Family Road Trip - Best Coolers For Road Trips

Best Coolers For Road Trips in 2024

Should you bring along a cooler on a road trip? Absolutely YES!

Coolers for road trips will save you money and time for having to stop and purchase ice and ensure that your foods and beverages are kept fresh.

So, whether you are camping, hiking, or road tripping packing a cooler is essential as it will keep foods colder longer.

Different Types Of Coolers

No party is ever complete without an excellent portable cooler! And there are many types of coolers out there. They include

  • Soft-sided coolers
  • Hardshell Roto-Molded Coolers
  • Backpack cooler
  • Hard plastic coolers
  • Metal coolers
  • Canvas cooler
  • Neoprene cooler
  • Nylon cooler
  • Polyester cooler
  • Polypropylene cooler
  • Styrofoam cooler
  • Vinyl coolers
  • Budget cooler
  • Cooler with wheels

The main thing to note is that all the types can keep your drinks and food nice and cold. The variation comes down to why you need the cooler, how much it is insulated, and how many drinks/ foods you store inside.

So, when would you need each type of cooler?

Soft Sided Coolers

Best Coolers For Road Trips - Green Soft Sided Coolers with Zipper

Soft-sided coolers are great for light day-to-day use. This is because they are lightweight and easy to carry. The soft-sided coolers are perfect for outdoor enthusiasts, especially in summer when it is essential to keep food and drinks cold while away from an accessible refrigerator. You can rely on your soft-sided cooler for several hours of insulation.

Hardshell Roto Molded Coolers

Rotomolded coolers are hard-sided ice chests that are durable and great for ice retention. Fishermen and campers have proved the hardshell roto-moulded cooler as they are thicker and more airtight, thus keeping the temperatures inside constant and preventing heat from outside from penetrating inside more effectively.

Backpack Coolers

A backpack cooler is ideal for those families that engage in day hiking, attending or playing in sporting activities, camping, and picnicking. All these activities require food and drink to be kept at a specific temperature but need the ability to carry and transport it quickly and conveniently.

Hard Plastic Coolers

Best Coolers For Road Trips - Red and White Hard Plastic Coolers

Hard plastic coolers are one of the best travel coolers. They are for adventures on long trips or visiting rugged environments. This is because they have better ice retention, are significantly larger, and are rigid.

Metal Coolers

Metal coolers can either be made from aluminium or stainless steel. This means that they are durable, and if you know you are off to rough terrain, this might be your option.

Metal coolers are travel coolers, as they can handle a fair amount of wear and tear.

Canvas Coolers

A canvas cooler is ideal for carrying something small or cold: this can be a quick snack or lunch. This makes canvas coolers perfect for picnics or walks.

Neoprene Coolers

If you are taking something on a short trip or need to keep something cool for a limited time, the neoprene cooler will be up to the task. The neoprene coolers are small, lightweight, and portable.

It is a perfect personal cooler that you can use to cool your wine or drink.

Nylon Coolers

A nylon cooler is one of the coolers for road trips as it provides quick access to cold drinks like mineral water. It is small to mean that you must be intentional about what you carry.

Best Coolers For Road Trips - Strapped Nylon Coolers

Polyester Coolers

A polyester cooler is more like a canvas cooler as it is small in size with a simple design. It is an ideal cooler to carry your lunch in or at a team practice. It is a flexible cooler that you can fold or press flat when you do not need it.

Polypropylene Coolers

A polypropylene cooler has a rigid design making it great for camping, fishing, and hiking. It is made of a material resistant to chemicals, acids, solvents, and oils.

Styrofoam Coolers

Best Coolers For Road Trips -  Black Styrofoam Coolers

A styrofoam cooler has an effective and affordable way to control the temperatures of an item. This makes them ideal for food services to ship foods because of their superior ability to insulate. 

While they are ideal for shipping, they can also be used at home. They are also one of the best small coolers for road trips.

Vinyl Coolers

Vinyl coolers are perfect for a night outdoors as they can keep ice solid for up to 24 hours. They have a carrying strap and are made of rigid waterproof material. 

Budget Coolers

Budget coolers have a low cost but a high value for the cost. They are good solid coolers that are strong enough for people to sit on. This makes the budget coolers an outdoor type and suitable as road trip coolers as they are easy to carry and move around.

