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|Top Pick: Yeti Tundra||
|Tundra 35||20 lbs|
|Runner-up: RTIC Hard Cooler||
|RTIC 45||25 lbs|
|Best Value: Igloo BMX||
|BMX 25||11 lbs 4.6 oz|
|Coleman Steel Belted Cooler||
|54 qt||15 lbs 11 oz|
|Coleman Xtreme 5 Cooler||
|70 qt||11 lbs 6 oz|
We put 5 of the best camping coolers through months of field testing and rigorous experiments to test their insulation, durability, and camp-worthiness. The premium Yeti Tundra is our Top Pick. Although expensive, it was the top performer in all of our categories.
RTIC’s Hard Cooler finished as a close runner-up, lagging only slightly behind the Yeti in most of our tests. It’s worth a close look if the Yeti is out of your price range.
For the budget minded, the Igloo BMX 25 is our Best Value pick. It isn’t as spacious or durable as the Yeti or RTIC, but it’s a great drink cooler that kept our beer ice cold during our weekend camping trips.
Read on for our full reviews and our tips on choosing the right camping cooler for your needs.
Top Pick: Yeti Tundra
Many a time have we wandered through our local REI and, upon seeing the price tag on a Yeti, wondered, “Why would someone spend that much on a cooler?”
It turns out the answer is simple: because it’s the best. In all of our tests, the Tundra was the winner.
As far as durability, there isn’t much on this cooler that can break. With the rotomolded design, it’s essentially two large pieces joined together by a heavy-duty hinge at the back — which we don’t think we could break if we tried.
The rope handles are tied tight to bolted attachment points, and the rubber gasket inside as well as the rubber feet on the bottom are attached securely enough that we couldn’t pry them off.
Every component of this cooler, from the bolts holding the rope handles in place to the rubber latches, feels well-manufactured. The materials look and feel high-quality.
We’ve tested thousands of dollars of outdoor gear over the years, and we’ve developed an eye for quality. While testing the Tundra, it became clear: Yeti didn’t cut any corners when making this cooler.
Considering that the Tundra product line is certified as bear-resistant by the IGBC (when used with bolts or padlocks), we’re not surprised by its durability.
Also unsurprisingly, the Yeti came in first in our insulation test. We dumped 20 pounds of ice into it and after 48 hours only 3.5 liters of water drained out.
We liked that the Yeti came with a dry goods basket. Since you’re paying a hefty premium for this cooler, it’s nice to get a few extras.
As for drawbacks, the Tundra is heavy. We tested the Tundra 35 which weighs 20 pounds when empty. Still, the handles were comfortable to hold and relatively easy for one person to carry. The rope handles made carrying this cooler with two people a breeze, although the hard rubber could be a little uncomfortable when the cooler was fully loaded.
Overall, we found little to say against the Yeti Tundra. It’s expensive, but if you want a top-of-the-line camping cooler, this one is well worth the investment.
- Size Tested: Tundra 35
- Available Sizes: 35, 45, 65, 75, 105, 110, 125, 160, 210, 250, 350
- Empty Weight (Tundra 35): 20 lbs
- Features: IGBC certified bear-resistant when used with bolts or padlocks, dry goods basket included, drain
Runner-up: RTIC Hard Cooler
RTIC makes a rotomolded cooler very similar in design to the Yeti Tundra but with a noticeably lower price tag.
We were impressed with this cooler. It performed respectably in our ice retention test, though not quite as well as we had hoped. 4.5 liters of water drained out after leaving 20 pounds of ice inside for 48 hours. That’s a liter more than the Yeti.
RTIC bills its cooler as bear-resistant, but it isn’t certified bear-resistant by the IGBC as of this writing. Still, the RTIC barely flinched at our durability tests. We have a hard time imagining a bear getting through its defenses, especially with padlocks through the corners.
The only place where it lost points for durability was in the rubber components. The latches had noticeably more give than those of the Yeti. They held the lid securely, but we could pry it open a few millimeters, which wasn’t the case with the Yeti.
The rubber gasket and rubber feet weren’t quite as securely attached, and we felt that both could have been pried off with some effort. This may or may not be an issue with long-term durability, but the slight difference in quality compared to the Yeti was noticeable.
Although the handles are made of a foam that feels cheaper than the Yeti’s rubber, they were actually more comfortable to carry. We wouldn’t call this cooler easy to carry for one person, especially given how heavy it was when loaded up, but it’s manageable. With two people, it’s a breeze.
RTIC coolers are by no means cheap. With a price tag that’s still well into the triple digits, the RTIC 45 didn’t quite make the cut for our Best Value award. Still, if that Yeti price tag is pushing your budget, this is a top cooler for camping that’s nearly as good as our Top Pick for much less money.
