Coolers are kind of one of those afterthought items for the yard that most people don’t really take the time to research. While ice chests are pretty much a just a tool to keep stuff cold, choosing the right one for your home is not as simple as it sounds. Considering how many different styles and sizes of ice chests are available, knowing how and where you will use it most is essential to picking a versatile cooler that will work for your backyard parties, camping, tailgating and even fishing. I’ve gone ahead and done the hard work for you and researched the heck out of the best ice chests & coolers for 2020 and compiled a nice buyers guide to help you pick the right cooler for your budget and needs.
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Top 5 Portable Ice Chest Coolers
TOP PICK – Orca 26 Qt White Cooler
This 26-quart cooler from Orca is my pick for a smaller, manageable cooler that’s still sturdy enough to last for many years. It’s perfect for camping, small get-togethers, outdoor sports and other activities. This cooler is built with about three layers of insulation to keep the contents cold for a long time.
In my experience, the cooler stays cold for a little under a week before needing new ice. The lid also feels dependable, unlike many other coolers. It has a tight seal that traps cold and prevents any leaks. The Orca also comes with side handles that allow for easy portability. The Orca is a reasonably priced high-end cooler. I’m confident that I’ll be able to rely on it for a long time to come, and none of the parts feel as if they’ll easily break off.
The Orca does come in different sizes. The 26-quart is a convenient size because it’s easy to pack into a smaller space, and it’s relatively light at about 20 pounds. Still, even those 20 pounds can feel like a burden when you’re carrying a cooler with such a small capacity around — it can fit only about 24 cans of beer, for example.
However, all high-end coolers seem to have the same issue with being heavy for their size. If that means a better, longer-lasting product, then that seems to be a fair trade off. I’d recommend this product to any family that wants a small yet tough cooler.
I like to think of the Orca brand coolers as the “poor man’s Yeti”. The construction is definitely above average and I found that ice stayed rock solid for up to 5 days before needing replenishing. The Orca’s tend to be lighter weight than similar coolers in the class, but they’re plenty rugged to haul out to a camping site or keep on the boat. No reason you can’t also use this cooler for backyard parties without taking up much space. I highly recommend this cooler if you don’t want to spend big cash for some of the other big name brands.
- Small, convenient size
- Good seal
- American Made
- Hardware feels a bit cheap
The best part about this cooler is the size. It’s much bigger in person than you’d expect which is useful for large family gatherings, picnics or camping trips. You can fit several large bags of ice in this unit, and the more ice you add, the cooler it gets. For such a large cooler, it’s impressively lightweight.
The Polar is fully insulated with Ultratherm technology. It also comes with UV inhibitors to prevent the lid from heating up in the sun. The cooler is designed to keep ice cool for up to 5 days at 90 degrees Fahrenheit. I didn’t get a chance to use it in those conditions, but I did notice that it began to melt slightly at around the 3-day mark. That’s not bad for such a large, affordable cooler, but it’s something to keep in mind for those that need longer-term ice storage. Another perk of the Polar is that it comes with a threaded drain plug. That means you don’t have to worry about picking up the entire cooler and dumping out melted water.
For me, a cooler of this size without a drain would be a huge inconvenience, so it’s great that the drain comes included and is easy to use. The cooler comes with two handles, so it’s easy to lift into the car. The lid snaps closed and you can tie it down, so there’s no risk of spilling the contents of the cooler all of your trunk. However, the handles themselves are relatively flimsy — they’ve stayed intact so far, but the quality feels subpar like they might come loose at some point. Also, the lid isn’t air-tight like some other coolers are.
That’s likely the culprit behind the shortened cooling time. Since this unit is affordable, it’s still a great value for the money. It’s great for storing huge amounts of ice over a few days.
The Igloo Polar cooler is a no frills ice chest that will definitely keep your food and drinks cold for multiple days without issue. It’s light weight so traveling with it isn’t a problem. You will find better fit & finish on more expensive coolers, but for the price this is a solid option for your backyard barbecues & parties.
