Best Small Coolers 2018 – Reviews And Top Picks

Few camping trips, park picnics or beach visits can do without a cooler. Be it a small ice chest or personal cooling bag, accessories of this kind allow you to keep foods fresh and cold even when hauled for hours on a broiling day. Both outdoorsmen and homebodies find coolers useful for a short-term keeping of drinks, fruits, veggies and medicines that should be stored at low temperatures. A quality cooling bag’s insulation ensures that everything that comes inside either warm or cold can preserve its temperature and remain unspoiled.

Aside from being useful for special occasions, small coolers also offer a handy solution for office workers and people who prefer keeping their own victuals at hand during indoor or outdoor activities. And if you wonder whether these are the perfect containers for commuters to accommodate their lunch in, then you’ve guessed right – it’s exactly for that reason that they are known as lunch boxes. But do these mini-chests offer any other application besides storing food?

Actually, they do.

Personal containers can be very versatile. Some models may prove useful as sturdy seats, others may offer external pockets and elastic meshes for you to attach necessary paraphernalia. Finally, they are often equipped with rulers for your catch, bottle openers, and cup holders so as to add comfort to your stay on the beach, campsite or a sporting event.

While smaller models obviously cannot compete in cooling effectiveness and capaciousness with their large brethren, they nevertheless save you a lot of effort when you’re hauling them as well as offer a practical chill duration of 12-24 hours able to satisfy most people’s everyday needs.

Let’s have a look at a list of the top-rated small coolers available for immediate purchase.

  • YETI Hopper Flip Portable Cooler
  • Rating:
  • Capacity: 16 cans/18.8 quarts/17.7 liters
  • Dimensions (inches): W 15.8 x D 10.2 x H 12.6
  • Weight (lbs): 2.8
  • Ice retention (days): 3 (when sealed)
  • Resistances: airtight, leak-, water-, crush- and puncture proof
Name
Capacity
Dimensions (inches)
Weight (lbs)
Ice retention (days)
Resistances
Price
Name
Capacity
Dimensions (inches)
Weight (lbs)
Ice retention (days)
Resistances
Price
№1
16 cans | 18.8 quarts | 17.7 liters
W 15.8 x D 10.2 x H 12.6
2.8
3 (when sealed)
airtight, leak-, water-, crush- and puncture proofShow More
№2
24 cans | 23 quarts | 21.7 liters
W 20 x D 16 x H 10
5.25
4 1/2
waterproof zipper, no leaking, abrasion-resistantShow More
№3
16 cans | 20 quarts | 18.9 liters
W 21.1 x D 13.3 x H 14.3
14.4
4-5
airtight, leak-proof, shock- and bump-resistantShow More
№4
24 cans | 30.2 quarts | 28.6 liters
W 20.5 x D 8.5 x H 5
1.2
1
leakproof interior
№5
21 cans | 16 quarts | 15.1 liters
W 17.5 x D 15 x H 12
6.64
1 1/2
airtight, leak-resistant gasket
№6
6 cans | 4.2 quarts | 4 liters
W 10.2 x D 7.7 x H 10.5
3
airtight, leak-, water-, crush- and puncture proofShow More
№7
24 cans | 22 quarts | 20.8 liters
W 17.75 x D 11.75 x H 15
17.5
7-10
tight-seal gaskets, rotomolded non-breakableShow More
№8
15 cans | 20 quarts | 18.8 liters
W 18.8 x D 12.6 x H 17.7
15
3
airtight gasket, dirt-resistant, protection from wildlifeShow More
№9
12 cans | 19 quarts | 18 liters
W 13 x D 8 x H 11
2.5
1
tear- and heat-resistant
№10
16 cans | 18 quarts | 17 liters
W 12 x D 9 x H 8
1.04
1
wear-resistant
№11
12 cans | 20 quarts | 18.9 liters
W 18.5 x D 11.5 x H 16.25
2.8
5
airtight, wear-resistant
№12
8 cans | 10 quarts | 9.46 liters
W 10.5 x D 13.4 x H 19.14
2.9
1/2
anti-odor plastic

As Yeti rides the wave of popularity on the cooler market, their Hopper series has been specifically created to cover the need in top quality soft-sided cooling bags. The Hoppers has come to be known as creators of solidly constructed and feature-rich products. Together with Colemans and Igloos, they sit high on the roster of modern premium-looking all-purpose coolers.

