What do the Categories Mean?

Last Updated by Brandon F. on June 20, 2019

Here at TheCoolerZone, we take great pride in having the most extensive cooler-specific review website on the internet.  However, in getting to that point we ran into a bit of a challenge: there are a lot of coolers out there!  There is a vast range of sizes, materials, features, applications, ice life, costs, etc.  Simply listing all of these on a page would get quite messy and be extremely overwhelming.  Because of this, we broke down what we feel are the most important metrics that people typically look for when choosing a cooler:

More thorough breakdowns of each and helpful links are shown below.

Coolers by Manufacturer

There are a wide variety of companies that produce coolers, and each brand has their own unique pros and cons.  While it can be a bit laborious reading up on all of them, having so many options is a good thing because it most likely means that there is a product out there that fits our exact wants and needs.  

For example, some companies specialize in smaller, soft-sided solutions while others may be better at premium plastic coolers that are intended to keep ice for several days.  Some companies put price point is their top priority, trying to make a serviceable cooler that can fit any budget while others will focus on maximizing performance, resulting in expensive prices. To simplify matters, we have included links to all of the manufacturers that we have reviewed.  

You’ll notice common themes within a given brand, and this could assist you in quickly determining whether your cooling solution might be made by that particular company or if you should keep searching.

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.

What do the Categories Mean?

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:

  • 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 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

  • 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

  • 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

  • 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.

Coolers by Cost

Another important consideration that someone goes through before purchasing a product is how much it costs.  As such, it is important to categorize all of our reviewed coolers by this metric.  There will be a wide range of asking prices, even within a given size or type of cooler.  For some, the premium might be worth it so that they get the best performing option available.

 For others, trying to simply find a serviceable ice chest that has the smallest impact on their pocketbook might be the top priority. While this approach seems straightforward enough, if you blindly try to compare the cost of one cooler to the price of another you might run into some issues and be driven to some questionable conclusions.  For instance, a small, soft-sided personal lunch box will likely be cheaper than a 100-quart plastic cooler.  

Does that automatically mean that the lunch box is the “better” buy?  Of course not! Because of this, we have broken down all coolers into a dollar per quart ratio.  In other words, how many quarts of storage volume do you get for each dollar that you spend.  Of course, there will be a wide variance in the specific values here and these values may constantly change depending on the availability on the market.  To make things simple we group all products into 3 potential categories: budget, intermediate, and premium.

Budget Priced
The most affordable tier.  The top priority of these products will oftentimes be price, which may result in some shortcuts being taken in build quality, materials used, cooling ability, and additional features.  Surprisingly there aren’t as many small sizes as you would expect here, and there is a nice variety of choices in the larger size ranges.  Most of these products will have a relatively limited ice life, with few exceeding more than a couple of days.  Despite that, there are still some great choices here that should meet the needs of a vast majority of potential buyers on the market.  Many of these choices could be found for under a dollar per quart of storage volume. Click here to check out our full listing of budget priced cooler reviews.
Intermediate Priced
This is the middle-of-the-road tier.  It also has a nice variety of sizes, and you will start to see more of the smaller options becoming available in this bracket.  In addition, higher quality materials and build quality start to come into play along with some helpful features.  The top-performing ice chests in this category could potentially see several days of ice life and also have very impressive durability.  These are targeted at those buyers who are wanting a better performing product that could last longer but still are relatively conscious of prices.  Many of these options will fall in the one to two dollar per quart range. Click here to see our full listing of intermediate priced cooler reviews.
Premium Priced
This is the most expensive tier.  It contains the highest-quality coolers that will typically be made of high-grade materials such as metals, tougher plastics, and fancy fabrics.  In addition, they will be loaded with features and typically last for a long time.  While there still is a nice variety of sizes available, you’ll see quite a few of the smaller and personal-sized examples in this bracket since coolers tend to trend downward in their relative cost per quart as they get larger.  The longest-performing ice chests will be here, with some reaching a week or longer.  In addition, many of these products will be extremely durable and be able to handle the toughest environments for years.  Prices vary quite a bit here, but many can reach into the several dollars per quart range. Click here to see our full listing of premium priced cooler reviews.
What do the Categories Mean?
TheCoolerZone tests and reviews various coolers to find the best products for you. When readers buy our reviewed picks, we earn affiliate commissions that help to support the site.