Car camping or canoeing or rafting? You should eat (and drink) well. A cooler is key, of course. There are more choices than ever for keeping food cold, which is great but also daunting if you’re not sure what features you need. Use this guide to find the right cooler. Plus: 6 tips to keep stuff cold longer.
Hard-sided: The classic cooler is durable and provides good to great insulation. In general they’re the best choice for multi-day trips. The top models are made with UV-resistant polyethylene and rotomolded; the seamless, one-piece construction improves insulation and durability.
Pros: Efficiency and durability; the best hard-sided coolers keep ice cold for as long as a week, and will last for years.
Cons: Large models are bulky (and heavy when fully loaded); can be expensive
Soft-sided: Soft-sided coolers keep ice cold for a full day.
Pros: Compact; portable (shoulder straps make for efficient carrying); easier to store
Cons: Generally less durable than hard-sided models; not very useful for large groups and long trips
Electric: If you have power, this option is essentially a portable refrigerator.
Pros: Keep food cold as long as you have power—without dealing with melting ice. That also increases capacity, since you don’t have ice blocks taking up space.
Cons: Expensive; power management can be a hassle