The YETI Hopper Flip 18 offers reliability and good ice retention. This stylish bag is ideal for admirers of long-planned and spontaneous outings, especially when you simply want to grab a couple of friends to enjoy nicely chilled drinks and snacks on one of those sunshiny dog days.

Capacity
16 cans | 18.8 quarts | 17.7 liters
Dimensions (inches)
W 15.8 x D 10.2 x H 12.6
Weight (lbs)
2.8
Ice retention (days)
3 (when sealed)
Resistances
airtight, leak-, water-, crush- and puncture proof
PROS

Branded quality by the renowned Yeti;

Generously padded shoulder strap;

Molle elastic straps along with Velcro patch for odds and ends.

Cons

Quite costly;

The lid is wayward and won’t stay open (it’s more energy-saving this way, though).

Engel is widely known as a company with an expertise in manufacturing outdoor coolers, especially for habitual adventurers, hunters, anglers, and campers. The manufacturer puts the main emphasis on high-grade materials and a sophisticated construction process to comply with the unique challenges of natural environments and intensive everyday use.

The HD30 is a nicely crafted versatile soft cooler. It makes possible packing a two-nights’ worth of bacon, eggs, and sausages to cook in the woods thanks to its decent capacity. The cooler’s thick and sturdy fabric is welded at seams making for the remarkable insulation abilities. While not designed for big groups or long-range hiking/mountain climbing, this bag is fully equipped to optimize the comfort of your walks and park picnics.

Capacity
24 cans | 23 quarts | 21.7 liters
Dimensions (inches)
W 20 x D 16 x H 10
Weight (lbs)
5.25
Ice retention (days)
4 1/2
Resistances
waterproof zipper, no leaking, abrasion-resistant
PROS

High-end level ice life;

Rip-proof coverings;

Exclusive vacuum valve feature;

Appealing look.

Cons

Limited sizes;

Strap adjustment is a bit of a chore.

Although quite green in the cooler business, Vibe has actually amassed a lot of roto-molding manufacturing experience with their kayaks. With hard-shell ice chests, they try to follow in the footsteps of Yeti and RTIC – this much is instantly obvious when you see the ever-so-popular T-latches.

This 20 Qt Hard Shell looks sewn from the high-end brand-famous features combined here into a reasonably-priced package. The user can put its roto-molded construction to the heaviest of uses in boating or hunting while benefiting from the marine-grade plastic insulation going up to 3 inches of thickness in the reinforced corners.

Capacity
16 cans | 20 quarts | 18.9 liters
Dimensions (inches)
W 21.1 x D 13.3 x H 14.3
Weight (lbs)
14.4
Ice retention (days)
4-5
Resistances
airtight, leak-proof, shock- and bump-resistant
PROS

Superior insulation ability;

Lightweight and mobile;

Very affordable in terms of price.

Cons

Limited choice of styles and colors.

Staying well-hydrated means a lot on the beach and the Tortuga cooling bag by Wildhorn is designed to help you with just that. This Wildhorn product specifically covers your beach needs in that it fits loads of things in addition to refreshing drinks. You can put towels, blankets, oils, and sunscreens in the tote section along with up to 24 cans in the cooler side.

The Tortuga Beach tote combo is also suitable for short-term getaways, e.g. park picnics or one-day camping stays. Some users would find it usable for shopping in a grocery store as well.

Capacity
24 cans | 30.2 quarts | 28.6 liters
Dimensions (inches)
W 20.5 x D 8.5 x H 5
Weight (lbs)
1.2
Ice retention (days)
1
Resistances
leakproof interior
PROS

Super-lite;

Capacious + 2 extra pockets;

Separate tote and cooling compartments;

Easy to shake out and clean.

Cons

Shoulder strap is not adjustable;

Bottom of the cooler doesn’t stay flat due to lack of a rigid insert.

Now, for those who remember Stanley’s trusty green legendary thermoses and lunch boxes, their newly cut ice container will surely be good news. While more and more brands fill up the market with premium coolers, Stanley has gone and introduced this plain-looking and adorable Adventure Cooler to join the trend train.

