There’s nothing better than packing the car and hitting the open road. But if you plan on eating, drinking, or snacking, you’ll need a good cooler. The best coolers for road trips are lightweight and portable so you can travel with them easily. Before you buy anything, think about the size and shape so you can determine where it will fit in your car. Coolers that can slide behind seats or in between center consoles are usually ideal.
What To Look For When Shopping For The Best Coolers For Road Trips
One thing to consider while you’re shopping around is whether you want a hard shell or
soft shell cooler. Each type has pros and cons. Soft shells, for example, are typically lighter and the soft material allows them to squeeze better into tight spaces. That said, they’re also more likely to get squished. Meanwhile, hard shell coolers offer superior protection. They also keep your food and drinks cold for a longer period of time. This isn’t quite as important on roads trips since you can usually to hit gas stations to replenish the ice (unlike with coolers for camping), but it’s still something to consider.
Another thing to think about is the carrying system. Some coolers have handles while others have shoulder straps. Some of the soft shell models are even designed to be carried as tote bags or backpacks. Think about which type you prefer. If you opt for something with a strap, make sure the material is soft and comfortable. The closure system is also important. Zippers can sometimes be a hassle in the car so if you can find options with magnets or flip-up designs, those are often your best bets. Other helpful features include pockets, internal shelves, or special sleeves for water bottles.
Over the last few years, I’ve taken dozens of road trips where I’ve been able to test out a number of different styles. Check out my list of the
best coolers for road trips below. Shop The Best Coolers For Road Trips
A Lightweight Soft-Shell Cooler With An Easy Flip-Open Lid: Titan Deep Freeze
A Simple Plastic Hard-Shell Cooler That Won’t Leak On The Floor: Coleman Cooler – 16 Quart Portable Cooler
A High Quality Hard Shell That Keeps Ice Cold For 10 Days: RTIC Ice Chest
A Stylish Tote Bag Cooler With A Slender Design You Can Tuck Between The Seats: Cotopaxi Hielo 12L Cooler Bag
A Backpack Cooler That Has Tons Of Compartments: Everlasting Comfort Insulated Cooler Backpack
A Splurge-Worthy Tote Bag Cooler With A Magnetic Closure System: YETI Hopper M30 Portable Soft Cooler
A Budget-Friendly Cooler With Padded Straps And Lots Of Pockets: Lifewit Insulated Cooler Bag
A Thermoelectric Travel Cooler That Works Like A Mini-Fridge: Dometic CFX3 25-Liter Portable Refrigerator
A Lightweight Soft-Shell Cooler With An Easy Flip-Open Lid
What’s great about it: The Titan Deep Freeze is one of my all-time favorite coolers. At 3.6 pounds, it’s super lightweight, soft, and not overly stiff, which makes it ideal for road trips. It fits perfectly in the back seat of my car, and the exterior isn’t excessively thick or bulky (which also leaves more room inside).
It has a convenient shelf you can use to separate items, along with an easy-wash interior. The strap is exceptionally comfortable, largely due to the grippy anti-slip shoulder pad. It’s easy to clean and it’s never leaked in my car. The best part is the flip-open lid, which snaps into place like a magnet so you don’t have to hassle with a zipper. It doesn’t keep things cold for quite as long as some of the hard shell options, but it’s still a great overall cooler at a good price. It also comes in 9-, 16-, and 48-can sizes.
One reviewer wrote: “Love this for road trips. Easy to get into for a quick grab, no zippers to fight. Holds the cold for a long day but need to refill with ice for over night, if that is what you want it for. For me just being able to get an item out without struggling with a zipper made this my go to.”
Dimensions: 16.5 by 11 by 12.75 inches | Weight: 3.6 pounds | Capacity: 30 cans (also available in 9-, 16-, and 48-can sizes)
A Simple Plastic Hard-Shell Cooler That Won’t Leak On The Floor
What’s great about it: If you’re looking for a simple and straightforward option, this Coleman 16-quart is one of the best coolers for the money. It doesn’t have a bunch of bells and whistles, but the basic plastic hard shell cooler is durable and fairly lightweight. It has a simple design that offers enough space for 22 beverage cans, along with a convenient carrying handle.
