Whether you’re planning a romantic picnic for your sweetheart or you’re going fishing with the fellas, you’re going to want to keep your beverages, snacks, and food nice and cold. There’s nothing worse than working up an appetite fishing or hiking and you can’t eat your lunch because it spoiled because of the heat.
But, how do you keep your food and drink cold? Well, you could use ice packs and plastic bags, but that’s neither convenient or practical! With a soft cooler, you’re able to keep your drinks refreshingly cold and your food safe from spoilage.
In this guide, we are going fill you with so much information about coolers, you’re going to feel like a cooler guru! Well, at least you’ll know the difference between camping coolers and a lunch box cooler.
Without further ado, let’s get to it!
Before you even think about purchasing any kind of cooler, you first need to know what kind of coolers are available—trust us, there’s quite a few! Hard sided coolers can are made from plastic or metal, whereas a soft cooler is as the name would imply, soft materials that make it easy to fold the cooler up when it isn’t being used. Oh, but these aren’t the only options available because there are even electric coolers, as well a heavy duty coolers too!
A plastic cooler will usually feature a high density foam in the walls of the cooler to act as insulation. Depending on the quality of the cooler, it could have an insulated lid and a seal that will create an air tight seal to help keep the cold inside the cooler. In most cases, when you see coolers with wheels and a handle, they are made from plastic. Those added features are great for transporting the cooler from the car to the beach or your camp site.
If you’re looking for a cooler that is going to be durable, then you may want to consider a metal cooler. They are designed to withstand a beating (although we don’t really recommend it), but with that durability comes added weight.
These coolers are quite a bit heavier than the plastic ones and they tend to absorb and keep the heat much quicker and longer than plastic. So if you plan on taking a metal cooler to the beach, we strongly advise against it, unless it is going to be under an umbrella and away from the sun.
If you’ve gone into any store during the summer, you’ve probably seen those Styrofoam coolers. These “coolers” are just Styrofoam box with a Styrofoam lid. These are lightweight and not durable at all, so you wouldn’t want to put anything too substantial in them.
Because these coolers are just Styrofoam, they are among the least expensive coolers available and they aren’t going to last a long time. Needless to say, these are more one-off type coolers that you’d use for a picnic or lounging by the pool—they are not good for camping!
Soft side coolers are great options if you’re limited on space and you aren’t taking a whole lot of food or drinks with you. These coolers are by-far the most versatile, as they are available in several different styles:
This is a very common style of soft cooler because it gives you the flexibility you’d expect from a soft cooler, but it has the ease of use that you’d get with a shoulder bag. These bags feature a shoulder strap and carrying handles, and it uses a zipper to seal the bag up.
As far as a cooler bag goes, these types of coolers can hold a decent amount of drinks and/or food, but they can still fold up to a very compact size—much smaller than any hard cooler. People tend to enjoy these coolers because the shoulder strap makes it much easier to carry.
If you look in the refrigerator in the break room at work, you’ll probably see plenty of these soft bag coolers. These particular soft coolers don’t have very many unique features except for a removable plastic liner that makes it easy to clean the inside. These bags can have a shoulder strap too, but they usually have the typical handles.
These coolers are best suited for one person to bring enough food for a single meal. However, you can fit some beverages in them if you’re going on a long car ride and you don’t want to buy overpriced beverages at a convenient store. Needless to say, these certainly aren’t going to be your go-to beach cooler if you’re attending a beach party.
This style of cooler has all the convenience of a backpack, but it has insulation to keep your goodies nice and cold. The allure of these coolers is that they are great choices when you’re looking for something that is portable. These coolers allow for hands-free transport that isn’t cumbersome and awkward; in fact, some say it’s quite comfortable.
These are also preferred by hikers and campers because you can carry the pack for long distances without it becoming uncomfortable, thanks to the padded straps. If you’re going camping, hiking, or need to carry more than just a cooler, these are a great choice.
