How to Choose the Best Cooler with Size Guide - Moosejaw

How to Choose a Cooler with Size Guide

Choosing a cooler may seem complicated. There are tons of models, sizes, cold retention timeframes, and complicated terms. What the heck does rotomolded mean?!. We’re breaking down the different features and designs to help you better understand what you absolutely need versus what’s nice to have. Stop relying on those styrofoam boxes that you buy at the gas station. Get yourself one of the best coolers around from top cooler brands like Yeti, Mountainsmith, Pelican, Hydro Flask, Stanley and many more.


If you don’t have the capacity then you’re not gonna have enough room for all those beers. I mean pops and food. Whatever you’re stuffing into the cooler, you’ve gotta have the right size to pile it all in. These days, most companies will list the total number of cans you can fit inside the cooler and that number usually includes ice.

Don’t just pick the biggest cooler out there, think about how long you’ll be gone for and how many people you’ve got. If you’re bringing a bunch of 2 liters or a rack of ribs, height and width will need to be considered. Below is a general chart, but consider it just for a beach trip, where you’ll only be bringing drinks for each person and a lunch. You’ll need to up the capacity if you’ll be camping out for longer. Going out for 3 days but only bringing two people? You’ll probably want a 45-60 quart capacity.

Group Size Cooler Capacity (in quarts)
2 0 - 20
3 20 - 30
4 30 - 45
5 45 - 60
6 60 +
2 0 - 20
3 20 - 30
4 30 - 45
5 45 - 60
6 60 +


The quality of that gorgeous ice keeper you’ve had your eye on matters. First off, cold retention time frame and what the heck is it? It basically means how long does the ice stay ice. You’ll typically find a hard-sided cooler will keep ice colder for longer than a soft-sided cooler.

Why get a soft cooler then? It’s lighter! In general, go with a hard cooler if you’re going to be out for longer, but if you’re just popping over to the beach, hauling a soft cooler or backpack cooler is much easier on your arms and back. If you’ve gotta have that hard cooler regardless, consider one with wheels to help haul the extra weight.

Cold retention is also based on the latch and seal. If the top lid doesn’t have a high-quality gasket and latch system to keep it tightly shut, the less likely it will keep the ice cold for very long. Best way to keep the ice cold? Don’t open the cooler very often. If you’re really glamping it up, electric coolers are also an option.

Pre-chill the cooler.

There are a couple of different ways of doing this. Easiest will be, just bring the cooler in from the garage and into your air-conditioned house and open it up 4-24 hours before your trip. To truly pre-chill a cooler, pack it with ice or ice packs 4-8 hours before packing food and drink. Then completely remove the ice packs and ice, repacking your cooler with food, drink, and new ice packs or ice. Sounds silly, maybe, but when your food and drink stay colder for longer, you won't be disappointed. This tip is especially true with high-end coolers and when you’re located and your cooler is stored in warmer temperatures.


Construction method is what really drives the price when you’re looking at picking up a new cooler. From low to high in price, you’ll be looking at styrofoam, waterproof fabric & foam, injection molded or rotomolded. Styrofoam coolers from the gas station just aren’t going to cut it these days, but if you’re looking for the cheapest of the cheap, there you go. They’ll bust with one drop on the ground, use at your own risk. Soft coolers can come in on price anywhere in between, depending on the fabric durability. They’ll last much, much longer than styrofoam however and are a breeze to carry to and from the car and beach.

The biggest differences you’ll find in price are in the hard cooler category between injection-molded and rotomolded. Injection molding involves pouring molten-hot plastic into a mold, cooling it, then popping it out of said mold. It’s much cheaper for production but will have less strength in the corners and joints.

Rotomolding is a much more involved construction process, coating raw plastic into the mold, then the mold it rotates on a horizontal and vertical axis slowly to evenly distribute the plastic in the mold. This creates a thicker, stronger and more consistent product, especially at those joints and corners, driving the high price tag and heavier weight. While they may be more expensive and heavier, rotomolding is the way to go when it comes to the best cooler for keeping ice cold.

Appearance & Features

Features include rope handles vs built-in handles, drain plugs, cutting boards to padded seats. There are even accessories like bottle openers and dry pouches for your phone and wallet. What is important to you when you’re out car camping with family, hanging at the beach or fishing and hunting with the boys?

Appearance is where you should let your heart run wild. Colors in coolers, especially the rotomolded ones, are fairly standard but can definitely deliver. Seafoam green, anyone? Lighter colors aren’t just a hoax, as they reflect light, which is ideal for helping keep your stuff colder in the warm sun. Don’t discount a cooler just because of a brand name, but note that each brand will often have their own style and look.

Last but not least, check out the materials one more time. We’ve talked a lot about plastics and injection-molded vs. rotomolded coolers, but have you looked at stainless steel coolers? They’re a decent in between of the plastics in regards to ice retention, but they truly hit when it comes to style.

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