Last Updated on March 24, 2021

Are you planning a picnic with family and friends and you are wondering how you are going to keep your drinks and food colder for a longer period of time? Well, worry no more! With the best cooler at hand, you can enjoy your outdoor activities without worrying about your drinks becoming warm or food becoming stale.

Coolers are designed with efficient insulation in order to keep its contents colder for an extended period. While different situations call for a high-quality cooler, not all have the same demands. Therefore, it is important to know the different types of coolers, their features, and what situations they are best suited for.

In this article, we will go into deeper details of what a cooler is, what features to consider when buying, and many more.

Types of Coolers

Portable cooler with beers

Over the years, cooler manufactures have tried to come up with more styles and options of coolers. There are numerous types of coolers out there to suit the style and needs of various individuals.

Before you head out shopping for your next cooler, it is important to know the different types of coolers available. They include;

By Style

Coolers are usually divided into 2 categories – hard-sided coolers and soft-sided coolers. Hard-sided coolers feature a durable and sturdy design and have a larger capacity that allows them to accommodate supplies for long trips. In most cases, they are rectangular and come in a wide range of sizes. Because of their durable construction, hard-sided coolers can double as a table or seat.

Soft-sided coolers, on the other hand, feature a lightweight design which makes them great and easy to carry to the beach or picnic. They are available in a wide range of shapes and can keep items cold for a shorter period of time compared to hard-sided coolers.

By Material

Coolers can also be classified according to the materials of their construction. As the name suggests, a hard cooler is constructed from stronger and long-lasting materials while the soft-sided cooler is made from soft and lightweight materials. The most common cooler materials include; hard plastic, metal, cotton, canvas, neoprene, polyester, nylon, propylene, vinyl, and Styrofoam.

Metal coolers are made from aluminum or stainless steel. Because of their heavy construction, metal coolers are great for those who want a functional cooler but don’t plan to move very often.

Hard plastic coolers are great for outdoor events as they are strong, durable, and well-insulated. Most soft-sided coolers are made from canvas which doesn’t get damaged by moisture and has layers of insulation.

Both hard and soft coolers can be constructed from propylene which offers a rigid design and shiny exterior. If you are under a tight budget, you can opt for a Styrofoam which is cheap and fairly disposable.

Features to Consider When Buying Coolers

Picnic food


With so many cooler brands in the market, finding the most suitable for your next trip can be overwhelming. Here are some factors to keep in mind when shopping for coolers.


Of course, you want a cooler that will keep your food and beverages cool for longer periods of time. For this reason, you should take into consideration the insulation capabilities of the cooler you are thinking on purchasing. This is especially important if you are looking for something to pack or transport frozen items for more than just a few hours.

More often than not, hard-shell coolers have better insulation capabilities than soft-shell coolers. This is because they are designed with a more insulating material that helps to keep items below the 40-degree mark as recommended by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration. A cooler with better performing features like rotomolded construction and high-quality material can keep ice for 4 to 5 days.

However, if you are in the market for something to pack everyday lunch, then you can opt for soft-sided and budget-friendly coolers.


Portneer cooler

When looking for a cooler to keep your beverages and food cool, it’s important to keep the size in mind. Generally, larger coolers tend to outperform small coolers since their internal environment is more hard-wearing to outside conditions. However, when making the size decision, always factor in the available space and the number of snacks you intend to cool.

Cooler hulls are usually measured in quarts depending on how much drinks or foods they can accommodate at once. Coolers that are 25 quarts or less are great for carrying cans for a small group while coolers that measure 100 quarts or more are great for housing foods or drinks for a longer period.

Concerning storage space, you should also factor in the space that the ice packs will occupy. Ice can occupy some space of the insulated volume, therefore, you should plan for one part of ice for two parts of beverage or food.

Apart from the storage size, another consideration is the space that the cooler will take up. You need to measure up the space available ahead of time so you can be sure the right cooler size that will fit in your car, boat, or tent.