An electric cooler is able to keep your food items cool without needing ice. These are ideal options for people who go camping in an RV or at a campsite where there is an electrical hook up. These coolers can also be plugged into your car’s AC outlet, but be mindful of the car battery. You don’t want to be stuck out in the wilderness because your cooler sucked all the energy out of the car battery!
Other than choosing whether your cooler will be made of a hard plastic, metal, or if it will be a soft sided cooler, you then have your basic cooler and then you have heavy-duty options. The basic cooler is going to be relatively inexpensive, but that can change depending on how large of a cooler you need.
These are the sort of coolers most big-box and outdoor shops will carry. These aren’t going to have as much insulation in them and the seal isn’t going to be air tight. If you’re going to be camping only for a few nights and have plenty of ice, the basic cooler is a good choice.
With that said, a heavy duty cooler is going to be a unit that is going to go above and beyond when it comes to keeping your food cold. These coolers are the ones that have thick insulation and the lid, when closed, will create an air tight seal. Oh, and the lids on these coolers will usually have some kind of locking mechanism to keep those wily raccoons and bears out of the cooler.
These coolers are like the Cadillac’s of the cooler world. We do want to point out that you be mindful of the fact that these coolers are going to be more expensive and much heavier than your basic coolers. Before you run out to buy one of these bad boys, you should really think of your needs and if you truly need a heavy-duty cooler.
Now that we’ve gone over your options of all the possible types of coolers available, let’s talk about how you’re going to choose which one you should purchase. Before making a decision, ask yourself three simple questions:
By answering these questions, you will be able to choose the right cooler to suit your needs.
Before you run out to the store and pick up any old cooler, you are going to want to think about what you’re going to be using it for. You don’t want to get a couple mini coolers if you’re going to be doing a lot of tailgating this season, nor would you bring a small cooler to a block party.
If you’re going camping, you’ll probably need one or two large coolers (depending on how many people you’re camping with and for how long you’ll be camping), but do you need a heavy-duty cooler or can you get away with the basic cooler? When you can definitively say what you are going to be using the cooler for, you can then move on to the next question.
This is an important question. If your only intent is to keep cans of soda or bottles of water cold while you’re attending your kids sports games or trips to the beach, then you may want a 12 can cooler (or maybe a 30 can cooler, depending on your needs). If you plan on cooking fresh food, then you may want a heavy duty cooler that will form an airtight seal, keeping the food cold and fresh.
Maybe you’re just going to the park with your significant other and you’re going to pack a light lunch for the two of you. If that’s the case, you would be better off with a picnic cooler bag.
If you plan on going hiking and setting up camp somewhere, you probably aren’t going to want to be stuck carrying a heavy cooler. For those sort of activities where you’ll have to carry a cooler to some location (be it the beach or a camping spot that isn’t near the car), you’ll want to look into coolers on wheels because they’ll be much easier to transport.
However, if you’re only going to the park with your children and you want to bring a few snacks and some water, you could choose soft coolers & insulated bags that have shoulder straps, thus freeing up your hands for whatever else.
It isn’t uncommon that families will have more than one cooler in their home. Perhaps you’ll need a large cooler for parties and camping trips, but to pack your lunch for work or school, you’ll have several insulated bags coolers.
So, we’ve talked about the different types of coolers and we’ve gone over a couple questions you should ask yourself about the intended use of the cooler. Now, let’s talk about the features of a cooler that will play a role in your decision making.
Not only are you going to be thinking about what you’re going to put in the cooler and how it’ll be used, you’re going to want to think of the features that will make your cooler right for your needs. Some of the most notable features you’ll want to consider include:
You can find a cooler in a large array of sizes. You can find a collapsible cooler that can hold as little as six cans of soda to a behemoth cooler that can hold more than 50 quarts of goods. When you’re trying to decide what size cooler you’ll need, you want to think about how much stuff is going to be inside said cooler because you’re going want to make sure there is enough room to add plenty of ice and/or ice packs.
