The Coleman 48-Quart Cooler has better insulation properties than the competition. It keeps ice in a leak-resistant design; best for holding 2-liter bottles and 63 cans. This performance-driven hard cooler is best for late-night camping trips and BBQs. The 2-way handles make portability easier and faster than ever before. While the lightweight and ergonomic design allows stability. The rust-proof design allows better resistance against debris, winds, and moisture. And in case you end up with excess water inside the box, you can always rely on its leak-resistant drain to empty it out.
As for the expensive pick, the Coleman 70 Quart Xtreme 5 Marine Cooler takes the price. It has UV guard sun protection, can hold up to 98 cans, and keeps the ice for 5 straight days. This is our best upgraded pick for the improved insulation and ergonomic features. For example, it doubles as extra seating given its properly-sized and tough exterior. And you can store tons of drinks and food in it in case of a power emergency. It prevents solid food from spoiling when the refrigerator is out of power. This 5-day hard cooler does a better job at insulation than the competition.
With a non-insulated compartment to fall back on, the Igloo 0043941 Quantum Cooler is our best affordable pick on the list. It beats the competition for the price, durability, and ease of use. The durable lockable lid, cup holders, and curved backside dictate its cost effectively. Which is why investing in this best hard cooler is a hoot! You get to experience first-hand what an ergonomically tough cooler feels like. Plus, it’s cheap and available as per your requirements. It holds up to 18 cans and 11-litres of total storage capacity. You can even stack 3 6-packs, which is the height measurement of the cooling box.
A Little Background
There’s much to take into consideration when looking for the best hard cooler on the market. A hard cooler keeps various drinks and foods cold for longer. And it accomplishes so with the help of insulation. With harder insulation, a hard cooler can maintain the lowest temperatures for a long period of time. People often use this kind of technology when camping outdoors. The lower temperatures help keep beverages chilled, with using little ice only.
This kind of technology is primarily best for people without a freezer. By consuming less ice, you can maintain the best lower temperatures for proper insulation to keep things cold. Multiple grocery stores offer inexpensive bags of ice to fill up a cooler. This way, you can stock on ice more often and reload less based on your requirements. It’s a straightforward and affordable way to buy ice. If you do this, you get to save tons of money for the future and never run out of ice when you have guests over. With guests, you don’t have to feel hopeless at the thought of all the ice melting, when you have a hard cooler to insulate all your beverages.
You can either be searching for a portable daily cooler or a tough premium cooler. The former offers hours of sufficient cooling while the latter goes on for weeks without failing.
If you do not know what type and size of a hard cooler you want, you can ask yourself these questions to get to the right choice:
- Do you need extra storage space?
- Do you want a completely removable or an easy-to-access lid?
- Are you comfortable with handles, wheels, or a strap to carry the cooler?
- Lastly, do you need a waterproof or shatterproof hard cooler for outdoor use?
These questions will assist you toward the right direction. Based on these questions our experts have compiled an accurate and straightforward guide to help you find your best hard cooler faster.
How We Picked
You can’t have a handy guide unless it contains all the important information to filter out the stuff you do not need to know during purchasing. In order to differentiate between a good and bad pick, you can use these features to compare the best products at a good price.
First things first, the size of the best hard cooler includes its storage size and the overall dimensions of the product. These 2 significant size metrics are measured in relation to the amount of space a hard cooler takes up.
Storage size: Storage size how much volume a hard cooler stores. It holds both insulated and non-insulated storage areas. In simple words, if you buy a hard cooler with 50 quarts storage volume, it means that the product contains both insulated and non-insulated storage areas within the 50 quarts storage volume. In comparison, buying a soft-sided cooler come with separate chilled and non-chilled things. So, if you need accurate measurements for your hard cooler, some of which come with separate insulated and non-insulated compartments, considering the storage size is very important.
Similarly, if you need a non-insulated compartment for non-chilled items, focusing on buying only chilled compartments could be a problem, Hence, opting for a higher quality and bigger storage size to accommodate both chilled and non-chilled items is essential.
