The 7 Best Small Coolers of 2022, Tested by TripSavvy

Keep your drinks ice-cold with the best coolers out there

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Best Small Coolers
TripSavvy / Nathan Allen.

There’s nothing worse than heading out to the woods or the beach and discovering that ice-cold beverage you were looking forward to has somehow gone warm. But gone are the days of substandard coolers: The new generation keeps drinks colder—and colder longer—than ever before. However, with new technology comes far more options, and with price tags that seemingly hit the sky, it’s essential to make a well-informed purchase. It’s also critical to think carefully about sizing. After all, you’re not just packing drinks in there, but ice, which can take up a considerable amount of space. We’ve done the research for you and scoured the web for the best small coolers out there, from ones that are perfect for beach picnics to soft-sided ones that are a little less bulky.

Read on for our picks of the best small coolers available.

Best Overall: YETI Hopper Flip 12 Portable Soft Cooler

Soft Cooler

Courtesy of Amazon

What We Like
  • Great size and super durable

  • Top-notch ice and cold retention

  • Great size for quick trips

What We Don't Like
  • Expensive, but still probably worth it

We're not saying that $250 isn't a lot to drop on a little cooler, but this might be worth the investment if you're outdoors every weekend. The Yeti Hopper Flip comes in three sizes measured by the number of cans it can hold with ice—8, 12, and 18. We like the 12, which is perfect for an afternoon out at the beach—and they'll stay cold with Yeti's ColdCell closed-cell foam insulation. We also love that the company's proprietary DryHide Shell delivers; it's both waterproof and mildew-resistant and is incredibly durable, thanks to the HazMat suit material. The only thing worse than a cooler that doesn't cool is a cooler that leaks, but worry not—this one is built specifically to protect against that. Yeti's HydroLok zipper claims to be 100-percent leakproof. Although Yetis can be heavy, this one weighs just around 3 pounds.

We've been using this cooler for over a year now, and it's definitely our go-to for picnics, beach days, and fishing trips. We once transported ice cream in it during a six-hour drive from Mammoth Lakes to Ventura County, California, and there was basically no melt. We've also had luck with it holding ice for days during camping trips. Is a Yeti an investment? Totally. Has it always been worth it to us? Absolutely.

Size: 10 x 11.5 x 12.6 | Weight: 3.1 pounds | Capacity: 12 cans with a 2-to-1 ice ratio

YETI Hopper Flip
TripSavvy / Nathan Allen.

Best Budget: Coleman 28 Can Soft Backpack Cooler

4.5
Coleman Soft Backpack Cooler

Amazon

What We Like
  • Performed well during our lab testing

  • Super comfortable backpack to carry

  • A few different storage pockets

What We Don't Like
  • Some leaking will occur if loose ice melts and it's turned upside-down

Coleman's 28-can soft backpack cooler is an excellent budget cooler. We like that it's a backpack, has some external pockets, and the straps for attaching other gear. We tested the Coleman soft backpack cooler in our Brooklyn testing lab with dozens of other soft and backpack coolers, and it performed very well compared to its competitors. Our testers particularly liked how well it held cold temperatures and its soft shoulder straps. We see this pack as being an ideal budget option for trips to the park with the family, picnics, fishing outings, hiking, or even music or other outdoor festivals.

Size: 12.2 x 6.3 x 19.29 inches | Weight: 1 pound, 1 ounce | Capacity: 28 cans

Coleman 28-Can Soft Backpack Cooler
Tamara Staples / TripSavvy.

Best for Boats: KULA Softy 2.5 Cooler

KULA Softy 2.5 Cooler
Amazon image.
What We Like
  • The daisy chains for extra carrying are great

  • Floatable

  • Extra handle to help zip and unzip

What We Don't Like
  • Zipper is a bit tough

The ultra-durable Kula Softy 2.5 Cooler is the perfect boat companion. While we tested it on an inflatable paddleboard, we envisioned it being ideal for kayaks, canoes, and other vessels. First, we love that it floats. So if it does end up in the water, you won't need to worry about it sinking. Constructed of 840-denier TPU ripstop fabric, the Softy 2.5 features "Holy Molles," which are daisy-chain-like attachment points. And at just around 3 pounds for the 2.5-gallon version, it's relatively light for what you're getting. The cold and ice-retention on the Softy 2.5 Cooler were as good as the YETI Hopper listed above.

