Not all camper vans have the space for a fridge, which is why it’s a great idea to have a camping cooler to hand.
Every time I’ve been to America, the culture seems to be to head for the camping cooler or ‘the ice chest’ instead of worrying about sticking food and beverages in a fridge.
It’s a simple method, and you can cram a lot of stuff in. But most of all, it brings back that authentic camping feel to any road trip. And that’s what van life is all about, right?
Spartan gear-hauling campers like the Project M from Four Wheel Campers are perfect for this kind of lifestyle. Grab a pack of ice, chuck it in the camping cooler with your meat, beer, or veggie snacks, and hit the open road.
But how do you choose the best one for your set up?
Picking The Best Camping Cooler
Now, I know what some of you are thinking. The answer is no; I’m not just going to list a load of styrofoam chests. Camping cooler technology has moved on a lot since then, and there are some pretty sweet units out there to choose from.
Picking a box that essentially holds ice and keeps your food fresh might sound like the simplest thing in the world. But there are some details which you should consider before you click that Buy Now button.
It’s no use buying a shoe box sized cooler if you’re travelling with four kids in tow. At the same time, it’s not a good idea to just buy the biggest one that you can find and declare the job ‘done’.
Bigger camping cooler models will keep your food cooler for longer. It’s not magic, it’s just logic. More ice equals cooler temperatures, and you should aim for a ration of about 2:1 when measuring your ice against your food stocks.
Some camping cooler models come with handles for two-person lifting, and others come with handy wheels to drag along like a suitcase.
If you’re planning on going on a solo adventure, then the chances are you aren’t going to need something incredibly heavy. You can usually find easy-access handles around the lid of the product, and extendable ones if you do decide to lift your beers out of your van so that you can reach them from your camping chair.
My advice would be to only get what you can carry. The last thing you want is to put your back out by lifting your camping cooler outside.
No one wants to be in pain just for easier access to some tofurkey burgers!
Of course, there are lots of other styles of camping coolers that you can buy too. We recently covered an inflatable cool box that is incredibly portable and easy to store. Still, it might not be as durable over a long period of usage in the great outdoors.
If you’re planning on holidaying in campsites or soft, sandy beaches, then you probably don’t need something that is built like a tank. If you’re camping in the great outdoors or tend to throw things around a lot, then the stronger the better.
Of course, an inflatable camping cooler won’t do very well against bears.
Latches and clever seals aren’t going to be enough to stop Yogi and Boo-Boo from clawing their way into your picnic baskets. Bear proof coolers have to meet a special set of regulations set out by the IGBC (interagency grizzly bear committee).
Bear proof camping cooler units need to be incredibly durable, mask the smell of your food inside, and have the ability to be padlocked shut. Think Fort Knox, and you’re on the right lines.
The price of your camping cooler will mainly depend on how insulated it is. There are two types of insulation to look out for; one cheaper, and one more expensive.
Foam insulated coolers are by far the most common option, but that doesn’t mean that they’re bad. They are made from blocks of high-density foam squashed between two layers of plastic. This method has been used for decades and is a cost-effective option for weekend warriors and occasional campers alike.
Rotomoulded coolers comprise of a plastic casing that is moulded over an insulated core. This removes any chance of leakage through gaps or seams, and they’re much more durable. If I was going on an epic off grid adventure, then I think I would bring one of these along for the ride.
When all that ice melts, you’re going to have a lot of water on your hands. Draining plugs make it easy to drain your coolers and let all that H2O flood back out into mother nature.
This isn’t a massive selling point for me; you can always just tip the cooler on its side, after all. Coolers with taps and draining plugs are a lot more convenient, however, especially when it comes to cleaning them out before you store them away for the winter.
- 120-quart holds 188 cans
- Price – $82.79
- Keeps ice cold at 90℉ / 32℃ for 5 days
This Igloo cooler is the real deal. It’s big enough for all of your favourite snacks and treats and comes with two handles for carrying with a friend.
The Igloo Polar 120 is perfect for long trips away. Thanks to the Ultratherm Insulation in this unit, it works well in temperatures of 90℉. That’s perfect for most places bar the desert!
It’s got more than enough space to hold food for your whole family or friendship group, and the double latches keep everything secure while on the road.
- 20-quart Gray Lifetime Rotomolded Ice Cooler
- Price – $149.00
- Keeps food cold up to 5 days
The next camping cooler model is a rotomoulded beast. The 3″ walls on the Cubix Ice Chest keep food cold for up to 5 days, an incredible feat for such a small cooler.
From the thickwall design to the beefy handle and latches, this cooler is one that you can take into the great outdoors with confidence. The company has described it as being ‘virtually indestructible’.
If that doesn’t give you confidence, then I don’t know what will!
- 65-quart for fishing or camping
- Price – $349.98
- Rotomould design with permafrost insulation
Speaking of being indestructible, this next camping cooler is the toughest nut on the block. It boasts a rotomould design that makes it tough all the way to the insulated core.
The Yeti Tundra is weatherproof, durable, and has impressive ice retention qualities. The whole marketing pitch is revolved around taking these coolers into the great outdoors, and they’re ready for whatever creatures, critters, or weather patterns mother nature might send your way.
These coolers are bearproof despite not giving any information on the listing as being IGBC certified. And if you’re not a fan of brown, then you can choose from a variety of colours!
- 48-quart holds 63 cans + big enough for 2-litre bottles to stand upright
- Price – $24.99
- Leak resistant design
1,635 people have given this cooler an average rating of 4.5/5 on Amazon. That’s usually enough to give me confidence when I’m buying a product, and I would have no qualms about purchasing the Coleman Performance for my next trip away.
The camping cooler uses Thermozone insulation to keep your food and drinks ice-cold for up to 3-days in temperatures of up to 90℉ / 32℃. It’s a great unit for storing food for the whole family and boasts a hinged, easy-access lid that you can open with one hand.
The two way handles are positioned nicely, and the Low CO2 insulation will give our top eco campers better peace of mind when using this product. With leak-free technology, draining, and a great price, you can’t really go wrong!
- 40-quart cooler
- Price – $254.99
- Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC) Certified
While a lot of the coolers on our list hint at their ability to withstand a bear attack, the Grizzly range of camping cooler models are one of only two products to clearly state that they are IGBC certified in their listings.
If you’re heading into bear country, then you want to make sure that you have the correct gear for every scenario. The aptly named ‘Grizzly’ cooler has an integrated hinge, bearclaw latches, and a sealed lid to stop smells escaping while keeping your food cool.
These durable, rotomoulded cases are injected with Ecomate polyurethane foam for the best possible cooling results. This unique form of insulation has zero global warming potential, zero ozone depletion potential, and is made without any pesky VOCs.
What’s more, the container is made by using FDA approved plastic. This isn’t just the most bear proof container, it’s also the most eco-friendly too!
- 55-quart rotomoulded design with microban antimicrobial protection
- Price – $189.14
- Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC) Certified
- Keeps ice up to 8 days
I’ve saved the best camping cooler till last because it truly is an all-rounder. It’s a good price and comes with microban antimicrobial protection to reduce bacteria, odours, and stains.
The Arctic Zone Titan Deep Freeze also sounds like a comic book villain, which makes it a winner in my book. It comes in two sizes and boasts a freezer-grade 360-degree rubber gasket for creating a tight seal.
This strong, durable cooler comes with a ruler for measuring your fish catch and is strong enough to sit on. It has an oversized drain that’s easy to use, and the keeps ice for up to 8 days!
This cheap cooler is also IGBC certified, giving you that extra confidence if the Hair Bear Bunch starts snooping around. Result!