Best Coolers for Car Camping

Whether you’re camping out in the mountains or by the beach or simply heading out for a picnic or day hike, keeping your food and drinks cool and fresh is a necessity. You can find different types of camping coolers with a wide range of sizes and features, but how do you find the right one for your trip? The first thing to note is the capacity you need, considering the duration of your trip and the number of people. 

If you want to learn more, see our picks for the best camping coolers below, ranging from good old Coleman, to premium-priced YETI. We also offer some tips to guide you in making a decision. 

Best Camping Cooler Reviews

YETI Tundra 65

YETI Tundra 65 Cooler

Capacity: 52.4 quarts (42 cans)

Weight: 29 lbs.

Dimensions: 30.5 x 17.5 x 16 inches

Other sizes: 35, 45, 75, 105, 110, 125, 160, 210, 250, 350

YETI is a high-end outdoor gear manufacturer. When looking for high end coolers, you can never go wrong with the Tundra. This line of premium hard coolers excels in most any aspect, from its durable, rotomolded construction, long ice retention, and heavy duty latches. It is available in a variety of sizes for different needs and smack in the middle is the Tundra 65. 

This rugged Tundra 65 is perfect for car camping, boat sailing, or almost any outdoor adventure. With its three-inch thick walls and insulation, its actual capacity is around 55 quarts, keeping your food, drinks, and other perishables cool for up to five days on the road or in the wild. Or, it can hold 52 pounds of only ice from 7 to 10 days.

Some of YETI’s best-selling features include its PermaFrost insulation made with polyurethane foam to keep your ice longer, and FatWall design that is certified Bear-Resistant. The patented T-Rex lid latches and ColdLock gasket make sure to keep the cold in and the heat out. Additionally, the screw-in Vortex Drain System plug is leak-proof and designed to drain quickly without having to fully remove the plug. The molded tie-down slots can be used for easy mounting to your car, truck, or boat. 

Aside from its excellent durability and ice retention, the YETI Tundra comes in a variety of colors with a modern, stylish design. Although, it can be quite heavy due to the extra thick walls. With all its high-end features, a YETI cooler is definitely an investment for outdoor enthusiasts. But if you only need a cooler for quick weekend solo road trips, then this may be a little overkill.

Pros

Three-inch thick PermaFrost insulation for longer ice retention

Excellent durability

Bear-resistant rubber latches

Stylish design with different color options

Cons

Premium pricing

Heavy

ENGEL 65

Engel 65 Cooler

Capacity: 60 quarts (45 cans)

Weight: 26 lbs.

Dimensions: 29.5 x 17 x 16.5 inches

Other sizes: 25, 35, 45, 50, 80, 85, 123, 165, 240, 320

For those who need a premium quality hard cooler for camping but don’t want to splurge on a YETI, the Engel 65 offers great value for many of the same features. It is significantly cheaper than the closest in size Tundra 65 without compromising a lot in terms of durability and cooling capabilities. Similar to YETI, the Engel is rotomolded for maximum toughness. WIth a full two-inch insulation in the lid, along all sides, and the bottom, it is rated to retain ice by up to 10 days. Although, of course, you can expect a shorter period in actual use. Some users report four to six days ice retention depending on the contents and the weather outside.

The Engel is also certified bear-resistant to keep your food safe overnight. Unlike YETI’s rubber latches, Engel uses stainless steel that is built to last longer. However, many users report leaking from the drain plug. While it’s available in an array of colors and sizes, the basic looking design turns customers to the more attractive albeit expensive YETI coolers. But if you’re not too concerned about looks and just need a good value for your money, then the Engel 65 is a great option too.