Cooler With Wheels

A cooler with wheels is ideal for participating in sports as they can be wheeled across all terrain. They also have a handle on the opposite end of the wheels, making it easier for you to roll behind.

Key Features To Look For In A Road Trip Cooler

Before purchasing the best car cooler for road trips, here are a few factors that you should consider.

Capacity

Best Coolers For Road Trips - Coolers with Large Capacity

When looking for a road trip cooler, the exterior dimensions do not matter much compared to the cooler’s internal size and volume. A cooler’s capacity is measured by the number of cans it can hold. And for a top-rated road trip cooler, the capacity of ice it can accommodate is a factor.

Insulation

The thicker the walls of a cooler, the better the insulation. There are two types of cooler insulation polystyrene and foam insulation. Get polystyrene or permafrost insulation if you need your road trip cooler to keep your food and beverages hot or cold for more hours.

But if you are making short road trips, you can consider a foam insulation cooler.

Transportability

Best Coolers For Road Trips - Light Weight Cooler

When purchasing a road trip cooler, you should consider its portability. Ideally, there are hard coolers and soft coolers. The hard coolers have a more massive outer body and thick insulation, while the soft coolers have foam insulation and fabric body, making them lightweight. 

Cost

This is a crucial factor when you are purchasing the best car coolers. This is because it will significantly affect the purchase of great coolers. If you are on a tight budget, you can opt for soft coolers.

But if the cost is not an issue, it would be great if you went for a hard cooler.

Construction And Durability

Best Coolers For Road Trips - Cooler for outdoor activities

A hard cooler will be an ideal choice if you are looking for the best coolers for car travel that will lead you to camp, fishing, or hunting in the woods. This is because a soft cooler will not be able to withstand it as it will tear apart.

Additional Features

Some coolers have additional features that can come in handy. Therefore, when looking for road trip coolers, you can consider a cooler with additional features like a shoulder strap, cupholder, and much more.

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5 Best Coolers For Road Trips

You need a cooler full of partially melted ice rattling around cans of your favorite drinks and snacks on a road trip. Here are the best coolers for car travel.

Best Compact Road Trip Cooler: YETI Roadie 24 Cooler

When it comes to weekend road trips or epic adventures, the YETI Roadie is one of the best coolers you could pack in your car. It is a great road trip companion thanks to its multiple features.

YETI Roadie 24 Cooler, Tan

Key Features:

  • Taller, slimmer build than most coolers allows a better fit behind the car’s passenger or driver’s seat.
  • A quick latch that offers quick one-handed access to contents
  • Thin and lightweight for ease of transportation
  • Capacity 33 cans/8 bottles of wine/26lbs ice
  • Empty weight is 13.1 lbs

Possible Cons:

  • The carrying strap length is not adjustable
  • No drain

For a compact cooler that easily fits in your vehicle, you can’t go past the Yeti Roadie. We love that you can fit taller bottles in (hello wine!) yet its still lightweight enough for one person to carry on their own with a handy carrying strap to get you from car to picnic spot/

or purchase direct from Yeti – see seasonal discounts

Best Large Cooler for Road Trips: Igloo BMX 25 Quart Cooler

The Igloo BMX 25 Quart Cooler is excellent for long road trips in harsh conditions. It is a heavy-duty ice chest that is engineered for performance and durability – i.e. it’ll keep your drinks cold for days!

Igloo Heavy-Duty 25 Qt BMX Ice Chest Cooler with Cool Riser Technology

Key Features:

  • Resilient with metal kick plates and reinforced base
  • Able to maintain ice for four days in 90F
  • Sturdy rubberized latches to lock in the cold
  • Can hold 12-pack of cans and long-neck bottles.

Possible Cons:

  • Plastic hinges
  • Rubber latches that will eventually wear out
  • No drain

Looking for something big enough to keep food and drinks chilled for the whole family, then the Igloo Chest Cooler is a reliable option at a decent price point.

Best Wheeled Cooler For Road Trips: YETI Tundra Haul Portable Wheeled Cooler

When it comes to rolling cool stuff, and in style, this wheeled cooler is a great option. It is a perfect cooler for the outdoors, whether you are camping, hiking, or at a game.

