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Best Coolers for Camping and Saving Ice

Best Coolers for Camping and Saving Ice

Ice cold beverages, milk, eggs, meat, cheese, produce–how do you keep them cold (and safe) while camping? You need a high-quality, well-insulated cooler that maintains ice over several days, even in hot weather. That’s a tall order to fill, so we’re here to share the best coolers for camping!

What Are The Best Coolers For Camping? 

There are several factors we need to consider when shopping for a cooler. The first is what you need to keep cold. Are you looking for a standard cooler to keep some beverages cold or cool throughout the weekend? Or do you need a high-efficiency cooler to keep foods safely cold?  

dometic cfx camping cooler

The next thing you need to consider is the duration of your trip. How long will you need to keep the food cold? A standard or high-efficiency cooler might work for overnights or weekends. But if you’re staying out for a week and have items to keep reliably cold, you may want to invest in an electric cooler. 

And finally, there’s always the budget to consider. Are you willing and able to fork out the money for one of the best camping coolers? Or are you looking for a budget-friendly option? A standard cooler with ice is your budget option, while high-efficiency coolers go for more. A 12V compressor refrigerator/cooler is the most expensive by comparison. 

Types of Coolers

Let’s have a look at the various types of coolers available to you, and then we’ll move on to look at the best coolers for camping to determine which would best suit your needs.

Standard Coolers

Standard hard-sided coolers are great for an overnight or a weekend trip. Reasonably insulated, a standard cooler should hold ice for a couple of days, though high heat would cause ice to melt more quickly. 

Standard Cooler

When using a standard cooler, consider ambient temperature, how tightly the cooler is packed, and the initial temperature of the items inside as well. 

Pros & Cons

A standard cooler is relatively inexpensive to buy and readily available. It comes in various sizes to suit your family’s needs and has amenities such as handles, wheels, and drains. Most are rugged and durable, and some can even maintain ice for several days.

However, one of the cons of standard coolers is that they don’t generally maintain ice for long. A so-called “five-day cooler,” for example, might retain ice for a few days or less in high temperatures.

Another con of any standard cooler is the ice. Finding a place to replenish ice and making the transfer is always inconvenient. Worse, however, is the water mess when the ice begins to melt. Foods become soggy and sometimes even spoil.

camping cooler rv cartoon comic

High-Efficiency Coolers

High-efficiency coolers are essentially a middle ground between the standard cooler and electric coolers or portable refrigerators. They’re very similar to traditional coolers, but they’re more robust and better insulated. Often, they have tight latches that help minimize air leakage. 

high efficiency cooler for camping and saving ice
High-Efficiency Cooler

Some popular brands of high-efficiency coolers include Yeti, Orca, RTic, and XSpec. They work better than standard coolers and are also more expensive.

Pros & Cons

High-efficiency coolers generally maintain ice for longer than any standard cooler will, so they’ll keep your food colder and safer as a rule. Even in higher temperatures, they’ll perform well for ice coolers. 

This brings us to the cons. High-efficiency coolers are expensive. Again, you need to replenish the ice and face the dreaded melty mess and water-logged foods. It just takes a little longer to get there with high-efficiency coolers. 

These high-efficiency camping coolers also have thicker insulation. This makes them heavy and tougher to lug around – to the beach, to the picnic area, or to your campsite.

The thicker cooler walls also reduce the amount of space inside the cooler in relation to the external size. You’ll need to get an overall bigger cooler for the same cooler space as a standard cooler. Fortunately, much of that space can be saved in the amount of ice you need to store to keep it cold.

Still, depending on the length of your trip and how frequently you’ll open the cooler throughout that time, a high-efficiency cooler may work very well for your application. 

Electric Coolers/Portable Refrigerators

The next level of camping coolers is the electric cooler and/or portable refrigerator. These are two different animals, though both have power. 

