Owning one of the best cool boxes or bags you can find is essential if you want to keep your food and drinks chilled, 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 on the market. 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 an 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. Shoppers in the US especially might be focused on one brand in particular, and to that end we've got a separate guide to the best Yeti coolers.
Best cool box for camping 2023 ranking
Why you can trust T3 Our expert reviewers spend hours testing and comparing products and services so you can choose the best for you. Find out more about how we test.
The best camping cool boxes
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.
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.
If you're looking for an ultra-tough YETI alternative, check out the BOTE KULA. It's available in a range of equally funky colourways, and the roto-moulded plastic construction is strong enough to go head-to-head with an alligator, should that be a concern where you're headed (it's actually certified by the Gator Proof Alliance).
This cool box packs plenty of practical design details. A clever, one-handed latch means you can keep hold of your drink while cracking it open for snacks, and the back hinge is also designed to allow the lid to open right up so you can easily access the entire insides. Sticky rubber feet keep it in place, which is helpful if you want to use it as a seat or even a stepping stool, and a drain plug at the bottom makes it super simple to get rid of old water. For toting it about, you've got a rotating stainless steel handle with EVA sleeve for added comfort. Finally, there's an integrated stainless steel bottle opener, or if you opt for the 2.5 gallon version, you can go the whole hog and fill the entire thing with drink, thanks to the built-in tap.
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.
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.
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.
The best cool bags
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. Because it's soft, it won't provide much protection for squashable food or glass bottles, for example, and it might be tricker to stack food in compared to a solid rectangular option. But on the flip side, it'll squash down then not in use.
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.
From the brand that brought you some of the best hiking water bottles comes this cool bag tote that's perfect for day trips. The Hydro Flask day escape is a soft cool bag that's altogether much easier to tote about than a boxy cool bag with short straps. There is a hand-carry option, but there's also a removable cross-body strap that works perfectly with the tapered shape for carrying it comfortably over longer distances. It's at the pricier end of things, but the build quality is impeccable and there's a reassuring attention to detail on the design front.
It delivers impressive insulation for such a thin, pliable bag – with ice, it'll keep the contents cool for up to a whopping 36 hours. Hydro Flask has added thicker insulation in the base, where most heat is lost. The sturdier, flattened off base also gives some structure and extra protection where packing is concerned, although you obviously can't bash it around like you could a solid plastic option, and a few customers commented they'd prefer if it was slightly wider. Watertight and welded seams ensure no water gets in or out on your travels, and if you need more space, there's also a 20L and 26L version.
The Outwell Penguin is sturdier than your average cool bag, thanks to 2cm thick foam walls. While this does mean you can't squish it down when not in use, it also makes it very easy to stack food inside, ensures that food is well protected from itself getting squished, and will also keep said food cool for 13 hours if you add an 800ml ice block. We've been testing one out this summer, and even without the ice block, it has some impressive insulation powers. Elsewhere, it's a simple but effective design. The inner is easy to wipe clean, and you can zip the whole top open like a lid, to easily access and shuffle around what's inside. Twin handles with a velcro-fastening grip enable easy upright carrying, and the zip pulls have wide, easy grip plastic pulls. It feels high quality, and two mesh side pockets make for a useful place to pop any extra bits and bobs, like bottle openers. Finally, it's available in three sizes, to suit different situations and party sizes.
The brand is better known for its hard coolers, but Yeti's Hopper Flip cool bag range is also well worth a look. They're robust, well designed, and the quality you'd expect for an admittedly premium price tag. A thick layer of closed-cell rubber foam between the outer case and and inner lining locks cool air in effectively, and the entire top opens up (this is the 'Flip' part) for easy access to the bag's contents. Carrying is comfy thanks to an ultra-squishy rubber padding on the removable shoulder strap (there are also hand handles elsewhere, for shorter distances). The high-density 'DryHide Shell' block UV rays and repels mildew, and will withstand plenty of bumps and scrapes, while the 'Hydrolok' zip keeps liquid in reliably. Daisy chain loops down the front and back give you somewhere to attach any extra bits and bobs for your trip. There are three sizes to choose from, and instead of litre capacity, Yeti tells you what each will hold - the Hopper Flip 8 (pictured) is the smallest, and will hold 8 cans or equivalent, based on a 2:1 ice-to-can ratio. In the middle of the range is the Hopper Flip 12, which holds 13 cans, and the Hopper Flip 18 holds 20 cans.
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 – although obviously you won't be able to sit on it, as you would with a solid option. There's 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.
- Upgrade your cooking setup: these are best camping stoves
- ... and the best camping cookware sets
- The best camping tables for al fresco eating and socialising
The best electric camping cooler
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.
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.
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.
How we tested these cool boxes and bags
T3's expert team of outdoor gear testers selflessly tried out the best cool boxes and the best cool bags on the market, to see which would keep their
beers juices and isotonic drinks for the longest time. Factors such as capacity, easy of transport, cost and style were also analysed during the review process.