The Best Coolers of 2024: Staff Picks

Eat and drink well wherever you go with our eight favorite coolers.

Heather Balogh Rochfort|Updated June 11, 2024

13 reviews with an average rating of 3.8 out of 5 stars
A camper and her dog look into a full YETI cooler.
Coolers have changed a lot in the past decade. What were once basic iceboxes have morphed into technological wonders designed to keep everything from seltzers and fruit to popsicles and ice cream chilled for days on end. But the options can be overwhelming, and not everyone has the same food-chilling needs. 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.


Best 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 resembling a lunchbox chills 12 cans for up to 32 hours (or, as one co-op customer-reviewer observed, "Six cans and a lunch at the beach!"). 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 store the cooler flat when empty, making it super easy to stash when not in use. Buy here.

If you’re taking your family on an adventure day, the YETI Hopper M30 2.0 Soft Cooler is our top pick. With a 28-liter capacity, you can cram a whopping 42 cans inside (with no ice), so there's plenty of space for a day’s worth of drinks and sammies for all. Perhaps most excitingly, the Hopper M30 2.0 saw a major upgrade that lifelong YETI fans will love: a magnetic enclosure in place of the old-school zipper that used to chew your arm off. “Compared to the old zipper, this is a huge upgrade,” reports one customer-reviewer. And the brand's reputation for long-lasting cold tolerance continues, thanks to closed-cell foam insulation that keeps our bevvies frosty all day long. (Or two days, as one reviewer noted: “Full day of softball and then the second day on the lake and still ice.”) Tradeoff: The Hopper comes with the traditionally high YETI price tag, but this cooler makes the case that quality doesn’t come cheap. 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 (with 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.

Getting the hang of its roll-top design takes a little practice (it functions like a dry bag with a valve), but it does a great job keeping heat out, as one co-op customer-reviewer 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.

Best Hard-Sided Coolers

Keep your money in your bank account and plastic out of the landfills. That's the idea behind the Igloo ECOCOOL 30, which is constructed with postconsumer recycled resin (trashed yogurt cups and milk jugs) and costs about the same as the three 12-packs you can easily stow inside it with room for ice and more. The 28-liter capacity (holding 41 cans) 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 or a 2-liter bottle, and will help keep snacks fresh for up to several days.) Note: A few customer reviewers pointed out that the handle can pop off, but is easily fixed. Buy here.

If you’re searching for the titan of the cooler world, look no further. The Rugged Road 65 cooler is a behemoth with a whopping 42-liter capacity. That’s large enough to hold up to 65 cans for a weekend adventure, camping trip or one heckuva party at the beach. But, the real sorcery: Even though it’s the second-largest cooler in this guide, it’s the second lightest hard-sided cooler at a mere 13 pounds. This is due to the Rigorite™ coating, a proprietary spray on the exterior that's so burly it was originally designed to bombproof the walls of the Pentagon. (True story!) “The lightweight nature of this cooler means I can carry it by myself rather than needing a buddy to help me out,” reports one customer-reviewer. Inside you’ll find a dry goods snack rack and a sliding divider, making it easier to organize your food and keep meat from touching your produce. Detach the lid and flip it over and you've got a ready tabletop with four beverage holders. If you’re looking for yet another reason to consider the 65 V2, here’s a fun fact: This beast of a cooler actually floats. Buy here.

The travel-friendly Roadie cooler series from YETI has been a longtime favorite, but it’s now available in this new moderate size. The 32-quart model hits the sweet spot as a perfect capacity for day trips and weekend adventures when you don’t need to lug the kitchen sink. Like others in the Roadie lineup, this version comes with a periscoping handle that easily slides out so you can wheel it through your campsite or down to the lakeshore with ease. Inside, you’ll find one dry goods basket and enough vertical space for a 2-liter soda or even a wine bottle. While other YETI coolers are rotomolded, the Roadie series uses less-durable but lighter injection molding, and still packs a respectable 3 inches of insulation. End result: a still-burly and versatile wheeled cooler that will get you where you (and a group of well-hydrated friends) need to go. Buy here.

You can’t tote a deep freezer into the wilderness, but consider this cooler your next best option for keeping ice cold for a long time. The YETI Tundra 65 uses rotomolding, arguably the gold standard of premium coolers. This means you’ll find an outer shell fused to the insulation without any seams or breaking points, adding to the durability. (It’s the same process used on whitewater kayaks, so it’s gotta be tough!) This also means there aren’t any seams for cold air to escape, so your ice will typically stay cooler for longer. A freezer-quality gasket around the lid ensures a tight seal, and two rubber T-latches make it easy to open and close with one hand. A hard-sided cooler this tough is useful beyond food preservation: “I often use it as a step stool around camp to hang lights, tarps or a dog run between some trees,” says REI Training and Standards Coordinator Adam Thomas, who usings his cooler for backyard parties and car camping trips. The ultimate testament to its durability: If you’re camping in bear country, the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee certified the Tundra as a bear-resistant food container if you add a pair of padlocks to the corners. (Read more about bear-safe food storage in Bear Canister Basics.) 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 camper van; 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 customer-reviewer. 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, IceMule Pro Cooler and YETI Hopper M30 2.0 are constructed with soft materials in the walls rather than the more traditional hard plastic. This means they tend to be lighter 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

Hard-sided ice chests like the YETI Tundra 65 and Rugged Road 65 V2 cooler are far less portable than their soft-sided brethren but they typically maintain insulation for longer and protect contents better. Hard coolers tend to come in larger sizes, so it's easier to feed more people. And, a hard-sided cooler can double as a seat in a pinch. Premium hard-sided coolers offer Arctic-level insulating ability, allowing ice to last for days. (Additionally, some brands like YETI use a process called rotomolding that fuses a seamless outer plastic shell with the insulation for an airtight seal.)

In general, a hard-sided cooler is your best bet unless it's not. Some can be heavy to haul around. 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.

Backpack coolers

These are outfitted with shoulder straps and even hip belts for hands-free comfortable transport like the IceMule Pro. Some backpack coolers have added features like external pockets or lash straps so you can take additional gear with you, like a camp blanket or picnic supplies.

Features

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.

Wheeled coolers

Some hard-sided coolers roll to ease transport when they’re loaded. Mechanisms vary from small plastic wheels to inflatable tires with all-terrain tread. Some rolling coolers can even be hitched to your bike with an added accessory. The YETI Roadie 32 is the only cooler on wheels in this list.

Electric coolers

Newer 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.


Methodology

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.

Additional reading:

How to Pack Your Cooler