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Nothing can put a damper on a picnic quite like a warm can of beer. OK, maybe a literal soaking-wet pack that’s floating in a pool of melted ice. What you really need — and the gear behind all successful outdoor bashes — is a hard cooler, which is tough to tip, ensures your food and beverages are cold when you need ’em, and thanks to its tough, durable walls, will help to prevent leaks in the back of your car or on your one-and-only outdoor blanket. Now, go make some more ice and read on for our tips on what to look for when buying the best hard cooler.
Hard-Sided Cooler Buying Guide
The size and carrying capacity of your next cooler can be a tough decision to make, but something that can help is to consider how much you’ll use it and where you plan on carting it. The best hard coolers are equipped with things like reinforced handles, wheels, as well as extra accessories you can buy for organization. When researching this list, we found coolers that checked all of the boxes in terms of insulation, storage and style.
Storage: Many of the best new hard coolers can fit a variety of bottles and your cold snacks or sandwiches and food containers. While the coolers in our guide cover a range of storage capacities, you can get away with storing at least a six-pack of sparkling water or beer in even the smallest cooler in our guide. Just don’t forget that when you’re picking your cooler, you should also account for the fact that you’ll need to add a bag of ice or add ice packs.
Size and Weight: Will you be taking your cooler to the park or tailgating? Are you packing it in the back seat of your car for a road trip? You can find coolers in every size that fit every situation you’re using it for, from picnics to the stadium parking lot on game day.
Portability: Hard-sided coolers aren’t quite as easy to carry around as a soft-sided cooler, but they’ve recently become a little more portable. From wheels built into the base of large-capacity coolers to hand and shoulder straps that make it easier to commute with your ice-cold beverages, the best new coolers are available in a variety of different travel-friendly versions. Coolers with wheels are a no-brainer for larger models, while sturdy handles and durable straps are ideal for smaller-sized units.
Design: Unlike some soft coolers, the best hard coolers aren’t as easy to break or tear, even after years of use. Many are also designed to be used outdoors. Some of our favorite hard coolers can be sealed shut thanks to easy-to-close latches, as well as lids that can withstand your bodyweight in case you need an extra chair or table.
What Are the Best Hard Coolers?
From retro-looking models to heavy-duty rolling coolers, here are a few of our top picks for the best hard-sided coolers to pack up and use this season.
1. Yeti Roadie 24 Hard Cooler
One of Yeti’s latest, the Roadie 24, is a highly durable cooler, and a versatile pick for most uses. We’ve tested and used this cooler for months, including on cross-country road trips and at home for quick access to cold beer when grilling outdoors. (We’ve even used it as a side table a few times.)
The Roadie 24 isn’t the largest hard-sided cooler you can get, but it will still work for holding cold treats on a road trip or on your way home from the grocery store until you can get to your freezer.
Yeti says it used PermaFrost insulation with the Roadie 24. Put another way, cheese, fruit and bottles of water and cold brew coffee that we packed on a recent road trip stayed cold for days without needing any extra ice. Meanwhile, it was still small enough to fit in the back of our car and sturdy enough to stack luggage on top of it — no leaking or damage to report.
2. Igloo Playmate Cooler
It’s tough to top a classic. If you’re looking for a straightforward cooler that’s easy to carry, offers plenty of storage for your tailgate or camping excursion, and at a budget-friendly price point, you can’t go wrong with the Igloo Playmate series.
Igloo makes the best cooler collabs around — from bands like Iron Maiden and the Grateful Dead to series like The Simpsons — but its 16-quart Playmate Elite checks all the boxes for a simple cooler that’s all about keeping your cold ones cold. We love the minimal design, but especially its handle, which lets you haul everything with one hand and makes sliding the swivel-style lid to the side for quick, seamless access.
When the cooler’s empty, it weights a little over 4 pounds, and only measures about 15.88 x 14.88 inches. It’s a great size for hauling anywhere you need to go.
3. RovR Wheeled Camping Rolling Cooler
The best new wheeled coolers could almost be called fridges-on-wheels, giving you enough storage space for a day’s worth of beverages and food, along with the convenience of having a couple tires for when you can’t find a parking spot close enough to your friends’ location at the park.
The RovR Wheeled Camping Rolling Cooler offers a roomy 45-quart storage space, which is great to have if you’re hauling frozen meats to grill and a few bottles of beer.
We like that it comes with a bin to make organizing items a little easier, too, so you can load one side with bottles of wine, beer or waters with ice, while you keep produce and other foods on the other, safely stored without getting smashed in the bin. You also don’t have to stick your hand in ice and feel around until you find what you’re looking for.
The company says ice will last for 10 days. Ten days! It might sound like a bit much at first, but it’s great to have if you’re planning long trips or don’t want to have to refill your cooler with ice all the time.
The cooler can fit up to 60 cans and 10 pounds of ice (and 40 cans, if you’re going to use the included bin for fruits and veggies). With its 22-inch height, it’s also ideal for carrying things like bottles of wine with all you’ll need for a cheese plate in the separate storage bin.
4. Stanley Adventure Heritage Cooler + Bottle Set
We love Stanley’s thermoses for their durable insulation for everything from coffee to beer to homemade cocktails and gazpacho, and this cooler set gives you one that’s secured to the pack with the cooler’s own handle.
This travel-friendly feature creates some extra room inside the cooler itself, so you can fit all your main dishes and sides for lunches or a picnic when you’re on the road. If you need to, say, make a PB&J for a hike or need some space to set down a plate or container, you can even use the lid as a flat surface.
When you’re not using it to store your food, you can load it up with about nine cans total, perfect for a small-but-durable cooler for tailgating or travel.