Size: 9 x 9.5 x 9 inches | Weight: 3 pounds | Capacity: 2.5 or 5 gallons

KULA Softy 2.5 Cooler
TripSavvy / Nathan Allen.

Best Hardside: ORCA 20 Cooler

ORCA 20 Cooler
ORCA photo.
What We Like
  • Excellent cold and ice retention

  • Super durable

  • Drain spout

What We Don't Like
  • A bit heavy

We love the evolution of soft and backpack coolers. But even the best-insulated soft coolers can't compete with the cold and ice retention of hardside coolers. Our favorite small hardside cooler is ORCA 20 Cooler. With a capacity of 20 quarts (5 gallons), this cooler can hold ice and cold temps for days. Thanks to a roto-molded construction and stainless steel carrying handle, it's also incredibly durable. We found this cooler perfect for weekend camping trips when you don't need as much cooler space but want to keep items cold for multiple days.

Size: 21.7 x 13.75 x 14.75 inches | Weight: 18 pounds | Capacity: 20 quarts (5 gallons)

ORCA 20 Cooler
TripSavvy / Nathan Allen.

Best Backpack: IceMule Pro Cooler 23L

4.9
IceMule Pro Cooler 23L

IceMule

What We Like
  • Very comfortable and easy to carry

  • Good cold retention and durability

  • Air valve is awesome for compressing the cooler into a small size

What We Don't Like
  • Just one large compartment

The IceMule Pro backpack cooler has done nothing but impress throughout our lab and field testing. Its cold retention is superb. It's comfortable and easy to carry. And an air valve helps compress it to a smaller size for storage, packing, and travel. The Pro is constructed with a slew of proprietary features like the super durable MuleSkin material and PolarLayer foam insulation. The result is a highly functional and practical cooler that has become our go-to all-around cooler for everything from paddleboarding missions to fly fishing sessions to a recent wine hike in the Santa Monica Mountains.

Size: 14 x 11 x 18 inches | Weight: Not listed | Capacity: 23 liters (18 cans plus ice)

IceMule Pro Backpack Cooler
Nathan Allen / TripSavvy.

Best Tote: Out of the Woods Seagull Cooler

Out of the Woods Seagull Cooler
Out of the Woods photo.
What We Like
  • Most sustainable and planet-friendly on the list

  • Good value for the price

What We Don't Like
  • Good for day trips, not overnights

The Seagull Cooler from Out of the Woods is a solid—and relatively inexpensive—cooler option for grocery store runs and beach days. It's got a surprisingly large capacity and looks more stylish than the more outdoors-focused coolers on this list. It's also more planet-friendly than other options on this list with a proprietary "Supernatural Paper" outer material made from tree cellulose. We also like that there are two ways to carry this bag: a shoulder strap and handles.

Size: 15.7 x 6.3 x 14 inches | Weight: Not listed | Capacity: 24 cans

Out of the Woods Seagull Cooler
TripSavvy / Nathan Allen.

Best for Road Trips: RTIC Insulated Soft Cooler Bag

4.8
RTIC soft cooler bag

RTIC

What We Like
  • Similar performance to YETI

  • Light

  • Tough zipper

RTIC's Soft Pack Cooler is the more affordable alternative to the YETI Hopper Flip above. And, according to our lab and field tests, you're really not sacrificing much in terms of performance compared to the YETI. During our 24-hour ice test, the YETI did hold a bit more ice than the RTIC. And the RTIC's internal temperature rose by about 11 degrees compared to just 7 degrees with the YETI. But considering the RTIC is around $200 less, those might be slight sacrifices to save quite a bit. RTIC uses similar closed-cell insulation, durable ripstop nylon, and a burly zipper to ensure contents stay inside or outside the cooler. Bonus: This cooler also floats.

Size: 12 x 8 x 10 inches | Weight: 2.4 pounds | Capacity: 12, 20, 30, and 40 cans

RTIC Soft Cooler Pack
Tamara Staples / TripSavvy.