YETI Tundra Haul Portable Wheeled Cooler, Tan

Key Features:

  • Heavy duty strong arm handle makes it tow-friendly
  • 5-year warranty
  • Best wheels of any rolling cooler
  • Excellent insulation

Possible Cons:

  • Can weigh up to 80 pounds when fully loaded (37 pounds empty); may be difficult to get it in and out of your car without two people
  • Expensive relative to other products

Despite the price tag, Yeti remains one of the most durable and reliable cooler brands. So if you’re after something robust that will last your growing family for many years, we’d definitely suggest investing in the Yeti Tundra Haul

or purchase direct from Yeti – see seasonal discounts

Best Backpack Cooler For Road Trips: Coleman 28 Can Backpack Soft Cooler

If you are looking for a cooler backpack that is portable and wearable for your road trips and camping, then the Coleman 28 Can Backpack Soft Cooler is the best cooler bag for you.

Coleman Chiller Series Insulated Portable Soft Cooler Backpack, Leak-Proof 28 Can Capacity Backpack Cooler with Adjustable Straps and Ice Retention

Key Features:

  • The seams are heat welded to make sure that the ice does not seep out
  • Multiple pockets with a large front pocket to hold napkins and accessories
  • Padded adjustable straps and handles
  • Enough space to fit 28 cans

Possible Cons:

  • Its waist strap does not expand
  • It is not leakproof

A backpack cooler can be a brilliant solution for those who love to go on hikes during their road trip stops. Keeps your cans and meals perfectly chilled and easy to carry.

Best Budget Cooler For Road Trips: Coleman Portable Cooler with Wheels Xtreme Wheeled Cooler

The Coleman portable cooler is a quality piece that is ideal for tailgating parties, picnics, and camping trips and can hold up to 84 cans. The best part is that it is on wheels!

Coleman Portable Cooler with Wheels Xtreme Wheeled Cooler, 50-Quart, Blue/White

Key Features:

  • Cup holders that are molded into the lid provide easy access to beverages
  • On wheels
  • 50 Quart capacity that can hold up to 84 cans
  • Five full days of ice retention

Possible Cons:

  • Not as sturdy as more heavy-duty coolers

Coleman is a reliable cooler brand. Maybe not as robust as Yeti – hence your price difference – but if you only occasionally need to pull out your cooler for a road trip, there’s a decent capacity in the Coleman portable cooler and you’ll get superior ice retention.

Bonus – Best Breastmilk Cooler Bags!

If you are only seeking to keep your breastmilk chilled when travelling by car, you can select a far more compact cooler that easily slots in the front of the vehicle with you.

Skip Hop Baby Bottle Bag, Grab & Go, Black/White Stripe

Skip Hop Grab And Go

This super versatile insulated cooler bag from Skip Hop has long been our go to as a grab bag cooler for the car.

You can easily fit two tall baby bottles in here, be it pre-boiled water ready for formula feeds or pre-pumped breastmilk straight from the fridge.

Just remember with baby feeding on the go you may also want a portable bottle warmer in the car to get those feeds ready to room temperature fast!

We’d also consider the smaller YETI lunch bag as an excellent in-car option for bottles and smaller infant snacks.

Top Tips For Keeping Foods And Drinks Cool On The Road

Keeping your food fresh on long trips can be challenging and messy. Here’s how you can prevent food from going bad while on the road.

Start With A Cold Cooler

Best Coolers For Road Trips - Cooler's storage matter

How you store your cooler matters. Ensure that before you pack your food and drinks, your cooler is stored in a cool place like the basement.

Pack Cold Items In Your Cooler

Cool everything that you need to pack. Take them directly from the refrigerator. If you are on a multi-day trip, freeze some of your drinks and use them as additional cooling aids.

Do Not Expose The Cooler To Heat

Best Coolers For Road Trips - Storing Cooler on a Shaded Spot

To get maximum cold retention, you need to keep your cooler cool. Try to find a shaded spot for it, or you can use a towel to shield it.

Pack Smart

By packing smart, you should group meals and pack them so that the meals you plan to use first are on the top of the cooler. Items that need to stay cool the longest should go to the bottom of the cooler.

As for the ice, use a mix of ice cubes and crushed ice and use blocks or bags of ice at the top. The purpose of the loose ice is to hug your foods and drinks, while the big pieces help keep the heat out.

Keep The Water

Depending on the type of cooler that you have, how often you open it, and how it is packed, the ice will eventually melt and become water. Do not drain it; it will help keep your remaining ice-cool and warmer air out.

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© Family Road Trip 2024

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