The Stanley Adventure Cooler sits somewhere between those small personal cooling boxes and mid-sized products for bigger groups of people. The container aims at keeping foodstuffs chilled for one and a half day tops rather than trying to beat one-week lasting coolers. Still, its insulation is enhanced to twice the thickness level of an ordinary cooler, while the cold stays nicely put due to a leak-resistant high-grade gasket.

Capacity
21 cans | 16 quarts | 15.1 liters
Dimensions (inches)
W 17.5 x D 15 x H 12
Weight (lbs)
6.64
Ice retention (days)
1 1/2
Resistances
airtight, leak-resistant gasket
PROS

Good cold retention;

Nice to carry and transport;

Creative and brand-peculiar application of bungee cord.

Cons

For some, metal hardware is preferable over plastic;

Lid can sometimes close too tightly.

Cooluli is a Brooklyn-based company engaged in creation of electric mini containers able to swiftly switch from cooling to warming. If you’re equipping for tailgate picnics, campsite stays or road trips, then you might like having a look at their modern-looking functional appliances.

The Cooluli Mini Fridge Electric coolers may not seem different from the common ice chest, but they actually have an ice-free operation. The contents get cooled or warmed with the help of cooling units and in-built fans. This 6 Pack container offers a perfect balance of power and storage space for personal use.

Capacity
6 cans | 4.2 quarts | 4 liters
Dimensions (inches)
W 10.2 x D 7.7 x H 10.5
Weight (lbs)
3
Ice retention (days)
Resistances
airtight, leak-, water-, crush- and puncture proof
PROS

Very light and easy to carry around;

Can be fitted in cramped places;

Heating and warming modes of operation;

Noiseless operation;

Three charging options.

Cons

Inability to charge from a PC USB port;

Some users report about a weak door magnet and the necessity to fix the door by putting a rubber band around it while driving.

RTIC coolers are manufactured through the process of rotational molding. The cooler is rotationally coated with a liquid resin from the inside until done. Such a technology guarantees the absence of unretentive or unfixed parts and so RTIC coolers can do its mission of retaining ice even in stressful and harsh conditions.

Similarly to all RTIC ice chests, the 20 Tan Cooler offers an industry-leading ice retention, keeping ice unmelting for more than a week. The RTIC 20 easily contains 20+ cans of beer/energetic immersed in a mass of ice cubes or surrounded by packaged ice. This small-sized cooler will make a nice accompaniment for your car trips, fishing, boating and tailgating getaways.

Capacity
24 cans | 22 quarts | 20.8 liters
Dimensions (inches)
W 17.75 x D 11.75 x H 15
Weight (lbs)
17.5
Ice retention (days)
7-10
Resistances
tight-seal gaskets, rotomolded non-breakable
PROS

Premium level ice retention of 7-10 days;

Rotomolded design to ensure safety and resilience;

Brand-famous animal and weather resistance.

Cons

Minimal melt water leak.

Excellent ice retention has practically become known as intrinsic for all Pelican coolers. This and the imperative all-roundness – apparently, Pelican tries to make coolers’ versatility their branded feature.

Functional and durable, the 20QT Elite cooler is the most recent addition to the second generation cooler series by Pelican. Its injection-molded design boasts a powerful and nicely colored construction while weighing about 30 percent less than 1st-gen models. Having a certified protection from bear attacks, this personal ice chest by no means lacks in practicality, exhaustively covering your camping, tailgating and fishing needs.

Capacity
15 cans | 20 quarts | 18.8 liters
Dimensions (inches)
W 18.8 x D 12.6 x H 17.7
Weight (lbs)
15
Ice retention (days)
3
Resistances
airtight gasket, dirt-resistant, protection from wildlife
PROS

Top ice retention capability;

Integrated tie downs;

Cup holders for extra comfort;

Can be used as a fishing or camp seat.

Cons

Can only be carried by one hand, which may prove inconvenient at full load.

Bison evidently has the mission to make it to the top cooler manufacturers as can be seen from their 2-nd generation ice-holding machines. Here, the user meets quite a few practical and usable updates as well as fixed flaws of the previous generation cooling bags. To all appearances Bison’s SoftPak series hopes to match premium soft-sided cooling bags on the ground of long-term ice life.

The 12 Can Softpak offers a remarkably dense vinyl shell that is ready to withstand the wear and tear of everyday use. Bison provided this contained with a 3/4 inch insulation which is twice the thickness of most soft coolers available on the market. Users are guaranteed 24 hours of ice retention in up to 120 °F heat.

