A Guide to Camping Ice Chests and Coolers

Tips and advice on how to buy a camping ice chest or cooler.

The best camping ice chest keeps ice cold for days.
Paul Bradbury // Getty Images

The best ice chests and coolers for camping will keep your ice cold and food fresh. Whether you're going camping for a night or a few weeks, you'll need ice chests and/or coolers to adequately store foods and keep drinks cold. Depending on your lifestyles, eating habits, and personal preferences, there are a variety of ice chests that will meet your needs.

My wife and I use several different coolers. While traveling, a small 6-pack cooler comes in handy for keeping drinks cold in the car/truck. For weekend campouts, we will use an Igloo ice chest for storing drinks and a larger Coleman ice chest for storing food. The Coleman stays at the campground while we go fishing, hiking, or sightseeing, and the Igloo goes in the truck with drinks and some lunch.

What to look for when buying an ice chest:

  • all-around insulation
  • tight-fitting lids
  • a drain plug
  • storage bin insert
  • enough space for your needs

Here's some tips to help prolong the ice:

  • pre-chill, or freeze, food and drinks
  • put food in first, then cover with ice
  • keep the cooler out of the sun
  • make sure you close the lid tight
  • don't drain all the cold water
  • keep meats/perishables directly on ice
  • avoid opening frequently

When my wife and I take extended camping trips we pack up our 150-quart Coleman marine cooler. This ice chest has a deep condiment compartment, dual insulated lids, two panel inserts to create separate areas inside, and a drain plug with a hose fitting. We still take along the other coolers, the Igloo for day trips, an older square Coleman comes along in case we catch any fish that needs to be put on ice, and an older 6-pack is used for keeping bait.

Whatever make, style, or size ice chests you use for camping, the best way to keep food cold and prolong the ice is to avoid opening them as much as possible. It only takes a little time to master packing your cooler.

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