This year especially, people can’t wait for summer to be in full swing. Even the most introverted among us are looking forward to hot vax summer, so there’s a good chance you’re planning lots of outdoor hangouts, camping trips, and cookouts.
Whether you’re the Virgo friend who meticulously plans and hosts each beach day, or the low-key freeloader who only brings a few snacks, it’s a good idea to invest in a solid cooler for the summer. An ideal cooler should have bomber insulation that can keep your ice from melting into a soggy wet mess, as well as convenient features like comfortable straps and external pockets. It also helps if your cooler can double as a workspace to chop up some fruit or a bench when there’s no more space on the picnic blanket. For the more outdoorsy types, soft-sided totes or backpacks are the move for keeping post-hike beers chilled.
Ready to secure a beach-day invite or be the star of the backyard kickback? These are all of our favorite coolers to bring out all summer long, from the trusty Yetis to a very aesthetic insulated picnic basket.
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Yeti’s coolers are so renowned for their insulating abilities that they’re often the first thing people think of when shopping for a cooler. The Tundra 65 can carry up to 56 pounds of ice, is made with nearly indestructible rotomolded construction, and can keep anything from a day’s catch to your favorite brews nice and cold on extra scorching days. There’s not much to say about this cooler that hasn’t already been said — nearly every possible feature has been optimized to make your life easier, whether it be the leakproof drain system or the comfortable handles. The cooler is also rated by Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC) to be bear resistant while locked, so you can rest easy that bears (or anything else) won’t be able to get into your stuff.
A Slightly Smaller, More Portable Yeti
We love the classic Yeti cooler, but it has just one drawback: transport. The rotomolded construction of these insulating beasts means they’re pretty heavy, which can be a drag when you’re just trying to get your chest of beers from your car to your beach blanket. That’s where the Tundra Haul comes in. This cooler has two solid, puncture resistant wheels and an aluminum towing handle, so you can easily roll the cooler loaded up with drinks and snacks to your destination.
If Your Can’t Spring For A Yeti Just Yet
If you only break out your cooler a handful of times a year, you understandably might not want to drop 400 bucks on one. Outdoor outfitter RTIC is a relatively new addition to the cooler market, and they make surprisingly great coolers that look and feel like a trusty Yeti, but cost $100 less than their more well-known counterparts.
A Great Vintage-Looking Cooler
If a super-beefed-up plastic cooler isn’t your aesthetic, use this red cooler from Coleman to keep all your snacks chilled. Made from rust-resistant steel with powder coated paint, it feels like it was ripped out of a midcentury magazine spread.
The Best Road Trip Snack Cooler
I’ve had my Igloo Playmate since I was in grade school, and it’s still holding together. When my partner and I road tripped from Southern California to New York City, we kept our sandwiches, cut vegetables to snack on, and more in the backseat of my sedan. Nowadays, I can easily carry my Playmate as a personal cooler when I meet up with friends for a picnic, and my partner uses it as an insulated lunchbox when his work takes him on the road during scorching days. The triangular lid hinge might seem like it’d limit the capacity of this cooler, but in my experience you can squeeze in a couple extra cans or snacks than you would with a standard cube-shaped cooler.
The Best Roller Cooler
This large 110-quart capacity cooler from Igloo is perfect for when you need to bring the whole cookout spread on ice and want the mobility and ease of wheels. The soft ride wheels will easily roll over small rocks and bumps along the trail, and the telescoping handle makes it even easier to roll the cooler around without taking up additional space. Also, the Ultratherm insulation can keep ice cold for up to 5 days.
The Best Insulated Tote
If you don’t want to go the hard-cooler route, an insulated tote will still keep all your goodies and drinks ice-cold without a ton of extra weight. In my opinion, Hydroflask produces some of the best soft coolers out there, and their 26L Day Escape tote is no exception. The insulation can keep food or drinks cold for up to 36 hours, and the straps are comfortable enough on your shoulders for all-day use. I also love that there are low profile loops on the sides of the tote, so you can easily clip a water bottle or a carabiner with camp utensils to the outside of the bag to save space.