Remember that ice cubes are going to take up more space in the cooler. You can get around the need of ice cubes or ice packs by freezing water or juice bottles and using them instead. Not only are you saving valuable space in the cooler, but you’re going to drink the beverages anyway.
When you’re choosing a cooler, the durability of it is going to be important, especially if you’re going to be spending a decent amount of money on it. If your family plans on going on frequent camping trips or if you plan on hosting or attending numerous parties throughout the year, then you’re going to want something that is both durable and easy to transport.
However, if you only plan on going on a picnic every once in a great while, you could be better off with something not nearly as durable. Of course, when you’re thinking about the durability of the cooler, you should also take into consideration where it will be stored when it isn’t in use.
If you choose a metal cooler, you’ll want to make sure you’ll be able to store it in a dry spot so that the metal doesn’t rust. If you choose a plastic cooler, you’ll want to keep it out of the water and sun, as these things could compromise the integrity of the plastic.
Any cooler you choose is going to have to be able to perform the very function it was designed for. If it can’t keep food cold, then there’s no point in buying it. Along with if it’s able to keep your food cold, you want to make sure it isn’t going to be difficult to transport. For example, if you need a large cooler, will you be able to transport it by yourself?
If you need to go hiking and look at a map so you don’t get lost, will the backpack style soft cooler be comfortable enough for you to carry. If you’re only using the cooler for beverages, maybe you’d be better off with a beverage dispenser rather than your typical cooler.
Naturally, when you’re looking at coolers, you’re going to want to think about how much insulation the cooler has. If you need a lot of insulation (like you’re going to be camping for several days), you’re going to want to choose a cooler that is going to be able to keep things cold.
Cooler manufacturers don’t quantify the ice retention of their coolers, so it’s hard to set a price to insulation ratio. You can do your own investigative work and get an idea of the insulation quality by looking at how thick the insulation is. Generally speaking, the thicker the insulation is, the better.
Everything aside, you want to find a cooler that is going to be easier to use. As a rule of thumb, the better the cooler is constructed, it should be easier to use. If you’re looking for a cooler that you can reach in without worrying about digging through ice or fumbling with hard to open closures, you may want to look into a soft cooler. If you want different options of how to carry the cooler, that should be considered as well.
Another aspect of ease of use you’ll want to consider is how easy the cooler is to drain the water after the ice has melted. Draining the cooler can be as simple as pulling a plug, but it can also be quite difficult, especially if you’re dealing with a large and heavy cooler.
Coolers that are easy to drain will have a plug near the bottom of the cooler and there will be channels in the inside floor of the cooler that will take the water to the drain. Some models will have small drainage holes which will make the drainage process take some time, while there are models with larger holes.
It doesn’t matter if you’re going camping, if you’re gearing up for a crazy block party, or if you are going to sit in the park while your kids play, you’re going to want a cooler that will keep your food and beverages nice and cold. The problem is, there are so many coolers available on the market, people have a tendency to just buy any old cooler.
Hard coolers, whether they are plastic or metal, can provide you with enough space for your food, your beverages and the ice. However, they can be bulky, heavy, and expensive.
If you don’t need to keep a lot of goods cold or if you want something that is lightweight, easy to carry, and affordable, a soft cooler may be your best bet. Of the coolers that you can choose, there are several different types of soft coolers that you could choose. For example, if you need something to carry your lunch in for work, you have the typical lunch box style bag.
If you are going to spend the day at the park with your children, you may want an over-the-should type cooler. These will allow you to carry the cool on your shoulder while you keep your hands free for things like pushing a stroller or holding your children’s hands.
For those who are going on hiking or camping trips that’s only going to last a few days, you may want to consider a backpack style soft cooler. With these, you can carry all of your food stuffs on your back and your hands will be free for holding a map, moving branches out of the way while you walk, or anything else.
When you’re choosing what cooler is right for you, we recommend that you remember the three questions mentioned above and then think about the style you want. We hope the information we’ve provided with you in this article will give you the insight you may need to help you make a decision!