Durable coolers feature thicker walls and they cannot be manipulated to occupy less space. On the other hand, soft-sided coolers can easily be manipulated when they don’t have items in them, making them easy to store when not in use.


When it comes to cooler construction, there are several materials used including; plastic, metal, fabrics, and rubber.

Hard-shell coolers are usually made from metal or plastic. Hard-shell coolers are durable are designed to keep ice for lengthy periods and accommodate plenty of drinks and beverages. Plastic is the most common material used in the construction of coolers.

This is because it is relatively lightweight, tough, waterproof, cheap, and allows for better insulation. Although metal coolers are not that common, they are the material of choice for some because they are aesthetically pleasing and extremely durable. This all explains why their price is on the higher end.

On the other hand, soft-shell coolers are constructed from fabric material and are great for keeping small amounts of food and drinks. These types of coolers also have a lightweight and collapsible design for easy storage. However, they don’t offer much in terms of insulation, making them ideal for small and short trips.

Other coolers use rubber material in strategic areas to help create a tight barrier between the box and lid. Rubber may also be used as a siding material to help with gripping on the handles while rubber gaskets may be used on the drain plug.


If you are planning to use your cooler for an extended period or longer trips, then you should consider coolers that feature a sturdy construction. Durable coolers that are made from tough exterior materials can withstand harsh conditions like being thrown down without potentially breaking.

Of course, the sturdiness of the cooler will depend on the material used and the price. For instance, tough materials like metal and hard plastic are capable of not only insulating your drinks but can also resist any scrapes and bumps.

Hard-shell coolers have thicker insulation but can be very expensive. However, if you are looking for something to use once in a while, then the cooler life should be much of a consideration.

Carrying Method

Coolers can be difficult to carry especially when filled with a lot of items or because of their dimensions. It doesn’t help much when the cooler has a bulky design that affects its portability. For this reason, you need to identify a carrying method that will best work for you. Some of the common cooler carrying methods include;

  • Side handles: Side handles are a popular carrying tool for most cooler brands. If the cooler is small, one person can easily grab the handles. Alternatively, two people can hold both sides of easy transportation.
  • Shoulder strap: Some coolers including soft-sided products feature a shoulder strap that is meant for transporting it hands-free. This is a great option if you have other items that you want to carry with your hands.
  • Lid handle: This is a single handle carrying tool that is designed on the lid of the cooler. This allows for one person to carry the cooler on their side. A downside of this carrying method is that it is not very strong and only works on cooler with a low weight requirement.
  • Wheels: Wheels are usually designed for large, hard-sided coolers to help with easy transportation. Plus, other wheeled coolers come with a telescopic handle that allows you to walk upright to enhance comfort.

Waterproof Design

Portable cooler

Let’s face it; there are cooler models in the market that struggle with water, making them unsuitable to use in wet conditions. Therefore, if you are shopping for a cooler to take to the beach or camping trip, it is vital to ensure that it has a waterproof design. This is especially important if you are purchasing soft-sided coolers.


Picnik basket

Last but certainly not least, consider the style and looks of the cooler. Although it is not very important, you may want a cooler that looks good and matches your style. Interestingly, some coolers come in different styles, colors, shapes, and patterns. Therefore, if aesthetics is important to you, consider looking for a cooler that has cool looks and colors.

How to Judge a Good Cooler

Portneer portable cooler with beers

Just like most products, all coolers are not created equal. While some coolers are great for a week-long trip, others can only perform a day or two. It is therefore important to test the coolers to determine the most suitable one for your needs.

Ice Retention Test

One way to tell a good cooler is by checking its ice life; which is basically the time that the cooler will keep contents chilled. Most premium coolers claim to have an ice retention period of 10 to 12 days. Therefore, it is important to test the cooler of your choice, especially if you intend to use it for an extended period of time.

