Best ice box coolers to keep your beverages cool on the go

The Ultimate Guide to Choosing the Best Ice Box Cooler for Keeping Beverages Cool on the Go

Remember that road trip last summer when we stopped to get drinks but forgot a cooler? The beverages got warm within an hour, and we had to drink hot soda the rest of the drive. Not fun. That experience taught me the importance of having the right ice box cooler when you’re on the go. 

Whether you’re going on a short day trip or a multi-day camping adventure, having an ice box to keep your drinks refreshingly cool can make or break the experience. But with so many cooler styles, sizes, and features to choose from, it can be tricky to select the right one to suit your needs and budget. This comprehensive guide to picking the best cooler will walk you through the key factors to keep in mind.

Types of Ice Box Coolers

The first decision to make is whether you want a hard-sided or soft-sided cooler. Both have their own advantages depending on your use case. 

Hard-Sided Coolers

These coolers have rigid, molded plastic walls that are highly effective at insulation. Hard-sided coolers come in rectangular or cylindrical shapes and often have a latching lid that seals tight. 

Pros:

– Excellent at retaining ice and keeping contents cold for days

– Very durable and can withstand wear and tear

– Bear-proof – locking lids prevent wildlife from getting inside

Cons: 

– Large and bulky, less portable

– Heavier than soft-sided options

– Can be quite expensive for high-end brands

Soft-Sided Coolers

Soft coolers are made of flexible material like nylon or canvas and have insulation inside. They compress down when not in use.

Pros:

– More lightweight and portable than hard coolers

– Lower cost on average

– Various shoulder strap options for easy carrying

Cons: 

– Less insulation and ice retention than hard coolers

– Not as durable with risk of leakage/tearing

– Often no built-in wheels or handles

In addition to the exterior, it’s also important to consider capacity. Personal coolers around 20 liters are great for solo use or short trips. But for a bigger group, you’ll want a large cooler between 80-150+ liters to hold enough drinks and food. There are also refrigerated coolers that can connect to your car or an external power source, providing next-level cooling.

Key Considerations when Choosing an Ice Box Cooler

To select the optimal ice box for your needs, keep these key factors in mind:

Intended Use Case

How and where do you plan to use your cooler? This will determine what size and features you need. Some examples:

– For short outdoor excursions, a small personal cooler (~20 liters) is convenient. It fits what you need for a day trip without too much bulk.

– For weekend camping trips or small gatherings, go for a mid-sized cooler around 50 liters. This provides enough room for food and drinks for a few people. 

– For extended camping trips or a big event with lots of people, large capacity coolers from 80-150+ liters do the trick. You’ll have ample space to store beverages and perishables.

Portability 

If you’ll be moving your cooler often, portability features are key:

– The lighter the cooler, the easier transport will be. But lightweight often comes at the cost of insulation power.

– Built-in wheels and handles make a huge difference for larger coolers you’ll be rolling around.

– Make sure your vehicle has enough room for the cooler you choose before purchasing. Measure your trunk or cargo area.

Ice and Beverage Capacity 

A cooler’s insulation determines how long it can keep ice frozen and drinks cold:

– The thicker the insulation and higher quality the material, the longer ice will be retained.

– Pay attention to capacity in cans/bottles held to ensure your cooler fits enough.

– Hard-sided coolers tend to have superior insulation and ice life than soft coolers.

Durability and Insulation

For frequent use and outdoor adventures, durability and insulation power are vital:

– Hard-shell coolers made from rotomolded plastic tend to be extremely durable, protecting contents from damage.

– Thicker insulation (2″+) provides maximum ice retention, keeping contents colder longer.  

– Soft-sided coolers often have thinner insulation and aren’t as abrasion/puncture resistant.

Extra Features

Added features to look for include:

– Drain plugs at bottom make it easy to empty melted ice.

– External power ports allow connecting a battery or car to refrigerate contents.

– Interior shelves/dividers help organize contents.

– Some high-end coolers have an air-tight gasket around the lid.

– A few models offer built-in Bluetooth speakers – perfect for parties!

Budget

There are good quality coolers at every price point. But in general:

– Affordable coolers (~$50) work great for shorter trips and smaller groups. Just expect faster ice melt.

– Premium coolers ($200+) offer incredible insulation and features, built to last years. 

– Over time, it can be worth spending more upfront for a cooler that will outlast cheaper versions.

Top Ice Box Cooler Brands

There are a few brand names you’ll see again and again if researching coolers. Here’s how they compare:

YETI

The luxury SUV of coolers, YETI is a premium brand known for incredible durability and insulation. They pioneered the rotomolded cooler design. 

Pros: 

– Keep ice 7+ days in hot conditions

– Bearproof – certified for wildlife resistance 

– Heavy-duty build quality

Cons:

– Very bulky and heavy when loaded 

– Expensive – cost up to $1300 

Best for – Serious adventurers and outdoor enthusiasts.

Coleman 

An affordable and reliable classic brand, Coleman offers a good selection of mid-range coolers. 

Pros:  

– Known brand name with long history

– Reasonable prices from $50-$200

– Lightweight options for easy transport

Cons: 

– Ice retention 2-4 days typically

– Not as durable long-term

Best for – Casual camping and events on a budget.

Igloo

Falling between low cost and premium brands, Igloo provides versatile coolers at moderate prices.

Pros:

– Diverse product line from personal to giant sizes

– Typically retains ice 3-5 days

– Some higher-end options comparable to YETI 

Cons:  

– Cheaper models have flimsier construction

– Ice retention still lags behind YETI and similar

Best for – Quality coolers without breaking the bank.

There are also lesser known brands like RTIC that offer value by emulating premium cooler features at lower prices. Take time to read reviews before deciding which brand meets your needs and budget.

Ice Box Cooler Sizes to Consider 

One of the most important choices is selecting the right capacity cooler for your needs. Here are some popular sizes and what they work well for:

Compact and Personal Coolers (~20 liters)

These provide just enough space for your essentials for solo trips or quick excursions.

– Keeps a 6 pack or ~10 cans cold plus a bit of food

– Fits easily in the car and lightweight to carry

Mid-Sized Coolers (~50 liters) 

A versatile option good for small groups, or solo use with longer ice retention needed. 

– Holds around 38 cans or a case of wine/liquor

– Enough room for snacks, sandwiches, and a 1-2 day trip

Large Coolers (70-150+ liters)

Perfect for camping trips and parties with lots of people. Massive capacity to hold all supplies.

– Fits up to 100+ cans or multiple cases of wine/beer

– Extra room for grilling supplies, packages of food, etc.

Extra-Large Coolers (200+ liters)

Ideal for major events, catering, and commercial use where high capacity is essential.

– Holds 150+ cans or cases of beverages  

– Can keep an entire barbecue’s worth of food cool

Choose cooler size based on expected group size, length of trip, and quantity of food/drinks needed. You want some extra room for ice but not so much the cooler feels empty.

Using Ice Boxes for Industries/Applications

Beyond just recreational use, ice boxes play a vital role in specialized industries that need reliable cooling:

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