The Best Coolers 2021 (Review)

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The Best Coolers 2021 (Review)

cooler full of water bottles

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    All products featured on TravelAwaits are independently selected by our writers and editors. We may earn commission when you click on or make a purchase via our links.

    Whether you’re going camping, planning a cross-country road trip, organizing a fishing trip, or hosting a backyard barbecue, you’ll need a cooler for keeping food and drinks cold for the long haul. Odds are, you have a cooler already, but if it’s not big enough or doesn’t stay cold long enough, it’s worth adding a companion cooler, or perhaps replacing the one you have with an upgraded model.

    Here, we consider some of the most popular coolers on Amazon and share a buying guide that outlines the best cooler features to help ensure you get the cooler you need.

    The Best Coolers

    Igloo 120-Quart Polar Cooler

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    Igloo’s 120-quart Polar Cooler is a classic. Odds are you’ve seen this cooler at a party or two. It will hold a lot of drinks or food, and because it’s so sturdily built, it can also serve as a bench.

    The dual snap-fit latches keep the lid securely closed, but unlike some other coolers, it’s not too hard to get open or into. Drain melted ice easily thanks to a threaded drain plug that also facilitates hose hookup. One reviewer notes “the drain-with-a-hose connection is sweet” and says the cooler, which has an Ultratherm insulated body and UV inhibiting lid, holds its temperature really well. In fact, according to Igloo, it will keep ice for up to five days when it’s 90 degrees outside.

    A quick note — if you don’t have a lot of cold food or drinks to put in the cooler, you will need a lot of ice to keep things cold.

    Pros

    • Can keep ice for 5 days in outside temperatures up to 90 degrees
    • From a trusted cooler manufacturer
    • Backed by Igloo’s warranty

    Cons

    • No wheels; has to be carried by its handles
    • Doesn’t stay cold unless it’s well filled

    Key Features

    • Ultratherm insulated body
    • Snap-close lid
    • Tie-down loops

    Specifications

    • Brand: Igloo
    • Size: 120-Quart
    • Can Capacity: 188

    ACOPOWER LiONCooler Portable Solar Fridge Freezer

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    This isn’t really a cooler. It’s an ultra-portable small appliance (available in four sizes) that can operate as a solar-powered freezer or refrigerator. And as the technology implies, it’s expensive. That said, it does a lot, and folks who want to invest in a temperature-controlled cooling option rave about this product.

    The removable battery, which holds its charge when it’s not being used, can be charged via a wall socket, the 12-volt DC outlet in your car, or ACOPOWER’s 90-watt solar panel. You can also buy extra batteries and battery chargers.

    Reviewers rave about their LiONCoolers, noting that they’re quiet, work just like a refrigerator, and are backed by excellent customer service. The coolers are app controlled and actually have USB charging ports that will allow you to keep your other devices powered up, too.

    The 32-, 42-, and 52-quart models have large wheels and telescoping handles to make moving them from place to place a breeze, while the 15-quart model has to be carried.

    Note that one battery is included, but the solar charger has to be purchased separately.

    Pros

    • Works as a cooler or freezer
    • Can charge other devices
    • Covered by ACOPOWER’s customer service and warranty

    Cons

    • Very expensive
    • May necessitate the purchase of other gear, like a solar charger

    Key Features

    • Solar powered
    • Comes in multiple sizes
    • Telescoping handle and large wheels on most models

    Specifications

    • Brand: ACOPOWER
    • Size: 16qt, 32qt, 42qt, and 52qt options
    • Can Capacity: Depends on model purchased

    Coleman Steel-Belted Cooler

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    This steel-belted Coleman cooler has a decidedly retro look. It’s available in six finishes — green, matte black, red, silver, stainless steel, and turquoise — and may have a built-in bottle opener (note that not every cooler color does).

    Coleman says this unit will keep ice cold for four days at up to 90-degree outside temperatures.

    Unlike our significantly larger top pick, this smaller cooler doesn’t have a lot of plastic components. In fact, its exterior is primarily rust-resistant stainless steel. The stainless handles are plastic or rubber coated, and part of the latching component is metal, too.

    Unfortunately, you will have to lug this cooler from place to place as it doesn’t have wheels or a telescoping handle, but the comfort grip handles ensures this won’t be a big pain.

    While it doesn’t have as many bells and whistles as other models, for a retro-chic cooler that will get the job done, look no further.

