Best party cooler for tailgating, camping and outdoors in 2017

best camping coolers

Multi-day outdoor trips such as sailing, camping and RVing or gatherings such as tailgates, picnics, and beach or backyard parties, often require you to look for containers to store food and drinks and keep them cold, without the need of electricity.

The best way to store perishable food items and keep drinks cold is to store them in a cooler or ice chest. There are a lot of off-the-shelf coolers available in the market, but they have limited utility when it comes to keeping things cold for more than a couple of days. High-end coolers, once filled with ice, can keep the food fresh and cold for more than a couple of days.

In this article, we look at some of the best high-end party coolers available in the market. We will look at both soft case coolers and hard case coolers.

Soft case coolers are made from lightweight ripstop nylon or other temper-proof fabrics and are suitable for keep contents cold for a couple of days. Hard case coolers, on the other hand, are made from heavy-duty rotationally molded plastic and can keep things cold for up to eight days. We will briefly look at what characteristics differentiate the two types.

We will also look at some of the factors to consider while picking the best party cooler for your needs. Our focus would primarily be on medium sized coolers ranging from 30-50 quarts, though you can get similar models with lower or higher capacities.

Best hard-case coolers list

Some of the best hard-case party coolers available in the market are listed below
PictureProductCapacity(quart)
Weight (lbs.)
Features 

Orca extendable coolerCapacity : 20 to 140 quart
Weight: 24 lbs. for 40 quart to 45 lbs. for 140 quart.
- This made in USA, sturdy and durable, roto-molded cooler features excellent insulation and portability
- Because of its high quality insulation, the cooler can hold ice up to 8-9 days.
- It features a lid gasket for a perfect seal and a drainage spout for draining melted ice.
- Comes in various sizes and color combinations starting from 20 quarts to as large as 140 quarts.
- Backed by a limited lifetime service warranty.

RTIC CoolerCapacity : 20, 40, 65 quart
Weight: 11 lbs. for 20 quart to 41.5 lbs. for 65 quart.
- An inexpensive, lightweight yet reasonably durable cooler.
- The cooler features a seamless roto-molded construction and integrated locking system to keep the contents cold and safe.
- Also features heavy-duty rubber latches for comfortable portability and transportation.
- Backed by 30-day no-hassle return policy and seven-year service warranty.
YETI Tundra CoolerCapacity: 35 to 350 quart
Weight: 20 lbs. for 35 quart
to 89 lbs. for 350 quart.
- The worldwide leader in roto-mold insulated coolers, featuring a variety of coolers with size ranging from 35 quarts to 350 quarts.
- Features a container with 2-3 inch foam insulation & freezer-style gasket that can keep content cold for up to 8 days.
- Some models have accessories such as baskets included with the cooler.
- Backed by 5-year limited warranty.
Pelican Products ProGear Elite CoolerCapacity: 20 to 250 quart
Weight: 22 lbs. for 35 quart.
- A heavy-duty, durable high-end cooler with more than 2 inches of insulated roto molded construction.
- Heavier and sturdier than other coolers, with a unique extended drain plug for quicker draining.
- Also features all-hard-plastic handles making it easy to carry and transport.
- Backed by a limited lifetime service warranty.
Coleman Xtreme CoolerCapacity: 28 to 120 quart
Weight: 6 lbs. for 28 quart to 25 lbs. for 120 quart.
- A lightweight, made in USA, basic insulated cooler that can keep contents cold for up to 5 days.
- Features heavy-duty hinges
and a flat seat-lid with four cup holders molded into the lid
- Also features a leak-resistant plug to drain after use.
Engel Coolers Roto-Molded CoolerCapacity: 35 to 320 quart
Weight: 14 lbs. for 35 quart.
- A high performing, lightweight, yet durable cooler that features a seamless rotationally-molded construction.
- Features an air-tight container with 2-inch polyurethane insulation, marine grade compression latches and silicone airtight gaskets allowing it to keep contents cold for up to 8-9 days.
- Also has one twist drain plug for easy drainage.
- Backed by 10-year limited warranty.

