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Updated Oct 13, 2022 3:32 PM
Nothing says summer like packing an ice chest full of drinks and food. Whether you’re going fishing for a day with friends or taking the truck out on a weekend camping trip with your family, an ice chest is a must-have item. Once you find the best ice chest for you, one that’s right for your use, you can make the real decisions—what food and drinks to pack. Then, you can get out there and enjoy summer.
The quality of the ice chest dictates how long it will keep your food and drinks cold, and that generally correlates with the price—but not always. Consider how much you are willing to spend.
Then consider space. How much do you need? The better the ice chest, the less ice you’ll need to keep the contents cold for a longer period of time.
Hard-sided ice chests are durable, strong, and effective, but also bulky and heavy. Soft-sided ice chests are lightweight and easy to carry, but won’t stand up to the same level of abuse, and they won’t keep your food and drinks cold as long as hard-sided ones. Finally, you need to consider style. There are ice chests designed to be stowed on a boat, as well as ice chests with wheels that will serve you better if you’re a shore angler. There are even cooler backpacks that allow you to keep your food and drinks cool when you’re on the trail, and coolers for kayaks.
Do you need a rugged, top-quality ice chest?
Hunting and fishing requires rugged gear. For a cooler, that means ons that will stand up to repeated use without latches failing, hinges breaking, or the walls getting gouged during use.
In recent years, companies have begun producing coolers and chests that will stand up to tough use. They’re tough enough to stand on, will take a beating in the back of a truck on a bumpy dirt road without losing its integrity, and work under extremely hot conditions.
Best Overall: YETI Tundra 45 Cooler
The best ice chest overall, the YETI Tundra 45 Cooler has extra thick insulated walls that deliver long-lasting cold for up to 28 beverage cans. The cooler is strong, durable, and features heavy-duty rubber T-Rex Lid Latches that keep the lid secure, and non-slip feet that will prevent the cooler from sliding around on wet boat decks and truck beds. A gasket on the lid ensures that warm air won’t get in when it’s closed.
Is portability a concern?
Ice chests are meant to be moved. Many coolers fit easily in a boat or car, but if you’re going to walk a significant way away from your vehicle, lugging around a big, bulky cooler filled with food and drinks will quickly become a hassle. If this is the case for you, there are two main types of portable ice chests that you consider.
The first is an ice cooler with wheels. These are similar to your typical ice chests except that they have wheels on one end as well as an extendable handle to wheel the cooler around with, similar to a carry-on travel bag. If you go this route, get a cooler that has wheels rugged enough to handle off-trail terrain. The other option is soft sided coolers. These are light enough to sling over your shoulder, and also are easy to squeeze into tight places that hard coolers wouldn’t be able to fit.
Best with Wheels: Pelican Elite Cooler with Wheels
Pelican’s Elite Cooler is the best ice chest with wheels featuring an 8-inch high, 2 ½-inch wide wheels and a folding trolley handle so you can easily roll it across the room or down a trail to a remote campsite. It’s made in the USA and has a lifetime guarantee–if you somehow break it, Pelican will replace it.
Best Soft-Sided: ROCKBROS Soft Cooler 30
The ROCKBROS Soft Cooler 30 is portable, lightweight, and functional. ROCKBROS
The ROCKBROS Soft Cooler 30 is great for outdoorsmen on the go. The 6-pound cooler boasts an impressive 48 hour cooling duration in a 107-degree environment. The cooler is portable, durable, and fits up to 30 beverage cans.
Do you need a large cooler?
The volume a cooler holds is key specification. Cooler volume is almost always given in quarts, but keep in mind that 30% to 50% of the storage capacity will be taken up by ice. While 15- to 30-quart coolers may seem sizeable, they’ll only fit enough food and drinks for a couple of people. A 50-quart cooler is versatile and large enough for bigger groups and multi-day trips. Jumbo coolers will hold a lot of food and drink, but keep in mind two things: Excess air in a cooler will lead to faster ice melt, so the more you put into the cooler, the better…but that will of course make it heavier and harder to transport.
Best Large: Igloo Polar Cooler 120
The Igloo Polar Cooler 120 is a classic cooler meant for large gatherings or long expeditions. Igloo
The Igloo Polar Cooler 120 is a large cooler—the 120-quart capacity means it will hold up to 188 12-ounce cans. The cooler has a simple but effective design with snap-fit latches and Ultratherm insulation rated to hold ice up to 5 days in temperatures up to 90 degrees. It’s a great pick for big parties as well as multi-day expeditions.
Should you consider an electric cooler?
Ice chests have one obvious limitation—they rely on ice to keep your food and beverages chilled. For most people, this works just fine. But ice melts, which means that over time, your cooler will lose its effectiveness. Moreover, you won’t be able to precisely control the temperature inside of your cooler.
An electric ice chest eliminates the drawbacks of traditional ice chests. Be aware: they don’t usually come with built-in batteries. You will typically need to run them off of a car battery, or another type of portable battery. How long an electric cooler will keep contents cool depends on the size of the battery you use.. Electric coolers aren’t generally as versatile as normal coolers, but they eliminate the need for ice, which means you can pack them full of food and drink, and you can control the cooler temperature more precisely.
Best Electric: Coleman Iceless Electric Cooler
The Coleman Iceless Electric Cooler can keep you food cold—or warm. Coleman
The Coleman Iceless Electric Cooler is an affordable and versatile electric cooler that keeps contents up to 40 degrees colder or warmer than the outside temperature. An 8-foot power cord makes it easy to connect to a car or boat battery. The 40-quart capacity holds up to 44 cans.
Budget Ice Chest: What You Get for Less Than $26
Budget ice chests will still keep your food and drinks cold, just not as long or as cold as more expensive ones. Budget ice chests should still be durable and sturdy. Look for budget ice chests that have secure lids and are portable enough that you can still transport where you need them without too much difficulty.
Best Budget: Igloo 25 Quart Marine Contour
The Igloo 25 Quart Marine Contour is inexpensive but will still get the job done. Igloo
The affordable Igloo 25 Quart Marine Contour features a hard-sided Ultratherm body that keeps contents cold. It’s especially suited for anglers and has a fish measuring ruler molded into the lid. It doesn’t hold ice for as long as more expensive coolers will, but the Igloo 25 is ideal for short trips in mild weather.
Q: Do ice chests go bad?
Ice chests don’t “go bad,” but they do lose their effectiveness over time. Some signs that you need to buy a new cooler include a broken lid and cuts or dings along the walls. Cracked hinges and broken latches can be replaced.
Q: How cold does an ice chest stay?
How cold an ice chest stays depends on the insulative quality of the ice chest as well as how much ice you fill it with. To keep perishable food safe, the ice chest should keep contents below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Consider using a kitchen thermometer to make sure your cooler stays at the appropriate temperature.
Q: Which ice chest keeps ice the longest?
As a rule of thumb, hard coolers hold ice longer than soft ones. More expensive hard coolers, such as Yeti ice chests, will perform better than more inexpensive ones.
Final Words On The Best Ice Chests
Even the best ice chest, no matter the price tag, will lose efficiency whenever it’s opened. Don’t go into the cooler unless you want something, and don’t leave the lid open any longer than you have to. Your ice will last longer and your contents will stay colder.