One of the best cool boxes or bags is an essential if you want to keep your food and drinks cool, fresh and protected on a camping trip. More than that though, they're a great investment for the summer in general – whether you're hosting a garden gathering, heading to the beach or hitting up a festival.
There are plenty of sizes, styles and cooling methods available to suit your needs. First you want to decide whether a cool box or cool bag is better. The former will keep food protected from getting squashed, but tends to be bulkier and harder to carry (although some come with wheels and telescopic handles to make the job easier). The latter might be cheaper and easier to tote around, so a better option if you're walking long distances with your cooler.
Most basic coolers use 'passive cooling', which means they're insulated to cold air in as long as possible – you'd usually pop a frozen ice pack, loose ice or gel pack in, to get it cold to start with. It won't keep things cool indefinitely though, so if you're on a multi-day trip, you'll need to replace the ice (campsites often have a service where you can swap your defrosted ice packs for frozen ones).
If you're car camping and going on an extended holiday where electric hookup is available, and weight isn't an issue, you might want to invest in a electric camping cooler, which is essentially a mini-fridge for your tent. These will also have a secure seal to keep bugs and rodents out.
If you don't drive and will be heading to the campsite, park or beach on foot or via public transport, you'll want a camping cooler that's lightweight, weatherproof (in case it rains) and easy to carry. In that case, look for a cool box on wheels, with a pull-along handle, or a cool bag that can be slung over your shoulder or worn like a backpack. Add one of the best camping chairs and perhaps a beach tent, and you're sorted for a chilled day in the sun. Got all that? Great. Let's kick off our pick of the best cool boxes for camping and more.
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Best cool box for camping 2021 ranking
The Coleman 50QT Xtreme is a monster 47-litre passive coolbox on wheels. It's designed to keep food and drink fresh and cold for up to five days, making it an excellent choice for longer camping trips. So it goes without saying that it’ll easily handle your park barbecue day or beach outing. Coleman’s durable and weatherproof design earns a place in best camping cooler ranking partly thanks to its solid, rugged build. The all-terrain wheels make it easy to pull along, and will take you from campsite to park or beach with ease. Although it's understandably heavy when full, the telescopic steel handle will take the strain of the weight, or you can grab it by both handles when taking it out of the car.
The lid features PU foam insulation, taking care of the cooling, and four cup holders for housing your bottles and cans. It'll also double as a makeshift camping seat, and will support up to 113kg in weight. The only real down-side is that according to the official guidelines, you'd need to add more than 13 kilos of ice for best performance, which would put a not-insignificant dent in the space left for food and drink. We don't expect most people will adhere to this, though. Head to our Coleman 50QT Xtreme camping cooler review for more info.
Sometimes you want a camping cooler that's not a huge wheel-along ice chest, but something smaller and lighter than you can carry or wear. If that's the case, you'll love the IceMule Cooler Classic. Depending on which size you get, this wearable cooler can be slung over one shoulder or worn just like a backpack. The Cooler Classic keeps ice solid for up to 24 hours, even in baking heat. It does this thanks to a dual-layer construction that utilises IceMule's PolarLayer insulation foam. And if you suddenly find yourself caught in a heat wave, an integrated air valve enables you to add a bit more insulation to keep your drinks and snacks cooler.
The best part about the IceMule Cooler Classic is that it floats – it's sort of like a cooling dry bag – so you could hang it over the side of your boat, inflatable paddle board or kayak if fishing (you'll still need to tether it to your vessel), and it'll bob quite happily in the water. We've used the 15L medium size at festivals as it can house up to 12 x 330ml cans plus ice and a few small snacks jammed in. But if you want a bigger or smaller option, you're in luck as the IceMule also sells a Classic Cooler 10L version and a Classic Cooler 20L version, which you wear like a backpack.
If you need more than just a cooler, the Dometic CFX3 25 is the next best thing to taking your fridge camping with you. It's an active cooler, which means that you'll have to hook it up to your car battery to keep things chilly, but it features a dynamic battery protection system that'll prevent it from sucking the life out of your vehicle.
With 25 litres of storage there's plenty of room inside, however it can get very cold in there (down to -22°C) and anything touching the sides is likely to freeze; there's an internal basket to prevent this, but you'll still need to take care when you're packing a lot in. It's easy to use, either via its touchscreen or an app, and it feels solid and sturdy – a good thing, considering its price. Get all the details in our Dometic CFX3 24 review.
