From camping to picnics, coolers are a must-have accessory. We test some outdoor, transportable refrigeration systems to see which can keep our food freshest for longest.
Once you’ve loaded your cooler with food and drinks, it will be heavy, so find a cooler with an empty weight that is as light as possible.
Look for easy-to-grip handles.
Wheels and a retractable handle allow for easier transport, especially with large cooler. Make sure the wheels are durable.
In order for your food to stay cold, the lid must fit snugly. Look for a hinged lid with a lock for best fit.
There are a variety of different cooler sizes for you to consider. Think about what you need it for and how far you have to carry it.
Food stays colder for longer if the cooler is full. A partially-packed cooler warms up faster. Consider two small-size or mid-size coolers instead of one large one
- Coolers made from soft material are great for a quick trip to the park or beach but they lose their cool fairly quickly, so they’re not as good for a longer camping trip.
Food should be kept below 4°C (40°F) to ensure freshness. Relying on smell and taste isn’t necessarily a safe way to test your food, so consider buying a food thermometer.
It’s best to keep meats in a separate cooler than other food, so any juice that leaks out of the meat packages won’t contaminate other items.
We loaded up these test coolers then we set off for our own stylish camping trip to see how well each worked:
- Igloo Quick & Cool: $39.99
- Thermos Ice Bound (soft-sided): $45.00
- Igloo MaxCold (keeps ice for 5 days): $49.99
- Rubbermaid Endurance (keeps ice for 5 days): $54.99
- Coleman Xtreme (keeps ice for 5 days): $54.99
- Coleman Stainless Steel: $139.99
Our tests and results include:
Hot Weather Test
To test the coolers that claim to keep ice for 5 days, we set them up in a tropical climate without opening them for 5 days:
Each of the three coolers that made the claim performed as promised.
Impressively, even the Igloo Quick & Cool and the Thermos Ice Bound, which didn’t officially make the 5-day claim, still had some ice left.
We set up an obstacle course, including beach terrain, to test how each cooler was to carry, pull, roll and drag.
- The Coleman Xtreme was easiest to maneuver on all accounts.
- The handle on the Igloo MaxCold came up a bit short, causing the cooler hit our legs as we walked.
OUR TOP PICK
We chose the Coleman Xtreme for its larger pulling handle, unstoppable wheels, and handy deep cup holders. A close second was the Rubbermaid Endurance for its great double-door access feature.