Whether you are taking a camping trip with friends or going on vacation with family, some pieces of equipment are essential. One of those pieces of equipment is the rugged, versatile, and humble camping cooler! The camping cooler is extremely versatile; it can keep food cool and fresh, ideal if you have food that may spoil easily. It can keep your drinks ice cold for hours on end, and it can also act as a pretty awesome mode of storage too.
What this article looks to do is focus on both hard and soft coolers, assessing the pros and cons of both, and provide you with the ultimate list of coolers that will narrow down your search and help you to find the perfect cooler easily.
Hard Shell Coolers vs Soft Shell Coolers
If you are planning any outdoor adventure, it is strongly advisable to bring a cooler of some kind with you. However, it can be difficult to decide on what type of cooler best suits your needs. So let’s take a look at some of the most popular cooler types, how they differ, and what they offer and fail to offer.
Soft Shell Coolers
Soft-shell coolers are similar to backpacks. They are typically not as sturdy as hard-shell bags but are more portable and can come in bag form with convenient straps. If you are going out on a short trip, like a day or two-day trip, then a soft-shell might be your best bet. They are great for short hunting trips, fishing days, or regular day trips where you will want to keep food or drink cool. Furthermore, they are cheaper than hard-shell alternatives because they are made with less durable material, so a soft shell might be the better option if you are on a budget.
In terms of the cons of a soft-shell cooler, its main one would be its lack of durability compared to a harder one. Similarly, you may not be able to carry nearly as much as you would in a hard-shell case with a handle and wheels. While they are more compact than the standard hard-shell cooler, they are only temporary food storage solutions because hard-shelled cases are built with more robust cooling technology.
Hard Shell Coolers
If you are planning a longer trip and are looking for something a little more durable and sustainable, then perhaps the hard-shell cooler is the right cooler for you. Made with either stainless steel or hard plastic, the hard-shell variants can hold a lot more within them and keep them cooler for longer periods.
Many of them have handles and wheels, making them ideal for storage, and with their hard exterior, they are more durable than their soft-shell counterparts. One thing to note, particularly with the metal coolers, is that they can be pretty heavy. So be sure to have a vehicle or some mode of transport if you want to commit to a heavier cooler.
Plastic coolers are becoming more popular, however, because metal retains heat for longer than plastic does, meaning that your food or drinks could be at more risk of spoiling until moved to a cooler place.
What Should a Camping Cooler have?
There are a few features that a great camping cooler will have; not every cooler on the list below has all of them, but they will have some key features attached.
- Security – For hard-shell coolers, this comes down to the cooler having a tight lid that is well sealed when closed. Security will relate to how well-sealed the food or drink is for soft-coolers when zipped up in the soft-shelled cooler bag.
- Storage – Storage capability will come down to personal preference and what you need the space for. If you are going on a long trip and have many people coming with you, then your best value play is buying a large cooler together. In comparison, smaller gatherings or trips will only require a cooler with smaller storage capabilities.
- Cooling Capability – A cooler that can keep food alive for three days will be better than a cooler that will keep food alive for two days. Do your research, and depending on what you need the cooler for, decide how long is long enough when it comes to cooling your food.
- Price – As with anything, price is always an important factor. The beauty of buying a cooler for a trip with friends or family is that you can all split the cost of the cooler. So if a cooler is $200, that will look a little scary, but if bought between ten people, then $20 is not bad at all!
1. Yeti Tundra 35 Cooler
If you are looking for a near-perfect all-around cooler that can hold a lot, maintain freshness for days, and is somewhat portable, then the Tundra is for you. It is a little smaller than some other coolers in the price range, but its build quality and its sleek design make it a viable option. It has 3-inch Polyurethane insulation, which can keep ice cool for up to 10 days, and at 25 pounds in weight, it won’t break your back either!
The lid is kept tight and secure with the aid of a rubber sealing gasket around the rim and two rubber latches on the side. It is also bear-resistant, which might be a little unnecessary, but makes it even cooler (pardon the pun), and it has a convenient dry goods basket too that separates your food from your drinks below.
With the ability to hold 20 cans easily, you and the guys can enjoy a day or two away with a few drinks. If you want something larger, they have a 65 QT variant available too, but for $249, the 35QT might be expensive enough.
2. Pelican Products ProGear Elite Cooler
With a thick Polyurethane insulation layer, food and drink can last for up to 10 days in this behemoth of a cooler. The design is rugged and stylish, blending molded handles with air-tight press and pull latches and a highly durable hard case. There is a food drain and an attachment that links to a hose so you can clean the case hassle free whenever necessary.
Although it is heavy at 33 pounds, it is highly durable and is shock resistant and bear proof too! They actually have a video of two bears trying to get into the cooler on their website! Perhaps more important than the fact that it is bear proof is that it comes with a combination lock, so it is also neighbor proof!
With a lifetime warranty, the ability to hold up to 70 quarts, and its incredible durability and storage capability, it does make the $350 you’ll need to pay worth it, but maybe share the cost with some friends.
3. Igloo Trailmate Journey Cooler
If you or the gang are going on longer treks, hikes, or trips, then this all-terrain cooler by Igloo might just be the answer to your prayers. Made with a sporty and rugged look, the cooler has large wheels, a convenient glide handle that locks horizontally, allowing you to pull your load easier, and rugged grips on the bottom that can attach to a bike. Capable of holding over 110 12oz cans, the cooler has a bottle opener, cup holders, and an exterior storage tray. The cooler retails for about $200, but it is regularly sold out on the Igloo site, so be sure to keep an eye on when it is in stock.
4. Stanley 30QT Adventure Cooler
At only 30 Quarts, the adventure cooler by Stanley won’t be setting any records for storage, but the cooler is extra tall and can accommodate 2-litre bottles, longneck bottles and large spirit bottles. Its hard-shelled construction makes it durable, and its insulation allows for drinks to stay cool for up to four days. Its leak-free construction ensures that there will be no accidents, and the lid is fastened with plastic locks. You can also use the cooler as a stool or seat, and the handle is sturdy, so when you need to carry the cooler, it will feel secure regardless of the load inside.
5. The Wooly Cooler
Arguably the most attractive cooler on the list and indeed on the market, the Wooly Mammoth cooler blends a unique style with high-quality cooling features. It is eco-conscious and insulated with biodegradable wool allowing for 3 days of cooling, and its bamboo lid closes with a tackle box style hinge for maximum security.
Its natural material and insulation properties are not the only standout feature. You get a real bang for your buck by weighing only 20 pounds when empty and holding up to 80 12oz cans. The outside is made of natural matte aluminum. Its stylish bamboo handles give it a modern and chic appearance; it has its own bamboo cutting board, making it perfect for camping and hunting.