How to pick a camping cooler that’s right for you.

Here are some ideas on what to look for in a cooler. Some folks call them ice chests. In Australia they're called "Esky's".

No need for a cooler while camping in Patagonia, Chile.

When it comes to camping coolers, or camping ice chests, there are a lot of choices out there. Price being the obvious one.

On this page we’ll be looking at coolers up to 70 quarts in size for $60 and under. In that range of coolers, Coleman and Igloo are the two most popular brands.

What should you expect if purchasing the most popular Igloo or Coleman cooler brands for $60 or less?

In recent years new technologies have brought out coolers that have better insulating properties. That is a good thing since the idea behind buying a cooler is to keep your food and beverages cold. Unfortunately many of the other features that were once common on less expensive coolers have dropped to the wayside. Things like storage bin inserts/trays, locks for the lid and sturdy handles and lid hinges.

And, you may have been wondering about bottle openers....no, the newer coolers don't have those either. Perhaps manufacturers are under the impression all bottles have twist-off caps these days, when they really don't.

Tip: You can always tie an opener to the carrying handle of the cooler.

The perfect cooler would have these helpful features:

1. The perfect camping cooler size.
This depends on the size of your family. My coolers run between 55-70 quarts in size. You’ll need to calculate 3 meals per day for each person plus the amount of ice needed to keep it cold for, let’s say…3 days.

If you have a larger family it may be best to take along two smaller coolers rather than one that's 150 quarts. Once you fill a very large cooler with food, beverage & ice it becomes extremely heavy. Chances are you will not be able to handle it yourself without straining a muscle. If you need to drag your heavy cooler everywhere across the gravel, it won't last very long!

Also, I prefer shorter coolers. With the longer ones I often hit my knuckles on things like door jams when I carry it out of the house. It's also easier to pack a a smaller car with a shorter cooler.

By having 2 coolers you can separate the food items from the beverages. This is helpful in the long run so you don’t have to dig around in the cooler for one or the other.

2. Will you be using your camping cooler as a chair?
If you are….buying two smaller coolers is better than one large one. A smaller cooler will offer more support than a large one a hot day when the plastic lid tends to get soft. Plus, you'll have 2 seats.

If something goes wrong and the lid caves in, you may end up cooling off your backside on the ice!

Some marine versions of these coolers do offer cushions, however your own soft beach towel should do the trick.

3. A reasonable price.
Modern coolers do good job of keeping food cold for under $60. Personally, I wouldn’t spend more than that! It’s not an item used year round anyway.

Plan ahead and look around for what may be on sale.

Prices can vary widely! I've recently seen some in the $40 range. But be aware the overall quality can be disappointing and you may need to make some modifications. Click here for more information on modifications and repairs.

4. A drain plug is a must.
When you purchase a cooler, get one with a drain plug. Especially if it's a larger one. Some coolers have pop off drains and others have the screw type. The screw type is better for sealing purposes and if needed, you can screw on a longer drain or garden hose.

Buyer Beware: Some coolers have wheels….nice feature, but….those types often don't have a drain, so do check for that!

5. Hinges, even cheap plastic ones….anything?
Take note that some coolers come with lids that do not attach to the cooler. The problem is that you’ll always need two hands to open the cooler. Personally, I've never had good luck with hinge-less lids. The lids often don't seal as well so the ice melts faster then tend to slide off and land on your toe. No thanks.

You’ll always need a place to set the lid too. Not having hinges makes the task of opening the cooler very difficult for kids!

Not to mention what may happen when the cooler is in the back of your pickup or on the vehicle luggage rack and the lid flies off. I've seen lots of lids laying roadside!

6. The lid needs to fit tight.
Check the lid when purchasing a cooler . Some lids don’t well because the top may be warped. If the lid doesn’t fit tight, warm air will go inside and your ice will melt too quickly.

Click here for more information on how to keep your ice from melting too fast.

Before your purchase, spin the cooler around and look at it from the bottom. Be certain all the seams are good and there aren’t any gaps where you can see the insulating foam between the walls.

7. A storage bin insert or tray, is a nice feature to have.
This feature allows you to keep items you would like to have cold from sitting directly on the ice or falling in the melted ice water.

However, that feature is difficult to find these days. You may need to get yourself a Tupperware container from the store. Some of them fit perfectly on the interior ledges of some coolers.

Having a Tupperware lid also comes in handy sometimes....just in case you hit a huge bump while driving.

One more thing.
If you happen to be purchasing two camping coolers at the same time, i
t's best to purchase two of a different size, model, brand or color! If you have two of the same type camping coolers you will be forever opening the wrong one.

Or, label them with a magic marker.

Hope you found our camping cooler purchasing tips useful!


To continue reading additional Camping Tip articles......

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Discover 7 tips how to keep ice in the cooler longer.

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Have a camping cooler falling apart? Here are some ideas on how to fix it.

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