Moving forward, when sizing the cooler, keep in mind that not all hard coolers come with the exact storage volume to shape measurement. This means your hard cooler with a large storage capacity may not be shaped in the right way so as to optimize storage space. For example, storing a 4-quarts long sandwich in a 6-quarts cooler may pose an issue. This is because the hard cooler is too short to accommodate a long sandwich. Hence, considering the proper type of cooling chest you are buying is best for finding the right storage size for chilled and non-chilled items.
Lastly, ice packs take up most of the space in a cooling chest. So, if you’re buying a big-sized cooling chest, which often makes portability a bit of a catch, this means the product you’re buying has a longer ice shelf-life and thicker walls. Such times, the more durable and spacious a cooler is, the more ice packs you can fit in with plenty of storage space to fall back on. In doing so, weighing the hard cooler before purchasing is important. This will dictate its actual lugging around capacity. And if the weight is too high, you can always consider buying a smaller cooler which is better than having to lug around a heavy and inconvenient chest with more than the required space you need
Cooler size: You should always distinguish the storage size from the cooler’s size. If the cooler size determines the space total space of the cooling chest’s interior, then coolers are often found in large sizes. However, transporting such large coolers can be difficult for most of you. If you want to fit it in the back of your car, on a boat, in a tent, etc. they can become slightly laborious.
However, if you want a durable cooling chest with thicker walls and plenty of space for ice packs, make sure there’s plenty of space to store it. Cooling cases that have walls thicker than 2-inches are often the most durable ones to buy. In comparison, soft-sided coolers are best for tight spaces as their walls are bendable and easy to work with. Hard coolers, on the other hand, are used as they as designed; with no adjustments or bendable parts.
Hard coolers are made of various materials including plastic, metals, fabrics, and rubber. Among them, plastic is the most commonly used material for its impressive insulating, water-proof, and durable design.
Plastic: Plastic is the most go-to pick for hard-sided cooling chests. It is a tough, durable, effective choice for the long run. You will find both affordable and expensive choices for a plastic cooling case. Some higher-grade models also offer waterproofing and thicker insulation. This will help you save costs in the long run while making the most of your purchase. Because plastic is easily available, lightweight, and affordable, it’s the best instinctive choice for new buyers.
Manufacturing different shells of plastic, however, is not done in the same manner. A more durable line-up of plastic cooling cases come with molded construction while some are assembled in a single piece rather than attaching multiple plastic pieces together. A well-molded model offers a shock-proof and waterproof construction as compared to single-piece models that are best for parties and one-day camping trips.
If you find a cooler with multiple plastic hinges or knobs or handles, those aren’t as durable as molded models. That’s because the extra plastic accessories on the cooling case make it easy to store smaller items, however, they contribute nothing to the overall construction of the cooler. So, if you want a longer life expectancy from your pick, opt for something with less plastic hardware and thicker walls and stronger insulation. (1)
Metal: Hard coolers with metal walls are often used for week-long camping trips. They are longer-lasting and more resilient to debris, strong winds, and other environmental pressures. Hard metal coolers come with various zippers and hardware to increase efficiency. Higher-end brands cost more than plastic with little to no maintenance. You will also find some with a longer warranty period for safekeeping. Buying a metal cooling case is can also be an aesthetically pleasing rather than performance-drive choice for many.
Rubber: Rubber, for many, is best for sealing in the insulation for an air-tight construction. However, the application of rubber in hard coolers is often restricted to seals and lids. Rubber assists in keeping the lid firmly secure on the box, while also offering better handling and portability abilities. For example, a rubber handle is much easier to hold on to for a long period of time than a metal or plastic handle. Rubber is traditionally a side-kick pick for many durable and long-lasting coolers.
Fabrics: Choosing fabrics for your cooling chest is the same as choosing rubber. It serves versatile purposes, although only in certain areas. For example, fabrics can be used to waterproof a cooling case. A high-quality daily cooling case can be make durable with the help of a fabric cover. If it’s a strong fabric, the product is less likely to crack or break under pressure. One such fabric with impressive toughness is nylon. Nylon, when coupled with a plastic or metal cooler, offers better insulation with little ice and protection against debris and heavy winds.