- 120 quart capacity
- Keeps ice cool for up to 5 days
- Drain plug for easy draining
- Heavy Duty handles for easy carrying
- Easy to clean
- Flimsy hinges
- Lid doesn’t fully seal sometimes
This cooler from Pelican is a nice medium size. It’s small enough to be handled relatively easily but large enough to hold plenty of ice and other items. On the other hand, it’s quite heavy for its size at around 36 pounds, so it’s much better for local activities like parties or tailgates. It’s not ideal for any activity where you’d need to carry it and its contents for a long distance. Though the Pelican doesn’t hold nearly as much ice as the Polar, it keeps the ice solid for much longer.
It claims to keep ice cool for up to 10 days, and my experience was that it does exactly that. It’s truly impressive in that regard, and it’s not surprising once you see how rugged it looks in person. It looks like it’s built to last. The cooler is quite durable. It doesn’t dent or scratch easily. Though it’s unlikely that you’ll be using it in rough conditions, it’s nice to know that it will hold up to some manhandling if need be.
A couple drops or rolls are unlikely to be noticeable at all. The handles on this cooler are reliable, too. The hardware is all made of stainless steel, so the cooler is resistant to wear-and-tear. This cooler also includes a latch, which helps keep the contents completely protected. The latch is easy to open while still being sturdy. This cooler is noticeably higher in price than some other models, but in this case, you get what you pay for. It’s a high-quality model that will last for many years, so if you use coolers regularly, this one will eventually pay for itself. The only true downside to this unit is the weight. It’s difficult to manage with just one person.
Pelican coolers are renown for their high quality materials and solid construction. The ProGear Elite cooler is no exception. This is a rugged cooler that may be a bit on the heavier side, but it’s superior insulation will keep your perishables cold for up to 10 days. That makes it perfect for long camping trips and even on the boat for keeping fish iced down for long trips. The price tag is on the higher end, similar to the Yeti brand, but you will not have to replace this cooler anytime soon. Put this one on your short list.
- Three inches of permafrost insulation
- Heavy-duty construction
- Sturdy latches with rubber seal
- Two drain plugs
- High price
- Rather heavy (39 pounds)
The Yeti Tundra 110 was designed especially as a fishing / rafting cooler, but I can assure you that it’s also well-suited to many other uses. This model is quite large — it can hold 101 pounds of ice or 65 cans of beer. That makes it perfect for parties and tailgates. As such a sizable cooler, it’s quite heavy even while empty.
You’ll definitely need two people to lift it if it’s full. In my experience, the Tundra keeps ice cold for at least a week before it begins to melt noticeably, though it depends on whether it’s sitting directly in the sun. The cooler’s quality is noticeable immediately, from the latch to the handles to the rubber feet.
The sides are layered with about 3 inches of permafrost to keep the contents nice and cool, and the walls are even designed to be bear-resistant — perfect for camping, though thankfully I don’t have personal experience with that quite yet. The Tundra also has not one but two drain plugs. That allows it to drain more quickly than other models once the ice is melted.
This cooler is top of the line, so it’s not cheap. I’d recommend it to anyone who wants an item that will last for a long time without needing any repairs or maintenance. It comes in different sizes. Take a look at some of the other Yeti Tundra ice chest models.
The Yeti Tundra series of coolers are just beasts. They’re the Rolls Royce of ice chests and while they may seem like overkill for the average backyard party, it’s likely that you will never have to buy another cooler again if you purchase a Yeti brand cooler. Rugged construction, heavy duty latches and hinges, plus ridiculous insulation make this a cooler for the serious camper or fisherman. Bring one of these to your next event and watch the jealousy drip from every guy who wishes he had a bad ass cooler like this. Downsides, pricey and heavy, but this ain’t no Styrofoam cooler you take to the beach.
- Three inches of permafrost insulation
- Heavy-duty construction
- Sturdy latches with rubber seal
- Two drain plugs
- Huge storage capacity
- Versatile for many cooling application
- Higher price point
- Rather heavy (39 pounds)
For an affordable, reliable cooler that can hold an amazing amount of ice, the Coleman Coastal Xtreme is my pick. It’s quite lightweight for a cooler of this capacity — it weighs just 13 pounds and can hold a whopping 120 quarts of ice. Like most Coleman products, this cooler is reliable quality.
