Beer should probably have a cooler of its own, right? You have a cooler you carry all your food or your catch and game, but you don’t want to open a food cooler every time you need a beer, right? You also don’t want to have to cart around your large cooler just to tailgate for a few hours until you can head into the stadium. It’s a balance trying to carry your beer without adding bulk, so we may have an answer.
A dedicated beer cooler could be precisely what you need. It should be practical but also a little fun, sturdy and offer features that help keep the party going. Above all, you need a cooler that can keep your brews ice cold without topping off with ice every few hours. We’ve put together a few options for best beer cooler to get you started. Plus, we’ve answered a few questions you may have about how to choose the right one for your situation. Let’s take a look.
Why Do I Need A Beer Cooler?
The real question is why wouldn’t you? On a more serious note, a beer cooler helps keep your brews cold and separate from anything that could cause bacteria to spread to the surface of the can and prevent odors from stopping you every time you try to get one out.
If you carry coolers with food, you may not want the absolute cold a beer needs. Ice can make sandwiches or barbecue unbearable, but cold packs aren’t quite going to do it for beer if you’re carrying a large quantity. It’s more convenient to separate your beer (and other drinks) from your food to keep things at the right temperature.
If you carry your cooler for your catch or your game, then enough said. You can’t mix and match meat you’re keeping cold in anticipation of full processing and your drinks anyway, so a beer cooler is in your future.
How Do I Choose A Beer Cooler?
Beer coolers have a few different options you should consider to get the right one for you. There are different size choices, methods of carrying, materials, and any extras you may need along with your beer.
Consider how much beer you’ll carry each time you use your cooler. If your situation is one where everyone brings their own supply, you may be better off with a smaller, portable cooler. If you often tailgate or have a lot of backyard parties, a larger cooler could be better.
It’s also best to consider if this is still your primary cooler or a backup. Smaller coolers are great beside your main one to carry specifically your drinks or those of another as well. Big coolers keep everyone in supply but could be difficult to store or position.
If you aren’t sure which one is right, a medium sized cooler, somewhere between 30 and 50 quarts could be the right amount to make sure everyone has a beer (and maybe an extra seat) but it won’t kill you trying to find a place to put the cooler itself.
Hard Sided Or Soft Sided
Hard-sided coolers are sturdy and offer plenty of support for all the ice you could need. Many are sturdy enough to give you an extra seat, and quite a few can keep your brews cold not just for hours but for days.
The downside of hard sided coolers is they aren’t as flexible, and they’re a lot heavier than soft-sided coolers. Your choice of where to put them and how to get them there are limited, so much so that with the largest ones, they may be more of a hassle than they’re worth.
Soft-sided coolers give you a lot of flexibility, but you’re more limited in the amount you can pack and how you can keep things cold. Soft-sided coolers that have removable hard liners can help in that area (for adding ice), but they’ll only keep your drinks cold for about half the time of hard sided coolers. For budget coolers, that’s about a day. For higher end coolers, it could be about four days or so.
Hard-sided coolers that are roto-molded are the most durable and keep the beer cold the longest. The process rotates the mold as plastic is poured in allowing stronger walls with fewer weak points. This gets you way more cold retaining power than standard molded plastic. Insulation in these is usually premium and pressure injected to give more complete coverage.
Soft-sided coolers should have durable exteriors with high denier nylon or polyester. They should be puncture and tear resistant so you can get some wear out of them. The best soft-sided insulation is a thin, closed cell foam or rubber that can keep in the cold without adding a lot of bulk to your soft sided cooler.
Beer coolers need to have space to reach every beer all the way to the bottom. Hard-sided coolers don’t have much issue in this area, but soft-sided coolers may. Choose one that has a full mouth or a flip top to make sure you can access your drinks even when supplies are getting low.
Waterproof zippers for soft sided coolers reduce the amount of leaking that can allow cold temps out, so check that the zippers are at least moderately waterproof and sturdy. Hard-sided coolers should have some kind of gasket style lid, and a freezer style is best because there’s a complete seal. Latches help prevent that seal from breaking.
Hardware is a common weak point for most coolers so make sure your hard-sided cooler has rust-resistant hardware that’s reinforced to withstand a lot of use. Lids and hinges should be particularly strong for a beer cooler because it’s going to get opened every few minutes and should be able to withstand that kind of use.
One pretty critical piece of hardware is the drain spout. As the ice melts, it gets uncomfortable to grab a beer from a pool of water, so reducing the water efficiently keeps everyone comfortable. We also love an integrated bottle opener on the front, an accessory that’s becoming more common. Finally, many coolers estimate capacity by telling you how many cans you can carry. If you prefer bottles, you may want to measure the height of the cooler so you know if you can fit your bottles easily.
How Do I Prep My Beer Cooler?
Many coolers can benefit from a bit of prep work before you head out, but if you invest in a roto-molded cooler, this is especially true. Thick insulation can absorb outside temperatures after a while, so if your cooler has been in storage for a bit, you may be in for a surprise when you finally get ready to use it.
If you’ve stored your cooler in a warm place, the insulation is probably warm. Putting ice in causes the cooler to absorb the cold temperatures of your ice, but melts the ice for a while in return, reducing your overall ice retention rate.
The night before you need to use the cooler, fill it with ice and allow it to sit overnight with the top closed. In the morning, drain the cooler of any excess water and top off with ice. Your cooler is prechilled and should give you closer to those ideal ice retention rates.
Our favorite beer coolers run the gamut from full-sized coolers that can go from tailgate to backyard party and smaller, personal coolers handy enough for your six-pack. They all give you good ice retention rates and span a range of budgets. The most important thing? They keep your beer cold. Let’s take a look.