Pros

Long ice retention

Durable and certified bear-resistant

Similar capabilities for less the price of the YETI model

Cons

Drain plug leaks

Basic design

Pelican 70QT Elite

Pelican 70QT Elite Cooler

Capacity: 70 quarts (48 cans)

Weight: 33.29 lbs

Dimensions: 36 x 20.3 x 21 inches

Other Sizes: 20, 30, 50, 80, 95, 150, 250

Pelican manufactures durable and long-lasting protective cases, coolers, travel gear and other temperature controlled packaging. The Pelican Elite line of coolers offer functionality and versatility that can compete with YETI. If you want a higher capacity durable cooler at the same price as the Tundra 65, this injection-molded unit holds up to 48 cans at a 2:1 ice ratio with its true 70 quart internal volume.

The 70QT is the smallest IGBC Certified Bear-Resistant Pelican cooler. Unlike rotomolded coolers, the Pelican Elite construction enables the addition of molded-in handles and four cup holders. You even get an integrated fish ruler and a built-in stainless steel bottle opener. The two inches of polyurethane foam insulation holds ice up to nine days and the press and pull latches make opening and closing the lid trouble-free. The drain plug with a tethered cap can be connected to a hose for easy draining and cleaning.

Pelican is USA-made with an outstanding lifetime warranty. Overall, the 70QT Elite is good for tough, rugged applications, but a lot of users complain about the ice retention and draining capabilities. Compared to the YETI, Pelican is evidently designed for rugged use with less color options and a bulky build.

Pros

Good ice retention 

Durable and certified bear-resistant

Additional molded-in features

Lifetime warranty

Cons

Drain plug may leak

Heavy, rugged design

YETI Tundra Haul

YETI Tundra Haul Cooler

Capacity: 55.2 quarts (45 cans)

Weight: 28.25 x 18.63 x 19.5 inches

Dimensions: 37 lbs

Other sizes: None

If you need to pack more than the Tundra 65 can handle but don’t want to have to drag around the heavy bulky thing, you’ll be grateful for the Tundra Haul, YETI’s first and only cooler on wheels. Built with a rigid handle and heavy duty wheels, you can simply roll all your food and drinks from your car trunk to your camping site without breaking your back.

The Tundra Haul can hold up to 55 pounds of ice or 45 cans of soda with its 55 quarts capacity. Like other YETI Tundra coolers, this model is certified bear-resistant. It has three-inch thick walls and PermaFrost insulation foam that keeps the cold in and the heat out for a longer time. With a durable T-bar handle and impact- and puncture-resistant tires, you can move the cooler around, up on a hill, out by the beach, or on any other kind of terrain.

Although it’s a fairly large (and very expensive) cooler, it lacks a dry goods basket or divider, which is quite a disappointment for some users. Similar to other YETI coolers, the Tundra Haul is particularly heavy, especially considering the added wheels. While it’s designed to make dragging your things around easier, it can be difficult to dismount from your car. 

Pros

Thick walls for longer ice retention

Durable build and bear-resistant

With puncture-resistant wheels for mobility

Trusted, high-end brand

Cons

Too heavy

Price is too high for its capacity

Igloo 52 Quarts BMX

Igloo 52 Quarts BMX Cooler

Capacity: 52 quarts (80 cans)

Weight: 16.33 lbs

Dimensions: 25.98 x 16.34 x 16.54 inches

Other sizes: 25, 72

Igloo has been making coolers and ice chests since 1947 and you can tell by the premium quality yet affordable price of the Igloo BMX line of hard coolers. This Igloo cooler has a stainless steel hardware that can stand up to tough conditions for less than half the price of high-end rotomolded coolers like YETI.

The tough, rugged body may seem heavy, but thanks to its blow-molded construction it only weighs 16 pounds, making it easy enough for one or two persons to carry down to your campsite. This cooler has a 52 quarts capacity with extra thick foam walls and lid for up to four days of ice retention. Make sure to screw the drain plug tight after draining out the water to avoid leaks like a few customers complained about.

The rubberized T-latches secure the lid and the oversized hinges and stainless steel screws improve the cooler’s durability. Despite its lightweight build, the BMX has reinforced skid pads and a steel leg plate to protect your storage. The lid also has a molded-in fish ruler and four tie-down points. The Igloo BMX comes in six color options that go well with its tough looking exterior.

