Coolers by Size

One of the most important criteria that people look for when shopping for a cooler is its storage size.  The size requirements someone needs for a personal backpacking cooler will be vastly different than those who are looking for a product that can store a week’s worth of food and drinks for a large family.  And the size comes at a cost: the larger the cooler, the more burdensome it will be to transport.

Because of this, it would be silly for someone who just needs enough room to pack their lunch to purchase a huge cooler that can store 150 cans. While having a product that meets your storage needs might seem like a no-brainer, there is more to the story.  There is a huge variety of cooler shapes and thicknesses, so just because a cooler appears to be larger in all actuality it might actually have LESS storage space than a thinner, more optimally shaped rival.  In addition, parts of the storage area might not be insulated (this is very common on soft-sided coolers that oftentimes have additional external pockets or compartmentalized storage areas). Considering this, even if a particular cooler might advertise as being larger, you might not be able to keep as many perishable items cold as you would have anticipated.

To try to simplify things, we have broken down all of the coolers we have reviewed into 5 categories: personal, small, medium, large, and huge.  Personal has 16 quarts or less, small has 17 to 35 quarts, medium has 36 to 59 quarts, large has 60 to 99 quarts, and giant has 100 quarts and above of storage volume.

How much volume is a quart, exactly?  A quart is 4 cups, 2 pints, or 32 ounces.  However, just because a quart is 32 ounces don’t automatically assume that a 3-quart cooler could fit 8 12-ounce sodas.  This is because of several reasons:

  • The storage volume might not be optimally-shaped to fit your items perfectly.  If your cooler is long and narrow even if it has a large enough calculated storage volume to fit a particular item, if that item is too wide or tall it might not fit.
  • The storage volumes might be divided into multiple compartments.  This is actually quite common, and it means that single large items might struggle to fit.
  • Some of the calculated storage volume might not be insulated.  What good is external storage volume that isn’t insulted in regards to you storing ice cream?  Or a cold beer?  It is important to make sure that you have an understanding of how much insulated storage volume there actually is and make sure it will fulfill your needs.
  • You will likely need room for ice or ice packs.  Oftentimes ice can take up a significant portion of storage space so you need to account for that when calculating how much you will need.

Considering these, we always recommend to aim a little higher than what you anticipate needing.  While a bit inconvenient, there is nothing majorly wrong with having a bit TOO much storage space.  However, not having enough could be a much larger issue.

So how much is enough?  It might be hard to visualize what exactly you will need to we have included some common applications for typical sizes:
personal
  • lunch for work/school
  • drinks while doing yardwork
  • post-workout supplement
  • afternoon snack
  • short trail hike or run

Check out our full list of reviewed personal size coolers

small
  • small picnic for two
  • large individual lunch with drinks included
  • personal container for hiking with food and drinks
  • beach excursion for two or three people
  • chilled items from grocery store

Check out our full list of reviewed small size coolers

medium
  • family picnic
  • weekend drinks for an individual or couple on a camping trip
  • motorcycle roadtrip
  • full day at the beach for a small group
  • a few meals for an individual or couple

Check out our full list of reviewed medium size coolers

large
  • all multi-day camping supplies for a family
  • weekend group hunting outing
  • fish storage from fishing trip
  • drink storage for a large tailgate
  • huge family picnic

Check out our list of reviewed large size coolers

giant
  • drink container for a huge party/tailgate
  • full week’s supplies for a hunting or fishing adventure
  • camping food and drinks for a large family for extended weekend
  • all necessities for a group road trip
  • storage for ample fish or wildlife while hunting

Check out our full list of reviewed giant size coolers

These are just a few examples, and they are not set in stone.  However, they give a general idea of what sort of size you need to be looking for, depending on the application.  If you are unsure between two sizes we recommend playing it safe and “sizing up” to the next largest.