To do this, fill the cooler with ice and lock it down. Check the cooler regularly for any signs of melting. If you are using an elite cooler, the signs of melting will be barely noticeable for at least 3 to 4 days. The ice may begin to melt on the 5th day, depending on the type of your cooler.

Coolers with thick insulation are more likely to have a longer ice retention time than their thinner insulated counterparts. This test will help you to determine the performance of your cooler so you can make an informed buying decision.

In addition, coolers that have raised legs have better insulation ability since there is less heat exchange happening through the ground.

Drop Test

Durability is a paramount factor to keep in mind when purchasing coolers. Therefore, if possible, consider doing a drop test to evaluate the durability of the cooler. A good model should be able to handle being tossed and it should not spill open when dropped down.

Temperature Testing
This test is usually done in labs or temperature-controlled rooms. Once the cooler is packed with contents and ice to the fullest, it is closed and placed in a thermal lab with the temperature set at 32 degrees Celsius. After doing so, use a thermometer to track how long it takes for the temperature to rise from 0 to 2 degrees Celsius, which shows that most of the ice has melted.

You will also need to measure the time taken for the bottle to rise from 2 degrees Celsius to 8 degrees Celsius. This shows that the cooler as attained a temperature that is unsafe for food storage.

Popular Cooler Brands


Yeti portable cooler


For years now, Yeti has been an industry leader when it comes to the manufacturing of coolers. Their products are well renowned for their incredible ice retention and top-notch construction. They offer a diverse range of cooler products including hard-sided coolers and soft-sided coolers.

Besides that, they also offer a wide selection of buckets, bags, drinkware, and many more. Some of their common hard-sided cooler lineups include the Yeti Tundra Series, Yeti Roadie Series, Yeti Silo Series, and Yeti Tank Series.

Yeti coolers have exceptional performance and are designed with durability in mind. You can toss them around and use them in harsh conditions without worrying that they will break. Because of their high level with regards to quality, ice life, and toughness, Yeti products cost substantially more than other products in the market.


Coleman is another reputable brand that manufactures some of the best ice chest products in the market. Something that stands put about this brand is that they offer a diverse range of products with regards to sizes and price. In fact, Coleman brand targets individuals with a tight budget and are looking for a simple cooler. Because of this, their products are reasonably priced and come in various styles and colors.

You can find coolers that range from those that are personal-sized to those that are giant-sized to meet the needs of various clients. Also, Coleman products are designed to be used for all purposes. So whether you want to go to the beach, marine or hunting, Coleman has a cooler for you.

Their products are also designed with convenience in mind as they come with helpful features that are not available in most brands. They include features like multiple carrying capabilities, easy access lids, molded cup holders, and many more.


Igloo portable cooler


Igloo is one of the oldest and trustworthy cooler companies in the world. Having been in the industry for 70 years, Igloo manufacturers high-quality products that are designed to last for years. Plus, their products come with unique features and accessories that enhance the functionality and convenience of the product.

Their products are also competitively priced without compromising on the quality. Impressively, Igloo offers coolers that are lightweight and easily portable. The coolers also feature multiple carrying methods like shoulder straps, handles, and even wheels.


Grizzly is an American brand that offers well-constructed coolers with a high ice life that can withstand the outdoor conditions. Just like Yeti, Grizzly has a wide selection of cooler sizes to choose from. All their coolers are constructed from the rotationally molded plastic to give a thick mold that doesn’t allow air to escape.

Their products are also made from Eco-mate 2# foam which offers better insulation for longer ice life. Due to the optimum construction, their coolers can hold ice for 19 days, which most cooler brands are not able to attain.


Pelican portable cooler


Another cooler brand that offers a variety of cooler products is Pelican. Pelican coolers are renowned for their toughness and innovative features. They have designed their products with innovative features such as a latch system, molded two-option handle, embedded bottle opener, and many more.

Something else that stands out about Pelican products is their styling and color choices. Most cooler brands have a similar approach with regards to aesthetics, but Pelican is an exception. Their coolers have an aggressive look with an embedded logo on the lid and body.