There are many ways to transport coolers from one place to another. But not all are best based on the weight and shape of the product. It also depends on the kind of items you’re carrying in your cooling case. To help you make a better decision, here are the most common carrying methods we found were also extremely effective.
Shoulder straps: A shoulder strap is best for anyone looking to keep both hands free. If you have some additional items you want stored in your cooling case, opting for shoulder straps for transportation is easy. A shoulder strap is also best for longer on-the-road trips so your hands don’t feel fatigued after lugging the cooling case for a long time.
Side handles: Side handles are the most common and sought-after hardware for coolers. As the name suggests, a handle sits on each side of the box allowing either one person or 2 people to carry it. If you have a smaller cooling box, a single person is fit to carry it from one destination to another. However, with heavier coolers, you must have one person on both sides supporting the box. There are multiple variations for a side handle including with pivoting plastic handles, built-in cavities, and plastic grips.
Lid handles: For lightweight coolers, a lid handle is essential. This means only a single person can carry the cooling case. A lid handle is best for anyone looking to keep one hand free. And it’s best for anyone looking to avoid carrying the box in front of them so as to avoid tripping over something. A single lid handle is essential for only lightweight boxes. If your cooler doesn’t have a heavy capacity, a single lid handle would work.
Wheels: Many hard-sided cooling cases come with rubber wheels for better transportation. This is usually the case when you want to avoid carrying a heavy weight manually. However, using wheels is only appropriate and possible when working on flat surfaces. It’s not the safest carrying method for camping on uneven terrain and on hills. If you’re buying a cooling case with wheels, make sure the wheels are made of high-quality rubber. Plastic wheels often get damaged easily due to the added weight.
During our researching, we found insulation being one of the top priorities for consumers. This is essential because insulation dictates how efficiently and accurately a cooler keeps things cold using little ice. The best insulated cooling box increases the shelf life of not only the product, but the ice itself. If you’re looking to transport frozen items everyday or chill beverages for a camping trip, insulation is more than necessary.
If you were to purchase a bag full of ice to transport frozen items, you would have to spend hours reloading ice in containers. Which is most likely to increase your expenditure and waste your time. Hence, buying the best hard cooler is necessary for the task.
Look for the following types of coolers based on how long they are able to keep frozen items fresh and chilled.
A couple of hours. For a few hours of work, buying the most standard hard cooler is enough. You do not need tough hardware or insulation to keep items chilled for a few hours. Hence, the most basic type of insulation is necessary.
24 hours. For an entire day, look for coolers with plastic insulation. A large sized cooling box can handle 24 hours insulation with little ice.
Up to 3 days. For insulation that lasts for 3 days, premium hard-sided coolers are bestl. A standard cooler construction or budgeted buys will have this kind of insulation as well.
Up to 5 days. Coolers with metal and rubber encasings often provide such insulation. Look for coolers made of molded materials, metal hardware, fabric insulation, and other similar features.
More than 6 days. These coolers are often very expensive to begin with. Only a few premium coolers can reach to this point. And all of them are often large in size.
Our Best Pick
Ever heard of Thermozone insulation before? It’s the special feature of the Coleman 48-Quart Cooler that we love so much. It is capable of withstanding hard-wearing of the day. This hard cooler is efficient and dependable for long-term use. The leak-resistant drain is best for cleaning the interior without a fuss. While the 2-way handles offer a tough plastic construction for safekeeping. This recreational pick is the perfect competitor for anyone looking for a quick fix. It is capable of handling everything from storing 63 12-ounce cans and 2-liter bottles upright. The Coleman holds down temperatures perfectly well for both food and drinks. Meanwhile, the lid keeps the chilled temperatures tightly compressed for long. There’s nothing about this best cooling box that you will find lacking.