Best soft-case coolers list

Some of the best soft-case party coolers available in the market are listed below:
PictureProductCapacity(cans)
Weight(lbs.)
Features 

YETI Hopper Portable CoolerCapacity: 18, 24, 36 cans
Weight: 6 lbs. for 24 can.
- An extremely well designed, durable, 100% leak-proof soft case cooler from the worldwide leader in cooler technology.
- Features a hard shell air tight closure with a HydroLok zipper which can hold ice for as long as 3 days.
- Also features strong nylon straps, Six D-ring tie-down points and a detachable shoulder strap for easy transportation and usage.
- Backed by standard three-year manufacturer warranty.
Polar Bear Coolers Nylon Soft CoolerCapacity: 12 to 48 cans
Weight: 3 lbs. for 24 can to 3.75 lbs. for 48 can
- A great value-for-money soft cooler made with 1000D leak-proof, sweat proof Nylon.
- Features unbreakable YKK zippers and high-density open-cell foam insulation that can store ice for up to 2 days.
- Also includes an external pocket and adjustable shoulder straps.
-Backed by limited lifetime service warranty.
AO Coolers Soft CoolerCapacity: 12 to 48 cans
Weight: 2.25 lbs. for 12 can to 2.75 lbs. for 24 can.
- An inexpensive, lightweight basic canvas cooler that can keep contents cold for 1-2 days.
- Features well-designed and sturdy shoulder straps and handles, for easy portability.
- Also has a wide opening zipper and an external front pocket for extra storage.
RTIC Soft Pack Capacity: 18, 24, 36 cans
Weight: 4 lbs. for 24 can
- A popular soft pack cooler with up to 2 inches of foam layer and leak-proof design capable of keeping contents cold for as long as 2-3 days.
- The outer shell is made from heavy-duty, tear and UV resistant vinyl making it extremely durable
- Features a flip lid, extra strong zippers, detachable shoulder strap and an external pocket for extra storage.
Igloo Marine Ultra Square CoolersCapacity: 18, 24, 36 cans
Weight: 3 lbs. for 24 can.
- A lightweight, rectangular soft cooler with a 1.1 foam insulation that can keep contents cold for up to 36 hours
- Features a leak resistant, ultra-thin, antimicrobial liner that is very easy to clean.
- Also has balanced shoulder straps and external mesh pocket for extra storage.
Kelty Folding CoolerCapacity: 18 and 36 cans
Weight: 3.3 lbs. for 18 can.
- A uniquely designed soft cooler with a hard lid. The soft body of the cooler is made from leak-proof 330D ripstop polyester
- Features double side zippers, side handles and four cup holders in the lid.
- Also has reinforced plastic feet for enhanced abrasion-resistance.

Hard-case vs Soft-case Coolers – Which one should you buy?

As discussed above hard-case coolers and soft-case coolers are both built for different purposes. If you are unsure, you can look at the features table below to decide which type would best fit your needs.

Hard-case coolerSoft-case cooler
MaterialMade with hard UV-resistant plastic with roto-molder design, making them sturdy and durable.The outer shell is made of canvas, nylon or polyester fabric so less durable than hard-case coolers.
PortabilityHeavier and less portable and generally meant for transportation by multiple persons. Generally have higher capacities, expressed in quarts.Lighter and easy to carry on shoulders or as a backpack. Generally, have lower capacities, expressed in the maximum number of cans.
InsulationSuperior 2+ inch insulation makes them suitable for keeping contents cold for up to 10 days.Around 1 inch of insulation makes them suitable for keeping contents cold for not more than 2-3 days
DesignBecause of the rectangular design, are easy to stack with ice, food as well as cans.Because of soft design, stacking may be difficult, so primarily meant for storing ice and cans only.
AccessoriesThere are many accessories such as lid cushions, baskets, dividers, wheels etc. are available to increase utility as furniture and refrigerators (for carrying food).With soft case and no separators, can primarily function only as a cooler.

How to pick the best party cooler for your needs?

