There’s nothing like a wheeled cooler to get things rolling. See what we did there? In all seriousness, wheeled coolers are great alternatives to both soft-sided and hard sided coolers. They’re more portable without losing ice retention and durability. They allow you to have a larger capacity than you would if you were trying to carry your cooler around yourself.
Wheeled coolers are excellent investments, and if you’re looking to upgrade your current cooler, we have a few that may be precisely what you’re looking for. We’ve put together a list of our favorite wheeled coolers. Plus, we’ve answered a few questions you may have about what to look for and how to choose. Let’s get rolling.
How Do I Choose A Wheeled Cooler?
There are a few things you have to consider if you’re going to get a wheeled cooler. There are plenty of classic wheeled coolers out there, but they aren’t all created to last, and they aren’t all created equally cold. Let’s break it all down.
Wheeled coolers are hard sided, by and large. Top of the line wheeled coolers will have roto molded exteriors for durability and a significantly longer lifespan. Rotationally molded coolers are made using a technique where the mold is rotated as plastic is poured creating an even layer with no weak spots. It’s better equipped to handle insulation as well.
The interior of higher end coolers is food safe and coated with antibacterial layers that help it resist mold and mildew growth, plus reduce odors. The interior insulation should be pressure injected, commercial grade foam that coats evenly and has no weak spots that can cause temperature inconsistencies or reduce ice retention rates.
Hardware is a common difficult point with coolers because it breaks or rusts, causing the cooler to be replaced far sooner than it should have to be. Reinforced hardware is an excellent addition to a cooler, plus corrosion resistance. The hardware on the cooler is a critical part of ice retention, so don’t skimp here.
Handles should be reinforced as well to make sure that they can withstand a lot of pushing and pulling for positioning. Wheeled coolers are useless without something to pull, so if your handle knocks out on you after a few months, that’s a huge bummer.
Smaller coolers have a handle that comes out from the top of the cooler to make it easier to pull. There isn’t enough bulk that can stop you from using the handle to push the cooler around to position it.
Larger coolers should have a handle that comes out from the side of the cooler to give you more leverage to position the extra bulk. Its positioning keeps you in control of the cooler as you move it around so that you don’t accidentally tip it or fumble around trying to get it to the right position.
Hard-sided coolers should have enough insulation to keep the interior cold, but that isn’t the only consideration. Gasket style lids also help reduce leaks and keep temperatures consistent. If the lid latches or locks, that’s an even better sign. It protects the contents even further, giving you more flexibility for when and how to use the cooler.
Soft sided coolers are usually smaller, so you’ll need more storage on the exterior preferably to wrangle smaller items and dry goods. A removable hard liner can help you with cleaning and stabilize the cooler to use ice instead of cold packs when you need it. Soft coolers are a lighter option and the design may be better suited to families needing to pack a lot of other items for the trip or event instead of making room for a large hard-sided cooler.
Although you don’t have to spend a lot of money on a wheeled cooler, you may be replacing your cheap coolers a lot sooner than you would if you invested in a better-quality cooler. Some of the higher end coolers have lifetime warranties or nearly so. How much money would you save in the long run if you didn’t have to replace your $30 cooler every six months?
Your cooler should balance your budget needs by providing long-lasting, consistent service. Saving money has diminishing returns long term when you end up replacing something more often and spending more in the long run through replacements.
Soft Sided Versus Hard-Sided
You’ve got a lot more choice in the hard sided department as far as wheeled coolers go. Most companies make their wheeled coolers hard sided because it just holds up better to the types of situations wheeled coolers are good for. With a hard sided option, you’ll get better ice retention and more significant capacity choices, but you’ll also get the weight and bulk that comes along with the materials.
Soft-sided wheeled coolers are possible and offer some benefits in certain circumstances. They’re lighter weight and more comfortable to move around. Some have removable hard liners that allow the cooler to convert from a cold pack to ice. They often have much better storage on the outside than hard sided coolers. The downside is they can’t ever reach the same ice retention rates that hard-sided coolers will and they don’t have the same capacity range either.
