While there are a litany of camping coolers out there which seemingly equate price point with quality, the fact is that you can find a fantastic camping cooler with all of the bells and whistles (and capacity) you need for a much more palatable price point. In fact, there are plenty of budget options out there which stack up quite nicely with the most expensive camping coolers in the marketplace.
Rather than leaving you to do the guesswork, we’ve compiled this handy primer on everything you need to know about camping coolers – what to consider when buying a cooler, how to pack one and maximize its space, and a definitive list of the best camping coolers out there to make the most of your hard-earned money. Basically, we’ve compiled the best camping coolers for the money because we know you don’t want to overpay when buying a cooler for camping.
At the end of this article, you’ll have enough information to buy the right camping cooler for the right price – something which could save you tens of dollars for filling up said cooler with all kinds of tasty food and beverage goodies.
Things To Consider When Buying A Camping Cooler
The purchase of a camping cooler is a bit different than the purchase of a cooler for family barbecues or gameday tailgates. While some of the key features of a quality cooler remain the same, there’s also some unique factors you need to consider when buying a cooler for your camping excursions.
For one, a great camping cooler should have some type of locking mechanism for safeguarding food from inquisitive animals wandering the outskirts of the campsite. Furthermore, a locking device on a camping cooler is a must if you’re bringing alcohol along and there’s children camping with you or in an adjacent campsite.
While the capacity and weight of a cooler is a usual consideration for any type of use, it’s that much more important to take into account for a camping cooler. This is especially true if you’re headed to a remote campground for multiple days with no city amenities close to restock food and beverage supplies. And of course, lugging around a heavy and unwieldy cooler to and from a campsite (especially without a rolling function) is just bad planning.
Be careful of overpaying for camping-specific coolers which use outdoors jargon to sell a normal cooler for an inflated price point. There are plenty of great coolers out there for the money which eschew the smoke and mirrors and deliver a great product for a fair price.
Also, consider what food and beverage items you’re planning to bring along for your camping excursions beforehand and find a camping cooler which is built to keep them at the ideal temperature for proper storage. This is essential for meats packed for long camping trips. A proper camping cooler will have the right cooling specs to keep perishables from spoiling and potentially causing serious illness to the campers in your party.
How To Properly Pack A Cooler
With these 9 simple steps in mind, you’ll go from a camping cooler novice to a wizard of maximizing space and minimizing improper food/beverage storage concerns.
- Before your trip, leave your cooler in the coldest spot of your house or outside overnight. The colder your cooler is to start, the longer ice will stay ice inside of it.
- Freeze meats which you plan to cook later in the camping trip and let them thaw in the preceding days. Freeze your water and non-carbonated beverages as well.
- Create dense ice blocks (with the help of Tupperware in your freezer) as an alternative to ice cubes which melt faster.
- Pack everything in logical layers, with your ice blocks at the bottom of the cooler. Use cardboard or another divider on top of the ice to keep food from falling into the ice.
- Only drain water from your cooler on longer trips to preserve the integrity of the remaining ice. On short trips, the water won’t be a problem and will actually keep things like canned beverages colder.
- When packing perishables, consider an extra bit of insulation such as Reflectix or an old chair cushion pad. It will provide an extra layer of protection between your food and the sun.
- Keep the cooler closed and latched completely when you’re not using it. The tighter it’s closed, the more likely your food and ice will last.
- Stay organized. Delineate sections of the cooler for drinks, meats, vegetables, etc. It will be easier to rifle through this way and prevents potential cross-contamination.
- If you’re bringing beer and other alcoholic beverages, consider a separate cooler. Beer takes up a ton of space, firstly. Secondly, you’ll keep the ice for your food intact longer.
The Best Camping Coolers For The Money
1) Coleman Xtreme Cooler
- Xtreme Technology; Insulated lid and extra wall insulation keep ice up to 5 days in temperatures as high as 90°F
- High Capacity: Holds Up to 100 Cans
- HAVE-A-SEAT LID: Closed lid supports up to 250 lb.