I haven’t tried this cooler myself, but with more than 3,400 five-star reviews on Amazon, it’s a clear favorite among road-trippers. Many reviewers were especially impressed by how long it can keeps things cold given the price (one fan found it stayed cold for as long as 18 hours). It has a smooth lid that’s designed to double as a seat when you take it out of the car — and the rectangular shape can fit behind many car seats. There’s no drain plug which might a downside for some, but the upside is that you don’t have to worry about it leaking.
One reviewer wrote: “Bought this for road trips. Works great and holds a ton of stuff. Ice stays cold longer than expected.”
Dimensions: 15.75 by 12 by 11.6 inches | Weight: 4.44 pounds | Capacity: 22 cans
A High Quality Hard Shell That Keeps Ice Cold For 10 Days
What’s great about it: I have this cooler, too, and its ability to keep food and beverages cold is truly impressive. Depending on the temperature outside and how you pack it, the robust hard shell cooler can offer ice cold contents for five to seven days without replacing the ice. (The brand say 10 days, though I’ve never tested it that long).
If you plan to be road tripping through remote areas where there aren’t as many pit stops — or if you’re doing any camping along the way — this is the way to go. It’s a little pricier but worth it, in my opinion, for the longevity you get. It’s also ultra-durable with a leak-free drain plug and design that’s easy to slide into the car. It has sturdy carry handles and a shape that makes it easy to double as a bench or cutting board. The weight is an obvious tradeoff, but that’s true of any heavy-duty cooler of this kind.
One reviewer wrote: “My friend loves the room in the cooler, how light it is, and how long it holds ice! He said it held ice for 5 days before he emptied it after a road trip.”
Dimensions: 27 by 18 by 18 inches | Weight: 21 pounds | Capacity: 64 cans
A Stylish Tote Bag Cooler With A Slender Design You Can Tuck Between The Seats
What’s great about it: With a unique design that’s tall and slender, almost like an oversized laptop bag, Cotopaxi’s 12-liter Hielo makes a fantastic travel cooler for the car. It’s 8 inches long and 4 inches wide — just big enough to fit in between seats or center consoles — and it has a convenient roll-top closure with a sturdy buckle.
The welded, fully waterproof liner prevents it from leaking, and it has a handy water bottle pocket on one side that’s especially convenient for road trips. At 1.9 pounds, it is the second most lightweight option on this list, despite being made with tough polyester and repurposed foam insulation. Best of all, it packs down small when not in use.
One reviewer wrote: “This cooler bag feels tough. I like the way the (top) can pop up or fold so that the bag is a square. Ours is also attractive.”
Dimensions: 8 by 4 by 4 inches | Weight: 1.9 pounds | Capacity: 12 cans
A Backpack Cooler That Has Tons Of Compartments
What’s great about it: Boasting more than 3,500 five-star reviews, this ultra-popular soft shell is one of the best small coolers out there. It’s wonderful for day trips or any type of road trip, especially if you’ll be doing any picnicking along the way. This is partly due to all of the compartments which include four wine pockets with built-in covers, side zippers, and a roomy front pocket you can use to carry phones, car keys, or other belongings. It even has a built-in keychain bottle opener.
The backpack style is super convenient, and the cooler keeps beverages cold up to 24 hours. Not only that, but it does a good job not leaking, as long as you don’t turn it upside down.
One reviewer wrote: “I used this cooler for 5 hr road trip. It held the ice well without leaking, had ample space, plus, the side pockets held extra bottles of wine. The handles were sturdy enough to hold heavy items like bottles of water. Plus, had enough room for lunches. Also, can be used as a backpack. There is a large front pocket to put snacks or utensils in. It is my staple travel cooler now.”
Dimensions: 13.38 by 8.66 by 17.71 inches | Weight: 2.06 pounds | Capacity: 54 cans
A Splurge-Worthy Tote Bag Cooler With A Magnetic Closure System
What’s great about it: If you really feel like spoiling yourself, the YETI Hopper M30 is one of the best travel coolers you can find. It costs a quite bit more than other options on the list, but that’s because it has an ultra-durable, puncture-resistant shell that keeps items cold for multiple days while still being pliable and lightweight.
It’s constructed with a brilliant magnetic closure system that snaps shut in lieu of a zipper. This makes it stand out from many other high-end soft-shell coolers, which often have thick, rubbery zippers that can be challenging to close. Plus, the closure system fully seals so it won’t leak in the car (even if you tip it on the side).