- Size Tested: RTIC 45
- Available Sizes: 20, 45, 65, 110, 145
- Empty Weight (RTIC 45): 25 lbs
- Features: Drain
Best Value: Igloo BMX
The Igloo BMX comes in 25-quart and 52-quart sizes. The BMX 25 that we tested was an excellent drink cooler, perfect for packing along extra brews on a camping trip or leaving in the car to have some cold drinks after an adventure.
We liked that the BMX wasn’t as heavy and bulky as the Yeti and RTIC. The top handle made the cooler easy for just one person to carry, even when it was fully loaded.
The BMX did exceptionally well in our insulation tests, finishing just behind the Yeti. We attribute some of its better performance to it being the smallest cooler in our test, but we were still impressed.
During testing, we set out for a weekend adventure with an 18-pack of beer and about 15 pounds of ice in the BMX. At the end of the weekend, we still had a small amount of ice left. We were pleasantly surprised by how well the Igloo insulated.
The BMX finished toward the bottom of the pack in our spill and durability testing. While the cooler’s body and latches felt solidly constructed and held up well, some of the plastic components weren’t quite as well-made. In particular, we felt like the hinges on the lid would be easy to break if the cooler were pushed open too far.
The lack of a drain is also a bummer, although the 52-quart version does have a drain.
Overall, the BMX is a solid cooler at a great price. Even the 52-quart model can be found for a third of what our other award winners retail for. The Best Value award is well deserved.
- Size Tested: BMX 25
- Available Sizes: 25, 52
- Empty Weight (BMX 25): 11.29 lbs
- Features: Fish ruler
Reviews of the 2 Other Camping Coolers We Tested
We loved the sleek, retro look of the Coleman Steel Belted Cooler. But while this cooler impressed in some ways, it suffered from a disappointing lack of durability in some of its smaller components.
In our insulation test, the Steel Belted Cooler held onto ice for nearly as long as the pricier and burlier RTIC 45. If you’re on a budget and insulation is your top priority, this cooler is not a bad choice.
It’s also more portable than the Yeti or RTIC. The cooler’s small size is easy to move around with just one person, even when fully loaded.
While the steel of the body felt solid, stable, and durable, the rest of the cooler was slightly lacking in build quality. The biggest issue was the latch. While we initially thought that the swivel mechanism was super cool, the plastic component on the lid that it latches into popped out with very little force.
Nothing broke, and we could simply press it back into place, but each time we did this it got noticeably looser. By the end of our testing, it had loosened to the point that simply lifting on the handle was enough to pop the lid open, making the latch essentially useless.
The side handles aren’t the most durable, either. It didn’t take much pressure to hear the rivets straining. There were also a couple of spots on the cooler where it appeared that the insulation (or something) oozed out from the seams. It wasn’t a major issue, but it also wasn’t a reassuring thing to see on a cooler.
It has a drain on one side, but other than that, the Coleman Steel Belted Cooler doesn’t have much in the way of features.
We liked this cooler and thought it insulated well for the price point. It nearly won our Best Value award, but we were disappointed by the durability issues with the latch and the poor quality of the components and manufacturing.
- Size Tested: 54 qts
- Available Sizes: 54 qts
- Empty Weight: 15 lb 11 oz
- Features: Drain
The Coleman Xtreme finished dead last in all of our tests. But it still has some redeemable qualities.
What we did like about this cooler was the large volume. The thin walls meant that it didn’t take up much more space than the smaller 45-liter RTIC, despite having roughly 50% more room inside.
The Xtreme’s light weight also made it relatively easy to carry, though we couldn’t get past the awkward plastic handles. They felt frighteningly fragile when carrying the cooler. We had to resort to an awkward waddle when carrying it with two people due to their short design.
The insulation was better than we expected, but still not on par with the premium coolers in our test. Coleman claims that the Xtreme holds ice for 5 days. We could see that being the case only if it were filled with a lot of ice.
In our ice retention test, about 15 of the 20 pounds we put in it had melted after 48 hours. Don’t be surprised if all the ice you put inside the Xtreme melts during a weekend camping trip.
Although this cooler was the cheapest in our test, the Igloo BMX can be found for not much more. The Xtreme will do the trick for backyard cookouts, or for someone who doesn’t store much perishable food at camp. But we think that, for most people, it’s worth the investment to get a cooler with a latching lid, more durability, and better insulation.