Our Top Pick – Yeti Tundra Haul
Yeti is nearly always one of our favorites because you just can’t beat the ice retention rate. It features a roto-molded exterior that’s highly crack resistant. The interior uses two inches of pressure injected, commercial grade insulation with food safe lining. It resists mold and mildew and helps keep contents cold for up to nine days.
It has a freezer style, gasket lid that locks into place with rubber blended latches. The hinge overlaps and secures with a pin for a never fail hinge system. Other features include a sturdy set of wheels that’s large enough to head over uneven terrain and they won’t ever go flat. The handle deploys to the side to give you more leverage to push or pull your cooler into position.
It holds about 45 cans of beer with a two to one ice to can ratio or 55 pounds of ice alone. It weighs just 37 pounds empty and has a wide drain spout to help you clean the cooler out when you’re done. It doesn’t have a bottle opener, but other than that, it’s the perfect beer cooler.
- good medium-sized capacity
- nine-day ice retention rate
- no bottle opener
Runner Up – Pelican Elite Wheeled Cooler
The Pelican Elite is another wheeled option for carrying beer or other drinks. It also has an aggressively designed, roto-molded body that withstands a good deal of wear and tear. There are two inches of commercial grade, pressure injected insulation that provides complete coverage and no weak spots. It can retain ice for about ten days.
A freezer-style gasket lid locks in cold and Pelican’s push and pull latches are easy to operate even for those with a little weakness in their hands. It’s certified bear resistant and features a sloped drain channel and extra wide plug for complete drainage.
Features include a built-in bottle opener and a fish ruler on the lid. Non-skid bottom feet and molded tie downs help you secure the cooler despite the wheels. The handle comes out from the side to give you better leverage when placing the cooler.
- built-in bottle opener
- aggressively styled
- lifetime warranty
Budget Alternative – Igloo TrailMate
The Igloo TrailMate is the same rugged style as the two above, but about half the price. It has a molded plastic body with treaded wheels that can handle a variety of terrain. It uses Igloo’s Ultratherm insulation to provide up to four or so days under good conditions.
The interior is a food safe lining that resists mold and odors. The lid doesn’t have latches, but it does have an excellent seal that holds up against higher temperatures outside. The design is sporty and durable, and it weighs just a little less than standard roto-molded coolers. It may not hold up for a lifetime, but it’ll last a good long time without being so heavy.
It includes two bottle openers and a dry goods tray that attaches to the lid for storing things like drinks so that you don’t have to move them to open the top. It does have cup holders on the lid itself, and they’re self-draining. The handle comes out from the side for better leverage when maneuvering the cooler. It holds about 70 quarts.
- extra large wheels
- includes dry goods tray
- more affordable
- lower ice retention
- no lid latches
Best Portable/Personal Cooler – Grizzly Drifter 20
If you need a portable cooler, Grizzly’s option allows you to still pack ice without getting it all over your cooler. It includes a unique watertight bag that packs ice and drinks inside and then seals, so you never have a leak.
The exterior is a durable ballistic polyester that is puncture and tear resistant. It has plenty of storage on the outside including a bottle holder and pockets. It has a flip-top lid with a wide mouth that gives you access to everything you need easily. EVA foam insulation locks in the cold without adding excess bulk.
It has a shoulder strap and a molded base and lid for extra stability. It carries 20 quarts and is pretty lightweight when empty. Plus, there’s a bottle opener on the side, and it’s tall enough to hold some bottles.
Bonus! If you’re looking for a great personal cooler, downgrading the size to a Drifter 12 could be all you ever need to handle your six pack and maybe a sandwich. It includes a lot of the same functions but in a smaller size suitable for carrying enough for one person.
- highly portable
- removable dry liner
- plenty of exterior storage
- smaller capacity
- lower ice retention rate (about a day or so)
Best High Tech Cooler – The Coolest Cooler
Coolest made the ultimate party cooler. The Coolest Cooler features a molded plastic body with two inches of insulation that can hold ice for four or five days under good conditions. It’s wheeled and can handle some rough terrain. You have the option of a solar lid and one with a built-in blender in addition to integrated Bluetooth speakers.
The telescoping handle comes from the top, so it’s hard to push to position, but overall the cooler is really solid. For a gimmick, it performs well where it’s essential, keeping ice cold. It holds about 60 quarts. The solar roof can keep your phone charged and provide a moderate amount of light for when evening comes. You can make about a dozen drinks with the rechargeable blender, and the interior is odor and mildew resistant. There’s even a magnetic bottle opener on the front, and the telescoping lid can convert to a small butler tray.
It’s on the expensive side, and we wouldn’t recommend taking it extreme camping, but it is an enjoyable option for those of you who need a beer cooler for the party and nothing else. You could use it to go off the grid for a few days, but we wouldn’t want to hide this one away in the woods.
- fun accessories and tech
- ice retention of about four days
- plenty of storage
- lots of things to break/go wrong
Your beer cooler should be the highlight of your day whether it’s the day of the game or just a good Saturday barbecue. Keeping your drinks cold without getting all watery is a must, and the coolers on the list have ice retention that won’t have you cursing halfway through the party.
Our top picks are coolers that should last a lifetime. Pelican even guarantees there’s for life. They may be a lot more expensive, but once you invest in a good cooler, you shouldn’t have to replace it every season. These two will stand up to a lot of use and keep rolling (pun intended). Make sure you prep your cooler ahead of time if you plan to be out in the sun all day to get those estimated ice retention rates and always store your cooler dry.
Other than that, your cooler shouldn’t need maintenance. Just add your ice, beer of choice or a variety pack and head out with your cooler in tow. No more thinking. Time to kick back, relax, and enjoy whatever view you’ve got.