It seems as if more of us are rediscovering the lure of a great road trip. While there are plenty of things you can take with you to make sure you have a successful trip, drinks and snacks are at the top of the list of essentials. You're going to need a great cooler for carrying those goodies. Here are our recommendations of the best coolers for road trips.

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Top Picks of the Best Coolers for Road Trips

Need more details about one of the coolers? Check out all the stats for each of our top picks at this link.

Best Economy Cooler

Coleman 28-Quart Cooler with Bail Handle
The quintessential basic ice chest

Best at Holding the Cold

OtterBox Venture Cooler, 25-Quart
Keeps ice frozen for up to 10 days

Best Portable Cooler

Tourit Leak-Proof Soft-Sided Cooler Backpack, 22-Quart
Great insulated backpack

Best Premium Cooler

YETI Hopper Two 30 Portable Cooler, 37-Quart
The best that money can buy

Best Electric Cooler

Igloo Portable 28 Quart Thermoelectric Iceless Cooler
Well designed, good performance, and good price

Best Overall Cooler

YETI Roadie 24 Cooler
Great size for the car and stays cold

How Do You Decide Which Cooler is Best?

Choosing the best cooler depends on your needs. Who are you traveling with? How much or how little do you plan to carry? When do you plan to stop and resupply?

There are four types of coolers for you to consider when choosing the best coolers for road trips:

    • Basic Coolers
    • Soft-sided Coolers
    • Heavy-duty Coolers
    • Electric Coolers

Basic Coolers

Basic coolers are what you would typically see at a back-yard BBQ or on sale at your grocery store. They are double-walled with little or no insulation. They are inexpensive and lightweight but do a great job of keeping your drinks cold for a few hours.

best coolers for road trips

Basic cooler. Photo by billyfoto via iStockPhoto

Soft-sided Coolers

Soft-sided coolers are generally easier to carry than hard coolers so this may be what you want if you need to trek to the perfect picnic spot.

best coolers for road trips

Soft-sided coolers are another option. Photo by Alexas_Fotos via Pixabay

Soft-sided coolers can run the range from cheap to extravagantly expensive and you generally get what you pay for when it comes to durability and cooling.

Heavy-duty Coolers

Heavy-duty coolers have come into their own in the last 10 years. As the name implies, they are built tough and they include high tech insulation and commercial grade gaskets on the lid to ensure they stay cold for a long time.

best coolers for road trips

Heavy-duty coolers come with a hefty price, but keep drinks cool for days. Photo by Susan Vineyard via iStockPhoto

Heavy-duty coolers are typically heavier and bulkier than other coolers, but they will keep your drinks frosty for days.

Electric Coolers

Electric coolers don't require ice to keep them cool. They plug into your car's cigarette lighter and run off of the electrical system. The big drawback of thermoelectric coolers is that the temperature inside the cooler is dependent on the outside temperature.

best coolers for road trips

Another option to consider is an electric cooler. Photo by LightFieldStudios via iStockPhoto

They typically keep their contents about 30 degrees cooler than the ambient temperature, so if the cooler is in a car where the temperature is 100 degrees the interior of the cooler will only be 70 degrees.

Normally on a road trip, we have the air conditioner running and the interior of the car is around 70 degrees. The cooler is then able to keep the contents around 40 degrees, which is acceptable for your drinks and snacks.

What Size Cooler Do I Need?

In the US, the interior volume of coolers appears in quarts. To give you an idea of what that means, a 12-quart cooler can usually hold a 6-pack of 12 oz cans and the ice to keep them cool.

When you estimate your needs, think about how many people are traveling with you. How many drinks will they go through in your average traveling day? What kind of snacks do you like?

You’ll also want to consider how much space you have in the car. If you have three kids in the back of a two-door coupe, you may want to plan for a smaller cooler and more frequent resupply.

best coolers for road trips

Consider the size car you have and what else you take with you when choosing the best coolers for road trips. Photo by peplow via iStockPhoto

My wife and I typically travel together. We each drink a bottle of water or a soda every two hours while we are in the car. We like to bring along some cheese to snack on and the makings for sandwiches so we can picnic for lunch.

This means about six drinks, a block of cheese, lunch meat, mayonnaise, and mustard. We usually replenish drinks and ice once per day. Adding plenty of room for ice, this means we need a 20- to 30-quart cooler.