- Size Tested: 70 qt
- Available Sizes (qts): 28, 62, 70, 100
- Empty Weight (70 qt): 11 lb 6 oz
- Features: Molded drink holders, drain, fish ruler
Here are the best camping coolers:
- Yeti Tundra
- RTIC Hard Cooler
- Igloo BMX 25
- Coleman Steel Belted Cooler
- Coleman Xtreme 5 Cooler
How to Choose the Best Camping Cooler for Your Needs
Types of Coolers
Hard-sided coolers are the most common type of cooler used for camping. They combine durability with quality insulation, they usually have a drain to keep your food from getting soggy, and (an extremely important consideration) they can double as a camp seat.
Rotomolded coolers are a subset of hard-sided coolers. Rotomolded is short for rotationally molded, a process in which heated plastic is slowly rotated inside of a mold, allowing it to form into a shape of perfectly uniform thickness. The result is an incredibly durable and high-performing cooler.
Generally only high-end coolers are rotomolded. The process is time-consuming and expensive. The disadvantages (other than the premium price tags) are that rotomolded coolers tend to be heavier and bulkier than other coolers.
Soft-sided coolers are perfect for carrying drinks or lunch. They have the benefits of portability and lightness.
The thought of a soft-sided cooler might bring to mind your old soggy lunch box, but modern soft-sided coolers have come a long way. Many premium models are fully leak-proof and can hold their own against the insulation of hard-sided coolers. They’re perfect as a supplemental drink cooler or for toting snacks on short camping trips. They shine where portability and convenience are priorities.
Electric coolers are basically portable mini-fridges, and they’re best for those who are truly serious about their cooling needs. Electric coolers are expensive and only make sense if you have a generator running full-time during your camping trips.
Size & Capacity
Coolers range in size from 6-pack sized to a whopping 350-liter beast ready to hold a quartered elk. Your needs will probably lie somewhere between those extremes.
30-40 liters is perfect for short camping trips or for one person.
For longer getaways, anything shy of 50 liters is likely to feel cramped, especially when you factor in that at least half of that space should be reserved for ice.
We’ve found that for most weekend warriors, 60 liters is the sweet spot that allows plenty of room for food and drinks for two to three people.
Notice that we listed size and capacity separately. That’s because rotomolded coolers tend to be substantially larger than a more basic hard-sided cooler of the same capacity. Their thick walls can quickly eat up a lot of vehicle space without any added storage space.
If you typically go on quick overnighters, or you just need a cooler to keep some drinks chilled around camp, you probably don’t need to invest in premium insulation. Even the cheapest cooler will hold ice and keep your drinks cold for a day or so.
On multi-day trips where restocking ice isn’t an option, or when your camp cooking involves raw meat or other highly perishable ingredients, keeping your cooler at a safe temperature is crucial.
Cooler Features & Accessories
Drain: We think a drain is a must for anything but the smallest coolers. Your food will be submerged quickly without one.
Locking mechanism: A locking mechanism for the lid is important, not just to prevent spills but also to ensure a good seal and insulation.
Dry goods basket (aka cooler basket): Cooler baskets keep your food suspended above the ice. They’re useful for keeping food dry.
Cooler divider: Dividers help keep your food and drinks organized in your cooler. Some brands make dividers that double as cutting boards when not in use.
Handles: every cooler we tested has handles, but we liked some designs more than others. The rope carry handles on the Yeti and RTIC were our preferred design for two-person carry. A large single handle was easiest for one-person carry. Plastic handles like those found on many cheap coolers were flimsy and made transport difficult.
Bear-resistance: The Yeti Tundra line is certified bear-resistant by the IGBC when used with bolts or padlocks. The RTIC is marketed as bear-resistant but not IGBC-certified as of this writing. Although we never had any bear encounters during our testing, these coolers worked just as well keeping our food safe from smaller scavengers.
Other features, like a fish ruler or molded drink holders, may be useful for specific situations. We rarely used them while camping, though.
How We Tested
Ice Retention Test
We filled each cooler with 20 lbs of ice and left them outside in temperatures topping 90 degrees. After 48 hours, we measured the volume of liquid that drained out of each cooler to determine how much ice remained. Lower volumes of drained water indicated more ice retention and better insulation.
With about two liters of water in each cooler, we flipped, rolled, and shook them to see how watertight they were. We gave them a rating out of 10, where 10 was no water spilling out and 1 was no seal at all.
We put each cooler through the wringer to see how they would hold up to serious abuse. We rolled each cooler around on the ground; sat, stood, and jumped on top of each one; and tried to pry the lids open to see how durable the components were. At the end, we rated each cooler’s durability out of 10.
We used these coolers as much as possible on our car camping trips, day trips, and cookouts for over a month to see how they held up to real-world use.