What you’ll find here – The overall best camping cooler, the best essentials cooler, and the best budget cooler. We review camping chairs from the top chair brands like Siberian, ENGEL, and YETI, as well as provide expert advice on how to figure out which camping cooler is best for you.
Overall Best Camping Cooler
Capacity: 65 Quarts (39 cans)
Ice retention: 8.5 days
Pros: Top quality and performance, comes with wire basket, divider/cutting board, cup holders, and is IGBC Certified Bear Resistant (when you use a lock).
Cons: The top inner foam is known to break inside if someone stands on the top of the cooler. If it breaks, the cooling capability goes down.
Bottom line: Superior performance at a more affordable price. The Siberian Alpha Pro 65 is our favorite cooler / ice chest. It looks awesome, has the best ice retention for the price, and comes will all the essentials inside. We opted to also buy Cooler Shock Freeze Packs to save money on ice over the long run.
Top pick: We’ve had a few coolers over the years and find that while paying almost $400 for a cooler is a bit shocking, the durability and increased functionality of the nicer coolers is worth it in the long run. This is a buy it once purchase and use it for a long time. This cooler is the one we use out on our adventures and has become one of our favorite items in our top gear picks.
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Page last updated: November, 2020
Summary of the best camping coolers and ice chests
Best Cooler with all the Essentials
Capacity: 65 Quarts
Ice retention: 7 days
Pros: Great performance, sturdy, 10 year warranty, and is IGBC Certified Bear Resistant (when you use locks on both sides).
Cons: Does not come with wire basket, divider/cutting board, or cup holders.
Bottom line: If you don’t need max ice retention since you’re only going to be gone a few days and believe that cup holders should be in you camping chair so you can enjoy that sunset with a cold brew then the Engel 65 High Performance is the cooler for you.
Consider picking up some Cooler Shock Freeze Packs to save money on ice over the long run and make your drinks extra frosty.
Best Budget Camping Cooler and Ice Chest
Capacity: 52 qts.
Ice retention: 3 days
Pros: Affordable, looks good, and can be used as a seat.
Cons: Only 3 days of ice retention. Short weekend trips or single days events for this cooler. Not bear resistant certified (a fed bear is a dead bear).
Bottom line: The Coleman 52-Quart Cooler has plenty of interior space for a weekend trip and if you’re looking for a seat, the Have-a-Seat lid supports up to 250 pounds. This camping cooler is inexpensive yet will still outperform your standard styrofoam and other cheaper cooler. It’s durable, good looking, and even has cup holders.
Choosing the best camping chair for you
Ice retention – Air temperature has a big impact, as does direct sun, and the amount of ice you use is another important factor (most brands recommend a 2:1 ice-to-food ratio). It also matters how often you open the lid, thereby allowing cold air out and warm air in. For maximum performance, you can pre-chill your cooler prior to loading it up. This involves filling the interior with ice for at least a few hours to bring its interior temperature down. When you’re ready to hit the road, swap in some fresh ice at that optimal ratio along with your drinks and food. A rotomolded cooler often has greater ice retention.
Price (are expensive coolers worth it?) – For many people, cost of a better cooler is fairly easy to justify. The higher-end coolers are able to keep ice frozen for significantly longer than budget options. Even though ice is cheap, having to drain and replace ice frequently is a pain. Another benefit of high-end camping coolers is durability—the difference in quality is apparent and most of the high-end coolers are design to last a lifetime. If you’re looking for the best cooler for camping, go for one of the more expensive ones.
Bear resistance – You should look for an IGBC (Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee) rating, which designates that a certain cooler has gone through the appropriate testing and been deemed compliant with the organization’s regulations. A fed bear is a dead bear.
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