How to Choose a Cooler for Camping

cooler at a campsite

You’ll likely be spending a lot of your time on your next camping trip hiking, fishing, mountain biking, and doing other activities, but there will come a time when you need to eat.

Eating while camping can be a very fun experience. It’s different than eating at home. One thing you’ll need to be able to do, though, is have the ability to store your food and beverages. While RVs are commonly equipped with refrigerators, if you’re tent camping, you’ll need a good cooler for your food.

A cooler can also come in handy for RVers who want to spend the day at the beach, or who just need a little extra room for some drinks or food. In short, a cooler is a must if you’re camping, and you don’t want to buy just any cooler. Here’s what you need to think about when looking for a cooler.

What Type of Cooler Is for You?

man sitting on a cooler
Image from Gander

How many types of coolers are out there? Well, probably more than you’d immediately think.

If you’re like me when you hear cooler, your brain immediately goes to the Igloo hard-bodied plastic coolers you see just about everywhere with a creaky lid and a leaky drain plug. But that’s not the case anymore. Coolers are pretty sophisticated now.

There are three main types: soft coolers, hard coolers, and powered coolers. Soft coolers are usually smaller and easily portable. Hard coolers are typically larger and can keep your food or drinks colder longer. Powered coolers are more like tiny refrigerators that run on electricity. This makes them a good choice for RVers and car campers.

If you plan on keeping your cooler in your car or vehicle, then a hard-bodied one or a powered one might be the perfect solution. If you will take your cooler with you when you go hiking or to the beach, then a soft cooler might be a smart choice. It all just depends on what you’re doing and how you plan to use your cooler.

Take a moment to really think about how you’ll be using a cooler and then determine which type will be best for you

How Big Should You Go?

pelican cooler
Image from Gander


Once you’ve determined which type of cooler is right for you, it’s time to start thinking about capacity.

Most coolers are measured in quarts. Generally, one quart will be enough room for .75 cans. This might sound odd, but it works out like this: a 24-quart cooler will hold about three six-packs or 18 cans.

You also need to realize that some of the capacity of the cooler will be taken up by ice. This means you’ll need to factor that in. Usually, you can add ice around the cans or whatever food you put in the cooler, but remember that about a quarter of its capacity will be used by ice.

A mistake I see some people make is that they choose too big of a cooler. Bigger isn’t always better. A large cooler is more cumbersome to move and heavier. Also if you only use some of the capacity of the cooler that can make it less efficient when it comes to keeping ice frozen. The more air inside the cooler the faster the ice will melt.

I’d advise you to buy only as much cooler as you think you’ll need and not anymore. I’d rather have two smaller coolers than one giant one.

How Long Will it Keep Your Food Cold?

inside a cooler
Image from Gander

What you really should be asking is how long do you need to keep your food cold, because there are coolers out there for all durations. Some are good for as little as a few hours while others can keep ice frozen for up to 10 days—more if it’s a powered cooler.

Think about how long you’ll need your cooler to keep its contents cold. If you’re a weekend camper, something that will keep your food and drinks cold for a few days should suffice. Also, keep in mind that the more you open your cooler, where it is stored or sitting, and the weather all impacts how long it will keep ice.

What about Wheels and Handles?

rovr cooler
Image from Gander

Going to be moving your cooler from place to place? Get one with wheels and a handle, especially if it’s a large cooler.

The brand RovR makes some of the best coolers of various sizes with a sturdy handle and large wheels. This is the Jeep of coolers and ready for any adventure. They’re also quite expensive, but if you want a good cooler with quality handles, wheels, and accessories, then I highly recommend it.

If you don’t think you need wheels, then at least go for something with some good handles. Most coolers out there now have good handles on them. Go for something with handles molded into the body. Flip out or pull up handles will break over time. You want handles that are integrated into the cooler. They will last forever.

Looking for the perfect cooler for your next camping trip? Check out all the coolers for sale at Gander.

How to choose a cooler for camping


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