The Ultimate Ice Chest Cooler Buying Guide

The Ultimate Ice Chest Cooler Guide

Do you need a cooler? What do you need it for? What you need it for can determine what kind of cooler will suit you best. Perhaps you need it for parties and tail-gaiting get-togethers so you have a place to put in your beer, or maybe you want to put in food for your picnics, camping, or trips to the beach. You may even need them to store fresh meat on hunting trips or fresh fish when you’ve gone fishing.

Coolers come in may price ranges, designs, sizes, and features. They’re not all basically the same, despite the fact that they’re all made to keep things cold inside. Some are more suited for your needs than others, and here we offer a guide that should help you identify the most ideal for your cooling needs.

Types of Coolers

There’s not really just one type of cooler. You can choose from several distinct designs to find the best ice chest for your needs.

Traditional Coolers

Traditional Ice Chests

Traditional Ice Chests

These are the coolers that most people are familiar with, with cooler brands like Coleman and Igloo. They resemble a rectangular box, though some have a round design. They feature plastic shells that have been epoxied or glued together, and inside these shells you have foam insulation to keep things cold. Lids are generally made to fit to snap shut, though many have locks to secure the lid.

Many still say that a traditional cooler is the best camping cooler for money, and they’re all generally affordable. The best ones can keep food fresh for up to 5 days and they’re typically robust for most activities.

Premium Coolers

The arrival of premium ice chest brands like Yeti heralded a new age of premium coolers, and many buy these coolers for the prestige of owning the very best. But these are true workhorses, and many hunters and fishermen love these coolers. They’re the top rated ice chest models for good reasons.

Premium Ice Cooler

Premium Ice Cooler

The best ones can keep food fresh and ice hard for 6 or 7 days. If you’re wondering which cooler keeps ice the longest, you need to check among the high-end models. They’re also extremely durable, and these things can last for generations. Premium coolers like Yeti were designed to meet the requirements of fisherman who sometimes needed to stand on these coolers, and not very many cooler can accommodate the weight of full-grown men these days. This makes them among the best fishing coolers.

These are almost always much more expensive than traditional coolers. That’s because they’re made with a single piece of plastic shell in which insulating foam is injected. The foam is almost always at least 2 inches thick. There are no connection areas in which heat can pass through, and there are no seams that can represent weak points.

Some premium coolers also feature specially-made latches made of tough rubber. ATVs used the same type of latches. The hinges are made from rust-proof aluminum. These are so tough that some brands claim that their coolers can withstand a grizzly attack.

Soft Coolers

Some coolers aren’t like boxes at all. Instead, they resemble large shoulder or athletic bags. Some are even designed to be carried like a backpack. They use some sort of insulating high-density fabric, and the best ones also feature tough leak-proof zippers.

Soft Coolers

Soft Coolers

These are ideal more for single-day adventures out to the beach or for a hike. They’re very easy to bring along, and they can carry lots of beer cans. Carrying beer is probably their main function, though of course you can place snacks inside too.

Electric Coolers

If you’re staying at a place where there’s a handy electrical outlet, then an electric cooler can really work well for your needs. Some of these can be plugged into the car lighter socket so that you can have cold drinks and fresh sandwiches while on long cross-country journeys.

Electric Coolers

Electric Coolers

You can also use them for your hotel rooms, and some camping sites may have electrical sockets too. If you’re in a tailgating party on the way to a football game, then this can work in a parking lot with your car or with an available electrical socket. It’s basically like having a portable camping fridge with you.

Factors to Consider

With too many types and variations of coolers, it can be rather overwhelming to pick one out of the numerous options. Here are some factors that you should consider to help you screen your options:

Size (Internal and External)

Many start with the size they need. You may want the best small ice chest than can hold your own 6-pack of beer, or perhaps you need a bigger one that can hold a case of 24 beer cans. There are even some coolers that can hold more than a hundred cans of beer. These are commercial coolers that can help businesses carter parties.

Some hunters may also want larger coolers to help keep the meat of larger animals fresh. This is you may also find the storage of capacity of coolers expressed in quarts instead of just stating how many pounds of ice and cans of beer they can hold. Some of the largest coolers work for hunters as they can store the meat from whole hogs.

You do need to keep track of the external size. Two different coolers may have the same internal dimensions, but one may be bigger than the other. That’s because they have different thicknesses. You need to know the outer dimensions of the cooler so you can make sure that it will fit where you intend to place it.

The external size may not matter all that much for tail-gaiting parties on parking lots. But it will matter a lot when you decide to put it in your car. If you visit National Parks frequently, you may also be required to use bear boxes to secure your gear against aggressive bears. You have to make sure that your coolers fit inside those bear boxes. Some of those bear boxes are only 1.5 feet high, which is too small for larger coolers.


In many instances when you’re going to use a cooler, this item will be the heaviest thing among your gear. It’s important that you make sure you can actually use this cooler for your beach and camping trips, if that’s why you bought your cooler in the first place. If you need a camping cooler buyers guide, then you need to factor in a cooler’s portability.

If you intend to just use this for yourself, then you just need a small one that you can lug around easily. For bigger coolers, you need to make sure you have 2 strapping persons who can carry the cooler from one spot to another.

Some can be carried like a bag, which makes soft coolers quite popular among the travelling set. Some are also designed to be carried like a backpack.

But you may find specially-designed best coolers with wheels so you can move them more easily along the parking lots. The best ice chest with wheels may even be brought along on hiking trips. These camping coolers with wheels are quite robust and can stand uneven terrain. Just make sure you get the best wheeled cooler with a durable wheel design, as this may represent a weak area that may be the first to wear down.

Insulation Performance

How long will the ice remain solid? How long will the beer cans remain cold? How long can a cooler keep food and meat fresh inside?

Some are just enough to keep food fresh and ice solid for a whole day. This is okay for parties. But for hunters and fisherman, or for longer festivities, you need coolers that keep ice for days.

The general standard is for a cooler to hold ice below 40 degrees for about 2 to 3 days. But the premium coolers can maintain this for 6 to 7 days. For hunters and fishermen on extended adventures, a cooler that keeps ice the longest will be a terrific asset.


Just how tough do you need your cooler to be? Some people just like their coolers to be tough enough to last for years if they don’t abuse them. They may just have to bear the weight of some people sitting on them during parties.

But others may need to stand on their cooler while fishing or hunting, and there’s a very good chance that they may drop these coolers among hard rocks during their travels. The most durable ones can keep bears away from the food inside, and can last for a lifetime.

Take note that the latches, hinges, and zippers of the cooler should also be as durable as the plastic or fiber used.

How Easy It Is to Open the Lid

This is about how the latches are designed for your use. Traditional coolers tend to us internal latching mechanisms that aren’t as easy to open when the cooler is empty. There’s no weight to pull against to hold the cooler down.

The better latches are external, though there are several designs to choose from. They may work in their own way, but more often than not they’re easier to open after some practice.


Smaller coolers are easy enough to drain, but larger ones may be complicated especially if they still have some items inside. To make it easier to drain these coolers, they may have drains with plugs or hoses.


The best ones that offer greater insulation and durability generally cost more, but even some low-income earners want the prestige of premium coolers like Yeti.


The look of the cooler doesn’t really matter all that much, especially as there are hardly any ugly-looking coolers around. Most of them look generic and inoffensive. Of course, if you have 2 coolers with very similar features to choose from then you can then pick the one that looks better!