Pros

Decent ice retention for the prize

Durable construction

Lightweight for its capacity

Cons

Drain plug may leak

Coleman 50 Quart Xtreme with Wheels

Coleman 50 Quart Xtreme with Wheels

Capacity: 50 quarts (84 cans)

Weight: 2.5 lbs

Dimensions: 23 x 18 x 18 inches

Other sizes: None

Whether you’re out for a short car camping trip or a tailgate party, you can rely on a brand like Coleman. Established over a century ago, Coleman is a trusted manufacturer of camping equipment for all types of outdoor enthusiasts. At a quarter the price of the Tundra Haul, this Coleman 50 Quart Xtreme with Wheels is listed with five days ice retention. Although, if we’re being honest, it’ll probably only last three days at most.

This 50 quart Coleman cooler with insulated lid and walls can hold up to 84 cans and keep them cool through your picnics, road trips, or other outdoor events with family or friends. When the lid is closed, the cooler can serve as an extra seat, supporting up to 250 pounds. You also get four molded-in cup holders on top to prevent spilling your drinks. 

Although the biggest selling point of this product is the telescoping handle and wheels, they are usually the most common complaint from users. The handle, in particular, breaks easily, and you’ll end up lifting the cooler instead of rolling it on its wheels (which really isn’t that big a deal since this cooler is made with very light plastic). Regarding its construction, this Coleman may not be tough enough for extreme conditions and form dents on collision with hard objects.

For its price, you can’t expect anything more than what you get. And you’ll likely only use this Coleman for one-day or overnight outings anyway. To maximize its cooling, you can pre-chill it a few hours before loading it up. As an alternative option, consider this similarly built 70-quart Coleman with no wheels.

Pros

High capacity for its price

Lightweight with wheels

Comes from a reliable brand

Cons

Thin insulation accounts to short ice retention

Flimsy handle

YETI Roadie 24

YETI Roadie 24 Cooler

Capacity: 23.6 qts. (18 cans)

Weight: 12.8 lbs.

Dimensions: 17.1 x 14.3 x 18 inches

Other sizes: None

If the Tundra coolers are too much for your intended use, the YETI Roadie 24 is a far more suitable option. This rotomolded mini cooler is ideal for day trips or longer outdoor adventures for a solo traveler. The 24-quart Roadie is an upgraded version of the original Roadie 20, with a similar durable construction and impressive ice retention of the larger YETI coolers. This new look of the Roadie is made taller (with a 13-inch internal height) and slimmer to accommodate standard wine bottles or up to 18 cans of beer, and take up less space in your car trunk.

Despite its small size, the Roadie 24 offers many of the same (But smaller and thinner) features, from the thick walls and PermaFrost insulation, rubber latches that can be opened and closed with one hand, non-slip feet, and easy haul strap. Unlike the bigger YETI camping coolers, the Roadie doesn’t have a drain plug, which means you’ll have to flip it on its side to drain the water. All things considered, it’s a very expensive cooler for its size, but the quality is what you would expect from a YETI product. If the prices are a bit much for you, you can go from YETI to this cheaper 20-quart RTIC or Pelican Elite cooler. Or, consider a soft-sided cooler instead.

Pros

Best ice retention for its size

More flexible and manageable new design

Easy to carry and load into vehicle

Cons

Too pricey food its capacity

ORCA 20 Quart

ORCA 20 Quart Cooler

Capacity: 20 quarts (18 cans)

Weight: 18 lbs.

Dimensions: 19 x 16 x 11 inches

Other sizes: 26, 40, 58, 75, 140

For solo or couples campers who need a durable cooler for shorter trips, another great alternative to the Roadie 24 is the USA-made ORCA 20 quart hard cooler. It feels bigger and heavier despite the smaller capacity due to the three-inch thick walls and insulation. It can hold up to 18 cans or 15 bottles with ice inside. Unlike the YETI equivalent, this mini ORCA cooler comes with a drainage spout for mess-free draining.