The cooler bag has has quick-release buckles to secure it down and a UV-resistant, fully waterproof exterior.
I just got mine recently summer so I haven’t had a lot of time to test it out, but so far it’s exceeded expectations.
One reviewer wrote: “Amazing for road trips. Fits behind the back seat perfectly. Really well made. The shoulder strap makes it really easy to carry when filled up.”
Dimensions: 25 by 12 by 17.5 inches | Weight: 7 pounds | Capacity: 20 cans
A Budget-Friendly Cooler With Padded Straps And Lots Of Pockets
What’s great about it: Lifewit’s insulated cooler bag is one of the best budget coolers out there, according to thousands of shoppers on Amazon. I haven’t tried this one personally, but it boasts 7,300-plus five-star reviews, many of which rave about the comfy padded straps and soft material.
It’s made with 600-denier Oxford cloth that’s super durable and polyethylene foam for insulation. Shoppers confirmed that it keeps ice cold for a long time — some say up to eight hours before melting. It has a convenient duffel bag design with easy carry handles and a bunch of pockets, including two side pouches, two front zippers, and a wide-top zipper. In addition to the 32-can option featured above, it’s also available in 27- and 48-can sizes.
One reviewer wrote: “Tossed some beers and ice in this around 1pm. Traveled in a trunk on a road trip, and by 8pm when I went to grab the first beer they were ice cold and the ice had barely melted. By morning there was still a little bit of ice and a lot of ice cold water. drinks still cold as could be. No leaking, and it is a roomy cooler with a lot of extra storage in side pouches. Amazing for the price.”
Dimensions: 14.96 by 8.66 by 11 inches | Weight: 1.63 pounds | Capacity: 32 cans
A Thermoelectric Travel Cooler That Works Like A Mini-Fridge
What’s great about it: If you want to take your road trip to the next level, consider investing in an electric cooler. I have the 45-liter version of this Dometic CFX3 and it’s one of my favorite possessions. I’ve had it for years, and it’s gone everywhere with me including on several long road trips from Baja to Oregon. It works like a cooler-shaped mini fridge you can plug into the 12-volt outlet of your car, eliminating the need for ice.
I keep mine stashed in the back seat (the cord is long enough to reach) and I’ve used it to store everything from cold beverages to cheese, milk, and sandwich fixings. You can even use it as a freezer (the temperature settings go down to –7 °degrees Fahrenheit). It doesn’t take up much power, and if you’re nervous about draining your car’s battery, you can set it to automatically shut off when the battery hits a certain voltage. Some reviewers noted that it makes noise, but I’ve never noticed it myself.
One reviewer wrote: “I bought this for my pickup truck. I have temp set for 32 degrees. And the battery shut off at 11.9 volts. It shuts down about 5 hrs after driving but keeps things cold for hrs after. Love not having to buy ice every day.”
Dimensions: 14.96 by 8.66 by 11 inches | Weight: 1.63 pounds | Capacity: 32 cans
Also Great: An Ultra-Handy Beverage Sling
What’s great about it: If you’re looking for a more lightweight alternative to a traditional cooler that won’t take up much space in the car, this unique beverage sling is a fantastic option. It’s made with tough, 600-denier polyester and an insulated lining that keeps beverages cold. I’ve used it before and can vouch that it’s a fun, easy option to sling over your shoulder — and it does a good job of keeping canned beverages cold. As a bonus, it’s made with recycled materials so you can feel good about your purchase.
Dimensions: 29.9 by 3.14 inches | Weight: 0.56 pounds | Capacity: 6 cans About The Recommender
As a Bustle writer since 2017, I’ve covered dozens of topics related to outdoor adventures. I’ve also researched and reviewed outdoor gear for publications like Mic, Bustle, Digital Trends, Men’s Journal, Yahoo Tech, and Gear Junkie. I am an avid snowboarder, kayaker, and kitesurfer who’s worked as a raft guide, a ski lift operator, and a full-time outdoor gear reviewer. I currently live in an RV in Baja half the year and spend the rest of the time in my home state of Oregon where I have lots of opportunities to road trip throughout the U.S. and Mexico.
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