- Cup Holders: Molded Into the Lid to Keep Drinks Close and Prevent Spilling
Why You Should Buy This Cooler
The Coleman Xtreme Cooler is one of the most well-rounded camping coolers we’ve ever tested. It balances fantastic cooling tech with unparalleled durability at a price point that will save you money for other camping essentials. With a capacity for 100 cans of beer or the equivalent stash of food, you’ll be able to amply protect a fantastic bounty for plenty of camping trips to come.
- The Xtreme cooling technology of this standout cooler promises to keep ice intact for five days at temperatures of 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
- The comfort grip handles are amazing with a pinch-free positive stop design. For those who have been pinched by a rogue cooler, you’ll know just how wonderful this is.
- One of the easiest camping coolers out there to clean with easy-to-wipe smooth internal/external surfaces and a channel drain which is resistant to untimely leakage.
- Some customers have questioned the overall durability of the handles and have taken to removing them for rope or another carrying method.
- The other plastic moving parts of this cooler can be quick to wear out with improper storage or extended applied pressure.
- ALL ABOUT THE EXTREMES – The RTIC Hard Cooler is designed for impact resistance, durability, and long-lasting ice retention. Perfect for anywhere adventure...
- 3-INCHES OF INSULATION – With up to 3 inches of closed-cell foam insulation, this insulated cooler is all about extremes. Your food and beverages will stay...
- LONG-LASTING ICE RETENTION – This portable cooler is made for portability with heavy-duty rope handles that allow you to take it anywhere. Keep your drinks,...
- MULTIPLE USES – It’s the perfect ice cooler, drink cooler, travel cooler, beer cooler, can cooler, camping cooler, beach cooler, boat cooler, or barbecue...
Why You Should Buy This Cooler
While this is one of the priciest entries on our list, it’s here for good reason. The RTIC brand has been blowing up in the outdoors world for a reason, they are built just like an expensive brand (e.g. the Yeti coolers) but cost significantly less. Performance-wise, these do just as well as the top brands in the cooler game. In our experience, they work just the same but there are others out there who think the RTIC even outperforms the competition. For a longer term investment, we cannot recommend this cooler enough!
- Roto-Molded construction built tough to last and keep your cooler colder for longer periods than any on this list
- Stylish and built tough; you can stand on top of this thing!
- Leakproof! Not even the expensive Yeti coolers are completely leakproof if you tip them over.
- Offers an add-on tray for $9 to keep some of your cooler items elevated and off the ice
- This is a little bit more expensive than others on the list
- This cooler can be heavier than others on the list due to its extra-insulated design
3) Igloo 120 Quart Polar Cooler
- Ultratherm insulated body and lid keep ice for 5 days at 90 degrees Fahrenheit
- Reinforced swing-up handles with tie-down loop feature
- Dual snap-fit latches secure lid closure
- Threaded drain plug for hose hook up and easy draining
Why You Should Buy This Cooler
If you’re going camping for a long stint or have a large party of campers to feed and provide drinks for, the mammoth 120 quart capacity of this Igloo gem will do the trick quite well. That’s fantastic considering everything will remain perfectly cold thanks to this cooler’s Ultratherm insulated body which can keep ice solid for five days in 90 degree weather.
- Combination of large capacity and impressive durability makes this the perfect extended-life cooler for the serious camper.
- The dual snap-fit latches keep the lid down tight and ensure that everything stays as cool as possible for the duration of your trip.
- The reinforced swing-up handles are some of the strongest handles featured on any camping cooler currently for sale.
- Lacks some of the extra luxury features and perks of other coolers on this list such as can holders.
- Several customers have lodged complaints about the plastic lid hinges. On the plus side, you can order stainless steel replacement hinges directly from Igloo.
