The Best Coolers for Your Money (and Drinks)
Nothing pairs better with warm weather than a cold drink.
Depending on where you live and how your area is dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, your options for going outside to enjoy the sunshine with a group of friends might be limited or just not a good idea. But even a cold beer or soda in your backyard, front porch or fire escape can be refreshing. And since there are few greater buzzkills than warm brew or continually having to go to your refrigerator to re-up while doing some outside cooking, it's worthwhile to invest in a cooler to keep your drinks cool.
Of course, owning a quality cooler that fits all of your beverages and food comes most in handy if you're bringing your picnic to public parks and outdoor spaces. If you're using a community grill that you can cook on, just remember to clean it first, obviously, and to bring your own foil. You should also check to see if you need to sign up to use it ahead of time.
Why buy a good cooler, as opposed to a super cheap styrofoam one? Well, the latter tend to leak or break very easily, and they are so bad for the environment that some local governments have starting banning them. So, yes, it's worth spending just a little more, for the sake of for the coldness of your drinks, as well as Mother Earth and your barbecue party. As part of our ongoing series of product recommendations from experts, we talked to recreation and lifestyle bloggers, as well as people who use coolers regularly for work and play. Here are their recommendations for the best coolers.
Best Cooler Brands Overall
YETI Tundra 45 Cooler: $299.98
If you're planning on going for a longer trip (maybe not soon, but at some point in the future), and you need to keep everything cold for several days, Paul Johnson, the founder of the Minneapolis-based recreation and gear-review website NorthOutdoors, says you can't go wrong with the Yeti brand.
"With 33 liters of carrying capacity, this is the cooler that you throw in the back of your SUV or truck for a long road trip or a night at a drive-in campsite," he says. "Yetis are bulletproof with the polyfoam mold, and the seal for the cover is airtight and keeps stuff cold for a long time. We've never had issues with things warming before they should."
Pelican Elite 30 Quart Cooler: $230.95
If you need a big, high-end cooler for work or some other reason (some people take grilling and outdoors life very seriously), then the Pelican is about as fancy as you're going to get, according to Adi Donna, a Los Angeles-based "mompreneur," interior designer and the founder of the design site Cozy Down Home.
“It is included in the category of heavy-duty coolers because of having two inches of polyurethane insulation along with a 360-degree freezer-grade gasket that supports extreme ice retention. The thing I like most is its leak-proof plug to drain the melted ice and the built-in stainless steel bottle opener,” she says. “The over-molded carry handle, 3-inch locking latches and reinforced lockable hasp makes it easy to handle and favorable among others. Last but not least, you spend one time and enjoy a life-time guarantee by Pelican.”
Grizzly 20 Cooler: $199.99
Werner Jorgensen works for the Danish heating company Heatxperts, which manufactures industrial blankets and heat drums. He knows how to get things hot, but he also appreciates the need to cool it sometimes, which is why he likes the Grizzly Cooler brand.
"It offers a comparatively impressive ice life and can keep things cool for at least 10 days. It is made of durable material and can withstand all the hard times that users throw at it," he says. "The cooler has a long life and the user can use it for as long as they can go with it. It is environment friendly and has pressure-injected insulation, molded-in hinge with a stainless steel pin."
Best Cooler for the Money: Small, Soft-Sided
Mountainsmith The Sixer Cooler: $29.95
Sometimes a product is designed for a fairly narrow purpose and executes that purpose flawlessly. And if you're simply looking for something small to keep your hooch cold, Johnson likes the Mountainsmith Sixer.
"It is a smaller, soft-sided cooler," he says, and the company "named because it perfectly holds a six-pack along with ice," What's more, "a comfortable shoulder strap makes carrying easy, or you can remove the strap and stow this inside a larger backpack during a longer hike."
Best Cooler for the Money: Large
Igloo Polar Cooler $82.70, 120-Quart: $82.70
There are plenty of relatively cheap coolers that can keep things chill over a long period of time. James Gascon is the Los Angeles-based founder of the tool review blog Rxtooler.com, and he likes the Igloo because "it has an ultratherm body which is insulated and the lid of the cooler helps to keep the ice for 5 days at 90 degrees Fahrenheit," he says. "Its handles are tie-down straps and a safe lid closure, and the drain plug is easy and comfortable to use."
Best Cooler for the Money: Lightweight
Igloo BMX 25 Quart Cooler: From $62.70
One problem with coolers is that if you fill them with ice and beer and food and such, they're going to get heavy. To make it easier on your back, Gascon recommends Igloo BMX, which is available in lighter sizes if that is what you're looking for.
"It is built with a blow-molded reinforced base to provide protection and strength. It is light to carry and the ice retention time of Igloo BMX is 4 to 5 days," he says. "The hardware is of high quality and has good performance. The best thing about this cooler is the installation of UV inhibitors which protect the cooler against sun damage."
Best Cooler (and Warmer) for Car Camping and Tailgating
Wagan 12V Cooler/Warmer - 24L: $81.31
Sometimes you need things cold. Sometimes you need things hot. You might need it both ways over the course of a weekend. If this sounds like you, then Donna recommends the Wagan 12V Cooler/Warmer.
"I like it because of its generous capacity and dual functionality. You only need to plug it in the 12-volt outlet. It makes food cool in 30 minutes up to 36 Degree Fahrenheit and warms up to 140 Degree Fahrenheit,' she says. "You can place up to 27 cans in it. Moreover, a mini indicator is present at the back that turns on the light according to its current functionality, cooler or warmer. "
More From Money:
The Best Mattress Deals Right Now — and How to Buy a Bed Online
The Best Running Shoes for Your Money, According to Experienced Marathon Runners
The Best Power Tools for Your Money, According to Home Improvement Pros