It’s exactly what you expect out of a standard camping cooler, complete with built-in cup holders and side handles. The cooler also doubles as a seat. It can hold up to 250 pounds of weight, which speaks to the high level of quality of the lid. Most of the cooler feels sturdy and relatively durable for the price, with the exception of the handles.
They’ve held up thus far, but they do feel a bit cheaply made for a cooler that can hold so much weight. The hardware is made of stainless steel, but the handle hinges are made of plastic. This cooler keeps ice cold for several days before melting. It comes with drain plugs for easy draining. A cooler of this size is naturally difficult to fit into a small space. It took up the entirety of my trunk space, which for me was a con.
While the size is, of course, a necessary trade-off for the capacity, this cooler is best for those who truly need to store a ton of items. Otherwise, the generous capacity will go to waste. Coleman makes a 120 qt marine version of this cooler as well, take a look here.
I completely understand that not everyone wants to drop $300 on a ice chest. That’s why I wanted to include a couple affordable coolers that still offer excellent performance, with quality materials at an affordable price. The Coleman Coastal Xtreme is exactly that. It’s not going to keep ice cold as long as the Yeti or Pelican brands, but this is a great cooler for the price and perfect for using in the backyard. It’s also light enough that you can easily travel with it and won’t need 6 people to help move it around. The price is under $100 which makes it a great ice chest option for just about any budget.
- Keeps ice cool for up to 6 days
- 120 quart capacity
- Stainless steel hardware
- Channel drain
- Handles feel a bit cheap
Best Coolers For Camping
If you’re shopping for a new cooler to take on your next camping trip there are some features and options you’ll want to consider that are beyond what you might need in a ice chest for every day use. One of the main things you’ll want to look for in a camping ice chest is how long it can keep ice cold. If you regularly camp for over 3 days at a time, keeping your ice cold for the entire trip is of major importance. Undoubtedly you will have perishables that will need to be cold the entire time. Having a cooler that can keep ice for 3-5 days is ideal. Especially if you don’t have access to a store to replenish your ice supply. The next consideration will be portability. Since you’re going to be traveling with your camping cooler as well as loading and unloading from vehicles, a lightweight cooler that has wheels is a great way to go. You can spend under $100 all the way up to $500+. I’ve compiled a list of what I consider the best camping coolers on the market in a few categories that will allow even those on a budget a great option for a quality camping ice chest.
#1 Best Buy for a High-End Model
Engel Coolers are one of the top names in high-performance, durable and cost effective coolers. Engel was founded in 1962 for people who need to keep things cold and have been the leader in portable refrigeration and also air conditioning. Engel began the mobile AC/DC refrigerator freezer business, brought cutting-edge items to the United States in 1999. Engel developed as well as perfected the high-performance rotationally molded (rotomolded) hard cooler.
The ENG65 can keep ice for approximately 10 days. This is perfect for long camping trips. My experience is that it holds ice for 4-6 days, depending upon 1) just how much ice you load it with (my 4-6 days is based off 30lbs of ice), 2) the temperature outside, 3) if it’s in the heat or sun.
The lid clamps aren’t extremely robust and also there are definitely much better layouts available in this high end cooler market. The clamps are made from butylene rubber as well as they just do and they do a good job keeping the lid closed tightly.
This cooler has the tendency to vacuum lock when it’s left in the sunlight. The first time this happened I believed the lid was warped because the lid would not budge. To “unlock” the cooler you’ll have to open up the drain cap. This isn’t a huge concern, but definitely one thing to consider
Most coolers are easily stolen, which means you’ll need to keep it in your camper or the rear seat of the truck if you’re not going to be at the campsite. It can be a bit heavy when loaded with ice and food/beverages.