Whether you need to go with a soft-case or hard-case cooler depends on your needs and intended purpose. If you are looking for something for a long trip for more than 5 days and not concerned about the weight of the cooler, then you should go with a hard case cooler. However, if you are looking for maximum portability and less weight, you should go with soft coolers. Once you have decided to go with a specific type of cooler, you can look at some major factors while picking the best option for yourself. These major considerations are discussed below:

  • Construction and design of the cooler
  • Insulation performance
  • Portability and convenience of use
  • Additional features and miscellaneous considerations

Construction and design of the cooler

The construction of a cooler is an important criterion to consider if you are looking for something that you can use frequently and over long trips. Most high-end party coolers such as YETI Tundra Cooler and Outdoor Recreational Company of America(ORCA) Cooler differ significantly in their construction from the traditional party coolers such as the Coleman Xtreme Cooler and hence the difference in their prices. The high-end hard-case party coolers are rotationally molded into a single piece of UV-resistant plastic with a hard shell on the outside and a hollow shell on the inside to add one to three inches of foam insulation. This single piece construction, along with leak-proof lids, reinforced latches and hinges etc. make these models much more sturdy and durable when compared to other traditional models. The only drawback of this construction design is that the weight of the cooler is more than the traditional models. For example, the heavy-duty Pelican Products ProGear Elite Cooler weighs as much as 22 pounds for the 35-quart model. Nevertheless, if you intend to use your cooler frequently for multiple purposes – backyard parties, tailgating, camping etc., then it is worthwhile to make extra investment and choose a high-end model.

Similarly, soft-case party coolers are made with high-grade ripstop fiber with sweat proof interiors. Since soft coolers are flexible enough to be compressed, shoved and pushed around, the outer shell must be durable and sturdy enough to withstand this. Pricey soft coolers such as the YETI Hopper Portable Cooler offer an outer surface that is hard-coated to make it virtually tear-proof and leak-proof.

Closely associated with the construction of the cooler is the design of the cooler. How the container, lid, latches and drain plugs are designed and fitted in the cooler can govern how much wear and tear a cooler can withstand. Moreover, this also sometimes governs the level of water protection provided to the contents by the cooler. Hard-case coolers are generally capable of withstanding more wear and tear than the soft case coolers.

Check out the construction and design of the cooler before deciding which type of construction would be most suitable for your needs.

Insulation Performance

The insulation performance of the cooler is probably the most important criterion to consider while picking the best fit. After all, you are looking for a cooler to keep your items cold for multiple days! High-end hard-case coolers such as Outdoor Recreational Company of America (ORCA) Cooler and YETI Tundra Cooler have foam insulation in excess of 2 inches, making them suitable to keep things cold for as long as 9-10 days as opposed to traditional coolers which can keep things cool for only 2-3 days. Even the popular RTIC Cooler is capable of keeping contents cold in excess of 7 days. It is worth mentioning that the thick insulation comes at the cost of storage space – higher the insulation thickness, lesser the space available for storing items.

Soft-case coolers generally have insulation layer of fewer than 1.2 inches, so they can only keep contents cold for a couple of days. Soft coolers are best suited for storing cans with small amounts of food items for no more than 3 days.

For long multi-day trips, you should opt for high-end hard-case models because you would not want your food and supplies to get spoilt in the outdoors. Moreover, if you are going to use your cooler for hunting and fishing, then investing extra in high-end hard-case coolers would be a value-for-money investment as you can safely prevent your game or catch from getting rotten. Check the specifications, ratings, and reviews of the coolers before judging the insulation performance of the cooler.

Portability and convenience of use

The portability and convenience of use are also an important consideration. For hard case coolers, the portability is largely governed by how the cooler is shaped, how handles are placed in and how the hinges, latches and drain plugs are designed. High-end hard case coolers have two sets of handles that allow them to be transported by one person as well as two persons. Check the specifications and reviews of the model to determine how portable the model is before deciding on the most suitable model.

For soft case coolers, the portability is largely governed by their carrying style. Popular soft case coolers such as YETI Hopper Portable Cooler have shoulder straps to transport them like a tote bag. As a result, such soft case coolers cannot be used for long hauls. Backpack or strap style followed in coolers such as Polar Bear Nylon Series Soft Cooler makes them more suitable for longer distance transportation. Still, almost all soft pack coolers are relatively easier to transport by a single person because of their lesser weight.