Should I Prep My Cooler Beforehand?
Higher end coolers often benefit from a little preparation that allows them to reach those really high ice retention rates. Some of the higher end soft-sided coolers can also benefit from preparation just to make sure that they get the highest cold retention possible, but since people tend to store soft-sided coolers in temperature controlled indoors, they don’t need preparation as often.
Hard-sided coolers that have been sitting in the garage for a while have probably absorbed the warmer temperatures in the insulation. When you put ice inside, it melts the ice until the cold is absorbed back into the insulation. To combat this, fill your cooler the night before you need it with ice and close the lid. In the morning, drain any excess water and top off with fresh ice. It should give you a head start on those cold retention rates.
The Best Wheeled/Rolling Coolers
Our list of coolers is built around the idea of ease. We’ve put together a list that gives you a few different options for certain circumstances, a variety of budget needs, and even a soft sided variety. We intend to help you find the cooler that suits your needs, and while we definitely have an overall favorite, each of these coolers would be great additions to your gear set. Let’s take a look.
Our Top Pick – Pelican Elite Wheeled Cooler
Pelican’s tough and aggressive styling appeals to a variety of people, but it’s the long-term toughness that gets us every time. Pelican ensures their coolers for a lifetime against defects, and you can believe that this is a cooler you’ll invest in for life.
It features a roto-molded exterior that can withstand quite a bit of abuse. It’s tough and crack resistant as well as resistant to UV damage. It has two inches of pressure injected, commercial grade insulation and a freezer gasket style lid that keeps things cold up to ten days. The wheels are large and built to withstand uneven terrain without breaking or faltering.
The handle comes out from the side for better leverage, and the cooler has a bottle opener integrated into the front design. It can function as an extra seat in a pinch and comes in three different sizes, 45, 55, and 80 quarts.
- multiple sizes
- aggressive design
- ten-day ice retention
Runner Up – Yeti Tundra Haul
The Haul is part of Yeti’s famous Tundra line and features large, durable wheels with a reinforced handle that can withstand a lot of use. It has a roto-molded body, and two inches of pressure injected, commercial grade insulation that can keep your ice cold for up to nine days with the proper preparation.
It has a softer design with vintage, rounded edges and mostly neutral colors. The body is crack and UV resistant while the hardware itself is reinforced. Freezer gasket lid plus latches keep cold air from leaking out, and molded hinges create a never fail lid system.
There’s only one size option, a good medium size that fits between the Yeti Tundra 65 and 75 and holds about 45 cans or 56 pounds of ice. It weighs nearly 40 pounds empty, so it’s definitely on the heavy side, but you get a robust cooler that will likely last you a lifetime.
- softer design appeals to different customer base than the pelican
- handle design is really comfortable
- ultra durable
- one size available
Budget Alternative – Igloo TrailMate
Igloo’s Trail Mate is a budget option for those of you who don’t need days and days of ice retention but do need a durable cooler that can roll just about anywhere. It has extra large tires with good tread to be able to handle rough terrain, sand, and anything else that you might throw at it.
It has two inches of insulation and a lid that fits well into the body to seal out leaks, but it only has ice retention of about four days.
The handle can convert to a dry goods butler tray to keep you from having to stack things on top of the lid. The lid itself has cup holders that drain back into the cooler to keep things comfortable. It has two bottle openers on the sides and rust-resistant hardware to prolong the life of your cooler.
It does have a small bit of storage on the exterior where you can store dry goods or lock it for more secure storage for sensitive items. It has a non-microbial liner in the interior to reduce mold and mildew growth as well as give the cooler some odor control.
