The Best Coolers of 2023: Staff Picks

Eat well wherever you go with our eight favorite coolers.

Heather Balogh Rochfort|Published July 20, 2022

3 reviews with an average rating of 3.7 out of 5 stars
A camper and her dog look into a full YETI cooler.

You shouldn’t have to abandon all creature comforts on your outdoor adventure. Because whether you’re camping, hiking, paddling, picnicking or hanging out on the Little League bleachers, you deserve fresh food and a cool bevvie. That’s where we come in.

We’ve rounded up co-op staffers’ and customers’ favorite coolers currently available at REI. There are soft-sided and hard-sided options, plus a wallet-friendly one and even an electric one. It doesn’t matter whether you’re going big or going to the park—there’s something on this list for everyone.


Staff Picks

Find quick recommendations below or scroll down for in-depth reviews.


Soft-Sided Coolers

Sometimes a little goes a long way, and that’s the case with the Pack-Away 12 from REI Co-op, a tidy solution for keeping small parties on short outings fed and hydrated (think: paddleboarding, soccer games, hammocking). This 17-liter, soft-sided cooler chills 12 cans for up to 32 hours (or, as one co-op member observed, “Six cans and a lunch at the beach!”) in a carrier resembling a lunchbox. With two oversize handles and a padded, adjustable shoulder strap, the Pack-Away 12 masquerades as a tote bag. But, if space is of the essence, basic toggles on either side convert it into a cube for easier baggage Tetris. Bonus: The soft-sided design and toggles also allow you to pack the cooler flat when empty, making it super easy to stash when not in use. Buy here.

If you’re planning on packing a family’s worth of food and drink for something like a picnic or an outdoor concert, you need a cooler that has a lot of space but doesn’t weigh a ton. Enter: the Hydro Flask 35L Insulated Tote. Designed for quick jaunts (it keeps contents cool for up to four hours), the 35L Insulated Tote can fit up to 42 cans and weighs a smudge over a pound. A long zipper across the top flays the whole thing open for easy loading, and a flat bottom keeps it freestanding. Still, the soft materials and lightweight insulation mean you can easily stash it away into a closet or beneath a car seat when not in use. And it’s virtually mess-proof: “It never leaks, even when ice is left in it overnight,” says one co-op member. The lined interior and welded seams are quick to wipe down with a damp paper towel or sponge. 

Tip: If you’re hoping for more than four hours of cold retention, pop a few ice packs in the bottom. Buy here.

Say hello to our favorite hands-free cooler: the IceMule Pro. The top loader fits about 18 cans and keeps them cold up to 24 hours, but the special sauce here is the suspension. IceMule took a cue from more traditional hiking packs and added padded straps and a back panel to the vinyl cooler. Channels between the two foam panels and straps encourage airflow, and the straps are even adjustable (and have a sternum strap to minimize sway on off-kilter terrain). Add to that the cooler’s inherently flexible shape that better molds to your body, and the Pro is a solid choice for long days on the trail. 

The roll-top design takes a little practice to get the hang of (it functions like a dry bag with a valve), but it does a great job keeping heat out, as one co-op member observed after traveling to Mexico and Aruba with the cooler. “The valve bladder allows you to press the bag flat for ease of storage when traveling, and the material cleans up like a breeze,” they wrote. Also nice: A more rigid panel on the bottom helps the cooler stand upright when on the ground. Buy here.

Usually, the trade-off for the portability and packability of a soft cooler is its insulating properties. Not so with the RovR Products TravelR 30, a softie that can keep your goods chilled for up to three days. The secret is in the construction: An inch of closed-cell foam (the same stuff used in your Z-Rest to keep you warm against the cold ground) insulates your bevvies and snacks on all six sides. A waterproof zipper wraps around the top, allowing you to completely lay open the top panel for easy access. 

Downside? It’s heavy. But the TravelR 30 has an adjustable, padded shoulder strap that you can throw over your arm or lengthen for cross-body carrying. And detailed-oriented folks will love that this cooler’s part of a system. Use the TravelR on its own or add the KeepR + IceR Combo Insulated Tote ($149.95; sold separately), a portable caddy and ice chest that fit neatly inside the TravelR for beaucoup picnicking with adjustable walls and up to four compartments. Buy here.


Hard-Sided Coolers


You can’t very well tote a deep freezer into the wilderness, but consider this the next best option. The Tundra 35 from YETI has a seamless plastic shell with insulation fused into the interior to prevent any air from entering. In other words, your ice should stay ice for days on end (one co-op shopper claims four days; another reported up to 18 days). Rubber T-latches make it easy to open or close the cooler with one hand, and rubber feet on the bottom prevent sliding on slick surfaces. You can even add a padlock to the holes in each corner and turn it into a bear-resistant food container (certified by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee).