Flaws But Not Dealbreakers
The upper lid and hinge that keeps the box free of moisture and debris from the environment is difficult to deal with once you get used to its design. This means the lid is hard to open once closed. However, it keeps everything cold and under the desired temperatures.
Our Best Step-Up Pick
As the name suggests, the Coleman 70 Quart Xtreme 5 Marine Cooler is a marine-built pick. What this means is that the Coleman 70 can withstand almost anything that stands against it. It is the best 5-day camping companion which can hold up to 98 cans with 4 durable cup holders that are directly built into the lid. This pick is both rust and leak-proof to keep your food and drinks company. Which means it’s easier to clean and maintain in the long run. Another feature that makes this pick built to last is the UV guard sun protection. It keeps the ice just like ice that you can fall back on for 5 days. So, if you plan on storing this directly under the sun, nothing inside the box gets affected by it.
The other feature we found appealing is the stainless-steel construction. They prevent rusting to an extent that the exterior doesn’t require much cleaning even after months of use. The 2-way handles and leak-resistant drain is best for portability and maintenance. These features are especially important for safekeeping during camping or road trips. Travellers understand the importance of a good, durable hard cooler when it’s most needed.
Our Best Budget Pick
The most handy, durable, and lightweight win goes to the Igloo 0043941 Quantum Cooler. Ergonomic is the best word to describe this pick that beats the competition with its affordable price and better insulation. It comes with a lockable lid housing a small, but sufficient dry storage compartment. The design looks aesthetically pleasing and innovative for a hard cooler this inexpensive and standard. Plus, there is plenty of place inside the cooling box to hold tall bottles and longnecks.
The adaptable and modern design makes the Igloo an exclusive pick for most people. You will also enjoy the honeycomb-textured inserts for optimizing storage as per your convenience. It’s the best hard cooler for anyone looking for a small and durable pick. It can fit up to 18-20 cans of drinks with plenty of room for ice. The tiny storage compartment in the lid adds a good touch to the overall construction of the cooling box. The handle too is made of hard-to-break materials and is well-rounded to feel sturdy and lightweight.
Our Best Pick for Day Trips
The Igloo 14.8 Quart Playmate Cooler is known for its versatile and durable design. It has a patented tent shaped lid designed to avoid spilling or leaking of any kind. Similarly, coupled with the diamond plate exterior, this pick beats down the competition for its ergonomic construction. It houses an impact-resistant plastic with a lid that opens down on either side for optimizing storage and ease of use. This is an industrial hard-sided cooling case for outdoor use only. The molded grip carry handle works well with its lightweight body. You can take it with day trips laden with food and drinks.
The insulation on the Igloo is also worth considering. Not only is it durable, it has a very aesthetically pleasing design. The lid doesn’t wobble or shake under pressure. It comes with a small button that you need to press for the lid to open comfortably. Take it from a well-known and reputable brand who specializes in manufacturing industry-grade coolers for consumers. This pick is a spacious, superior, and striking hard cooler to use for years.
Our Best Pick for Personal Use
The Coleman FlipLid Personal Cooler weighs less than 2 pounds and is a smart and efficient flip cooling case to use. It can hold up to 6 cans which is more than enough for individual use. Most modern coolers are too big for personal use. Hence, you’re forced settle for an inconvenient cooling box unless you’re willing to share it with someone else. This pick takes the inconvenience out. It’s the best one-person hard cooler to use for camping trips. You can even pack a full meal along with 6 cans of beverages with ice. It holds plenty of storage capacity in its durable exterior.
The grip handle makes it easy to get to your destination, while the flip lid can be hinged to make it into a tray for versatile use. The lid also houses molded cup holders. It’s a good choice for storing snacks, cans, and lunch or dinners meals for the day. It may be the smallest hard cooler on the competition, but it keeps ice for longer than others.
