The Ultimate Guide to Coolers
Five ice chests that keep food and drink colder, longer, anywhere
Get access to everything we publish when you sign up for Outside+.
Coolers are essential adventure gear and you’re probably not getting the most out of yours. Use these simple tricks to help keep your food cold longer, and then read on for a list of our favorite ice chests.
- For best performance, always pre-chill your cooler. Smaller coolers can be left in a chest freezer overnight. To chill larger ones, freeze multiple gallon jugs or water bottles and leave them in the cooler for 24 hours.
- When putting ice in the cooler, remember that cold air travels down, so if you want your beverages well chilled, load cans and bottles before covering them with ice.
- Keep your cooler out of the sun. Ice lasts twice as long when the cooler is in the shade.
- Choose cube or block ice, not shaved ice, which melts quickly. Use cube ice to quickly cool food and drinks and block ice to keep it cold longer.
- Don’t drain the cold water. Eventually some of your ice will melt, leaving a few inches of water at the bottom of the cooler. This will actually help keep food and drinks cold. Ice water preserves ice better than empty air space.
Hydro Flask Unbound Series Soft Cooler Pack ($275)
The first cooler offering from Hydro Flask, the Unbound holds 22 liters. The exterior features a stretchy water-bottle pocket and a zippered pouch for a wallet or phone. The lid accommodates snacks, flatware, and small sundries.
OtterBox Trooper LT 30 ($300)
Compact without compromising on features, this 30-quart soft cooler has an extra-wide opening, two water-resistant exterior pockets, and a mount for a bottle opener or dry box. Plus, it converts easily from a backpack to a tote.
Stanley Adventure 30 ($150)
If you’re looking to bring enough for a feast, you need decent capacity. Example: this Stanley has enough headroom to fit a two-liter bottle standing up. All that size means it can also serve as a seat or table, making it the perfect tailgating companion.
Pelican SC48 Soft ($330)
For far-out trips that involve a lot of freight, this 50-quart tote offers plenty of storage. With hefty tie-down daisy chains and a nonslip base made of compression-molded foam with a grippy TPU overlay, this puppy will keep loads upright and spills to a minimum.
Yeti Roadie 20 ($200)
Made from the same celebrated rotomolded plastic as its larger Tundra counterparts, the Roadie 20 comes in a more portable package and keeps beverages frosty for days—we’ve had beers stay chilled for well over 48 hours. The top handle makes for easy transport.