The Tundra is also available in larger 45-, 65- and 75-liter options—but if you thought the 35 was heavy and expensive for your needs, don’t go there. Buy here.


Big adventures call for big appetites. When interior space is priority number one, it’s tough to beat the gargantuan Roller Cooler 90 from Igloo. Built to house 137 cans—or food and drink for a party of six on a two-night camping trip, according to one co-op member—the Roller Cooler 90 is a great choice for big groups. As with the ECOCOOL 30 (below), Igloo used post-recycled plastic to construct the shell and lid, but the real niceties are the two oversize rear wheels that make this behemoth easy to roll when it’s packed to the gills (unloaded, it’s more than 22 pounds). And even though it’s large, the Roller Cooler still “easily fits in a midsize trunk or backseat,” says one reviewer. (Caveat: Storing it when it’s in use is a whole new type of adventure.) Buy here.


Keep your money in your bank account and plastic out of the landfills. That’s the idea behind Igloo’s ECOCOOL 30, which is constructed with post-consumer recycled resin (trashed yogurt cups and milk jugs) and costs about the same as the two 12-packs you can stow inside it. The 28-liter capacity is just big enough for an overnight trip, although most reviewers prefer its compact size for road trips and fancy day jaunts. (It’s tall enough to stack two 12-ounce cans, and will help keep snacks fresh for up to five days.) Note: A few customer reviewers pointed out that the handle can pop off, but is easily fixed. Buy here.


No ice, no problem. It doesn’t matter if you’re overlanding for a week or living the permanent road trip life in a campervan; the CFX3 from Dometic will keep your condiments cold without a single cube of ice. Unlike other coolers on this list, this one is electrically powered like a refrigerator. When you’re on the go, plug it into your car and use the accompanying app to control the temperature settings via Bluetooth. (The compressor cooling technology goes as low as -7°F for a deep freeze.) The 35-liter cooler holds up to 50 cans, but thanks to the dual compartments (one with a wire basket), it’s easy to keep your goods organized. “I have freedom from ice!” proclaims one psyched co-op member. Buy here.

Shop All Coolers 


Buying Advice

Shopping for a new cooler can be a daunting affair. Here are a few factors to consider.

Cooler Construction

Your cooler is designed to seal the heat out (rather than keep the cold in). But the materials used to that end differ. Here are the main types, and each one comes with its own pros and cons. 

Soft-Sided Coolers

As you might have guessed, these coolers (like the REI Co-op Pack-Away 12, Hydro Flask 35L Insulated Tote, IceMule Pro Cooler and RovR Products TravelR 30) are constructed with soft materials in the walls rather than the more traditional hard plastic. This means they tend to be lighter weight and easier to carry and store than their hard-sided counterparts. In return, they can be less durable and less efficient at keeping your stuff chilled. 

Soft coolers tend to be best for day trips—where you can enjoy their easier carrying and packability without running the insulation to its limit.

Hard-Sided Coolers

This is the more traditional type of cooler. Hard-sided ice chests like the Yeti Tundra 35, Igloo ECOCOOL 90 Roller Cooler and Igloo ECOCOOL 30 are far less portable than their soft-sided brethren but they typically maintain better insulation. (Additionally, some brands like Yeti use a process called rotomolding that fuses a seamless outer plastic shell with the insulation for an airtight seal.) Hard coolers tend to come in larger sizes (like the Igloo ECOCOOL Roller Cooler 90), so it’s easier to feed more people. And, a hard-sided cooler can double as a seat in a pinch.

In general, a hard-sided cooler is your best bet unless it’s not. In other words, consider a hard cooler, with its superior insulation, over a soft-sided cooler unless you really need or want the portability and packability of a softie. 

Electric Coolers

Relatively new to market, powered coolers like the Dometic CFX3 35 use electricity to chill the interior rather than ice, making it easier to stay off the grid longer. This means it’s also possible to travel with freezer goods (like ice cream!) since the electricity allows you to maintain a significantly lower temperature than you can with loose ice. However, electric coolers weigh significantly more than traditional hard- or soft-sided coolers, and cost a lot more, too.


Different coolers come with different features, but you probably don’t need them all. Depending on your preferences, consider niceties like cup holders, tie-down toggles or interior organizational systems like wire baskets or plastic compartments. Other features, such as etched rulers to measure fish, are more specific to your chosen activities. The more features a cooler has, the more expensive it’s likely to be. Plan accordingly.



We picked the top coolers at REI based on customer feedback as well as our own rubric for the best cooler for each activity. Our favorites include options for short jaunts, longer hikes, days on the river, extended road trips and everything in between, as well as a budget option. These eight coolers are the picks we’d recommend to anyone.