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There’s not a lot that’s 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, fun-killing 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 here at TripSavvy 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 (and no, not all of them are Yetis).
Our Top Picks
Best Overall: Yeti Hopper Flip Portable Cooler
Look, we’re not saying that $300 isn’t an obscene amount 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 16 cans, plus ice, 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
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 cold beers and sodas icy cold, even in summer heat. It also makes for a handy seat around the campfire, with its flat top. We love the tap front to keep mixed drinks cold and easily top-up-able at the beach, and there’s also a built-in stainless steel bottle opener. We also like the attention to detail designers paid, 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 for the Beach: SCOUT Pleasure Chest Insulated Soft Cooler
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. We love that this cooler has a wrapped strap joiner to keep them 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 so the interior volume is maximized. 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, so the bag won’t tip over if it’s unbalanced. There are also two exterior pockets to carry accessories like a paring knife and wine opener. We like that after an afternoon in the sand, you can just wipe the bag clean with a damp cloth or towel. There’s a pattern and color for everyone, too, with 19 options available.
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 to the 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 — it even has clips to 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. We also like that it comes in a variety of color options: green, blue, and orange.
Best for Dry Ice: Yeti Roadie 20
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. Campers take note: Although bears might try to bat the cooler around, they’re not going to do much harm, thanks to its FatWall construction that 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 T-Rex Lid Latches will last for years courtesy of their heavy-duty rubber construction — so this is a buy it once, keep it forever kind of deal. Take note, however, that at 16 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. It’s totally fine if you catch a little spray when a wave crashes in, too — the speakers are water-resistant. It also able to be operated from all devices, according to the company, including both iPhones and Androids (you can even charge your phone with from the USB outlet). We love that you can remove one of the speakers if you head over to play some volleyball on the beach or want to move it into the tent at night. Back in the cooler, they’ll last for more than eight hours. If you don’t like the black color, it also comes in stripes, American flag patterns, and backpack styles. Best of all, it’s pretty lightweight at 1.7 pounds without cans or bottles.
Best Soft-Sided: eBags Crew Cooler II
This small cooler delivers huge bang for its buck, with smartly designed compartments for whatever you might need to keep cold. On the top is an easy-access “dry” compartment for items that don’t need to be kept super-cold, as well as things like napkins and utensils (however, it’s large enough to hold a Nalgene-sized bottle). Below that, there’s a deeper main compartment, insulated on each side (including the bottom), where campers and beachgoers can put ice and things that need to be kept cold. The Crew Cooler II holds plenty, with room for a six-pack, some sandwiches, and ice-packs. There’s also pockets on the side and front that have built-in dividers for keeping things a bit more organized. Originally built for pilots and flight attendants, it has a carry-on strap at the top for sliding onto a wheeled suitcase’s handle.
Our writers spent 4 hours researching the most popular small coolers on the market. Before making their final recommendations, they considered 52 different coolers overall, screened options from 28 different brands and manufacturers, and read over 90 user reviews (both positive and negative). All of this research adds up to recommendations you can trust.