Additional features and miscellaneous considerations

In addition to the three major factors discussed above, there are some other miscellaneous factors that can make a particular model more suitable for your needs.

One such factor is the ease with which you can drain your cooler. While this is not much of a factor for soft coolers, it is an important consideration for hard case coolers. Most of the hard case coolers such as the Engel Roto-Molded Cooler and YETI Tundra Cooler have a drain plug fitted with a lanyard to prevent it from detaching or getting lost. This makes it easier to drain such coolers, though there may be chances of water splashing because of interference by the lanyard. An exception to this design is the extended hose type plug in the Pelican Products ProGear Elite Cooler which makes draining easier and hassle-free.

Another consideration is how easy it is to access the contents in the cooler. This may not be much of a factor for hard case coolers as they have a cubical/rectangular design with wide external latches to hold the lids. For soft coolers with tote design, such as the YETI Hopper Portable Cooler , getting items may sometimes look a chore. Some soft case coolers such as the RTIC Soft Pack Cooler have a flip lid which makes it easier to get the contents out. You can even choose a backpack design for a soft cooler, such as one offered by Polar Bear Nylon Series Soft Cooler if you are too concerned about ease of access in addition to portability.

Finally, the availability of additional accessories can make your purchase more attractive. Things such as cup holders in the lids, measuring rulers on the lids, cooler baskets etc. can sometimes be a tiebreaker. As an example, the YETI Tundra Cooler comes with a wire basket to segregate items from melted ice. Another example is the unique Kelty Folding Cooler which has a hard lid with cup holders on top of the soft foldable body. Check if the specific model you are looking for comes with such additional accessories.

Which are the best party coolers and what our picks are?

Outdoor Recreational Company of America (ORCA) Cooler – Editor’s pick for best hard-case party cooler

best party cooler for camping
Outdoor Recreational Company of America (ORCA) Cooler, aptly and popularly known as the Orca, is a true made in the USA and extremely well designed, high performing and durable party cooler. The ORCA cooler is available in sizes ranging from 20 quarts to 140 quarts and weighs at a decent 24 lbs. for 40 quart cooler. It comes in multiple colors, with the Tan color being the most popular. What’s more, you can get a custom cooler with the logo of your favorite college football team as well.

The ORCA cooler has more of a tall-boy design for its capacity and features roto-molded construction with insulation in excess of 2 inches. This makes it extremely well insulated and capable of keeping contents cold for more than 8 days.

It also features sturdy pin style hinges, thick lid gasket for a perfect seal and spill free functioning. Moreover, it has a drainage spout for draining melted ice. The only complaint you can have with this cooler is that its heavy lid has a tendency of shutting down with just a little disturbance, so you need to hold the lid with one hand while taking out items to prevent accidental shutdowns. Nevertheless, the overall design of the cooler makes it easier to handle than some of the other, costlier models.

Each ORCA cooler is backed by Limited Lifetime Service Warranty. What this means is that if there are any manufacturing defects in the cooler, you can get it serviced by the manufacturer throughout its life.

For its excellent design and superior insulation performance and durability, the Outdoor Recreational Company of America (ORCA) Cooler is Editor’s choice for the best hard case party cooler in the market. If you are looking for a multi-purpose, multi-day party cooler, you should definitely consider getting an ORCA cooler of a specific size as per your needs.
Pros
  • Best in class insulation performance, with an ability to keep contents cold for more than 8 days.
  • Unique and sturdy tall-boy design makes it more portable and easier to transport.
  • Well priced when compared to other high-end models.
  • Available Multiple size options ranging from 20 to 140 quarts, with many color combinations. Also available with famous college football team logos.
  • Backed by limited lifetime service warranty.
Cons
  • The heavy lid has tendency of closing down with even a little disturbance
  • There is a possibility of water splashing while draining the cooler through the drain plug.

YETI Hopper Portable Cooler – Editor’s pick for best soft-case party cooler

best camping cooler
For its quality and price, the YETI Hopper portable cooler can be considered the Rolex of soft coolers. Though it is about twice as costly as its nearest competitors, the YETI Hopper cooler has unmatched insulation performance when compared to other party coolers. It features a 100% leak-proof and tear-proof, UV resistant hard shell closure with a HydroLok zipper. The interior is a soft shell with closed-cell rubber foam insulation of around 1.2 inches. Once closed properly, the Hopper Soft case cooler is capable of holding contents cold for up to 3 days even in hot weather conditions.