As opposed to the new strap handle on the Roadie, ORCA still uses a metal handle which may break easily. However, with a similar price tag, the ORCA offers similar premium quality and ice retention. What we like most about this line of hard coolers is the additional exterior pouch pocket for storing small items like a bottle opener. Aside from the range of sizes, it’s also available in more distinctive colors like seafoam and pink if you’re sick of the usual, boring tan and navy shades. Although, it can be quite difficult to find stocks of your desired cooler from online sellers. Since it’s similar to the Roadie in terms of price, it’s up to you to decide which features you value more.

Pros

Durable rotomolded construction

Long ice retention

Cargo net attachment for added storage

More colors to choose from

Cons

Comparable price to YETI for less capacity

Handle easily breaks

RTIC Soft Cooler

RTIC Soft Cooler

Capacity: 22 quarts (30 cans)

Weight: 4 lbs

Dimensions: 15.5 x 11.5 x 12.75 inches

Other sizes: 8, 12, 20 cans (5.5, 8, 15 quarts)

The only soft-sided cooler in our list, this RTIC cooler bag can hold up to 30 cans with ice for up to a day or two of car camping, hiking, fishing, or any of your choice recreational activities. Two inches of closed-cell foam insulation and a puncture and tear-resistant nylon shell liner keep all of your food and drinks cool, while the durable, waterproof zipper prevents spills and leaks.

The tough, laminated fabric, and welded seams make the RTIC Soft Pack Cooler lightweight yet durable. With a waterproof exterior, it can float on water to keep your food safe wherever you go. Because of the thinner insulation (two inches on top and one on each side), this soft cooler will probably only last 24 hours before the ice inside melts.

Noticeably, RTIC is a lot cheaper (three times, to be exact) and bigger when compared to YETI’s closest soft cooler model, the Hopper M30. Bigger because the former is built like a box while the latter is more like a tote bag, and cheaper because, well, you pay YETI mostly for its name. The RTIC Cooler has an adjustable shoulder strap, two side straps for hand carry, and side handles for loading into your vehicle. Also, you have two zippered pockets at the front and back for additional storage.

Pros

Easy to carry soft cooler

Durable, waterproof material

Additional pockets at the front and back

Affordable alternative to similar-sized hard coolers

Cons

Like any soft cooler, shorter ice retention

Types Of Coolers

Camping coolers can be sorted into two main types: soft and hard-sided.

Hard Coolers

A hard cooler is the most common type that is used for camping. They are usually made of hard plastic or fiberglass and steel. Compared to soft coolers, a hard sided cooler is heavier and bulkier, but has better insulating and ice retaining abilities. At the higher end, they can hold ice up to five days or longer, if you keep them under shade and don’t open them too often.

Because of their weight and bigger dimensions, hard coolers are most ideal for car camping and boat sailing. The main advantages of using this type of cooler are the tough, rugged construction and thicker insulation that can store your food and drinks and keep them safe for longer.

Hard Cooler Construction: Rotomolding, Injection Molding, and Blow Molding

Most hard-sided coolers are constructed in either way: rotational molding (rotomolding) and injection molding. Rotomolding was made popular by YETI and is considered the more durable and high-end type of construction. A rotomolded cooler is made by heating and rotating plastic in a hollow shell-like mold to produce a single piece of seamless plastic in the desired shape. This process creates a durable construction with fewer stress points and a consistent thickness. However, some disadvantages are the cost and weight.

On the other hand, injection-molded coolers are made by inserting molten plastic into a defined mold. This molding process is simpler and cheaper than rotomolding and allows for additional mounting locations for accessories (the Pelican Elite Coolers, for example). Although, the main disadvantage is injection molded coolers are made with multiple pieces which can break after extreme use over time.

While injection molding creates solid plastic parts, blow molding creates hollow pieces of a whole. With blow molding, a plastic tube is heated and filled with air while a mold is clamped around it to trap the plastic inside and form the shape of each part. This process is often used to create a container that can be flexible or hold a liquid, like a water bottle. Blow-molded coolers are even lighter and cheaper than injection-molded ones, but they are also less durable.

