14 Best Coolers and Cooler Bags for Summer
Whether you're headed to the pool, beach or park, these soft, insulated cooler bags and rugged, hard-sided coolers are quick to pack, easy to tote and super stylish.
Just like last year, summer travel this year will likely trend toward road trips and closer-to-home adventures. As you plan your next family vacation, consider what kind of cooler is best for your adventure. For short day trips and overnight stays, trips to the beach and long car rides where you’ll have access to a freezer or fridge at night, a small, lightweight, packable soft-sided cooler bag is likely perfect for your needs. For multi-night road trips and camping trips where you’ll have no access to electricity or family gatherings in the backyard, you’re probably going to want a hard-sided cooler that can hold ice for long days in the sun. Some hard-sided coolers are also bear-proof if you loop padlocks through the holes in their corners.
As you think about what kind of cooler is best for your needs, take into account size, weight, expected use, brand reputation, price and versatility. We’ve recommended several YETI coolers here, which you’ll notice are far from the cheapest options available. But we’ve tested many of their products under harsh conditions — dragging one of their soft-sided coolers behind a tube in a shallow river, going on a week-long adventure in the Tundra, leaving their lunch bag out in the sun all day — and they all perform well. YETI is certainly a hype brand with a dedicated following, but it’s for good reason: The products work, and as long as you take care of them, you’ll likely never need to replace them.
For your more everyday use, like a picnic with your partner or kids or an afternoon at the beach, we’ve pulled together quite a few stylish and budget-friendly options. Many of these cooler bags, lunch bags and backpacks won’t keep cans of iced tea chilled all day in the sun, but they’re ideal for short, close-to-home adventures when you don’t need to go overboard on performance or budget.
Here are our favorite picks for summer 2021.
This soft cooler from Carhartt helps keep your lunch organized. There's enough room in the main compartment for a six-pack, and you can protect more vulnerable food items in the top compartment. The front pouch will store napkins, utensils and other small items.
Fjällräven's Kånken line is classic and timeless — and that's an intentional design choice rooted in sustainability. This simple lunchbox from the Swedish outdoor company will keep your lunch or a few drinks cold for an afternoon outing. And at the end of the summer, it won't go out of style.
This is not your average lunch bag. I stuck an icepack in it and left it outside in the sun on a hot day in Boulder, Colo., and at the end of the day, the ice pack was still mostly frozen. If you often pack your lunch and are sick of your food not staying cold, it might be time to upgrade. The bag snaps shut with a magnetic closure and folds over to clip into a series of loops on the front to stay securely fastened whether it's completely full or a lighter lunch day.
This versatile cooler bag is great for keeping groceries cold on your ride or walk home from the supermarket, as well as for carrying essentials on trips out of town. The interior of the bag is insulated but it doesn't shout "cooler," so you can get away with using it as a regular tote as well.
Hydro Flask's insulated cooler tote is a stylish way to carry drinks and snacks to the beach or to a park for a picnic. The tote zips shut to keep everything secure, and the front pocket is a great place to store credit cards and cash for farmers market trips or flatware and napkins for picnics.
Looking for a collapsible backpack cooler to keep your summit lunch ice-cold? IceMule claims its Jaunt cooler can keep ice-like temperatures for up to two days. This flexible backpack doesn't take up much storage space but can hold up to six drink cans.
This soft-sided cooler might look like a glorified lunchbox, but it's a fantastic, lightweight solution to a bulkier cooler when you're just packing a few small things. It's also extremely rugged: I once clipped this cooler to an inner tube when floating down a river near Jackson, Wyo., and it stayed afloat and didn't even get a scratch in spite of bumping against quite a few rocks along the way. YETI's soft-sided coolers don't hold ice for quite as long as their hard-sided ones, but this cooler will indeed hold ice for a couple of days or longer, depending on the conditions and how much ice you use. The shoulder strap is comfortable to use, making it easy to port.
We just love the fun color schemes of these small picnic basket-like coolers from Igloo. It holds 36 cans and is sturdy enough to be used as a seat when the handles are down.
There's something just delightful about old-style coolers, especially when they've been upgraded to modern-day chill capabilities. Igloo's line of Legacy, retro-style coolers has a classic bottle opener affixed to the front, making this a great companion for picnics and backyard barbecues.
Somewhere between a cooler and a fridge, Coleman's portable thermoelectric cooler will keep your drinks and food up to 40 degrees cooler or warmer than the temperature outside. Plug it into your car or boat outlet, and it will reach its optimal temperature in about three hours without the need for ice.
When it comes to budget-friendly classic coolers, it's hard to beat Coleman. This simple cooler has capacity for up to 100 cans and holds ice for up to five days in temperatures up to 90 degrees, Coleman says. And, of course, it doubles as an extra seat at the picnic table, with the ability to support up to 250 pounds.
YETI coolers are expensive, yes, but they do exactly as they promise. The Tundra, which comes in several sizes, truly does hold ice for days. This is the cooler you want if you're heading out on a long trip and need to keep food cold without constantly buying more ice. It's bear-resistant when you padlock the lid shut and more than sturdy enough to make a solid seat. The Tundra is also available in a wheeled version to port your goodies more easily to your campsite or beach hangout.
This 45-quart cooler is the cheapest on this list that's certified bear-resistant when you padlock it shut. Oversized wheels allow you to tow it over uneven terrain or sandy beaches. The cooler is built with Microban antibacterial protection to help reduce odor-causing bacteria and make it easier to clean out between uses.
This cooler won't just haul your perishables and beer, it'll also help you carry all the extra odds and ends, thanks to the collapsible wagon bin that secures to the lid of the cooler. A cutting board slides into brackets on the side of the cooler to give you a little extra room for food prep, and the burly wheels easily handle rugged terrain. Want to bike to a picnic? An optional bike attachment lets you pull the cooler like a trailer.