- Very Long lasting
- Latching System creates an excellent seal
- Large Drain Plug
- Under similar operating conditions holds ice a lot longer than an inexpensive cooler
- Amazing 10 year guarantee
- $70 less expensive than comparable ice chests from Yeti
#2 Best Overall for Camping
Expensive, heck yes! This is not a cooler for everyone. If you have the extra cash to spend or if you want an extremely sturdy cooler that can hold ice for days then this is the cooler for you. There are plenty of Yeti knockoff’s out there that are cheaper, but you definitely get what you pay for with the Tundra 65. I tested this cooler by placing dry ice in the bottom, with crushed ice on top of that and it kept the ice solid for 7 days on a desert camping trip where temps were well over 90 degrees. Milk, cheese, hamburgers and chicken all stayed very cold the entire time.
- The YETI Tundra 65 is just as adept at keeping your catches cold in the field as it is storing the drinks and food for your backyard barbecue, this ice chest is plenty roomy, holding a limit of redfish or your prized brisket
- Ice stays ice thanks to up to 3 inches of PermaFrost Insulation and an extra thick FatWall design is certified Bear-Resistant
- The Rotomolded Construction makes the Tundra armored to the core and virtually indestructible so wherever you decide to take it, this portable cooler’s sturdy construction will stand up to the rigors of the journey
- All Tundra coolers feature T-Rex Lid Latches constructed of heavy-duty rubber so you’ll never see another busted latch and has patented keeper technology
- The Tundra 65 dimensions are 30 1/2 in long x 17 1/2 in wide x 16 in high with an empty weight of 29 lbs NOTE: All Tundra models come standard with one dry goods basket.
#3 Best Value
I researched just about every camping cooler on the market for this list. Then I remembered my childhood. Basic coolers were part of all the great camping memories I have. We didn’t have the money to blow $500 on a cooler back then. I recently took this ice chest on a camping trip where the temps were in the 80’s every day. I put one medium bag of ice in it with some beers, sodas, water and a few perishable items and it kept everything super cold for several days. When I got home, I dumped out some water and about half a bag of ice was still solid. I’m not Walt Disney, so I don’t to cryogenically freeze my drinks and food. This cooler is build solid, it out performs what I expected for this price range. I actually really like the black finish too.
With its smoother appearance, the EZ-Clean cover wipes clean easily, making clean-up no problem. Tough cover supports approximately 250 extra pounds so you always have an additional location to sit and kick back with friends and family. Side handles have a positive stop for no-pinch transportation, making it a cinch to get your cooler in and out of the vehicle. Comfortably molded right into the lid are 2-inch-deep cup holders to place drinks as well as avoid spills.
- Xtreme Technology; Insulated lid and extra wall insulation keep ice up to 5 days in temperatures as high as 90°F
- High Capacity: Holds Up to 100 Cans
- Have-A-Seat Lid: Closed lid supports up to 250 lb.
- Cup Holders: Molded Into the Lid to Keep Drinks Close and Prevent Spilling
- Comfort Grip Handles: No-crush design with positive stop for pinch-free carrying
- Super Easy to Clean: Smoother surface wipes clean easily; leak-resistant channel drain for easy draining without tilting
#4 Best Heavy Duty Ice Chest for Camping
The Titan Deep Freeze High Performance Roto Cooler includes uni-body rotationally molded building and construction and a premium mix of thick polyurethane insulation that makes the most of ice retention for approximately 4 days! The cooler likewise includes a 360 ° rubber gasket together with heavy-duty T-latches that are deterioration resistant. In mix, they offer a tight seal to keep the cold inside.
Other things I really like include a large drain, anti-skid feet and an integrated fish ruler. And in case of unexpected camping area visitors, the Titan Deep Freeze Roto Cooler is licensed bear resistant by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee Enjoy the nature and understand that your food or fresh catch will be waiting for you.