Capacity
12 cans | 19 quarts | 18 liters
Dimensions (inches)
W 13 x D 8 x H 11
Weight (lbs)
2.5
Ice retention (days)
1
Resistances
tear- and heat-resistant
PROS

Premium thick insulation;

Super-tough and durable exterior fabric;

Appealing price.

Cons

The idea to give the bag a traditional shape negatively impacts ice life.

With GigaTent, adventurers can keep foodstuffs and beverages frosty for many hours. The brand has achieved a high competitive value with its two lineups of collapsible coolers named Bushwick and Bedstuy. All GigaTent cooling bags feature durable exteriors and well-insulated interiors to provide their users an optimum performance.

This Insulated Collapsible Cooler can be nicely folded and taken with you on your outing. When unfolded, it houses a decent quantity of refreshing drinks or snacks. Use it as a soft lunch box and take it to the beach or a campsite – this cooler will be a convenient accessory for any short-term travel.

Capacity
16 cans | 18 quarts | 17 liters
Dimensions (inches)
W 12 x D 9 x H 8
Weight (lbs)
1.04
Ice retention (days)
1
Resistances
wear-resistant
PROS

Well-designed and smooth zippers;

Nicely collapsible and compactible;

Features a bottle opener.

Cons

Walls are not thick and extra-insulated.

Be it a boat’s deck, roof luggage rack or SUV trunk, rotomolded coolers by Bird Dog sit tight and ready for life’s adventures. Apart from a stylish look, those containers offer durable construction and superb ice retention to match that of the leaders of the cooler market.

Quite similarly, the OUTBOUND 20 Quart offers you the benefit of innovations without the need to break the bank. Highly wear-resistant and firmly assembled, this ice chest is a welcomed choice for many avid outdoorsmen, especially anglers, hunters, and kayaking enthusiasts.

Capacity
12 cans | 20 quarts | 18.9 liters
Dimensions (inches)
W 18.5 x D 11.5 x H 16.25
Weight (lbs)
2.8
Ice retention (days)
5
Resistances
airtight, wear-resistant
PROS

Soundly built;

Reliable ice retention;

Perfectly sized for bonfires and road trips.

Cons

Requires pre-chilling for optimal performance.

Rubbermaid ice chests are the plain-made, modest-looking products by Rubbermaid. While top rated brands pull out all the stops to win the market, Rubbermaid quietly sails under their well-proven name, offering simple solutions at affordable price rates.

The 10 Qt Ice Chest ranks second in terms of capacity in the personal cooler lineup by Rubbermaid. Not as small as the 5 Qt, this lunch box gives you the advantage of a more balanced capacity leaving some extra space for ice. Materially speaking, it’s all plastic including a hinged overhead handle and molded-in flank handles.

Capacity
8 cans | 10 quarts | 9.46 liters
Dimensions (inches)
W 10.5 x D 13.4 x H 19.14
Weight (lbs)
2.9
Ice retention (days)
1/2
Resistances
anti-odor plastic
PROS

Keeps drinks chilly for 12+ hours;

Great to handle and clean;

Nicely made with a durable handle.

Cons

No padded strap;

Pretty low-key design.

Buyer’s Guide – How to Choose a Small Coolers

When looking for a comfortable way to carry your everyday lunch or deliver chilled drinks to the party, there is an immense chance you’ll eventually opt for a small cooler. What poses a certain problem, though, is that both small coolers and mini-freezers are present in so great a variety of capacities, features, and styles that selecting the most suitable one may look sophisticated.

For a start, the term “small cooler” means different things for different people. In general, it’s a cooler that can be carried by one person. Therefore, the same model may be considered both small and large depending on your physical strength. Talking about small coolers, people usually mean models holding up to 30-35 quarts.

A great idea for breaking off would be to set your mind on what purposes you wish to use your cooler for.

Hard-sided coolers for active tourists and sport enthusiasts

Made of UV-resistant plastic and polymeric materials, hard-sided models provide chilling temperatures for not less than 3-4 days, preserve food from spoiling and guarantee protection against both temperature and mechanical damage. Being usually heavier than their soft-sided equivalents, most hard-sided coolers are carried by handles and not shoulder straps.

