Gear Guy

   

Q:

What Are the Best Mini Coolers?

A:‘Tis the season for car camping and barbequing, which means grilled burgers, sunny days, and (hopefully) cold beer. But to keep your beverage of choice chilled, you’ll need a cooler that can withstand the heat.

We reviewed four mini coolers—each 10 liters or smaller and each packed with a six-pack—to see which kept the drinks the coldest. After all, the best beer is the cold one waiting for you at the end of the trail.

The Test

To review these coolers, we used a 24-pack of Ranier, six pounds of store-bought ice, a meat thermometer, and a food scale.

We put one pound of ice in each cooler, then placed six lukewarm Raniers on top. We placed another half-pound of ice over the beer before closing the cooler. All the coolers stayed in direct sunlight from 10 A.M. to 3 P.M. on a day when temperatures hovered around 90 degrees. Here are the results:  

Stanley Pro-Grade 7 QT Adventure Cooler ($40)

Beer Temp: 55 degrees

Best All-Around

If cold beer is what you’re after, look for further than this Stanley Adventure Cooler. The beer that came out of this box was cold and drinkable at the end of the day in the hot sun.

The Stanley is also, by far, the most durable cooler on this list thanks to its sturdy latches and high-density polyethylene. One of our favorite features (besides the superior insulation, of course) was the removable bungee that stretches over the top. We found it handy when stashing shirts or a small blanket. At $40, it’s also the most expensive cooler on this list, but because it does have a lifetime warranty, it could be the last mini cooler you buy.

Mountainsmith Sixer Cooler ($22)

Beer Temp: 67 degrees

Best for Travelers

After five hours, the beer in the Sixer was the warmest of any we tested. But this cooler was our favorite in terms of added features.

We stored koozies in the cooler’s back pockets and the attached bottle opener frequently came in handy. I loved the reinforced, super sturdy handle, as well as the removable strap attached to the Sixer's sides, which let me carry the cooler over my shoulder. At 10 liters, the Sixer was the largest cooler we tested: we could stuff it with beer and even a growler thanks to its flexible nylon exterior.

Igloo Mini Tote 8 ($15)

Beer Temp: 63 degrees

Best for Minimalists

This seven-liter cooler was extremely basic in terms of features: not a surprise considering it’s also the least expensive on this list. While the webbing handle was comfortable to hold for extended periods of time, it wasn’t reinforced and likely won’t last more than a summer or two. The top zipper opened wide and made the Mini Tote easy to fill. Plus, we loved how well it camouflaged itself at Barbie parties.

Coleman Fliplid 6 Personal Cooler ($16)

Beer Temp: 60 degrees

Best Bang-for-Your-Buck

It took some maneuvering to fit six beers and a pound and a half of ice inside this American-made cooler, and when we were done, there wasn’t any room for sandwiches or other snacks.

But we were impressed at how (relatively) cold this inexpensive cooler kept the beer. The exterior proved sturdy, but the lid’s hinge was small and will likely be the first part to break.

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