Electric coolers get power from the 12V plug (or the old cigarette lighter plugs) in your vehicle or a power pack. They’re best for keeping food cool instead of very cold, and they won’t maintain their cool interior for long once unplugged. Think about whether you can keep the cooler powered throughout your camping trip as well. 

portable compressor refrigerator cooler with portable lithium battery
Portable Compressor Refrigerator

The portable 12V refrigerator has a compressor and can keep food very cold or even frozen. Some have two sides–where one side is for refrigeration, and the other side is a freezer. Others will act as one or the other. All cooler types considered, these keep their contents truly cold. 

Many Class B van owners actually use these coolers as their primary refrigerators due to their compact form factor, efficiency, and ease of use.

Pros & Cons

They keep foods reliably cold while plugged in. Portable fridges do a better job, but electric coolers are more affordable. Some of the high-quality 12V compressor refrigerators sip power, conserving energy use. 

Unlike any other cooler option, the portable electric coolers can even keep food frozen solid for as long as it has power. All of this is done without any ice! No more soggy hotdogs or hamburgers!

We were able to transport frozen salmon we caught in Alaska for over a year with one of these freezer/coolers. No other cooler would have been able to do that!

Electric cooler freezer
We drove our frozen salmon all the way back from Alaska!

These coolers are excellent to keep in your vehicle for grocery trips to the store, long car trips, and more. Without the need to constantly fill with ice, these coolers are much easier to turn on and use on a whim.

For many people, the fact that these options require power to operate is a significant con. Not everyone can keep an electric cooler or refrigerator powered throughout an extended camping trip. Also, if you’re hiking to a campsite, these types of coolers are not for you as they are pretty heavy!

The cost of these cooler types is also a downside for many people. Electric cooler prices can be similar to those of the high-efficiency models. But 12-volt compressor refrigerator-freezers can be extremely expensive.

DOMETIC I How To Operate Your CFX3 Powered Cooler

Want to learn about refrigerators for RV camping? This article has all the details: How Does an RV Refrigerator Work? It’s Pretty Cool!

Best Standard Coolers for Camping

There are some tremendous standard coolers for camping. If these are the types of coolers that fit your budget, here are our recommendations for high-quality ice-cooling.

Coleman Xtreme 5

The Coleman Xtreme 5 claims to keep ice for five days in 90-degree F weather, making it one of the best standard coolers for camping. However, these claims are seldom accurate in real-life testing, but we’ll take a look at some reviews as we consider this option.

Sale
Coleman Cooler | Xtreme Cooler Keeps Ice Up to 5...
  • Xtreme Technology; Insulated lid and extra wall insulation keep...
  • High Capacity: Holds Up to 100 Cans
  • HAVE-A-SEAT LID: Closed lid supports up to 250 lb.

This is a hard-sided cooler made of molded plastic with a capacity of 70 liters (which translates to 100 beverage cans). It has handles, a sit-upon lid with four shallow cup areas, and a drain plug. It weighs 12.3 pounds and costs around $52.

With 79% five-star ratings on Amazon, there are a lot of happy campers. Most reviewers appear to be satisfied with two to three days of ice maintenance. Ergo, the Coleman Xtreme is an excellent weekend cooler!

Igloo Polar Cooler

The Igloo Polar Coolers come in 100qt, 120qt, and 150 qt sizes. We’ll look at the 120 qt version (188 cans), which weighs just shy of 20 pounds and sells for about $70. 

It’s rated to keep ice for five days in ambient temps of 90 degrees F. Igloo claims that their Polar cooler has an “Ultratherm” insulated body and lid. Additionally, reinforced handles, two snap-fit latches to secure the lid closed, and a threaded drain plug round out this cooler’s features.

With 82% five-star ratings and only 2% one-star ratings, Amazon shoppers have given the Igloo Polar coolers high marks for sure. The only consistently noted downsides are the plastic hinges, but Igloo offers stainless steel hinges, which many reviewers state make this a hard-to-beat option. 

