We spent a combined 80 hours researching and testing coolers to find the best hard and soft coolers for your next outdoor adventure. If you’re going to be gone for just a day or two, the AO Canvas Series 24-Pack Soft Cooler can keep up to 24 cans cold for 24 hours. For trips lasting a whole weekend or longer, the Coleman 70-Quart Xtreme Marine Cooler can keep its cool for about a week.
To find these coolers, we filled three top-rated hard coolers and 19 soft coolers with a load of ice and measured the volume of meltwater left inside at 24-hour intervals over the course of several days in the Southern Californian sun. Most of the soft coolers managed to keep about half the original load of ice solid after a full day, whereas the best hard cooler we tested didn’t reach that point until four full days elapsed.
Whether you should get a soft cooler or a hard cooler depends mostly on how you plan to use it. Soft coolers are easier to store and carry, but won’t keep things cold for much longer than a couple of days. Hard coolers can stay cool for up to a week, but can be a pain to carry and store. Ultimately, it’s a personal choice, and you may end up deciding you want both for different situations. We’ve got you covered in either case.
Portable and storable: Our soft-cooler pick
AO Canvas Series 24-Pack Soft Cooler
The $65 AO Canvas Series 24-Pack Soft Cooler is our pick for its decent insulation, good construction, reasonable price, and flexible, easy-to-carry design. The cheaper models we tested all performed significantly worse than this AO cooler, and none of the more expensive models performed well enough to warrant their significant increase in price.
Over 24 hours, the cooler produced 8 cups of meltwater from 9 pounds of ice, a measurement that was on a par with the best coolers in our test. But at its current price, this model is at least $20 cheaper than the comparable performers in our test (and some others cost twice as much, or more). Its nearest competitor was our previous pick for this guide, a more-expensive model by Polar Bear—still an excellent cooler, if you can find it—but the AO cooler’s more consistent availability, better price, and almost equivalent performance make it our top choice.
The cooler’s best design feature is one you will also find in pricier Polar Bear and StrongBags models. When it’s open, the bag stands erect like a grocery bag, which provides easy access for loading and unloading. Closed, the top of the bag zips across the middle with two YKK #8 zippers (the largest—and often considered the most reliable—zipper manufacturer in the world) and folds down on either side, compressing the bag into a rectangular brick. This shape allows for all sides of the bag to have equal insulation coverage when closed—a feature many cheaper soft coolers lack.
Finally, among the top-performing soft coolers we tested, the AO cooler has one of the better shoulder pads we came across. It’s 6 inches long by 2.5 inches wide, and made of a pliable rubber with ridged contours that should cover most people’s shoulders without slipping.
Colder for longer: Our hard-cooler pick
Coleman 70-Quart Xtreme Marine Cooler
The $64 Coleman 70-Quart Xtreme Marine Cooler is our pick for the best hard cooler because of its fantastic insulation, above-average features, and affordable price. It kept ice solid for a full week, performing nearly 20 percent better than its more-expensive counterpart from Igloo. The Coleman Xtreme is a tremendous value if you’re looking for a spacious, reliable cooler to take camping or to keep tons of beer cold at a barbecue, or for those emergencies when your power goes out and you need to prevent food from the fridge from spoiling. Not only that, it’s sized so you can still move it and carry it with reasonable ease. It also fits in most cars’ trunks and works great as extra seating in a pinch.
Both the Coleman Xtreme and Igloo MaxCold dominated the cooler recommendations we came across in our research. The Coleman Xtreme kept ice for a full week (170 hours or 7.08 days)—30 hours longer than the Igloo MaxCold (140 hours, or six days). It’s a resounding achievement that the Coleman lasted almost 20 percent longer in a head-to-head test, despite being cheaper. Even more impressive was the performance gap between the Coleman’s lower-end wheeled 50-quart cooler, which lost all its ice in just three days.
So you want more: A $400 cooler
Yeti Tundra 65
Throughout our research we found almost universal praise for the Yeti Tundra—at least from people who could stomach the $400 price tag and lift its 27-pound weight when empty. Nearly every publication that reviewed the Yeti scored it at or near the top. In head-to-head tests with the Coleman Xtreme, the Yeti Tundra bested the cheaper Coleman Xtreme in ice retention by a little bit. But the Yeti has much thicker walls and weighs about twice as much, so that makes sense.
So, at the end of the day, what does an extra $400 get you? From the ground up, nearly everything in the Yeti would be an upgrade from the Coleman Xtreme. The Yeti has stronger hinges, a well-reviewed toggle-latching system to keep the lid secure, a rubber gasket to reduce airflow, and a variety of handles and accessories that offer wider utility for boaters, hunters, and campers. Another big bonus is that the Yeti comes with a five-year warranty. Due to its durability and heavy weight, it’s best suited for semipermanent locations, like in a boat or truck bed. But we don’t think it’s for most people.