- very affordable for a wheeled, hard-sided cooler
- extra large, treaded wheels
- dry storage
- reduced ice retention rates
- no latches on the lid
Soft-Sided Wheeled Cooler – Coleman 42 Can Soft Cooler
Coleman’s soft-sided cooler is another great budget option that blends the convenience of a soft-sided cooler with the mobility of wheels. It can hold 42 cans and has a removable hard liner that converts the cooler to a rigid ice chest. It’s lightweight and easy to maneuver.
The interior uses a food safe, antimicrobial liner that resists mold and mildew. It uses hand-welded seams and a high denier exterior fabric to help keep in the cold. There’s plenty of storage along the outside for dry goods and accessories. Front feet help keep the cooler upright, and the telescoping handle is convenient for transport.
It will keep your things cold for about a day, which is great considering you can pick this cooler up for less than $50. It has a wide mouth opening that allows you to reach most of the contents without having to unpack everything and a durable zipper that can take some heavy usage.
- highly affordable
- plenty of storage
- the hard liner removes for cleaning
- a lower ice retention rate
- not as durable as hard-sided coolers
Best Fishing/Rafting Cooler – Canyon Cooler Mule 30 Quart
Boat coolers have some specific needs. Canyon Cooler uses a roto-molded body with a cube design to make it easy to position on a boat and comfortable to sit on when you’re fishing close to shore. It uses pressure injected, commercial grade insulation to keep contents cold and keeps ice for up to six days.
It has an integrated bungee cord system across the top that can be used to die down smaller items for storage. The handle completely retracts out of the way, and it’s certified both bear proof and suitable for carrying blood plasma (not that you’ll be doing that on your fishing trip). That does mean it can hold your catch for a few days until you get back to civilization. Non-skid feet and molded tie downs help secure it to your boat completely.
It’s an excellent design that also includes a dry goods basket and an airtight seal. Canyon Coolers come with lifetime guarantees against defects, but they are really heavy even when unpacked, so be aware of what you’re getting into. The 30 quart is 26 pounds just by itself.
- integrated bungee net
- airtight seal
- lifetime guarantee
- on the smaller side
Bonus! Most Innovative Wheeled Cooler – The RovR 60 Quart
We love a good idea, and the RovR wheeled cooler is a great one. It features a roto-molded body that’s certified bear proof, several inches of pressure injected, commercial grade insulation and an airtight seal that can keep contents cold for up to ten days. Nine inch treaded wheels can roll over just about any terrain.
What makes it innovative are all the accessories. It comes with a bike attachment that allows you to haul it from your bicycle. A cutting board folds down from the side next to dual cup holders. You can organize your things with dry bins that still allow cold without soaking your contents. A pop-up storage bag on top gives you the chance to pack other dry goods right on the back of your cooler, so you don’t lose any storage when you attach it to your bicycle.
An aluminum pull beside handle has grips and a convenient placement for more leverage. The wagon bin collapses into a padded seat once you’ve got everything set up. It also includes six anchor points for attaching accessories. The cooler is too new to have been proven thoroughly yet, but we’re excited to see the life of this cooler as people begin to use it long term.
- plenty of accessories
- pop up storage bin
- bike attachment
- too new to know the durability
Wheeled coolers are a great balance between the convenience of a soft-sided cooler and the durability of a hard sided one. Wheel gives you the chance to move your cooler around without begging for help and give you more leverage for your bigger capacity coolers. We love our wheeled cooler and think it should definitely be a consideration for your main cooler gear.
Make sure you balance your budget requirements with getting something that will last a really long time. Wheels are another piece of a cooler that can break down over time, so just like the hardware, make sure they’re durable and built to last. Bigger wheels will be able to roll over more difficult terrain without coming off or shaking the contents to oblivion.
Many of the coolers have proper storage and built-in tie-down points for attaching to your truck or boat. There aren’t many places that a wheeled cooler wouldn’t be a good choice, so your biggest question is “how big?” and “what should I bring?” If you manage a large enough capacity, the answer to that last question could be “everything.”