Best High-Efficiency Coolers for Camping

Next on our list of the best coolers for camping are high-efficiency coolers. You’ll likely recognize some top brand names here, and if you’re willing to pay the price, you might just find the best cooler you’ve ever had. 

Yeti Tundra Haul

The Yeti Tundra Haul is a rotomolded cooler that the makers claim is virtually indestructible. It’s a 32-pound cooler and is Yeti’s first cooler on wheels. Not to mention, it holds 55 quarts (13.8 gallons) and has a strong welded aluminum handle that collapses into the cooler’s side. 

YETI Tundra Haul Portable Wheeled Cooler
  • The Haul is the first-ever YETI cooler on wheels. Perfect for...
  • NeverFlat Wheels – A solid, single-piece tire construction that...
  • StrongArm Handle – A durable welded aluminum arm with...

This cooler gets substantial ratings from Amazon shoppers, 91% of whom give it five stars! Multiple reviewers state that the Yeti Tundra Haul kept ice for seven or eight days, an excellent performance for a high-efficiency cooler!

Of course, expect to pay for this quality. It retails for about $400.

Orca Cooler

This 40-quart cooler weighs 27 pounds and has a rotomolded construction. Its lid gasket seals the lid tightly with integrated insulation. The “flex-grip” handles are rope handles with grips, and reviewers seem satisfied with the well-designed drain plug.  

ORCA COOLERS White 40 Quart
  • Integrated insulation for maximum Ice/cold retention and...
  • This are outdoor-kitchen-accessories
  • This is manufactured in United States

Reviews are all over the map. Seventy-two percent of reviewers give the Orca five stars, but a whopping 9% throw one star at this option. A majority of reviewers love this product and claim that it keeps ice for 7-8 days. Some reviewers noted putting frozen meat in the cooler and that it was still frozen a week later. Negative reviews state that the cooler barely kept ice for 24 hours. 

The disparity of reviews suggests the potential for a quality-control issue which left some buyers with a bad experience. At a $279 retail price, these unsatisfied buyers expected much more. Despite the negative reviews, though, Orca is a trusted cooler brand. And we think this cooler is still worth considering.

Orca Cooler Review - 40 QT Bear-Proof Cooler | High Performance Long Lasting Durable Cooler

Best Electric Coolers and Portable Refrigerators for Camping

Finally, we have our recommendations for top-rated electric coolers and portable refrigerators. Again, when purchasing these models, be sure you have a place to plug them in while you camp! 

Dometic CFX Portable Fridge

The Dometic CFX Portable Fridge is one of the best-selling of its class, and its quality comes at a premium. For $1,333, you’re buying a 60-liter 12/24V compressor refrigerator/freezer with the ability to deep freeze down to -22 degrees F.

Dometic CFX-65 60 L Portable Compressor Fridge...
  • Runs on 12/24 V DC or 100-240 V AC
  • Deep freezing down to -22 degrees Celsius
  • Approximately 60 Litre capacity

Aside from the fact that you can control temperatures from the front panel or phone app, this fridge/freezer’s extremely low-power consumption is one of the most compelling features. With three-stage battery protection, it’s prohibited from draining your battery. 

Reviewers state that this fridge draws less than one amp so that you can run it 24 hours a day on a single battery fed by 200-watts of solar. Another reviewer said they ran it for three days on a single 120 amp-hour battery. 

There’s no question that $1,333 is pricey for portable refrigeration. But for folks with the means who RV or boat frequently, the Dometic CFX fridge/freezers could be ideal.

We have personal experience with the Dometic CFX line. We’ve been using ours full-time since summer 2019 in mostly freezer mode without any issues whatsoever.

Pro Tip: Pair it with the Dometic PLB40 for an easily portable lithium battery to continue providing power when disconnected from a grid or vehicle power source. (This CFX + PLB40 setup is the one we used in Alaska.)