The Yeti Roadie 24 Cooler is a well engineered and super-rugged portable cool box that's just the ticket for keeping beers and food chilled outdoors. The interior has been proportioned as to ensure it'll hold a bottle of wine, stood up (important) and Yeti encourages you to use it as a stool. In fact, in even sells an accessory cushion for that very purpose. Thick rotomolded walls, dubbed the Yeti ‘Fatwall’, and PermaFrost insulation are responsible for the chilling. That same rotomolded construction makes this timeless ice chest nigh-on indestructible, so it’ll withstand the rough and tumble of outdoor life. It is slightly tricky to carry over long distances, but it's a sold choice for road trips, boating and car camping. Head to our Yeti Roadie 24 cooler review to find out more.
Ok so it looks basic, and yes it resembles a child’s ride-along toy rather than a coolbox, but it’s in our best cool box buyer's guide for a few reasons. The first is the not-too-shabby 36L capacity, ensuring you have plenty of storage space (for approx 60 330ml drinks cans). The second is the Ultratherm insulation tech in the body and lid, which keeps ice frozen for up to three days. That’s more than enough for use at barbecues, festivals, or weekend camping trips. Just throw your pre-chilled goodies inside then close the lid. The reinforced tow handle and rugged wheels team up to ensure its easy to pull-along, or you could lift and carry it over short distances via the sturdy side handles.
What a beast! If you want a super-rugged, long lasting camping cooler that doesn’t mess around, Outwell will see you right with its Deep Cool 50L Coolbox for proper campervan holidays and car camping. In other words, don’t even think of lugging this behemoth to the park for the day. This compressor cooler plugs into your car’s lighter socket and can be used with either 12V or 230V adaptors (the latter is included for EU/UK plugs). It cools to -18 and warms to +10. There’s a removable basket for storing ice or fresh food, with plenty of space for other goodies. The rugged plastic lid pings back easily, and you can grasp the entire cooler by the spring-loaded handles to wrestle it into place.
The Tourit Insulated Cool Bag 22L is a record bag-style cooler, with a thick and comfy handle for slinging over your shoulder. It’s robustly built, with an insulated and leak-proof lining to ensure your snacks and drinks remain cool for up to 16 hours if you draft in a couple of freezer blocks. You can stuff roughly 22L of treats into this cooler bag, with dedicated pockets and zips for all of your picnic gear (cutlery and so on) or your phone, keys and wallet. The Tourit Cool Bag is also water-resistant, tear-resistant and easy to wipe clean with a damp cloth, so don’t worry about it getting it covered in mud or other outdoors stains if you’re taking it on an extended country walk. Bonus: it also comes with a bottle opener.
Going on a weekend camping break? As well as making sure your sleeping is on point with a comfy camping mat and sleeping bag duo, keep your fridgeable snacks and drinks cold for two days with the Igloo Marine Ultra. It features an insulated lid to provide extended ice retention, and a triple-snap drain plug for melted ice to quickly filter out. There are a number of different size options to choose from, ranging from a cute 30-quart capacity up to a generous 128-quart chest. The larger ones include a pull-along handle and rugged, all-terrain wheels that mean you’ll be able to pull your cool box over various types of terrain. It’s also rust-proof, boasts UV protection and is waterproof too. In the lid you’ll find self-draining cup holders (excess water simply drains down the side of the closed cooler), and the lockable lid can be further secured with zip ties.
With both a car battery and electric hook up adapter, the DC/AC Electric 24 L Coolbox ensures that your precious bacon rashers, sausages and beers remain cool for the entire length of your trip. Like all electric cool boxes, it's on the heavy and bulky side, and here the capacity is on the small side compared to other camping coolers in the list. However, if you require a reliable means to keep your food cool you can’t really go wrong. If you’re looking to hook it up to your car battery intermittently throughout your trip, you may want to make sure your car is up to the job first – a jump start exit from the campsite probably won’t be your finest hour.
If there’s a cuter cool box than the 25L Chilly Bin, we’ve yet to find it. Kampa’s wipe-clean passive cooler also uses PU foam for insulation, and comes in a range of sizes: 25L, 42L, 50L and 60L. The smallest version (pictured above) features an easy-grip handle and a tough lid designed with a built-in elasticated retaining clip. This is handy because you can use it to keep other small items – think suncream or your beach towel – secured to the top of the cooler. Simple to use, just throw in your freezer blocks or line it with ice cubes, add in your drinks and snacks and the Chilly Bin will keep it all deliciously chilled and fresh for over four days.