How to Pick a Camping Cooler
Pick the best camp cooler for your camping needs.
A camping cooler is an essential piece of camping equipment that has a very important job, – not just keeping things cold, but keeping them safe for you to eat or drink!
Before you can pick the right camp cooler for you; you need to understand cooler differences, and your cooler needs.
Now, the question is … what are your cooler needs?
Buying a camp cooler is an investment in your camping future, so first you have to decide; what are your camping needs, – now, and in the future.
Ask yourself these questions;
- Do you need to keep things cold for multi-day camping trips, or just day trips?
- What size do you need?
- How many campers, – 2, 4, 6, or more?
- Will it be used for food and drink, or just one or the other?
- Do you have transport or space restrictions?
- Do you want one big cooler to handle everything, or a couple smaller ones to divide the load?
- Will you have to carry it by yourself, will there always be someone available to help you, do you want one with wheels?
- How will you transport your camping cooler, – RV, trailer, mini-van, car?
- What climate do you camp in, – always hot, always cold, or both?
- Do you want a cooler that will outlast you, or one just for a few uses?
- What is your budget?
Once you can answer those questions you will be better prepared to judge your available choices.
About your answers:
1. If you are only looking for a day-trip cooler, then almost any cooler you buy will work, even the least expensive. A 28-qt to 54-qt cooler is likely to be the optimum size for you also.
For multi-day camping trips, the cooler’s insulation and lid seal become more important. Most camping coolers have manufacturer’s ice-holding rating promos, for example:
- “will hold ice for 5 to 6 days” is a common promo for the better “Extreme” camping coolers, or “guaranteed to hold ice for 3 days”
Multi-day camping means a bigger cooler also. Obviously it will need to hold more of everything. Most common sizes are around 66-qt to 77-qt, but manageable sizes go all the way to 120-qt monsters.
NOTE: The pictures below show three common cooler-size choices, but they are also my own Amazon affiliate links – which I only use to recommend good-quality camping gear – that you can use to see the specifics about each cooler, and most importantly, real customer reviews.
Of course these are not the only sizes available. They were just picked to give you an idea of general dimensions. You will find dozens of capacity variations between the 33-qt and 150-qt sizes.
The most common camp cooler sizes range from 54-qt to 80-qt.
What a cooler is made of: Most camping coolers are made of Poly now, (good ones and cheap ones), because it is such a durable material. Molded construction is the standard. But, like all things there is good and there is better, stick with a name-brand cooler so you know you won’t be getting “paper-thin” construction. Or …
You could go with a metal cooler, (considered the “Cadillac” of camp coolers”), like the Coleman 54-qt model pictured on the right.
Caution: They look really pretty when new, but after a few outings, metal coolers show the wear and tear of dings and scratches a lot worse than molded-poly coolers. If you want a metal cooler, a stainless steel model keeps its good looks longer.
Important Features to look for:
- Bottom drain – this is a must for two reasons; first, so you don’t have to bail or pick up and tilt, the cooler to get melted ice water out of it, and second; if your cooler maker did not think a drain was important enough to include, then you want to pick a different brand.
- A ribbed bottom would be nice – it lets water drain under the food, not around and over it
- Handles on each end; molded handles are the most durable, – nothing to break, but flap handles are good too if the cooler is made by a reputable brand, like Coleman or Igloo
- A strong latch, if the cooler top is hinged, (as most coolers over 40-qts. are), to keep the lid sealed tight against the cooler body
- Lid Gasket; This ensures an air-tight seal to keep the cold in, and help ice last longer. *Most coolers, (except the most expensive ones), under 40-qts do not have gaskets, they rely on a tight lid-to-body seal. Which is okay if you are not looking for a 5-day ice holding cooler.
To wheel, or not to wheel: If you are considering a cooler larger than 33-qts, and you will be moving it each time you go camping, – the easy answer is yes. A loaded cooler is heavy, and most of the name-brand models are designed so the wheels reduce the cooler’s capacity as little as possible.
Extra features to consider:
- Molded drink-holders in top – might be convenient on a drink cooler, but probably won’t be used much on the larger food coolers. Think about where your cooler usually is while you are camping to decide if this is a feature you might make use of or want.
- Insert trays – trays that ride on top-ridges of the cooler, above the bulk stuff in the bottom. Good for keeping condiments, cheeses, or smaller items separate from other foods. Your call, – would they be useful to you, or would you prefer the extra storage space without them.
- Section dividers – these are usually only found, (or useful in), in larger capacity coolers. It’s not a necessary feature, but if you are buying a larger cooler, they are very helpful with food storage management.
You can’t go wrong with a Coleman Camping cooler. They are time-tested and backed by an experienced camping equipment company. Choose from the “Extreme” line of coolers for the best cold-holding ability and tested camping features.
Coleman isn’t the only good brand though, Igloo makes good coolers too.
Typical Camping Coolers Set-up:
- Just the 2 of you: A 54-qt. cooler will probably be all you need for a week-end camping trip. Longer than that and you might want to consider an additional small 8-qt – 16qt. cooler.
- 3-4 people: a 62-qt to 77-qt. cooler for food storage, and a 54-qt cooler for drink storage.
- More than 4 people, or more than a weekend trip; You might be in the 100-qt+ category. Check them out first.
That’s it! If you answered the questions at the top of this article, and understand the basic features your new cooler should have, then the extra features offered are up to you. Let your wallet be your guide.
Be safe, make sure your coolers maintain temperatures below 40`!
Was this useful?
Help us share Campingwithgus.com by giving us a “Like”
Notes and discussions:
More camping cooler information: Stay Safe – Pre-cool your camping coolers
Here are a few more pieces of camping gear you might be interested in:
Let your friends know you found this helpful – just click the “+1″ button!
You can pass this on to friends with the email, Twitter, Facebook, and Google Buzz buttons below