What Kind of Cooler is Best for Camping?

If you’re going car camping, then you’re going to take a cooler along with you. It’s a necessity for keeping drinks and foodstuffs chilled when you’re on the road, and also at the campsite.

There are all kinds of coolers on the market, ranging from the cheap variety you find on sale in supermarkets in the summer to those that plug into the cigarette lighter in your car to keep everything cool. Cheap might be fine for an afternoon in the garden, or even for a very short trip to the beach, but it’s not appropriate for a camping trip, since it won’t keep your items cool for long. Electric coolers, for obvious reasons, aren’t feasible when you’re camping.

So what should you look for in a cooler for camping?

How Long Does It Stay Cool?

You want a cooler where the ice isn’t going to melt quickly and leave your lunch meat floating in a pool of water. Ideally, something that can stay cool for two days should be fine for most camping trips, so you don’t have to keep refilling it with ice.

These types of coolers typically use foam insulation between the walls, rather than just relying on air. This doesn’t add to the weight, but will keep the cold in for a lot longer. You can find coolers that will claim to keep goods cold for up to six days; this is far longer than you’ll need on the average camping trip, and you also shouldn’t try to keep foodstuffs cool for that long before you eat them. Remember, too, that this is a cooler, not a freezer; no matter how good it is, ice cream will still melt in a cooler.


A good cooler will have a drain plug for the melted water, and the water should drain into a channel to keep it away from the ice still in the cooler. The drain plug should be sturdy enough not to crack or break, which could leave a pool of water in your car, but should be still be easy to remove and push in.


A good cooler, whether you use it for camping or anything else, needs to be easy to open. The lid needs to fit securely in order for the cooler to remain cold, but you shouldn’t have to fight in order to get inside.

Make sure you try the lid before you buy. With some the lid will come all the way off, with others the lid will be hinged, and might even lock. With hinged lids, ensure that the hinge is strong and extends all the way along the cooler. If it’s not, the lid can easily break off.


Most coolers are made of plastic, but some do have metal casings. These can look better, but they don’t necessarily add anything to the abilities of the cooler, nor do they make them sturdier.


For a camping cooler, you want something that will be big enough to handle both drinks and foodstuffs. That will generally mean around 70 quarts capacity or even more, depending on the size of your camping party. A cooler that size is going to be heavy when packed and full of ice. That’s why some people prefer coolers with wheels and an extendable handle. It will still fit into the car, but you’ll be able to transport it around the campsite without risking back strain.


Price can be a factor for a lot of people. The best coolers can be expensive. Do your research, based on the qualities outlined here, and buy the best you can afford.

Tip for Shorter Camping Trips

If you’re away for a few days and want to take enough food -for breakfasts for example – a good tip is to freeze two or three cartons of fresh orange juice. Pack your bacon, butter, sausages etc in a cool box with the frozen juice. It keeps it cool for 3 or 4 days and you can drink the orange juice with your breakfast too!

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Camping Expert