The Best Cooler Backpack
Cooler Backpacks are my preferred method of keeping drinks, snacks, and other goods nice and cool during all-day climbing trips, hikes, and any other adventure that wouldn’t be suitable for a hard-sided cooler. The Yeti Hopper Backflip is the gold standard for backpack coolers (no surprise there) because it’s completely watertight and keeps your contents super insulated from the elements (even the heat you yourself generate while carrying it). It’s also the most ergonomic cooler backpack I’ve tried, which is of utmost importance when you’re carrying pounds of beer, ice and snacks for the whole crew. My only complaint is that there are no external pockets or compartments on the Hopper, so you either have to keep things like keys, phones, and sunscreen in your own pockets, or clip different accessories or pouches to the outside of the backpack.
A More Aesthetic Cooler Backpack
This cooler backpack is less suited for bringing drinks for the whole squad than it is for bringing your own personal assortment of hard kombucha. Instead of a watertight zipper, ICEMULE uses a roll and clip enclosure to ensure your contents stay insulated and leak-free. The soft-sided insulation can hold ice for more than 24 hours, which is more than enough to squeeze in a few mid-hike drinks at your favorite summit. There’s also an external zipper pocket on this bag, so you can stash your car keys and phone in a dry place away from the drinks and ice.
The Best Bear-Resistant Cooler
If you plan on camping in a park or reserve that requires bear-resistant food storage, you should definitely get a cooler that’s maxxed out with bear-resistant features. Not only would finding a bear in your campsite be straight up terrifying, but bears who successfully find human food are more likely to venture closer to humans in the future. While there are tons of coolers that are certified bear-resistant with the use of locks, I’d get the Pelican Elite Cooler to be on the safe side. The folks at Popular Mechanics tested some of the most popular coolers on the market by renting a literal bear, and this was the only one that deterred the grizzly even without the requisite padlocks.
The Best Combo Cooler And Dry Item Storage
Coolers are great for keeping items like cans nice and cold on a sweltering day, but if you’re bringing food for a whole cookout you’ll want to keep dry things like bread and chips away from sog-inducing ice. RovR’s rolling cooler comes with its own integrated dry storage, so you can cart around all your cans and bottles on ice and your non-perishable fixings in the removable wagon bin. Once you’ve rolled to your destination, the wagon bin can be lifted onto a table for easy unpacking, and there’s even an internal dry bin inside the cooler itself. Rovr’s cooler is also super versatile, as you can purchase additional attachments to add cupholders, prep stations, and more to the sides of the cooler.
The Best Portable Wine Cooler
If you’re only planning on toting along the essentials (read: wine), you don’t need a super involved cooler. This cute insulated sling will insulate your wine from hot summer days and protect bottles from bumps or knocks with its thick insulated padding. Just remind your friends to bring some durable outdoor wine glasses.
An Aesthetic Tote Cooler
This cooler tote rides the fine line between “adventure gear” and “cute bag that happens to be functional.” The cotton canvas exterior has on-trend sage stripes that give off effortless beach day vibes, and the PVC lining keeps your ice and snacks secure without leaks and also insulates from exterior heat. The canvas shoulder strap makes it a breeze to carry this cooler bag onto your favorite beach, and the exterior pocket is the perfect spot to tuck away your phone and keys.
A Cooler That Doubles As Seating
This cooler is ideal for someone who wants the seating capabilities of a hard-sided cooler, but doesn’t have the spare storage space for a cooler during the weekdays or off season. This soft sided cooler has a removable insulating lining that can be loaded up with all your favorite cold goods and is rigid enough to sit on, but folds flat for easy storage in a closet or under your couch.
The Sleek Upgrade Cooler
Yeti’s V-Series is the ultimate combination of function and aesthetic. This cooler has all the bells and whistles of their classic plastic insulated coolers, as well as the timeless look of the stainless steel coolers of years past. Do you need an $800 high performance vintage-style cooler? Probably not, but it would definitely cause some cooler envy at your next tailgate.
When You Really Just Want a Picnic Basket
Hard sided coolers are great and all, but they don’t exactly blend in with the cottagecore picnic aesthetic. This straw woven tote is inspired by timeless wicker picnic baskets, but is actually useful for keeping drinks and meals cold on a sweltering summer afternoon. The interior liner insulates your food, but it can also be zipped shut to keep the sides of the bag dry and to store items like your phone and wallet away from the ice.