When it comes to ice life, coolers from Pelican are capable of retaining ice for up to 10 days. However, the ice life varies with the cooler size wherein larger coolers have a longer ice life.


RTIC began their production of coolers in 2015 and has been one of Yeti’s biggest competitors. This is because they sell all their coolers at half the price of what Yeti sells. Their coolers are designed for those who want a high-quality outdoor cooler without breaking the bank. Therefore, if you are an outdoor enthusiast looking for a tough cooler to handle the outside environment, consider products from this premium cooler line.

They manufacture both hard and soft-sided coolers that combine strength, convenience, and great temperature retention. In addition, they have expanded their lineup to include other gears like drink wear and ice bucket.


Although nICE is a pretty new brand, it is doing well in the competitive cooler market with its selection of hard-sided coolers. Their hard-sided coolers are available in three sizes including the nICE 20, nICE 45 and nICE 75. All these sizes come with bottle openers – a feature that is not present in most brands.

Despite being affordable, their products have helpful specs like thick rubber gasket, roto-molded walls and strong latches that offer a good bite to the gasket. Also, coolers from the nICE brand boast of double-wall insulation. This spec ensures that the supplies are kept cold and fresh for days.

Another clever feature is the pressure relief button which helps to break the seal and renders it easy to open especially after being closed for a long time. Plus, the exterior is designed such that it doesn’t sweat.

Picking the Right Cooler Size

Portable coolers comparison


Cooler size is one of the important criteria that people consider when scouting for a good cooler. Truth be told, coolers come in a wide range of sizes depending on how much food or drink you intend to keep. When considering the size of your cooler, it is a good idea to think long term.

Coolers are available in 5 main categories including: personal, small, medium, large and giant, which are measured in quarts. These coolers can vary in sizes starting from 16 quarts to above 400 quarts.

Personal coolers measure 16 quarts or less and are great for packing lunch or snack for the day. Personal size coolers can also be great for taking on a short trail hike or boat ride. A small cooler has 17 to 35 quarts and can be used to carry drinks and foods for one person or a small group of people.

If you are planning a road trip, family picnic, or a day at the beach for a few individuals, a medium-sized cooler would be a great choice. Medium units have a capacity of 36 to 59 quarts.

On the other hand, large coolers have a capacity of 60 to 99 quarts and can hold 60 to 100 cans. Because of their great ice retention, large coolers are suitable to house plenty of stuff for huge outings and road trips.

Also in the market are coolers that are beyond the 100-quart mark that is usually designed for a hunting trip or marine use. Giant coolers can hold ice up to 6 days and are often used to carry or transport large amounts of game meat or fish especially for extended vacations.

Accessories That Go Best With Coolers

Best portable coolers comparison


Besides keeping its contents cold, coolers can also be a great way to showcase your style and personality. What better way to personalize and customize your cooler than with cooler accessories? There are numerous cooler accessories out there to choose from, depending on your preferences and type of cooler. They include;

Ice Packs

Most avid cooler enthusiasts prefer ice packs to conventional ice. Ice packs are a practical substitute for ice cubes because they are reusable. They are also safe to use since there is no chance for dirty water to come into contact with your supplies as in the case of conventional ice. Also, they are less messy, have better cooling potential, and are easy to store away.

If you opt for ice packs, it is advisable to choose large blocks especially if your cooler is of significant size. Larger ice packs will stay frozen longer than smaller ice packs. It is also important to note that ice packs may require to be recharged overnight to boost their cooling properties.

Cooler Dividers

Just as the name suggests, cooler dividers are used to separate coolers to make room for multiple compartments. This way, you can easily place various things in different sections for easy retrieval. For instance, with a cooler divider, it will be possible to keep beverages on one side and food on the other.

Also, cooler dividers come in handy in helping you build ice on one section of the cooler. Something important to note with most cooler dividers is that they are usually designed for specific cooler brands. Thus, it is recommendable to check whether your cooler’s manufacturer has its own cooler divider.

