.
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 give 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.
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, which should be helpful especially if you plan to use your cooler in Bear Country.
In such places, 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 important to you, aside from the key question of how long a cooler keeps things cold.
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 between the various hard and soft cooler options, click here to jump back up and see the list.