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Packing food and drinks for a car camping trip is made all the easier with a cooler that you love. Whether you opt for a hard, soft, or electric model the best coolers for car camping will be easy to transport by vehicle to your campsite. You’ll want to consider how large of a cooler you’ll need, which will primarily depend on how much food you’re packing and how much space you have in your car. Fortunately, many models come in multiple sizes, ensuring the style you prefer will fit all your food and drink essentials.
How to choose a cooler for car camping
The first decision you’ll have to make is the style of cooler. Hard coolers, soft coolers, and electric coolers can all be great options for car camping — and they each have their own benefits:
Traditional hard coolers
These are well-insulated to keep items cold for as long as possible. Transporting hard coolers can be a bit difficult due to their relatively large size and heaviness when full, but wheels and handles will make it easier. A locking lid may also be preferred if you’re planning on putting it in a truck bed or anywhere else it might get jostled. Drains are also a useful feature to have — especially with large coolers; this feature lets you remove water from melted ice without needing to flip the whole cooler over.
This type of cooler is essentially like an insulated bag that’s highly portable, especially when it’s designed with handles and shoulder straps. Though this type tends to be on the smaller side and typically doesn’t insulate as well as hard coolers, soft coolers can be suitable for shorter overnight or weekend trips, depending on how many people you’re with.
Also known as powered coolers, these are a type of hard cooler that requires power, but the best camping options will be able to plug in via the 12-volt (or 12V) outlet in your car. Some have fans to help keep goods cool without the use of ice, and some also have warming functions. Just keep in mind that their mechanical components tend to make them heavier than other styles, and they usually have a smaller capacity. And if you plug an electric cooler into your car, you may need to turn your car on every now and again to keep the battery from completely draining. Some powered coolers also come with an AC/DC adapter so you can plug them in if your campsite has outlets; or you can purchase a converter separately.
Between all the styles and sizes available, you’re sure to find a cooler that will suit your next camping trip perfectly. The coolers below are car camping essentials, and they’ll ensure you can enjoy your favorite food and drinks in the great outdoors.
Shop the best coolers for car camping
In a hurry? These are the best coolers for car camping:
- A hard cooler with wheels & other handy features: Coleman 316 Series Wheeled Hard Coolers
- A crowd-favorite, extra-durable hard cooler: YETI Tundra 45 Cooler
- An electric cooler that doesn’t require ice: Igloo Versatemp Cooler
- A budget-friendly hard cooler: Igloo Commercial Grade Insulated Hardside Cooler
- A roomy soft cooler with a leakproof seal: YETI Hopper M30 Portable Soft Cooler
- A versatile powered cooler with a warming function: Ivation Electric Cooler & Warmer
- An extra-large cooler for longer camping trips: Igloo Polar Cooler
- A cheap, compact & collapsible soft cooler for short trips: CleverMade Collapsible Cooler Bag
1. A hard cooler with wheels & other handy features
- Easy to transport with wheels and tow handle
- Has a drain spout
- Can double as a table (with cup holders) and as a seat
- Not many color options
- Lid doesn’t lock shut
This classic hard cooler’s combination of a tow handle and wheels makes taking it to your site as easy as can be. Coleman claims it can keep ice for up to five days, making it great for longer trips. The spout on the bottom simplifies draining water as the ice melts, it has cup holders in its lid that can hold up to 30-ounce tumblers, and the lid can also be used as a seat.
One reviewer wrote: “Went camping for 3 days and it kept most of the ice to where I didnt need to add more. Food was kept nice and cold. The trick is to always drain the water as the ice melts. Works better then expected, also had a YETI cooler with us and for the price difference the Coleman kept up pretty well. I would buy again.”