Our Best Pick with Seating Capacity
It’s hard to beat the Klein Tools 55600 Tradesman Pro for its industrial-grade and heavy seating capacity. This is a heavyweight hard cooler that can be used for versatile purposes. For example, it can withstand a seating capacity of up to 300 pounds. It is a rust-proof and durable cooling box with a hinged lid to accommodate 1-litre bottles easily. This pick can hold up to 18 cans along with an interior dry compartment for storing essentials like your car keys, wallet, medicine, etc.
The 180-degrees full access compartment also acts as a tray when opened fully. The 30-hour cooling capacity makes the Klein a good competitor for camping trips. What we loved the most about it is the heavy-duty seating capacity. It does a good job at providing comfort at all levels. What’s better than having your own cooler that not only stores your food and drinks, but acts as an extra seat during your camping trips? We certainly don’t see a better fit than the Klein Tools 55600 Tradesman Pro.
Our Best Pick for Insulation
Think a step ahead with the Stanley Adventure Cooler. It offers double-wall foam insulation, a leak-resistant lid, and an adjustable tie down design for safekeeping. It can hold up to 21 cans comfortably with ice. Plus, it’s a good 36-hour cooling box designed for a family. The exterior of the box is equipped with durable hinges and latches that keep the lid in place. So traveling with it isn’t a problem. The fact that this best pick houses foamed insulation and a lid makes it the best pick for road trips. Everything inside stays cold and away from the outside environment. Even if it’s meant to sit outside in the heat.
For cleaning, the Stanley Adventure Cooler keeps dry for longer. The seal on the cover is also made of durable and easy-to-clean materials. It’s an important detail because you don’t want the lid to pop open suddenly. And if that happens, what’s stored inside is the first thing to spoil and ruin your evening.
Our Best Pick for Optimized Storage
The Arctic Zone Titan Deep Freeze is a 30-can cooling box with a unique and patented zipper-less design. This pick is best for storage because it features multiple chilled and non-chilled compartments. One thing that’s great about this best hard cooler is the FDA-compliant hard body liner. It keeps the insulated areas of the box locked and ready to use anytime. And coupled with a Smart Shelf, it is both versatile and durable to use in the long run. Many times, the first thing that wears out on a cooler is its carrying handle. Good thing this durable pick comes with comfortable shoulder straps.
If you compare the shoulder straps to the way the Arctic Zone is built, it makes perfect sense. The straps are adjustable and padded for comfortable use. And you’ll find it much easier to access the cooler’s exterior chilled pockets with the cooling box right by your side. Other need-to-know features are that the cooler is water-resistant, stain-resistant, and has a leak-proof lining. Not to forget, the insulation features a unique heat barrier technology to run under the sun!
Our Best Pick for Easy Stacking
The Coleman is a well-known brand for its simple yet durable coolers. With its latest creation, it brings one of the best hard coolers ever seen. This pick features a unique plastic blend of polyethylene which offers excellent traction and protection against dust and warmth. It’s the only other line of hard coolers that offers bottle stacking so effortlessly. Its primary job is to provide better insulation for a plastic hard cooler. Also that it’s simple, unified design is easy to carry for camping trips or picnics. It comes with a hinged lid and a storage capacity that goes deeper than most coolers.
Moving forward, if you’re planning for a short road trip, it’s the perfect size to fit behind the front or back seat of the car. The solid construction keeps all food and drink items cold. Even if it’s kept under direct sunlight. For a compact design with sufficient space, you can go for this pick.
Our Best Pick that’s BPA-Free
For a lighter and more environmental-friendly choice, go for the Rubbermaid 5-Quart Cooler. It offers excellent thermal retention to keep your drinks and food cold. For cleaning, it houses a stain and odor-resistant design. So if any accidental spills occur, you do not need to worry about airing the cooler before shutting it. The top swing handle is best for transportability. It has a top swing functionality making it easier for a single person or 2 people to carry it. The fact that it’s built without the use of harsh chemicals and toxins makes this pick even more appealing. The cooler is healthy and safe to use.
And even though it’s a non-wheeled pick, the durable double-walled construction makes sure nothing leaks or spills or drops through the tightly-wound lid. This pick is best for anyone looking to pack a lunch or multiple lunches to work. You can place an ice pack that’ll work for hours, despite its small size.
