Whether it’s for a two-day camping trip, a picnic or a daylong celebration in the backyard, you’re going to want to keep food and drinks cold for a few days when there is no fridge close by. The best way to do this is by keeping it all packed inside a hard-sided cooler. Portable and well insulated, these handy, reusable containers can keep food cold for up to three days.
Hard-sided coolers come in a variety of sizes and colors, from individual use to ones large enough to hold food and drinks for a crowd. Of course, you have to fill the interior with ice to keep the contents cold, but it’s the quality of the insulation that will determine how long the ice and cold will last.
Available in a range of price points, the one you purchase will depend on your specific needs, but it’s also a good idea to choose one that is sturdy, durable and well made to last a long time.
We feature five hard-sided coolers you can purchase online. Read on to find one that’s best for you.
Top Pick Best Overall: Igloo BMX
Anyone familiar with taking multi-day road trips knows it’s not always possible to have access to a fridge. From the long journey to get where you’re going, to the time spent at your destination, you’re going to need to keep food cold so it doesn’t spoil. A hard-sided cooler that can do the job reliably for up to five days is the ideal travel companion to ensure a successful trip.
This 25-quart capacity cooler from Igloo is packed with features that guarantee whatever you put into it and secure with enough ice will stay cold for between four and five days. It’s an attractive food storage unit that’s lightweight for portability. And when it comes to durability, its heavy-duty, blow-molded construction has a reinforced base to keep it strong to last a long time.
This cooler will retain its good looks for years. UV inhibitors protect the cooler against sun damage, so when it’s outside all day, you don’t have to worry about direct sunlight affecting its look or degrading the quality. The walls and lid are made from extra-thick foam for premium insulation, so everything on the inside remains cool during the heat of the day. The Cool Riser Technology molded base keeps the cooler away from hot surfaces, giving it an extra edge.
The rust-resistant, stainless-steel hinge rods and hardware also contribute to this cooler’s durability factor, while rubberized T-grip latches keep the lid securely in place. A comfort grip, three-point grab handle makes it easy to carry and built-in tie-down loops keep it steady and secure while your vehicle is moving and on the road.
- Fish ruler on lid to estimate the size of your catch
- Durable construction
- Skid pads for extra protection
- Capacity of 37, 12-ounce cans
- Capacity may be too large for some needs
Top Pick Best Large Capacity: Coleman Xtreme 5 Cooler
When it comes to outdoor parties and camping trips, you practically invented the phrase ‘Go Big or Go Home!’ Between your friends and family members, you’re always traveling with a big crew, and that means a hard-sided cooler that can satisfy the hunger and quench the thirst of a crowd.
This 70-quart cooler from Coleman fits up to 100 cans, so it does not disappoint in its capacity – or its features. Its insulated lid and extra wall insulation will keep ice intact and the melted liquid cold up to five days in temperatures as high as 90°F.
While it’s important to keep food cold and fresh, sometimes it’s the extra details that make a difference. For example, the lid of this cooler has four, two-inch-deep molded cup holders on each corner – perfect for your beer, soft drink or coffee. And when that extra guest shows up but there are not enough chairs to go around, just pull up the cooler and use it as an extra seat! The lid is reinforced and designed to support up to 250 pounds.
When full, the cooler can be heavy. Smartly conceived comfort-grip handles with a no-crush design pull out from each side so two people can share the burden easily. A leak-resistant channel drains out the melted ice and when all the fun is over, the cooler’s smooth surface wipes clean and is ready for your next outdoor gathering.
- Large capacity
- Can hold up to 100 cans
- Easy grip side handles
- Lid has cup holders
- Cooler lid can support 250 pounds, so it can be used as a seat
- Capacity may be too large for some needs
Top Pick Best Durable: REYLEO Ice Chest
When you’re deep in the woods far away from it all, the last thing you need is for your cooler to fall down a hill and break – or be crushed by a not-so-friendly bear.
This Reyleo hard-sided cooler is pretty indestructible with a sturdy rotomolded bear-resistant level construction that can withstand 700 pounds. Insulted with polyurethane foam, it is armored to the core so it will stand up to the rigors of your journey, no matter where you choose to go.
Small in size but roomy inside, the 21-quart ice chest has a capacity of 30 cans with a recommended ice-to-contents ratio of 2:1. But no worries about it being too heavy to lug around – it is still lightweight enough for one person to carry, even when full. The rugged handle is made of stainless steel, has a soft pad in the center for comfort and can easily lock in the middle position for stability.