Cooler Baskets

Similarly, cooler baskets are the other accessory used to separate contents in coolers. However, unlike a divider, cooler baskets help to keep certain contents in the cooler dry.

Also, most baskets are branded accessories, meaning that they cannot be used by any other cooler except for that which they are designed for. For this reason, it is best to pick coolers that have included cooler baskets. Alternatively, you can buy a cooler basket separately and ensure that it is the right size for your cooler.

Cooler Lights

Another accessory that you may want to consider for your cooler is a cooler light. Cooler lights play a big role in ensuring visibility of your cooler especially when you use your cooler in poor lighting conditions.

It works just like the lighting in your fridge and goes off once the cooler is closed. Apart from functionality, cooler lights can also be used to create an aesthetic effect and make your cooler stand out.

Cooler Wraps

Would you want to give your cooler an accessory that gives it’s a personal touch? Cooler wraps are a great choice. Cooler wraps resemble stickers and they come in different types and color choices.

For instance, you can find wraps with designs of the American flags, domestic vehicles, and many more. Besides, cooler wraps last longer and can protect your cooler from wear and tear.

Cooler Locks

One great thing about coolers is that they are designed to be lockable. What this means is that you can easily lock your cooler to prevent other people from accessing it. However, did you know that it is possible to lock the cooler itself? Cooler locks are designed to secure the cooler itself to prevent the possibility of theft.

Cooler Seat Cushion

If your cooler features a rotomolded construction, then you can easily sit or stand on it without worrying that it will break. However, seating on the cooler when it is raw may be a very comfortable experience.

With the best cooler seat cushion, you can transform your cooler into a seat without much difficulty. You simply need to look for the right size of the seat cushion and attach it to the lid of your cooler.

Cooler Wheel Kits

Portable coolers with wheels


Cooler wheel kit is another essential accessory that you may want to consider especially if you have a large cooler. Large and heavy coolers can be difficult to carry and haul around your arms.

Models like Yeti come packed with wheels from the manufacturer that renders them user-friendly. However, if your cooler of choice doesn’t include a wheel kit, consider purchasing separately for easy maneuverability.

How To Pack Your Cooler Correctly

Generally, packing your cooler is not very difficult as you can do it in any configuration and it will still perform effectively. However, to get the best ice retention for your cooler, be sure to follow these simple tricks:

Step 1: Line the bottom with a layer of ice

Start by putting a layer of ice on the bottom of your cooler. This helps to keep the ice colder for longer and keeps it away from the less insulated lid.

Step 2: Use solid blocks of ice

Packing your portable cooler

Unlike ice cubes, solid blocks of ice usually stay frozen for longer. Therefore, it would be best if you could fill up your cooler with solid blocks of ice. If you can’t find blocks of ice, try filling plastic bottles with water before freezing them. This will form blocks of ice that will stay cold much better.

Also unlike cubes of ice, the frozen blocks won’t melt inside your cooler as the water will remain the bottles. Another reusable but expensive alternative is frozen gel packs. The trick is to choose whatever works best for you.

Step 3: Pour Ice Cubes

Once you have placed solid blocks of ice, pour a bag of ice cubes to fill any holes or gaps.

Step 4: Add your food and drinks

Make sure you line your supplies in an organized manner for easy retrieval. For instance, you may want to separate your morning supplies from your evening supplies in order to minimize the time spent with the cooler open. Otherwise, hot air will get in the cooler.

A good strategy is to use the LIFO method which stands for “Last In, first out.” So whatever you will need first should be packed last so it can be easy to remove it.

It is also advisable to pack foods and drinks that are already cold as this helps to chill other items in the cooler.

Step 5: Pour ice cubes or ice packs on top

After laying out your food, drinks or both put a layer of ice cubes or ice packs on top and only open the cooler when necessary. This will keep it chilled for an extended period of time.