Roto-molded cooolers – the most durable coolers ever!

High-end plastic coolers manufactured by the rotational molding process. This manufacturing technique provides even dispersion of plastic powder on the casting form, resulting in single-piece boxes. Roto-molded coolers have consistently thick walls with strengthened corners, which grants them an increased structural integrity. Designed to withstand unfavorable weather conditions and keep the chill inside for 5-6 days, roto-molded coolers make for a great choice for those who put reliability above all.

Soft-sided coolers – comfortable solutions for short-term storage

The exact features of such coolers vary greatly in accordance with their intended purposes, manufacturers, and materials they are made of. Most soft-sided coolers are up to 20 qt models made of a thick fabric with nylon gussets, thermally insulating foam, and plastic or rubber zip-ties with shoulder straps. Waterproofness and insulation ability of these models depend on the price tiers they are in; for the most part, high-end coolers are capable of providing the necessary temperatures for no longer than 3 days.

Backpacks – mobility above all!

Backpack coolers are mostly soft-sided containers designed as moderate-sized or large knapsacks. Weight distribution provided by these models makes it possible to carry more supplies, so they are mostly used by hikers, tourists, and bicycle riders. Because of the variety of available sizes (from 11 x 6 x 12 inches to 18.5 x 13 x 7.5 inches) and weights starting from 1 pound, you can also use additional available space for keeping ice to extend the marching range.

Electric models for weeks of reliable cooling!

Thermoelectric coolers require a constantly working power source, which nevertheless does not mean they cannot be used away from the comforts of home. These coolers guarantee steady chilling and their refrigeration abilities are not limited to the amount of stored ice – and all that is available upon plugging the chest in a cigarette lighter receptacle or USB port. As a rule, thermoelectric coolers demand 120-volt AC or 12/24-volt DC power, which means you can freely use them both in your car and with powerbanks.

Personal coolers for lunches

Standard soft-sided portable lightweight models (seldom plastic) with a capacity of up to 17 quarts. Designed mainly to provide short-term refrigeration, these models occupy a narrow niche of handy lunch boxes for temperature-sensitive foods.

Beer coolers

Ice chests for holding cans and bottles – these models feature internal partition walls and thick soft bottoms made of several layers of fabric to protect fragile glassware. The most popular and at the same time practicable models are regular 6-pack soft coolers.

What’s Better: Regular Ice or Ice Packs?

When considering hiking tours and short trips from home to work you should opt for ice coolers with greater portability.

Most smaller coolers work better when loaded with ice packs. Although both types of coolants work good, ice packs won’t flood cooler bags with melt water. Few inches of thawed ice make no problems for a watertight high-end cooler, whereas waterproofness of folded soft-sided models should not be too much relied on.

Dry ice also provides chilling without puddles of water. You should decide on this variant only when using tightly sealed high-end coolers. Carbon dioxide quickly evaporates if left under the sun or even at room temperature, which renders this type of ice useless for coolers you plan to open frequently.

What to Choose: Hard or Soft-Sided Coolers?

Well, for the majority of buyers this is simply a choice between extended operation and portability. Not all hard-sided coolers are heavy to carry, and you can find a hard-sided cooler that weights not more than 8 pounds, such as a midsize Engel. However, the key difference lies not in the parameters of each model but in the general design approaches.

Hard-sided coolers with their thick walls and extended durability are all about long-term food storage, while the very construction of folded soft-sided bags makes the balance tilt to portability at the cost of the operation cycle.

Insulation Parameters

Coolers with high insulation values keep cold for 36-72 hours and allow you to change ice packs less frequently. Insulation value depends on the material (two-inch plastic walls provide better thermal isolation than foam and multi-layered nylon), container integrity (especially for coolers with volatile coolants, such as dry ice) and quality of zippers.

The effectiveness of zippers/lockers plays no lesser role in the duration of a cooler’s work cycle than the material it is made of. For example, hard-sided RTIC and soft-sided Engel models have similarly high ice retention parameters due to the increased tightness of stainless steel lockers and waterproof zippers regardless of the different materials.

If you intend to get the most of your cooler, you can also look for insulated protective covers. Made of thick nylon fabric with an aluminum-coated interior lining, such a cover will not only protect your cooler against dust and dirt but also serve as a thermal insulation jacket.