Final Verdict

Yetis don't come cheap, but it's at the top of our list for sheer effectiveness and 100-percent leakproof-ability (view at Amazon). It holds up to 16 cans, so there's plenty of room for beverages—and snacks—for the squad. Plus, it deserves some accolades for its built-to-last material. If you're looking for a similar cooler but less expensive, go for the RTIC (view at Amazon).

KULA Softy 2.5 Cooler
TripSavvy / Nathan Allen.

Product Selection

We selected products based on our previous knowledge and experience with coolers and cooler brands. We also researched online reviews and popularity on sites like Amazon and REI. To narrow the list, we looked for coolers in various functions, styles, and prices.

How We Tested

The coolers on this list were tested with dozens of others in our Brooklyn testing lab and at-home testers. We tested for functionality, durability, portability, and cold retention in the lab. Each cooler was filled with ice, and the amount of cans companies claimed could fit in the cooler. We then took a temperature reading of the inside of each cooler. Our testers then took turns pushing coolers off of tables and ladders to test the durability of each cooler. Then they carried the coolers around the lab and up and down steps to the portability. Another internal temperature reading was taken to measure cold and ice retention at the end of the day.

Backpack coolers testing
Tamara Staples / TripSavvy.

What to Look for in a Small Cooler 

Capacity

Most coolers are measured by how many cans or bottles they can hold—but keep in mind that you’ll want to save room for some ice and maybe a few snacks. To get an idea of how much you'll really be able to fit, deduct a few cans from the overall capacity.


Weight

Coolers filled with drinks are already heavy enough, so you don’t need the cooler itself to be super-heavy. Look for lightweight coolers if you’re planning to carry them long distances; soft-side coolers tend to be among the lightest options, though they don’t protect the contents quite like hard-sided coolers. Expect the latter to weigh a little more—and consider getting one with wheels if you go that direction. 

Price

Coolers are one of those items where, within a specific range, what you pay for is what you get. Price-per-use is always a good metric to start assessing your ideal price point. It breaks down to how often or how frequently you anticipate using it: If you golf or go fishing every weekend, getting a well-built cooler that offers features like easy portability or extended insulation time might be worth the money. If you're only using it to tailgate twice a year, you may want to look into cheaper options. Also, think about what types of trips or excursions you need the cooler for; cheaper coolers might not have some pretty nice-to-have functions—like leak-proof zippers—that more expensive models do.

Frequently Asked Questions
  • How do I clean my cooler?

    No matter what you do, a cooler will inevitably pick up some dirt. Always check the instructions provided by the company on how to clean a cooler. Generally, a little wipe-down with dish soap or mild detergent should take care of small jobs. One all-purpose natural solution for when things get a little funkier? Hose the cooler out, clean it with a mixture of baking soda and vinegar, and let it sit for a few minutes. Then, scrub it down and rinse it all off.

  • Should I get a soft-sided or hard-sided cooler?

    Both types of coolers serve a purpose: Hard-sided coolers better protect the contents, are more durable, and tend to keep things colder longer than soft-sided coolers. But they’re also far heavier. On the other hand, soft-sided coolers are far lighter and, therefore, easier to tote around—which is handy if you’re bringing it somewhere you can’t easily drive to.

  • Should I get a waterproof cooler?

    While it might seem like coolers are inherently waterproof, many aren’t. You might do well to look out for waterproof exteriors and zippers in your search. Chances are you won’t just be carrying drinks inside of it—you’ll probably want to bring along some snacks at some point—and in the case of a sudden downpour, it’ll keep water from getting inside.

Why Trust TripSavvy

Krystin Arneson has been writing for TripSavvy since 2018. Based in Berlin, Germany, she has been published in Conde Nast Traveler, Jetsetter, National Geographic Traveler, and Oyster.com. If she's not working or on the road, you can find her paying yet another visit to one of Berlin's incredible museums, hitting the dance floor, or exploring the city's wonderfully dynamic restaurant scene.

Nathan Allen is TripSavvy's Outdoor Gear Editor. He's been using coolers for camping, picnics, fly fishing, beach trips, paddleboarding, road trips, grocery store missions, and bringing back beer from the local brewery via bike. Now, his go-to coolers are IceMule's Pro, YETI's Hopper Flip, and the Out of the Woods Seagull Cooler.

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