Store beer, beverages, ice water and any food you want to enjoy – the cooler’s seal system locks in the cold for at least 72 hours. The portable size fits nicely in the trunk of your vehicle and can be fastened to a paddleboard, kayak or ATV by cable locks. It also has a built-in bottle opener, two cup holders on the lid and a fish ruler so you can measure your catch before taking that selfie to post to Instagram.
- 21-quart size
- Three-day ice retention (with a 2:1 ice to content ratio)
- Built-in bottle opener
- 30-can capacity
- Top handle only good for one person to hold (as opposed to a handle on each side)
Top Pick Best Environmentally Friendly: KENAI 25 Cooler
If you’re committed to supporting the Made in America slogan, and you’re looking for a quality constructed hard-sided cooler that will last a lifetime, then consider this model from Kenai.
Made in Decorah, Iowa, this cooler is strong and sturdy. The walls are built with rotationally molded LLDPE plastic with up to three inches of polyurethane foam, with ecomate insulation. With the health of the environment in mind, this insulating material has no global warming or ozone depletion potential and is made with no volatile organic compounds.
The cooler fits easily in the back seat or back of the truck, can fit 27, 12-ounce cans and five pounds of ice – including dry ice – to keep everything cold and fresh for days. One-inch tie-down slots will hold the cooler steady and secure in your vehicle as you make sharp turns and hit bumps. And once you reach your destination and settle in, the grip feet on the bottom of the cooler will keep it from moving and shifting on almost any surface.
Other dynamic features include a silicone rubber gasket on the lid that keeps cold air trapped inside to extend the life of the ice; latches that can flip open with one hand, when your other hand is holding other stuff; and divider slots to separate the ice from the food and drinks. Oh, and did we mention that this hard-sided cooler comes in 10 hot colors?
- Made in the USA
- Insulation material is environmentally friendly
- Comes with dividers to separate food from ice
- Can fit 27, 12-ounce cans and five pounds of ice
- Capacity may not be big enough for some needs
Top Pick Best Versatile: YETI Roadie 24 Cooler
Sometimes you want a cooler that can hold cans of Coke, beer or water. Then there are the moments when it’s all about a gourmet picnic, complete with a chilled bottle of red wine. Many hard-sided coolers are not tall enough to allow for a standard-sized bottle of wine to be stored inside standing up. If you are that person who prefers a good wine with an outdoor meal, then consider this model from Yeti.
This unit has a taller build that the Roadie 20, so it can accommodate a bottle of wine (or a two-liter water or soda bottle), and the slimmer design is a better fit behind the driver or passenger seat of a car.
With the convenient new size comes the insulation reliability for which Yeti is known. In fact, the rotomolded construction has evolved to be thinner and lighter-weight for easy transport, while remaining durable and tough.
This Roadie model has an updated handle made from a new flexible material that makes it more comfortable to carry. It is also where the tie-down points are located to secure the cooler to a boat, truck bed, or raft. The cooler latches open easily with the flick of your hand and the new design means there is no need for a drain plug.
- Room to stand wine bottles upright
- Keeps ice for days
- Lightweight, sturdy construction
- New, comfortable handle
- Fits 18 cans or 24 pounds of ice
- More expensive than other models of comparable size
- May be smaller than some needs
Things to look out for:
Consider these things when looking for a hard-sided cooler so you will choose one that best suits your needs:
Capacity: Hard-sided coolers come in a range of sizes, which is great since you can choose a size that suits your specific needs. There’s really no use purchasing something that’s too large, since food and beverages stay cold longer when they are packed closely together rather than loosely in a large area. Keeping that in mind, it’s also no use buying one that is too small.
Always remember that to truly understand the capacity of a cooler, you need to factor in the content-to-ice ratio. That means you have to have the right amount of ice to keep everything cold and fresh. If the cooler has a 30-can capacity, make sure that number includes an adequate amount of ice.
The good thing is, if you purchase durable and long-lasting coolers, you can own one or two different sizes knowing they will serve any scenario reliably for many years to come.
Features: Aside from the capacity, you’ll need to consider the type and thickness of the molding and insulation used that will keep everything cold, and for how long. No matter what cooler you buy, the ice will eventually melt. The key is keeping the ice solid for longer, and then having the melted ice water stay cool, too.
Solid and easy-to-open latches are a great feature as your cooler may do a great job of keeping things cool, but if the lid doesn’t stay closed due to a broken latch, then it won’t insulate well. Larger coolers should have a handle on each side so two people can carry it, or for very heavy loads, find a model that also has wheels for greater portability.