The Hopper comes in different sizes, ranging from 18 to 36 cans (Hopper 20, Hopper 30 and Hopper 40). The cooler also features strong nylon straps, six D-ring tie-down points and a detachable shoulder strap with alternative arrangements for portability in different ways.

While the Hopper cooler does not have any external pockets, the presence of hard plastic, D-ring tie down points more than covers for that. These tie-down points are suitable for attaching accessories such as the YETI Sidekick dry bag and YETI Molle Zinger.

The only drawback of the YETI Hopper cooler is that because of its weight and tote shape and design, it is not very convenient to carry for long distances. However, this should not be a major issue as soft coolers are anyway not made for long haul transportations.

In addition to all the above factors, each YETI Hopper cooler is backed by a three-year “no worries” manufacturer warranty.

For all these reasons, the YETI Hopper Portable Cooler is Editor’s choice for the best soft-case party cooler. If money is not a major consideration, you should definitely consider getting the Hopper soft case cooler.
Pros
  • Superior design with 100% leak-proof and tear-proof, UV resistant hard shell closure with a HydroLok zipper
  • Best in class insulation performance, with rubber foam insulation that can keep contents cold for up to 3 days.
  • Features high-grade nylon straps, six D-ring tie-down points and an ultra-strong detachable shoulder strap.
  • Comes in different capacities ranging from 20 quarts to 40 quarts.
  • Comes with 3-year “no worry” manufacturer warranty
Cons
  • Not very convenient to carry for long distances
  • Almost twice as costlier than some other options in the market.

RTIC Cooler – Best value pick for party cooler

best cooler for camping and outdoors
If you are looking for a decent, value for money party cooler then look no further than the RTIC ( pronounced like “Artic”) hard-case cooler. The cooler features a seamless roto-molded construction and integrated locking system to keep the contents cold and safe for up to 6-7 days.

The RTIC cooler is available in sizes ranging from 20 quarts to 65 quarts. At a lightweight 25 lbs. for 45-quart cooler, the RTIC cooler also features heavy-duty rubber latches for comfortable portability and transportation.

The RTIC cooler is backed by 30-day no-hassle return policy and seven year service warranty.

For its excellent quality, durability and value for money the RTIC Cooler is Editor’s choice for best value party cooler.
Pros
  • Decent roto-molded construction that is virtually tear and water proof.
  • Features an integrated locking system and heavy-duty rubber latches.
  • Comes in sizes ranging from 20 quarts to 65 quarts.
  • Backed by 30-day no-hassle return policy.
Cons
  • At times, you can expect some delay in getting the delivery of the cooler.
  • Comes in limited color combinations – tan and white, with tan being the most common.

Party Cooler Accessories

There are a bunch of accessories available with coolers – cooler baskets, tie-downs, cup holders, straps and seat cushions. It is generally good to get accessories specially marked for the specific brand and size of cooler as only the same brand accessories would fit the specific models perfectly. Nevertheless, you may find some unique accessories such as the YETI Sidekick dry bag and YETI Molle Zinger for soft coolers easy to use with almost all models.

Another useful accessory to consider is freeze-packs or sheets. These reusable cooling packs can be used multiple times and are a great substitute to normal or dry ice. You can consider the following options for freeze packs and sheets:

Final thoughts on the best party coolers

In this article, we looked at some of the best mid-size party coolers/ice chests available in the market. We looked at both fabric-based soft coolers-for storing things for a maximum of 2 days and molded-plastic based hard case coolers- for keeping things cold for up to 8 days. These coolers are a perfect item to have for tailgating, camping, beach parties and all kinds of outdoor fun. While we focused mainly on medium capacity coolers, you can check out smaller or larger options from same manufacturers as per your needs. We also addressed some of the factors to consider while selecting the most suitable cooler for your needs. Do let us know how you found this article and if you would want us to consider anything else. Happy partying!!

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