Remember every barbeque in the 90’s ever? Remember grabbing a cold one out of the cooler right next to the grill?
Well, hand coolers have come a long way since then, and they’re the best coolers that we’ve ever seen, with serious ice retention time, durability, and longevity.
These aren’t your standard Igloo coolers just sitting in the yard with a big bucket of slosh inside – these are coolers for serious grillers, campers, hikers and RVers.
We’ve found the five best portable cooler models on the market, sharing the spotlight between a few different brands that just really exceeded our expectations in every single way.
Some of these will come with faults, but each one of them is a viable pick for those of you who need an icy companion for the summer months to keep your beverage of choice (and food) nice and ice-cold.
Best Portable Hard Cooler Reviews For 2020
Best Overall – Yeti Roadie 20 Hard Cooler
We all knew that Yeti was going to be on top. They’ve surpassed even the likes of Igloo in recent years, and retain the top dog spot as the ultimate hand cooler that money can buy.
Not only have they come out with an absolute ton of different models, but they also include some of the best warranties you’re going to find on any hand cooler.
We started these cooler reviews to find you the best coolers on the market with a budget in mind, and Yeti is definitely not a budgeter’s brand. We’ll get that right out of the way—they charge a lot for their coolers, but as the saying goes, you get what you pay for.
Yeti offers their Permafrost insulation, which is a pressure-injected, commercial-grade polyurethane foam that sits between the interior and exterior wall, making one of the best walled insulations in the game.
Couple that with their rotomolded construction—which they like to brag about—and you have a nearly indestructible cooler.
Yeti has gone to the fullest extent of their power to create individual elements to their coolers, such as their interlock lid system, vortex drain system, anchorpoint tie-down slots, coldlock gaskets, and even more proprietary aspects of their freezers.
After trying to find a flaw with their Roadie 30 Hard Cooler, after trying to find a way to exploit its weaknesses and really put the pedal to the metal here, we came up with something. You ready?
The shoulder strap is pretty weak. Yeah: that’s it. Yeti has built this thing so iron-tough, which reflects in the 15 lb weight limit, that you can put it through hell and back and watch in amazement as it’s unscathed on the other side.
You get a three-year warranty to protect against manufacturer defects, though we dare you to try and find any.
- Size: 19.2” x 14.3” x 17.3”
- Volume: 20 liter
- Power: N/A
- Weight: 15 lbs
Runner up – Igloo Leeward Hard Sided Portable Cooler
Yeti is one of the most expensive coolers out there for even their smallest models, and Igloo wanted to give them a run for their money. Instead of getting the 20 liters of capacity that you get with Yeti’s Roadie 20, you get 124 quarts of storage space in Igloo’s Leeward cooler.
Built tough with lockable lid and two-way tie-down point, nothing is going to get through this. The seal is powerful enough to prevent odors from escaping the cooler, or entering, for that matter.
Along the bottom, you get non-slip rubber feet, although you have to be careful not to stress them too much or they will lose their tactile feeling against the floor.
If you like to bring a full cooler with you to the campsite with the boys, Igloo’s got you covered—throw this in the bed of your truck and let it bang around all you want, because the body brackets on all four corners give you plenty of durability to really put this thing through its paces.
So where is the caveat, here? Well, it’s a white cooler, and scuffs are going to show, even if they don’t penetrate or cause major damage to the cooler. When you spend this kind of money on a high-end cooler, that’s a little bit of a letdown.
However, it will hold up its function through thick and thin. The gasket around the drainage seal isn’t set to last as long as Yeti coolers, but it is removable so that you can clean out hard water buildup and particles to prevent any odor or bacterial growth.
Overall, it’s a very impressive cooler with plenty of ice retention time. We let this sit out in the sun (avg. 82°F) for about three days, and still had half of the ice that we put into it, fully intact in a shallow pool of water, keeping a bottle of seltzer water completely cold. Worked like a charm.
- Size: 21” x 35.8” x 20.5”
- Volume: 124 quart
- Power: N/A
- Weight: 37.7 lbs
Alternative – Yeti Tundra 65 Hard Cooler
Yeti, despite being heavyweight, is still one of the best portable coolers you can get.
When you compare this amount of space, which is roughly 68 quarts, to the 124 quart Igloo that we just saw, you’re actually paying around 15%-17% more money for half the storage capabilities. Sounds like a drag, but there’s a reason that the Tundra 65 is still one of the top rated coolers on our list.
Yeti puts all the stops in, like the lipgrip handles that they’ve designed, which helps you actually lift this instead of lugging it around awkwardly, and the doublehaul handles on top, for when you have to stand in the bed of your pickup and lift it up.
On top of that, there’s the bearfoot non-slip feet that they’ve also designed, which keeps your cooler perfectly in place, the interlock lid system, t-rex lid latches, coldlock gasket, and more proprietary designs. The only brand that makes 100% everything in their own design with the highest standards is Yeti.