Dometic PLB40 Portable Lithium Battery Power...
  • LITHIUM IRON PHOSPHATE BATTERY - More stable supply and longer...
  • POWERFUL BATTERY CELLS - Provide 512 Wh of energy, 40 Ah
  • VERSATILE CHARGING - Charge via 12 V socket, solar panel, or AC...

Truma Portable Electric Cooler 

Finally, we look at the Truma portable electric cooler. This 36L (9.5-gallon) single-zone fridge/freezer costs $1,100 and is another 12/24V compressor cooling unit. It weighs 48.5 pounds and cools to a low of -8 degrees Fahrenheit with a 0.5A average hourly draw. 

Truma 36 LTR/9.5 Gal Vol. Green Cooler C36 Single...
  • 9.5 Gal Volume, 26x16x17" (LxWxH), 50 Ibs
  • Energy Efficient compressor cools down to -8F (-22C) @ 0.5 (A)...
  • Accessible 12/24V DC & 110V AC connections

This fridge/freezer also has three-stage battery protection as well as a Bluetooth app for remote operation. 

None of the Truma portable electric coolers have Amazon reviews yet. But Truma offers their new-to-the-market coolers in seven models, including a couple of dual-zone options. With stainless steel hinges and bottle openers on each end, they have a rugged, durable appearance. 

If other Truma products’ quality is any indication, these fridges may become the popular new kid in town.

Coolers for Every Camping Style

Ultimately, there’s no shortage of coolers and fridges on the market these days. There’s undoubtedly something for every budget and every camping style with so many cooler types available in the “best coolers for camping” category. Regardless, having a great way to keep your food and drinks cold on your camping trip is essential.

We hope these reviews help you with your decision!

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Bruce Hoing

Monday 26th of April 2021

May I suggest another brand of high efficiency cooler called: KONG It's made in the USA. For many years the Yeti was the gold standard. For 20 years I admired the Yeti cooler for my boat, but it was quite expensive. Over the years I saw many coolers that tried to compete with Yeti, but none of them were significantly better until I saw the KONG cooler. The latches on the KONG cooler are far superior to the Yeti. The carrying handles on the KONG are also far superior to the Yeti. The KONG cooler has both vertical and horizontal dividers to keep food separated that are the best in the business. The dividers can be removed from the inside of the cooler and in an ingenious method they can be attached to the left and right side of the cooler to become trays that you can use as a tables. The KONG cooler is considerably cheaper than the Yeti cooler, is built better, and has way more features. Now with the KONG cooler on my boat, nobody compliments my boat any more. Now all my boat guests only compliment my cooler!

Mortons on the Move

Tuesday 27th of April 2021

Thank you for the recommendation!

Deborah Kerr

Sunday 25th of April 2021

Very thorough reviews - thank you!

Steve

Sunday 25th of April 2021

We use an ARB fridge, that I believe is a rebadged Dometic. 36qt. Works fabulous. Usually run it as an extra freezer when travelling, but sometimes just use it for beverages. Bonus is we can use it at home as a spare freezer, say, at Thanksgiving when there is nowhere to put the turkey, and adjust the temp to thaw it out in time! Been using the same one for 20 years! Got our money's worth.

Mortons on the Move

Tuesday 27th of April 2021

Wow 20 years! It sure is great to be able to choose to use it as a fridge or freezer.

C Mitch Kirkland

Sunday 25th of April 2021

In your post titled, What Are The Best Coolers For Camping? I saw no mention of thermoelectric coolers. I am still using the same one I bought back in the mid 90s. They are still around and I am looking into buying another. Our primary use is grocery getting but, when we first purchased it, it was parked outside our tiny camper. Tiny campers come with tiny refrigerators and the extra thermoelectric cooler made it possible to bring more cool stuff with us on longer trips.

Mortons on the Move

Tuesday 27th of April 2021

In general thermoelectric coolers tend to have cooling limits, but for the cost, they can be a great option. I will make sure to add a section about them.

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