- Heavy-duty, high performance cooler with built-in Microban product protection that helps prevent the build-up of bacterial odors and stains
- Constructed with a premium blend of thick polyurethane insulation that maximizes ice retention; Perfect for outdoor adventures and camping
- Features a freezer grade 360 degree rubber gasket and corrosion-resistant T-latches that creates a tight seal to keep the cold inside
- Seamless, one-piece, roto-molded construction is built to last; Includes anti-skid feet, an oversized drain, and an integrated fish ruler
- Keeps ice up to 4 days
#5 Best for Camping Under $100
The Igloo BMX 52 quart is your go-to cooler for any type of camping adventure you find yourself in! Featuring sturdy blow-molded construction will give you some serious toughness yet additionally ice retention for over 5 days! Take it to the Beach, take it camping or take it to the tailgate party.
Sturdy blow-molded construction with enhanced base for raised stamina as well as security with exceptionally sturdy yet light-weight tested 4-5 day ice retention. These UV inhibitors safeguard the cooler versus sunlight damages for it’s expanded life in addition to it; s rust-resistant, stainless steel joint rods for extensive efficiency.
- Heavy duty blow-molded construction with reinforced base for increased strength and protection.
- Extremely durable and lightweight with proven 4-5 day ice retention at 90°F
- UV inhibitors protect the cooler against sun damage for extended life. Capacity: 83 12-ounce cans, 52 quarts (49 liters)
- Rust-resistant, stainless-steel hinge rods and hardware provide extended performance.
- Rubberized T-grip latches keep lid secure. Threaded drain plug is garden hose compatible and features a non-slip, easy-grip stainless steel tethered cap
- MaxCold body with 20% thicker foam and insulated lid provide advanced cooling performance and up to 5-day ice retention.
- Cool Riser Technology molded base elevates the cooler away from hot surfaces and improves cooling performance
Ice Chest / Cooler Buyer’s Guide
There’s a lot of different styles and models of ice chest on the market these days. It can be difficult to narrow down your cooler options if you don’t know where to start. I reviewed 5 of the best coolers that I believe fit into most buyer’s budgets and offer varying levels of performance based on the needs of the user. Before you jump into buying a new ice chest, take a quick look at some of the things you’ll want to consider. This will help you get the best cooler for where and how you plan on using it.
Ice Chest Size
Nearly every cooler manufacturer offers their models in multiple sizes. These will have varying dimensions as well as capacities. Try to determine how much food or drinks you’ll need to keep cold at any given time and for how long you’ll want to keep your items cold. Also consider how far you will need to move the cooler, as the weight can be an issue if you only have one person available to lift the heavier sized coolers.
Cooler Brand Name
While buying an ice chest strictly based on brand name isn’t necessarily a good idea, you will find that in most cases, the bigger brand names tend to produce higher quality products. Yeti, Orca, Coleman, Igloo & Thermik are all large brands that have been making excellent ice chest’s for many years. Keep in mind that you may be paying extra for the name as well, so factor that into your decision of which coolers to put on your buying list.
You can easily spend up to $700 on a 110 quart marine grade cooler from one of the larger brand name manufacturers. But don’t let the cheaper price tags fool you into thinking they’re inferior quality. If you shop around a bit, you can find similar style coolers for a fraction of the cost. I’ve included several of these in my reviews above. On average, you should expect to spend around $200 for a quality ice chest that will hold in the 65 to 100 quart range and have quality parts & construction.
Insulation is the main factor in determining how long your cooler will keep your items cold. Obviously the thicker the insulation, the better the cooler will perform at keeping stuff cold. The higher end coolers will normally feature 3″ of insulation. Cheaper models may only have 1″ of insulation, which will only keep cold for shorter periods of time. I recommend going with a unit that has at least 2″ of insulation in the body. This is a good trade off of cooling, overall weight and the cost will be reasonable as well.
Fit & Finish
Once you have the size and style of cooler narrowed down, pay particular attention to the latches and hinges. These are the weak link on most coolers and cheap, plastic hinges, latches and handles tend to be the first parts to fail. You’ll pay a bit more, but an ice chest with metal hinges, and hard rubber latches will help provide a better seal, which will keep your items cold as long as possible. Also make sure the cooler has at least one drain plug. It’s no fun trying to dump out 50 pounds of ice and water without making a complete mess.