The 7 Best Small Coolers of 2021

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

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TRIPSAVVY-best-small-coolers

Chloe Jeong / TripSavvy

The Rundown

Best Overall: Yeti Hopper Flip Portable Cooler at Yeti

"If you’re outdoors all weekend, every weekend, this is worth the investment."

Best Budget: Coleman Soft Collapsible Cooler at Amazon

"Clever construction and budget pricing make this cooler a winner."

Best for Camping: KULA 2.5-Gallon Cooler at Amazon

"It’s extremely well constructed and really performs when it comes to keeping drinks cold."

Best Collapsible: GigaTent Collapsible Cooler at Amazon

"Once you’ve had what you’ve packed inside, it’s easy to store."

Best for Dry Ice: Yeti Roadie 24 at Yeti

"Although bears might try to bat the cooler around, they’re not going to do much harm."

Best Smart Cooler: Super Real Business Cooler at Amazon

"Able to be operated from all devices, including both iPhones and Androids."

Best for the Beach: Picnic at Ascot Square Cooler Tote at Amazon

"Skip the drag of lugging a wheeled cooler across the sand."

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 important 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 Portable Cooler

Yeti Hopper Flip Portable Cooler

Amazon

Look, we’re not saying that $300 isn’t a lot to drop on a little cooler, but if you’re outdoors all weekend, every weekend, this might be worth the investment. The Yeti Hopper Flip holds up to 20 cans, 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 really delivers; it’s both waterproof and mildew-resistant, and it’s built with HazMat suit material to shrug off any abuse it takes (we’re talking punctures). 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 is billed to be 100-percent leakproof. Although Yetis can be heavy, this one clocks in at just around 4 pounds.

Best Budget: Coleman Soft Collapsible Cooler with Removable Liner

Coleman Soft Collapsible Cooler

 Courtesy of Amazon

Clever construction and budget pricing make this cooler a winner. Coleman is known for offering value-driven products, and this soft, collapsible cooler really holds up for afternoon or overnight trips (and the road trips to and from). The dual zipper on the top makes for easy access—especially as it opens up across three sides of the cooler for great reachability—and the shoulder strap is handy for carrying. On the outside, there are two mesh pockets and a front zippered pocket, as well as two bungees across the top for a roll of paper towels or other goods you’re carrying. We love that it comes with a hard container on the inside if you need a bit more structure and support for fragile items, but it’s easily removable if you want the soft sides for flexibility. It arrives pre-treated with antimicrobials to prevent odors, mold and mildew buildup, and fungus.

Best for Camping: KULA 2.5-Gallon Cooler

Customers love this bucket cooler for trips to the beach and camp—it’s extremely well constructed and really performs when it comes to keeping beers and sodas icy cold, even in summer heat. Thanks to its flat top, it also makes for a handy seat around the campfire. The tap front allows you to easily top up your mixed drinks at the beach, and there's also a built-in stainless steel bottle opener. We also love the design details, like the air vents that keep air flowing in (but prevent the cold from coming out) so it never smells musty. For those who really like convenience, the cooler is built with a 270-degree hinge on the lid so it can be lifted from almost any side. With a weight of 11 pounds, it’s not exactly light—and it will only get heavier with drinks—but that’s about the only downside. Although certain companies are “certified bear-resistant,” KULA ups it for those traveling in the South with GatorShell construction, which the company certifies "gator-proof.” 

Best Collapsible: GigaTent Orange Insulated Collapsible Cooler

With a number of great functions, it’s easy to see why the GigaTent’s Orange Insulated Collapsible Cooler is well-loved by customers. The cooler is fully lined to keep what you pack cold, while the 600D nylon holds up after years of trips to the woods or beach. It’s also pretty large, holding up to 12 bottles or 16 cans (without ice). Once you’ve had what you’ve packed inside, it’s easy to store: It simply collapses down into a flat pack to tuck in your beach bag or car trunk, and clips keep the folded cooler from popping back up again. But don’t think that it’s low on features. The cooler has a metal bottle opener attached to the front, tow hand straps to switch up the carry, and a zippered front pocket. It also comes in a variety of color options: green, blue, and orange. 

Best for Dry Ice: Yeti Roadie 24

Yeti Roadie 24

 Courtesy of Yeti

This baby version of Yeti’s famous (and, yes, trendy) Tundra cooler is a marvel for camping on long weekends. It’s the only cooler of its size that can store dry ice, thanks to its UV-resistant construction, and it’ll also keep drinks chilly during a day out in the sun. Although bears might try to bat the cooler around, they’re not going to do much harm: Its Rotomolded construction is bear-resistant certified (and home to two-inches of permafrost insulation). We also love the Interlocked lid system, which keeps liquids from leaking out and weather from getting in. In fact, this cooler can take a beating again and again—even the NeverFail hinge system will last for years courtesy of their heavy-duty rubber construction. Take note, however, that at 13 pounds, this cooler isn’t exactly lightweight, and that’s before you add the cans.

Best Smart Cooler: Super Real Business Cooler with Speakers

The name might throw you off at first, but this cooler is actually packed with excellent features. It has two full-range Bluetooth speakers, as well as an 8-watt subwoofer. The speakers are water-resistant, so it’s totally fine if it catches a little spray when a wave crashes in. According to the company, you can operate it from all devices (including iPhones and Androids), and you can even charge your phone with it using the USB outlet. The speakers are removable, which comes in handy if you're playing beach volleyball and want to leave the cooler with your beach towel and umbrella. Back in the cooler, they’ll last for more than eight hours. Best of all, it’s pretty lightweight at 1.7 pounds without cans or bottles.

Best for the Beach: Picnic at Ascot Square Cooler Tote

If you’re just heading out for an afternoon at the beach, a tote-shaped cooler is a convenient way to keep food and drinks cold—without the drag of lugging a wheeled cooler across the sand. This cooler has a wrapped strap joiner to keep the straps from annoyingly falling off the shoulder when you’re carrying a lot of beach accessories. Rather than a traditional sloping tote-bag shape, the vertical walls of the cooler are smartly designed to maximize the interior volume. It’s large enough to carry four wine bottles or a six pack, so there’s plenty of room for an afternoon or overnight’s worth of both food and drinks. The bottom is stiff and flat, too, meaning that the bag won’t tip over if it’s unbalanced. There's also an exterior pocket to carry accessories like a paring knife and wine opener. After an afternoon in the sand, you can just wipe the bag clean with a damp cloth or towel.

Final Verdict: YETI Hopper Flip Portable Soft Cooler

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.

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 it long distances; soft-side coolers tend to be among the lightest of 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 certain range, what you pay for is what you get. Price-per-use is always a good metric to start assessing your ideal price point by. It breaks down to how many times or how frequently you anticipate using it: If you golf or go fishing every weekend, for example, getting a cooler that’s well-built and 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.

FAQs

How do I clean my cooler? 

No matter what you do, a cooler will inevitably pick up some dirt along the way. 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, they’re more durable, and they tend to keep things colder longer than soft-sided coolers. But they’re also far heavier. Soft-sided coolers, on the other hand, 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. In your search, you might do well to look out for waterproof exteriors and zippers. 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. 

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