Best Coolers for Road Trips
Last Updated by Brandon F. on 7/14/2021
Let’s face it: humans love going on trips. And the easiest and most cost-effective types of trips are road trips. There is nothing better than hopping in your car, loading up a suitcase, and hitting the road to your favorite landlocked destinations. In fact, the USA leads the world in the most road trips per person!
While most people think of packing socks, t-shirts, and their toiletries, you’d be amazed how many people don’t put much thought into arguably one of the most important items you should carry: a cooler!
Having an optimal cooler for your road trip is extremely important for a variety of reasons (which we will go over in the next section). In this article, we will also go over some of our top choices for the best cooler for your next road trip. The ice chests that we have selected offer up a nice balance between storage size, ice retention, and mobility. While we do also consider the price (and we do recommend some budget options in this article), we don’t recommend skimping on a road trip cooler to save a few dollars. A quality ice chest will serve you well, particularly on the road.
If you are in a hurry, check out our table below for the top choices for the best coolers for road trips. And if you want to read more about our methodology and considerations in addition to expanding on the cooler we chose, scroll below the table.
- 1 Best Coolers for Road Trips
- 1.1 The Best Coolers for Road Trips: Considerations
- 1.2 The Best Coolers for Road Trips: Our Choices
- 1.3 Conclusion
The Best Coolers for Road Trips: Considerations
Like we mentioned above, people oftentimes don’t put much thought into what type of cooler they are going to pack for their next road trip. However, selecting an optimal travel cooler is important for a variety of reasons:
-You want a cooler that has enough storage space to carry your supplies. This can include beverages, food, and even medications. This is particularly important if you are going through a low-population area or an area that experiences extreme levels of heat. We should always plan for the unexpected which could include a car breaking down, traffic jams, or getting lost in the boonies. And having enough supplies to handle these unanticipated circumstances is always a good idea.
-You want a cooler that can hold ice for adequate periods of time. This one is a no-brainer! On a long road trip (or a short road trip with unexpected issues), you may find that you need your cooler to hold cold items for many hours if not days. While some things such as water or sodas can still be enjoyed at warm temperatures, perishables like meat and produce will spoil very quickly if not properly chilled. As such, it is important to have a cooler that can handle these demands. Sure, you can always swing by a gas station and buy another bag of ice, but that comes with the added hassle and reliance on there being a nearby store that you can buy ice. If you are out in the middle of nowhere North Dakota, this may not be an option!
-Having a cooler that doesn’t take up a lot of space can be helpful if you are loaded up with other travel gear and/or drive a smaller car. While somebody with a huge SUV may not have any issues, someone driving a Honda Civic or also carrying a large family may not have a lot of storage space to work with.
-A cooler that is easy to open can be a nice touch for those who want to grab items on the road. Having to pull over into a parking lot and remove your ice chest from your car just to grab a soda is certainly not convenient.
While factors such as durability, styling, and cost may be considerations for some shoppers, we don’t feel that they are as high of a priority for road trip coolers.
The Best Coolers for Road Trips: Our Choices
Let’s face it: we test a lot of coolers here at TheCoolerZone! And based on our ample research and first-hand experience, the below coolers are our top choices. All of these coolers strike a nice balance of the above considerations that we discussed (storage size, ice retention, mobility, ease of access, etc.).
Engel HD30 Soft-Sided Cooler Tote Bag
One of the highest-rated coolers we’ve ever tested, the Engel Soft-Sided Cooler Bag really checks all the boxes. While soft-sided, it offers excellent ice retention. You can expect 1 to 2 days (maybe more) of proven ice life. And with approximately 32 quarts of storage space, there are is enough space to store multiple food and beverage items.
Also, this soft cooler can easily be doubled as a mobile solution. So when you are to your final destination and need to take your cooler out of the car for a hike, picnic, etc., this cooler can provide the essential mobility that you need.
Cordova Sidekick 20 Quart
We have had a great experience with Cordova Coolers and their 20-quart Sidekick line is no exception. For some, this may be too small of a cooler. And true to form, if you are needing a cooler that can handle a week’s worth of food and drinks then this isn’t the cooler for you.
But for someone looking for a mobile ice chest with good ice life that can easily be stowed away in a back seat, a floor mat, or even on the back of a motorcycle, then look no further!
Grizzly G40 Cooler
The Grizzly Cooler takes a very straightforward approach. You would find a laundry list of features and accessories. And to some, that may be a turn-off. But for a road trip cooler, these added features really aren’t necessary. And what Grizzly focuses on ice retention, optimal shape/storage space, etc., it does quite well.
The G40 is more of a mid-size cooler. This does mean it takes up a little more space but the tradeoff is a lot more storage space. This ice chest is large enough to handle the needs of a small family for multiple days. And if properly filled with ice, you may be able to stretch out a 20-pound bag of ice for 5 days or more!
Igloo Sportsman 20Qt Cooler
Most people have heard of Igloo. While they are traditionally better known for the low-cost options, they also have a branch of proven higher-end ice chests now. At the top of this is their Sportsman line. While these ice chests won’t have quite the build quality or ice retention as the top-tier coolers, the price difference is large enough to overlook these shortcomings.
Thanks to anywhere from 1.5 to 2” of wall thickness, rubber gaskets, and quality t-latches, this small cooler can still offer ice life for a long weekend. And for its size and weight, it will have more storage volume than other high-end coolers that take up similar space. This helps with its mobility and versatility.
And while we really aren’t focused on price in this article, it is worth mentioning that an Igloo Sportsman 20Qt Cooler can be had for a fraction of the price of other premium hard-sided cooler brands with comparable performance/quality.
Polar Bear 48 Pack Nylon Soft Cooler
If you are willing to sacrifice some in the way of ice retention and durability for a massive boost in storage capability, then we recommend Polar Bear’s proven lineup of soft coolers. Specifically, their Nylon offering is among our favorites.
These coolers, despite being lightweight and easy to stow away, promise impressive storage retention. This is particularly true for cans of your favorite beverage. They are a designed in a way to allow you to stack up rows of cans (or bottles) with ease.
The large zipper also makes it a breeze to unzip and easily grab a can while on the road. But do keep in mind that you will have to be more attentive to ice levels. And being a soft cooler, these types of coolers may tend to leak some melted ice if you aren’t careful. But these minor inconveniences are easily overlooked.
Mammoth Cooler 65 Quart
If you value storage size and ice retention and have lots of space to spare, then the Mammoth 65 Quart is a good choice for you. Coming in at 65 quarts of storage space, you will enjoy longer ice life and more storage size than any other cooler we list in this article. Specifically, an ice life of nearly a week is possible in the right conditions! And you will have enough space to store all the drinks, food, and medications that you would likely need for a weeklong road trip.
But for some, this size cooler may be overkill for a road trip or, in some cases, they may not have enough room to sacrifice for such a bulky cooler.
There are a lot of things that are on the to-do list when planning a road trip. Car maintenance, what to wear, bringing enough sunscreen, and having the route laid out all likely cross our minds. But before your next trip where you hit the road, we encourage you to spend a little more time thinking about what type of cooler to bring to best meet your needs.
We hope that some of our choices here come up for consideration if you are shopping for a new road trip cooler. We have personally tried all these coolers and can vouch for their quality and performance. And while everybody’s personal needs will vary, there is a broad enough range of options to meet most people’s needs.