Cooler type: Hard cooler | Available sizes: 62 quarts, 65 quarts, 100 quarts | Weight: Not specified (62-quart), 12.3 pounds (65-quart), 20.4 pounds (100-quart) | Exterior dimensions: 28 x 16 x 18 inches, 22 x 17 x 21 inches, 37 x 17 x 18 inches (length x width x height) | Colors: 2 | Wheels: Yes | Handles: Yes
2. A crowd-favorite, extra-durable hard cooler
- Certified bear-resistant
- Features tie-down slots and lid lock
- Lots of eye-catching color options
- Doesn’t have wheels
YETI is a cooler brand with a cult following, and its Tundra Cooler is a great option for car camping — plus it boasts an impressive 4.8-stars overall after over 3,500 ratings. It has 3 inches of foam insulation, comes with a dry goods basket, and has a drain spout for easy emptying. The bear-resistant cooler also has tie-down slots for attaching it to a truck bed or a boat, and its T-shaped latches will keep the lid closed nice and tight. This model is a 45-quart size, but there are other sizes available, including a 35-quart size and a 75-quart size, if you’d like to go bigger or smaller for your camping trip.
One reviewer wrote: “Yeti 45, got about 80 hours out of my ice on recent camping trip. The design of everything to be super functional with no shortcuts, the construction, the fasteners, the performance. Wow worth every penny!”
Cooler type: Hard cooler | Available sizes: 45 quarts (more available here) | Weight: 20 pounds | Exterior dimensions: 26 x 16 x 16 inches (length x width x height) | Colors: 13 | Wheels: Not on this model (but available on this heavier, pricier YETI Tundra cooler) | Handles: Yes
3. An electric cooler that doesn’t require ice
- Doesn’t require ice
- Food can be kept dry
- No limit on how long it can keep items cool, as long as you have a power source
- Can’t be converted for use with ice
- Not all sizes have wheels
- AC adapter isn’t included
The fan in Igloo’s electric cooler can keep the inside up to 36 degrees cooler (in Fahrenheit) than the temperature outside, and the cooler is available in a heating and cooling version as well. It has an 8-foot cord and plugs into a 12V outlet. By going without ice, you’ll be able to fit more into the cooler, so you may be able to go for a smaller size — but it must be connected to a power source in order to maintain its temperature over time. (Consider getting a 12V adapter if you want to plug it in at a campsite with power instead of in your car.)
One reviewer wrote: “Works great! Used it for a 2 month tent camping trip at a KOA type campground where I had electricity at my site. Love it! Saved a lot of money by not having to buy ice every few days and did not have [to] deal with soggy food from melting ice!”
Cooler type: Hard powered cooler | Available sizes: 28 quarts, 35 quarts, 40 quarts | Weight: 10 pounds (18-quart), 11.9 pounds (35-quart), 18.8 pounds (40-quart) | Exterior dimensions: 18.2 inches x 12.9 inches x 16.7 inches, 23 x 13 x 16 inches, 22 x 15 x 17 inches (length x width x height) | Colors: 1 | Wheels: Yes, on 35 quart size | Handles: Yes
4. A budget-friendly hard cooler
- Costs less than $50
- Lightweight design
- No lid lock or drain spout
- Not as durable as other options
This Igloo cooler is a great buy for less than $55, and it has all the functions a basic hard cooler needs. This red 50-quart cooler is a size that would be well-suited for weekend car camping trips, but it’s also available in other colors and sizes, including smaller 28-quart and 30-quart options.
One reviewer wrote: “Cool as can be! [...] Liked this so much we have given one to special friends ! Great for carrying chilled wine upright and keeps cool for a long time.”
Cooler type: Hard cooler | Available sizes: 28 quarts, 30 quarts, 50 quarts | Weight: 5.6 pounds | Exterior dimensions: 25 x 15 x 15 inches (length x width x height) | Colors: 4 | Wheels: No | Handles: Yes
5. A roomy soft cooler with a leakproof seal
- Lightweight and easy to carry
- Magnets and zipper create a tight seal
- Waterproof exterior
- Pricier and smaller capacity than some other options
- No drainage
If you think a portable soft cooler would be a good fit for your trip, this one from YETI is a great pick. It’s leakproof with a magnet and zipper closure, and it is fine to use with ice directly in the bag. It’s insulated with closed-cell foam and has lots of loops for anything you’d like to attach via carabiner. This is the largest soft cooler YETI offers (I’ve used one and think it’s a great size for weekend trips), but there are smaller sizes available as well.
One reviewer wrote: “Absolutely fantastic! Went deep see fishing in the Florida Keys! Everything was dry , dry, dry! The Yeti Hopper M 30 is so wonderful. Everything I hoped for! Also great for camping!”