Handling and operation specifics

Even hard-sided models of small ice chests fit really well in the back seat of an auto. Even better – low profile coolers (say you have more than one of those) are incredibly easy to stow behind the seat, be it your truck or kayak.

But what about even greater portability, is that possible for a cooler? It definitely is, for folding coolers. Those baggy things collapse and go completely flat so you can put them away for storage. A choice for either habitual horizontal use or mobile vertical use comes with high-end handles and significantly benefits its versatility.

For sportsmen and active adventurers, cooler straps are a must. As long as your cooling container can stay comfortably on your back, it unties both your arms to hold a fishing rod, a surfboard, or any other touristic gear. In less extreme environs, such as parks, beaches, and campsites, straps will simply give you the freedom to travel and wander without minding your cooler all the time.

The lid in many rotomolded modes is strong enough to double as a seat, stepstool or even a coffee table with a flat and firm top.

Rest of the essentials

Cleaning

Normally, you should care about the hygiene characteristics of your cooler cleaning only if you often spill liquids or carry items with a strong long-living smell. Some ice chests’ bodies resist staining and mold/bacterial contamination due to specific materials. This is especially true for Rubbermaid Small Ice Chests.

Draining

Non-leaking and rust-proof drain ensures the long-term service of your cooler. Draining may be a problem for large models, but with miniature coolers, such as OUTBOUND Bird Dog, you have to deal with a miniature amount of the cleaning chore. Just make sure that bungs, stoppers or plugs fit nicely and are tethered to rule out the risk of them getting lost.

Locking system

This a bit ambiguous term may refer to the specifics of sealing or to the locks installed on the box. The former translates as the quality of rubber gaskets that impacts the container’s waterproofness and airtightness. Top brands strive to implement unique sealing technologies; for instance, Cooluli Mini Fridge is known for a magnetic latch. Speaking of protection locks, some coolers may feature eyelets for padlocks or a key lock to keep the contents safe from unwanted intrusion.

Getting the best bargain for the price

Here, your preferences are key. A host of brands, especially YETI, can deliver for you a feature-rich product to please your maximal comfort requirements. This would mean marine grade plastic, HQ rubber and rope handles, removable cutting boards and wire baskets, dry food/bread compartments, external MOLLE pockets as well as scratch-resistant, nice-to-touch surfaces of all the parts.

Considering your means, you might like to look out for containers that are cheaper and more affordable. For many lower-cost ice boxes, such as Bison 12 Can Softpak or Rubbermain ice boxes, a difference in price does not entail a huge quality gap. With fewer bells and whistles, cheaper coolers offer a reliable and long-lasting service that sufficiently covers you ordinary day-to-day needs.

Conclusion

The main aim of your cooler/heater is to keep food in a practicable temperature zone. This amounts to 39°F for perishables and above 140°F for foods that should stay warm. Regardless of the cooler’s designed performance, there exists a number of tips to improve their storage characteristics, namely:

  • try to pack only pre-chilled non-fizzy drinks or overnight-frozen foods;
  • leave as few air gaps between products as possible by filling them up with cubed ice;
  • place the job of packing the cooler on the end of your to-do list when getting away;
  • use freezer packs to insulate the chill inside by placing them in layers on the bottom and top of the cooler. Fill with them any empty space in the sides too;
  • maintain a strict order of neighboring foods – separate raw and cooked products by keeping them in zip-lock bags or leak-proof plastic boxes;
  • make certain you close the lid tightly;
  • choose liquid freeze packs rather than gel types for a longer cold retention.

As helpful as they are, ice chests guarantee you an even better performance when you stick to the above rules. Take care of your cooler, clean it properly and keep in the shade during operation – thanks to these you’ll have it nicely running for years to come.

Users Rating:
5 / 5.0
1 User Voted
Add Your Rating:
By Chris Hayes
about author

My name is Chris and I am a hunter, outdoorsman, survivalist of 36 years old from Bosie, Idaho. Being a participant of Ihea-USA, I like big game hunting most of all, especially hunting white-tailed deer. Except hunting, I’m also keen on fishing and gaining new knowledge how to survive in the wild nature. As a professional hunter, I do not stop improving upon own hunting skills and testing new gear, equipment, hardware and weapons. I write articles to share my experience and knowledge with the readers who motivate me for more. For any additional information contact me at [email protected]