Additional Features of the Best Coolers for Road Trips

You can purchase coolers with a host of features beyond keeping your food cold. The cooler can have cup holders molded into the top, bottle openers, and a drain so that you don’t have to turn the cooler upside down to get the water out.

There are coolers with wheels and handles to make them easier to move. Some even have backpack straps, if you need to move the cooler over rough terrain.

best coolers for road trips

You can get coolers with a variety of options. Photo courtesy Rubbermaid Products

A filled cooler can get to 20 pounds or more pretty quickly, so make sure that it has comfortable handles.

Details of the Best Coolers for Road Trips

We researched each of our favorite coolers for you. Here is what we discovered about our recommended cooler for your next road trip.

best coolers for road trips

Here's a handy guide for finding the best coolers for road trips. Photo by Darwin Brandis via iStockPhoto

Best Economy Cooler

Coleman 28-Quart Cooler with Bail Handle

This is the quintessential basic icebox. It is low cost but has adequate insulation. It is tall so it can hold two-liter bottles upright. the Coleman 28-quart cooler with handle is a no-nonsense cooler option.

Best at Holding the Cold

OtterBox Venture Cooler, 25-Quart

Typically for a road trip, you wouldn’t need a cooler that can hold ice for more than a week; however, if you have kids who are in and out of the cooler a lot, that extra insulation may help your food stay cold until the end of the day.

The OtterBox Venture Cooler also has a mounting system that allows you to attach a variety of accessories including a bottle opener, cup holder, cutting board, fishing pole holder, and even a camera mount.

Best Portable Cooler

Tourit Leak-Proof Soft-Sided Cooler Backpack, 22-Quart

For a road trip where the cooler may be sitting on the seat of the car, a leak-proof cooler is very important. While leaking might be a problem for many soft-sided coolers, it is not for this one.

The padded, adjustable straps make the cooler comfortable to carry to that great picnic spot that is away from the road. There is even a bottle opener included on the strap.

Best Premium Cooler

YETI Hopper Two 30 Portable Cooler, 37-Quart

Like the Tourit, the soft-sided YETI Hopper Two 30 Portable cooler is leak-proof. This is the largest of the coolers in this review, but its unique tapered shape makes it easy to slip behind a seat or sit on the floor at the passenger’s feet.

The cooler is extremely durable, and the cold cell insulation will keep your drinks cold for days. This is a great road trip cooler when money is no object.

Best Electric Cooler

Igloo Portable 28 Quart Thermoelectric Iceless Cooler

Igloo is a household name in coolers. The Igloo portable 28-quart thermoelectric cooler is constructed well and is the right size for road trips. It comes with a 12-volt auto plug adapter. You can purchase a 110 volt AC adapter to carry it into a hotel room.

Best Overall Cooler for Road Trips

YETI Roadie 24 Cooler

The YETI Roadie 24 is a good mix of performance, convenience, and price. Its tall, narrow shape allows it to sit behind a seat while its heavy-duty construction means it will keep your drinks icy cold.

The latches hold tight but are made to be operated with one hand. There is a cushion available to attach to the lid to make the cooler a comfortable stool.

Tips for Getting the Most Out of Your Cooler

A cooler can be a huge investment. You can extend the life of your cooler—and ensure you have the coldest, freshest snacks for the road—by following these tips:

  • Pre-chill your drinks and food before putting them in the cooler. It takes about 1.5 pounds of ice to cool a gallon of liquid from room temperature.
  • Freeze water in plastic bottles and put those in your cooler. When the ice melts you can drink the cold water.
  • Place your food in plastic containers or zip bags to keep it dry.
  • Don’t drain the water as the ice melts. Cold water preserves the remaining ice.

Wrapping Up

The best cooler for a road trip depends on your specific needs. You will need to balance size, construction, and cost to select the best cooler for you. No matter which cooler you choose, road trips are a great way to see the country. Check out Wander’s road trip suggestions.

It seems as if more of us are rediscovering the lure of a great road trip. While there are plenty of things you can take with you to make sure you have a successful trip, drinks and snacks are at the top of the list of essentials. You're going to need a great cooler for carrying those goodies. Here are our recommendations of the best coolers for road trips.

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