Throughout our extensive research we found several important factors for the best hard cooler. If our readers wish to spend more money on a good product, we made sure our picks have excellent insulation, ice retention, durable hardware, and twice as capable mobility. The primary reason why so many other coolers didn’t make the cut for our competition is because they failed to offer long-term performance. Our picks are highly-specialized and performance-driven to suit your varied needs. That being said, they also fall under the categories of both expensive and budget-minded.
If your price range falls under that of a majority of buyers, any one of our top 10 picks is your best match. Today’s coolers come with unique features such as a zipper-less body, grip-ready handles, diamond plate exterior, and a tent-shaped lid for better accessibility. And that’s precisely why choosing the best hard cooler with the support of a handy guide is important.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q. Are hard coolers food and drink safe to use?
A. Worried about bacteria or chemicals getting in your food? If you’re planning on using a hard cooler for a multi-day camping trip, it’s only natural to be concerned about the safety standards of a cooler. Based on the Food and Drug Administration guidelines, it’s healthy to store eggs, meat, cheese, and milk below 40-degrees Fahrenheit. Such foods are unhealthy when stored at room temperature for more than 2-3 hours. Hence keeping them cool is important for preserving their nature. (2,3)
Many a times, spoiled food can produce a pathogenic bacteria that’s often hard to put down. And this bacteria is often found long before the spoiled food starts to smell bad. And consuming it can lead to feelings of nausea and stomach ache. And you don’t want to get sick during your camping trip. So, ensuring your food items are stored in a hard cooler keeps such foodborne diseases at bay. (4)
For example, storing food items at the top of the cooling box will ensure the food is kept at a safe distance away from the extremely cold temperatures. That is where the food will be slightly warmer to store, in comparison to storing chilled beverages.
For storing other items, such as beer, the best serving temperature of drinks is between 35 to 40-degrees range. Beverage bottles can easily be stored in between chunks of ice at the bottom of the cooling box. This will help keep the drinks cooler for longer. In our testing, we found that drinks that are stored just above 40-degrees, especially high-quality beers, are often found chilled without any complaints. This doesn’t cause any fogging or ice retention or an unwanted frothy texture.
Q. Do I need an electric cooler?
A. There are many models of electric coolers that you might find more appealing than ice-driven hard coolers. These models make use of energy to keep items cool without the use of ice. You need to power the model into a wall socket or via your car’s battery for it to come to a full charge. However, such models often offer inaccurate cooling capacity, unless you’re searching for something that runs for only a few hours in a single charge.
If you have access to electricity during your camping trips, electric coolers are the best alternative for long road trips. You can even take them up to your hotel room so you can pack your own meals and drinks.
Just like a refrigerator, an electric cooler is prone to mold and bacterial growth. So, keeping the cooler clean is important. The best way to keep an electric cooler clean is wiping the interior walls with soap and water mixture. This might be a bit laborious for anyone wanting a quick-to-cool and portable solution.
Wrapping it Up
As for our best hard cooler pick, the Coleman 48-Quart Cooler has all right features for the prize. It boasts of a large capacity, 3-way ice retention, sufficient 90-degrees temperature, and a low CO2 insulation design for better environmental conditions. Unlike many picks, this one has fashioned a leak-proof drain for easy cleaning. Which means it can drain faster with less chance of accidently damaging the box. Coleman is also a high-end brand known for its affordable and durable products. At the end of the day, you want something that meets your needs and keeps things cold.
Jen Miller is a former electrical engineer and product specialist with more than 20 years of product design and testing experience. She has designed more than 200 products for Fortune 500 companies, in fields ranging from home appliances to sports gear and outdoor equipment. She founded Jen Reviews to share her knowledge and critical eye for what makes consumers tick, and adopts a strict no-BS approach to help the reader filter through the maze of products and marketing hype out there. She writes regularly and has been featured on Forbes, Fast Company, The Muse, The Huffington Post, Tiny Buddha and MindBodyGreen.