Cooler type: Soft cooler | Available sizes: 30 quarts (more available here) | Weight: 7 pounds | Exterior dimensions: 25 x 12 x 18 inches (length x width x height) | Colors: 8 | Wheels: No | Handles: Yes
6. A versatile powered cooler with a warming function
- Doesn’t require ice
- Can also keep food warm
- Comes with two types of power cables
- Needs to be plugged in to cool or warm contents
- Limited sizing and color options
This powered cooler is able to cool food to 40 degrees Fahrenheit or heat food up to 130 degrees Fahrenheit, making it a versatile addition to your car camping setup. It has a divider on the interior to keep things organized, and it also handily comes with an AC adapter so you can plug it into a traditional outlet if need be. Since it doesn’t require ice, it doesn’t feature a drainage spout.
One reviewer wrote: “We needed something that would keep things cold while camping. This model had the best capacity we could find and worked perfectly! Since the initial purchase, we have used it for camping, tailgating, a couple of baseball games and a football practice or 2. Remember to load cold items as it cannot cool like your fridge, but keeping everything cold was no problem. Quiet and compact. Perfect for us.”
Cooler type: Hard powered cooler | Available sizes: 48 quarts | Weight: 17 pounds | Exterior dimensions: 22.1 x 15.4 x 16.4 inches (length x width x height) | Colors: 1 | Wheels: Yes | Handles: Yes
7. An extra-large cooler for longer camping trips
- Comes in three sizes up to 150 quarts
- Has securing latches
- Has drain and hose hookup
- Heavy and can be difficult to move around
- No wheels
Igloo’s large Polar Cooler has the volume you need to store lots of food and drinks for longer trips or trips with a lot of people. Igloo claims the cooler will keep ice for seven days in up to 90-degree Fahrenheit temperatures, and reviewers confirmed it keeps ice for a long while. It has latches to keep the lid closed and has both a drain and a hose hookup that can be used to empty your cooler directly into a drain (or otherwise away from the cooler itself).
One reviewer wrote: “Used this cooler for a 2 day camping trip and it did a wonderful job of holding ice and keeping the food cold. 2nd day I thought I may have needed to buy more bags of ice. Not at all. Opened the cooler and sure enough there was still ice from when we left for our trip. Make sure to freeze what foods you can to help prolong this. Works out great I’ve always been a fan of igloo coolers. Oh and for those wondering. The cooler sat outdoors the whole trip. We’d only move it into shade to keep it out of the sun.”
Cooler type: Hard cooler | Available sizes: 120 quarts, 150 quarts | Weight: 18.2 pounds (120-quart), unspecified (150-quart) | Exterior dimensions: 39 x 17 x 18 inches, 42 x 19 x 21 inches (length x width x height) | Colors: 2 | Wheels: No | Handles: Yes
8. A cheap & collapsible soft cooler for short trips
- Super lightweight and portable
- Collapsible design makes it easy to store
- Attached bottle opener
- Can leak when used with ice
- Has a relatively small capacity
This small soft cooler could be a nice option for quick overnight camping trips where you’ll only need to store a few drinks or a bit of food. When not in use, the cooler is collapsible for easy storage, and it will also be handy for other kinds of quick trips to the park, beach, or pool. Plus, it features a bottle opener on its handle. Some reviewers experienced leakage when using it with ice, so you might be better off using ice packs with this cooler. (The cooler is available as a set with some ice packs if you don’t have some already.)
One reviewer wrote: “Excellent. Worked great on camping trip and folded flat for easy packing.”
Cooler type: Soft cooler | Available sizes: 21 quarts | Weight: 1.8 pounds | Exterior dimensions: 15 x 10 x 12 inches (length x width x height) | Colors: 4 | Wheels: No | Handles: Yes
About The Recommender
Rachel Dunkel has been a commerce writer since 2018, specializing in product reviews across all categories with a particular love for gear and outdoor products. While she grew up car camping on family vacations, she’s found a new love for the outdoors in recent years, testing gear while section hiking the Appalachian Trail and backpacking closer to home in Michigan.