Soft Coolers

A soft cooler is basically a bag with insulation inside. They are smaller and lighter than their hard sided equivalent and can be carried across your shoulder or as a backpack with padded shoulder straps or chest straps leak-proof zippers. Since they are lighter, cheaper, and can’t hold temperatures for as long as hard coolers, soft sided coolers are your perfect option for a day hike, picnic, fishing trip, or any one-day excursion. 

Choosing The Best Coolers For Camping Trips

Capacity

Before you pick a cooler for your car camping, there are a few considerations to make with regards to its capacity. Firstly, not all manufacturers measure the interior volume in the same way. A lot of them use quarts or the number of standard size cans that can fit inside at 2:1 ice ratio, but you’ll also see measurements in liters and gallons. While the model number may lead you to presume a higher capacity (the Tundra 65 and Engel 65, for example), you must take into account the two to three inches thick walls.

If you usually travel solo or for shorter days, a small cooler may be more than enough to last you for a weekend. For a solo or couple camper, a 35-quart cooler should have adequate space for all your food, drinks, and ice for one or two days. Otherwise, a bigger, 40- to 45-quart cooler may be enough for small groups of two to three planning to stay out for one or two days, or 50- to 65-quart for bigger groups of four to five. A large cooler from 75 quarts and above is typically designed for the real outdoors person or big groups going out for certain activities, like fishing and hunting over a weekend. 

Ice Retention

Another important feature of a cooler is its ability to retain ice. Your cooler’s actual ice retention capabilities will vary greatly depending on a couple of external factors. Most manufacturers claim a certain number of days for each model, but in real world use, you can expect your cooler to hold the ice for at least half that number. Some factors that affect ice life in your cooler are the outdoor temperature, exposure to heat or sun, and how often you open the lid (thus letting the cool air out and warm air in). You may also want to take note of the amount of ice you put in compared to the amount of food (a ratio of 2:1 is recommended). You can also pre-chill your cooler by filling it with ice for a few hours to bring down the temperature inside.

Drain

Most hard coolers have a drain plug so you can easily empty out the water when your ice has melted. They typically come with a screw or cap at the base of the cooler that you can simply remove to allow the water to pour out. It’s important to keep the drain plug screwed tight or you’ll end up with a leak. Some smaller coolers like the YETI Roadie 24 don’t have a drain plug.

Portability

If your parking spot is far from your campsite or you need to carry your cooler up (or down) changing terrains, you’ll want something portable and light. When empty, hard coolers weigh about 10 to 15 pounds at the lowest capacity, while premium 50-quart and above models weigh at least 30 pounds. Different construction processes and materials are used to make the bulk of your cooler less heavy, but lighter or thinner walls can also mean less durability. Handles like rope, molded plastic, or metal make carrying less arduous, but more food and ice in storage means it’s harder to drag around. Some hard-sided coolers come with wheels for easier transport, but wheels also add to the weight and cost.

Accessories and Add-Ons

You can find a number of handy accessories available for many coolers. For example, food baskets are useful for storing fruit and other dry goods, dividers are handy for splitting up your meals, and external accessories like cup holders and extra storage can help keep your valuables organized. 

How to Get the Most Out of Your Cooler

Different types of coolers have different cooling capacities. However, even if your cooler can keep your food cool for a whole week, improper use can greatly shorten that period. Here are some tips to help you maintain your cooler.

The first thing you can do to improve ice retention is to pre-chill your cooler before loading it up with food and drinks. Simply fill it with ice a few hours before your trip to bring down the temperature inside. 

It will also be best to pre-chill the contents before putting them in. This includes frozen meat, bottled beverages, and yes, the ice. Bigger blocks extend ice life since they’ll melt at a slower rate, while the standard ice cubes keep the contents cooler. Put a combination of ice blocks and cubes to get the longest ice retention.

Finally, keep the lid shut tight as much as possible. Take your food out and close it quickly or you’ll let the warm air in, melting the ice much quicker.

These are only some general advice to get the most out of the cooler you choose. 

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