We’re comparing it to the Igloo again, because with half the capacity, this is shockingly close to the same weight of the Leeward cooler we just reviewed.
Empty, this ends up being 29 lbs, which is nothing to scoff at. That’s due in part by the interior foam walls that help keep everything insulated, but it’s still a point that should be talked about.
The real strengths come into play when you consider ice retention times. Thanks to the gaskets and latch systems, you can literally keep dozens of pounds of ice in here for days, even if your cooler is in direct sunlight, like it’s nothing.
Camping, RVing, you name it, and Yeti is there for you. We expect nothing less than this level of quality from them.
- Size: 30.7” x “16” x 29.4”
- Volume: 65 liters
- Power: N/A
- Weight: 29 lbs
Alternative – Igloo Gray BMX Cooler
Igloo wins for the best coolers for the money, because even though this is only a 25 quart model, it comes equipped with some of the best features you’ve ever had in a small, portable cooler unit.
To start, it’s lightweight at 11.3 lbs, so it won’t be an issue moving it around, from the hotel room to the truck bed (after you raid the ice machine), and so on. It’s definitely something that you can handle solo.
The sidewall is thin, giving you as much interior space as possible. I don’t want to confuse thin with lackluster – you still get up to four days of ice retention here, thanks to the engineered foam insulation between the internal and external sidewalls.
Four days. Ninety-six hours in 90°F weather, and you’re still going to have ice.
Your anchor-shaped latches on the front of the cooler, right above the Igloo logo, lock this lid with a super tight seal. The handle comes up perfectly on either side, sticking straight up before bowing into a 45° angle turn, then evening out.
This design helps with weight distribution while carrying it, so you don’t feel a ton of weight shifting to one side. Your handle also has a nice rubber coating on it, which rests on top of reinforced steel to ensure that no matter what you’re carrying, there’s going to be room.
This is a small cooler, and as such, it doesn’t come with a drain plug. This could help with those ice retention times that we mentioned earlier, but it still makes excess water removal a chore.
If you still have a few brews floating around and want to mitigate the water, you have to tip this on its side, meaning you can’t drain all the water out without your ice sliding down.
The lack of a plug is an inconvenience, but as long as you aren’t actually pushing this to the four-day limit on ice retention, you should be able to navigate around it without an issue.
Last but not least, the medium gray color choice means that scuffs and scrapes won’t show up, so this cooler will still look great for years to come. Use it to store your catches on a two-day fishing trip, beers for tailgating, what have you—Igloo’s up to the task.
- Size: 15.7” x 19.6” x 13.3”
- Volume: 25 quart
- Power: N/A
- Weight: 11.3 lbs
Alternative – Coleman Steel-Belted Camping Cooler
Coleman is, by many standards, the king of the outdoors—grills, camping chairs, tents, you name it. Even though they didn’t peak the top of our list, they still prove to be one of the best jack-of-all-trades brands out there.
This cooler comes with 54 quarts worth of storage, allowing for tons of ice and enough food and drink for an all-day barbeque far from home. Grab onto the comfort-grip steel handles for stability, but to also allow for even weight distribution that changes the game.
Even when this is full, it won’t be a back-breaking experience with the way the handles are positioned (you should still lift from the knees though). Speaking of support, the lid is actually designed to act as a bench, and can comfortably support up to 250 lbs.
Whether you want to take a load off, or drop a few cases of supplies on top of it while you’re setting up camp, it’s built for the long haul.
Ice retention is killer on this cooler, giving you anywhere from four to six days (depending on the temperature and direct sun exposure), for those extended trips that take an extra day or two.
While it’s not rated to, this was tested on a 97°F day, which was one of three in a heat wave. There was still ice left at the end.
So where’s the kicker? The hinge. The hinge is surprisingly weak compared to the rest of the cooler.
That 250 lb weight capacity for the seat relies on the top section of the sidewalls to support a lot of that weight, and the central lid construction is sturdy enough to accompany it. The hinge is the Achilles heel of this cooler, so just be careful when you use it.
- Size: 36.8” x 19.3” x 18.8”
- Volume: 54 quart
- Power: N/A
- Weight: 19 lbs
Portable Hand Cooler Buying Guide & FAQ
How Exactly do Portable Coolers Work?
An insulation material resists temperature changes, effectively trapping the cold air and low temperatures of the items therein, keeping heat out through an airtight seal.
Even the best small cooler versus the largest, most massive cooler out there will have differences in design, even if they’re by the same brand.
As a result, there will be differently engineered foam insulation types, internal and external sidewall materials, seals, and so forth. No two coolers will work the same.
How Long Can They Keep Your Food/Drinks Cold?
