Follow these guidelines to pick out the best cooler for your needs.

Although most people have used a cooler before, this does not mean that everyone knows how to buy the best coolers, or how to decide which one is the right kind of cooler for their needs. Coolers come in many different shapes, sizes and colors; different levels of convenience and temperature stability; and different levels of portability. A quick examination of the coolers available in an outdoor recreation store, or online, will quickly show you that the variety of coolers available is probably greater than one would expect.

 The first question to ask yourself when picking out a cooler is, “for what purpose are you going to use the cooler?”, or “what need must be filled by this cooler?” These are some of the more common uses of coolers:

  • A cooler that will keep some left over lasagna cool at your desk until lunch
  • A cooler that will keep some cans of pop cold during an outdoor barbecue at your house
  • A cooler that will keep some snack foods and drinks cool for a long car drive
  • A cooler that will hold and keep all of your drinks ice cold for a five day camping trip
  • A cooler that is easy to transport to the beach, with plenty of cold drinks for the family

 The most important considerations when choosing a cooler are:

  • How long does it need to stay cool?
  • How much does it need to hold?
  • How portable does it need to be?

 Here are some other considerations, as well as some different kinds of coolers:

 Hard case versus collapsible coolers

Collapsible coolers are very convenient. You can keep them folded up in a cupboard, or in a suitcase, and pull them out when you need them. The downsides are that they are not as durable as a hard case cooler, so they won’t last as long. Also, food inside can get damaged by other luggage that is pushed up against it. Furthermore, hard case coolers will usually keep food cold longer. However, there are many excellent collapsible coolers that will keep food and drinks cold all day and into the next day.

 Wheeled Coolers

Having wheels on a cooler can help a lot with mobility. Look for a cooler with large wheels that are made out of rubber, not plastic. With these kinds of wheel syou should be able to transport your cooler over rugged ground and sand with relative ease. Also, It is easier to transport your wheeled cooler if it has a longer retractable metal handle, rather than the short flip-up plastic handles that are so common, particularly if you are very tall or have to transport the cooler a good distance.

 Cooler Sizes

Coleman 62-Quart Xtreme Wheeled CoolerSmall (under 32 oz.), medium (32-54 oz.), and large (over 64 oz.) coolers vary in more than just size. The small and medium coolers tend to stay cool longer than large ones. Also, obviously, they are easier to transport, easier to fit into a crowded trunk or back seat and tend to cost less. However, some large coolers come with extra-thick insulation, including in the lid, which keeps them cool for a very long time. The Coleman 62-Quart Xtreme Wheeled Cooler is an excellent example of this. This excellent cooler can hold 85 cans of beverages with ice and keep them cold for five days, even in hot weather!

 Thermoelectric Coolers

These are a type of cooler that “cheats” a little. Not really, of course. As with all coolers, they are an enclosed case with insulation to keep the cold in and the heat out. However, much like a mini-fridge, they also plug in to an electrical source, rather than using ice. The best kinds can plug into a 12-v lighter outlet in your car. It is usually recommended that you also include ice packs.

 Patio Coolers

Oakland Living Steel 80qt Patio Cooler with CartThere are coolers, and then there are patio coolers. The patio cooler was designed for backyard entertaining. These can be made out of a variety of materials, but the main thing is they are designed to be decorative, rather than mobile. They look more like a mini-bar than a cooler and have a more permanent appearance to them. Patio coolers tend to be more expensive, around $150 for a decent one. However, if your backyard is setup for visually pleasing outdoor entertainment, a patio cooler would be a great addition for you.

 Cooler Bags

Custom Leather Craft 1540 14 inch Bigmouth Cooler BagA cooler bag is probably exactly what you’d expect – an insulated bag that keeps things cool on the inside. This is a whole category of coolers in itself, with different shapes, sizes and purposes. The most common types look like a large gym bag or back pack, though there are cooler tote bags, and lunch bag sizes as well.


No Ice Coolers

These are usually similar in structure to cooler bags. They key feature these offer is that, instead of ice, they come with liners that, when pre-frozen, will keep the contents cold all day. The cooler is a bag, meant to be flexible. Amazingly, the bag retains its flexibility, even when frozen.

 Styrofoam Coolers

Foam containers are most frequently used for shipping purposes. If you have to ship temperature-sensitive contents, a Styrofoam cooler will usually fit inside a corrugated box easily, without adding much weight. Another benefit of Styrofoam coolers is that they tend to stay cold better when in direct sunlight than other kinds.

 Some other helpful features to look for when selecting a cooler are:

  • A bottom drain, rather than side drain. This keeps you from having to tilt up a heavy cooler to drain out the melted ice.
  • If you have young children, you may want a cooler with a child-safety latch on the door.
  • The most popular brands of coolers are Coleman, Rubbermaid, Igloo, Oakland Living and Yeti