    Pros

    • Made by a trusted outdoor recreation brand
    • Can keep ice for 4 days in outside temperatures up to 90 degrees
    • Backed by Coleman’s warranty

    Cons

    • No wheels; has to be carried by its handles

    Key Features

    • Retro design
    • Rust-resistant stainless steel hardware
    • Available in 6 color combinations

    Specifications

    • Brand: Coleman
    • Size: 54-Quart
    • Can Capacity: 85

    ORCA ORCP075 Cooler

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    TravelAwaits’ VP Missy Glassmaker recommends this 75-quart Orca cooler, which is essentially a Yeti alternative. The cooler has a 4.4 average star rating from over 100 buyers, who, like Missy, rave about the lifetime warranty and the fact that Orca’s coolers are made in the States.

    One reviewer notes that his Orca stays cold for three days longer, on average, than his Coleman coolers. Another gave detailed — and impressive — internal and external temperature readings from his week-long camping trip, noting that he had five pounds of ice left on day seven when he got home and emptied the cooler.

    The 75-quart cooler’s Amazon listing features four color options and other size options (20-, 26-, 40-, 58-, and 140-quart), too. Note that the 75- and 140-quart options are heavy and have to be carried using their flex-grip handles, which might be a two-person job.

    Pros

    • Comparable to Yeti’s 75-quart Tundra cooler
    • Keeps ice/cold for up to 10 days
    • Lifetime warranty

    Cons

    • No wheels; has to be carried by its handles

    Key Features

    • Cargo net attached for storage
    • Rubberized toggles and lid gasket
    • Made in the U.S.

    Specifications

    • Brand: Orca
    • Size: 75-Quart
    • Can Capacity: Not specified

    YETI Hopper Backflip 24 Soft Sided Cooler

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    Of course a Yeti cooler was bound to make our list, and a smaller, ultra-portable option deserves to be featured. This cooler has a 4.7-star rating from nearly 200 customers.

    This review may sum it up best: “Yes, the backpack is awesome. Yes it’s okay to carry around, even chock-full of beverages and ice. Yes, it is expensive. Yes, I would buy it again.”

    The cooler pack’s design is intended to help distribute the weight of whatever you put inside of it, from a few meals to a bunch of ice and drinks or just-caught fish. A removable chest strap and ergonomic shoulder straps will keep you as comfortable as possible, and Yeti’s tough DryHide shell and leak-proof zipper keep the cold in.

    This is the perfect option for hikers who don’t need much and don’t want to lug or wheel a larger cooler.

    Pros

    • Ultra portable
    • Ergonomic shoulder straps
    • 3-year Yeti warranty

    Cons

    • May be too heavy for comfortable wear for some
    • No pockets or pouches for small items like keys or wallets

    Key Features

    • Backpack-style design
    • DryHyde shell
    • Leak-proof zipper

    Specifications

    • Brand: Yeti
    • Can Capacity: 20

    Cooler Buying Guide

    There are so many coolers on the market, from exalted Yetis to insulated Trader Joe’s bags you can buy at the checkout (you know what I’m talking about!). Of course, the best cooler for you is one that will keep what you need as cold as possible. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you make your pick.

    Size

    If you’re cooler’s not big enough for all the food and drink you’re taking on a camping, road, or fishing trip, you’re going to need another one. And sometimes having multiple smaller coolers is more convenient. You can organize the contents by type and not be fishing around in the ice and layers for what feels like days to find a soda or package of hot dogs.

    When it comes down to it, you might need a big cooler, though. The Igloo and Orca models we’ve recommended are great choices if you’re committed to going big. But know that bigger doesn’t equal better. A partially filled cooler will lose its cool a lot faster. If you need just enough food for a hike or a weekend, size down.

    Handles And Wheels

    Coolers get heavy fast, and telescoping handles and wheels can make them a lot easier to move around. That said, telescoping handles can break or rust out (take it from me — I own a great 60-quart rolling cooler with a jammed telescoping handle; it still works, but it’s not a classy look), and they just don’t work for really big coolers, which may have to be carried by two people using the fixed handles on the sides.

    Thoughtful Design And Tech Features

    Coolers can look like bags, boxes, or backpacks. They can also function as portable refrigerators and freezers that require power, either from a battery pack or a solar unit. Consider what you want to use your cooler for, how long you need the contents to stay cold, and whether you’ll be able to ice up from time to time. Know that you’ll pay for anything that crosses into electronic/small appliance territory.

    Also keep in mind that high-end cooler manufacturers (like Yeti and Orca) leverage some features, like rubberized toggles, lid gaskets, and leak-proof zippers, that you simply won’t find on other coolers, and that when you buy a name brand product, you’re paying for the logo, too.