It all depends on the insulation in the sidewalls (as well as the material of the sidewalls). Insulation, which is almost always a type of foam, will resist and reflect temperatures.
Think about the last time you opened a package on a cold day. The styrofoam isn’t necessarily cold, at least not beyond a quick initial touch. It doesn’t hold a temperature.
When used in the sidewalls of a cooler, it essentially reflects the cold air back on itself, on all six sides of the interior area of a cooler, giving it no place to go.
We can’t just have a permanent, solid degree of temperature that exists no matter what, so slowly, it will still rise to the temperature outside of the cooler through heat transfer.
Foam is the best material for coolers, but isn’t an omnipotent material. The cooler will still heat up, just a lot slower.
If you choose solid, crescent-shaped ice instead of hollow cube ice, and plan on keeping your cooler closed for as long as possible (so that you don’t raise the air temperature), you can push the limits of what manufacturers say their coolers are capable of.
Some coolers can retain perfectly food-safe temperatures for up to eight days, which is 192 hours, for some crazy context. The thing is… will you ever need that?
Let’s be honest here: a week of ice retention is complete overkill. If you’re planning on going camping for more than a week, chances are you’re restocking at some point or you’re going to rough it out later on in the trip to get that real camping feeling.
I don’t know anyone who actually needs a solid week of ice retention, apart from full-time RVers who don’t use a fridge and rely on hotel ice machines to keep their coolers stocked.
However, having the power of seven to eight days of ice retention is just a benchmark of how high-quality a cooler is, meaning you can expect it to last if those week-long claims are true.
On average, you’re looking at 48-96 hours of ice retention if you’re opening and closing it a few times a day.
What Size Cooler do You Need for Camping?
Well, that’s a bit of a loaded question. Are you bringing steaks in the cooler? Will there be a lot of drinking on this trip? How many friends are coming? How many days will it be?
A good rule of thumb for refrigerators is to have four cubic feet of space for one person per week, so if you’re going on a two-day camping trip with a total of two people, you would need 0.28 cubic feet per person (0.14 cubic feet per day).
While writing these portable cooler reviews, we wanted to account for the fact that everyone has different uses, tastes, and desires for their cooler.
You might just be bringing it for drinks, or you might just be using it for. Let’s just look at a quick conversion so you can see what you’re going to need, going on the assumption that 0.14 cubic feet, per person per day, will suffice your needs.
One cubic foot is equal to roughly thirty quarts, and very few coolers are going to retain ice for a full seven days. If you purchased a sixty quart cooler, that would be enough storage space for three people for a three-day camping trip, with some extra room to spare for additional ice or drinks.
On this list, we have the Igloo Leeward cooler, which can hold up to 124 quarts. That’s enough space for seven people to go on a four-day camping trip, with a little bit of excess room for additional ice and drinks. If you can pack your cooler properly, you’ll do fine.
For a quick reference:
|Number of Peoples||Days||Quarts|
|1 Person||1 Day Camping Trip||4.5 Quarts|
|1 Person||2 Day Camping Trip||9.0 Quarts|
|1 Person||3 Day Camping Trip||13.5 Quarts|
|2 People||1 Day Camping Trip||9.0 Quarts|
|2 People||2 Day Camping Trip||18.0 Quarts|
|2 People||3 Day Camping Trip||27.0 Quarts|
|3 People||1 Day Camping Trip||13.5 Quarts|
|3 People||2 Day Camping Trip||27.0 Quarts|
|3 People||3 Day Camping Trip||40.5 Quarts|
Why Are Some of the Coolers (Yeti) so Expensive?
Yeti is, and will most likely remain, the number one cooler brand in the world. It’s not because they’re exclusive, or minimally produced, or any hyperbole like that.
These coolers work overtime, push ice retention limits, and offer some of the best features that you can find anywhere, for any brand of cooler. Part of the expensive price tag is that they put thought into every individual element of their coolers so nothing is left up to chance.
Another reason is because they’ve designed all of these elements themselves. From drain plugs right on down to the seal, gaskets, insulation foam types, and everything you can possibly imagine, they’ve developed their own technology for it.
It’s proprietary, it’s designed to last, and adding these all together into these coolers is truly stupendous when you break it down.
This is all a roundabout way of saying that you’re paying for meticulous quality from an intensely-focused brand that does their very best with every single product they make.
It’s not just a factory mass producing coolers with their eyes on the time clock: Yeti puts quality first, and as the saying goes, you get what you pay for.
They charge more because it takes longer to make their coolers, and it requires higher end materials. You get the best, so you have to pay the best.
Cooling Things Down the Right Way
Ready to hit the yard and keep everything nice and chilly?
Even in the blistering heat, you can expect top-notch performance from the coolers that we’ve displayed here today.
It’s time to get back to enjoying the baebeque, enjoying your time at the park or on the camping trail, instead of worrying about how long your ice is going to last for.