4) Coleman Xtreme Rolling Cooler
- Xtreme Technology; Insulated lid and extra wall insulation keep ice up to 5 days in temperatures as high as 90°F.Number of Pieces : 1, Batteries Included : No
- High capacity: Holds up to 84 cans
- Heavy-duty wheels: Effortless rolling over any terrain
- Have-a-seat lid: Closed lid supports up to 250 pounds
Why You Should Buy This Cooler
The armored budget vehicle of camping coolers (and rolling cousin of the #1 entry on our list), the Coleman Xtreme Rolling Cooler is built to last. Whether it’s the heavy-duty wheels which can navigate over bumpy terrain with ease or the insulated lid which can withstand a 250-pound person sitting on it when closed, everything about this cooler screams durability and value – all for one of the lowest price points you’re gonna find!
- Double-wall insulation and insulated lid can keep ice intact for five days at temperatures of 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Features molded cup holders which are built deeper to prevent spillage.
- The perfect rolling beer cooler for any camper looking to entertain a group of friends. It holds up to 84 cans and keeps them cold and safe.
- Plastic parts tend to jiggle and feel insecure upon first use. However, that doesn’t seem to inhibit their function too much.
- Slanted back wall of the cooler and wheel wells take space from the inside of the cooler, making it a bit of a creative stacking job if you’re going to fill it to the brim.
5) Igloo BMX 52 Quart Cooler
- Heavy duty blow-molded construction with reinforced base for increased strength and protection
- Extremely durable yet lightweight with proven 4-5 day ice retention at 90°F
- UV inhibitors protect the cooler against sun damage for extended life. Capacity: 83 12-ounce cans, 52 quarts (49 liters)
- Rust-resistant, stainless-steel hinge rods and hardware provide extended performance
Why You Should Buy This Cooler
A bear-resistant cooler which marries a lightweight design with reinforced protection from the elements and animal intruders, the Igloo BMX 52 Quart Cooler comes with rubberized latches which secure the lid extremely tightly for keeping things as cold as can be. This is the third Igloo cooler on this list for good reason– they simply make quality products that won’t break your bank.
- Reinforced with a blow-molded construction which can hold up against a hefty amount of applied weight and pressure.
- Has a bunch of neat little helpful features such as a fish ruler and tie-down loops. In addition, the drain plug is compatible with most garden hoses.
- A fantastic option from a portability standpoint thanks to its ergonomic handles which are reinforced with stainless steel supports and come complete with rubber grips.
- Can be a little bit troublesome when it comes to keeping ice on long camping trips in hotter areas.
- The aluminum base holds up nicely, but it comes off as a bit flimsy.
Expensive vs. Cheap Insulated Cooler
While it’s not essential that you buy the most expensive camping cooler on the market for maximum effect, this isn’t to say you should skimp and buy the cheapest insulated cooler you can find.
It’s true that some pricey insulated coolers are simply more expensive because of how they’re marketed, but other expensive insulated coolers have added features which will be very useful if you’re a serial camper who isn’t buying a camping cooler for a one-off.
For one, some of the best expensive insulated coolers out there are built from much more durable materials. A cheap insulated cooler made of cheaper plastic isn’t going to last long if it’s exposed to the heavy rays of the sun over multiple trips (especially if it’s not stored inside when not in use).
Conversely, some of the better pricier insulated coolers are made of reinforced materials and are built to withstand the elements in a way that will reward your initial investment with a longer usage life.
In addition to added durability, some of the more expensive insulated coolers out there provide some fantastic added perks like tighter locking features, a sturdy design built to act as an added chair around the campfire, cup holders, etc.
It always pays to do your homework before going for the cheapest or most expensive camping cooler option. That, or you can just reference this awesomely handy article and save yourself the trouble!
Final Thoughts On The Best Camping Cooler For The Money
The five entries on our list of the best camping coolers for your money offer fantastic storage benefits which far outstrip the price you’ll pay. While you may get away with an inadequate cooler for one short camping trip, serious camping aficionados need the best of the best to ensure proper food refrigeration and to keep the cold ones cold for all the fun ahead.
Don’t get duped. Grab one of the five camping coolers we’ve highlighted and get the best camping cooler bang for your buck.