Where to Buy Coolers

To get the most out of your trip, you need to purchase a high-quality cooler that has all the important aspects. However, there are so many suppliers in the market today, and it may be difficult to determine whether they are reputable. Some suppliers sell low-quality products that offer poor performance and have a short life span.

However, Amazon is an exception. Amazon is a leading supplier that offers high-quality coolers from leading brands like Yeti, Coleman, Igloo, Pelican and many more. They are also reputable for stocking products in a wide range of styles, colors, and sizes to choose from. Before you choose other suppliers, ensure that you research their reputation extensively so you can be at peace.

Maintenance for Coolers

After taking an outdoor adventure with your cooler, it is important to clean it before you store it up for the next use. Proper care and maintenance help to eliminate dirt and bacteria as well as prolong the life of your investment.

An easy maintenance routine is to clean your cooler before and after each use. Here are the steps to follow:

  • Before your first use, clean the cooler with mild soap. While this is often assumed, it helps to remove any dust or factor chemicals it may have.
  • If there are tough stains after use, clean with baking soda and water then rinse with a garden hose.
  • Then open the lid to allow the cooler to dry so as to reduce the risk of mildew and mold growth. You can as well use a fabric towel to wipe the cooler before storing it.
  • To remove odors, use a diluted solution of chlorine bleach and water or clear vinegar. If the odor persists, put a vanilla extract on a cloth towel and wipe the interior of the cooler. Alternatively, you can cut a lemon in half and rub inside the cooler before rinsing it with a dry towel and allowing it to air dry.
  • Before storing, make sure that the drain plug is open so that moisture doesn’t accumulate.

Portable cooler with wheels and a picnik basket

How to Remove Mildew and Stubborn Stains

For this cleaning, you will need:

  • Baking soda
  • ½ cup of bleach diluted
  • Cloth towel or sponge
  • Old toothbrush


  • Begin by washing the cooler with liquid soap and water. Use the old towel to gently scrub the dirt and the toothbrush to lift away debris.
  • When the cooler is still wet, sprinkle fresh baking soda and allow it to sit for half an hour.
  • Then rinse the cooler with your rag and dry with a clean towel.
  • Pour your bleach in one gallon of a bucket and soak a cloth towel before wiping the interior and exterior of the cooler.
  • Use a bucket of water or garden hose to rinse the cooler until the bleach odor is gone.
  • Dry with a towel and let the cooler air dry with the lid open.

Additional Tips

  • Do not clean your cooler with boiling water.
  • Don’t wash the cooler in the dishwasher.
  • Keep your cooler away from acids, chemicals, and open fires. Fire and hot places like the trunk of a car can melt the bottom of your unit. If it’s unavoidable to store in hot locations, ensure that you place a towel below the cooler.
  • While using the cooler in wet environments, don’t leave in water for more than 4 hours.
  • When ice is melted, toss away the leftovers as the food may longer be safe.
  • Throw away all wrappers and bags to avoid contaminating your food.
  • Avoid dragging your cooler on the ground.
  • Do not place your cooler in direct sunlight as it may fade over time. Besides, storing away from the sun helps the ice to last twice long.
  • Keep your cooler closed at all times for better insulation. Only open when necessary to keep cold air in and warm air out.
  • Avoid draining cold water from the recently melted ice to help keep the contents cold. This is because the cold water will do a better job of preserving the remaining ice than empty air space would. Only drain the water when necessary like when you want to add more ice or remove cooler contents.


Carrying a portable cooler

If you are looking for a cooler for your needs, we are certain that this article has provided you with all the information that you need to know about coolers. There are different types of coolers in the market, ranging from hard-sided coolers to soft-sided coolers.

When you have the cooler, it will be easy to keep your food and drinks cold and fresh at all times. However, there are so many options to choose from and you need to ensure that you choose a cooler that is right for your needs and the occasion. Know what factors are important to you so can make an informed buying decision and have an exceptional buying experience.