Whether you’re spending the day at the beach, going camping, or just having a picnic in the park, a cooler is vital for keeping food and drinks cold — and you don’t have to pay a lot to get a good one. The best cheap coolers are well-insulated with a thick layer of foam to keep items cold for hours or even days. If you’re looking for a plastic hard shell cooler, aim for one with secure hinges that seal tightly to help keep hot air out and prevent leaks. Soft shell coolers are lightweight and often more portable, since they’re made of fabric that’s insulated with a flexible closed-cell foam.
When you’re shopping around for a cooler, you’ll also want to find an option that’s the right size for your cooling needs. For example, a 5-quart cooler can hold up to six cans while a 24-quart cooler can chill up to 18 cans. Both of these smaller sizes are better suited for a day trip with just a few people and minimal food. A 40-quart cooler, which can handle 59 cans, is great for a three-person day trip. However, if you need three people’s worth of beverages and snacks to stay cool through the weekend or during a camping trip, you’ll need a 50- to 60-quart capacity cooler. For an even longer period of time or more people, only a 100-quart or higher option will do.
To help you find the right option, here’s my roundup of the best cheap coolers that won't break your budget.
1. The Best Cooler With Wheels
The Coleman wheeled cooler is a 40-quart cooler capable of storing 59 cans that you won’t have to lug around or break your back trying to carry. It weighs roughly 10.8 pounds when empty and, when filled, the convenient tow handle and heavy-duty wheels make transporting it across fields or rough terrain super easy. There are also large side handles for when you need to lift the cooler off the ground. The lid on this cooler also has cup holders built into it for easy access to drinks. With its hard plastic shell, ThermoZone foam insulation, and tightly sealed cover, your beverages stay well-insulated and cool all day.
One reviewer wrote: “Really like the rolling feature of this cooler. The wheels seem quite sturdy. Would buy again.”
2. The Best Cooler Bag
The RTIC insulated soft cooler bag can hold up to 20 cans and is easy to carry around. There's a handy strap for portability and exterior pockets for storing additional snacks or other items, which makes it ideal for picnics or short hikes. It's only 11 inches wide with a heavy-duty vinyl fabric shell and a puncture-resistant antimicrobial liner that's mildew-resistant. So, you don't have to worry about unwanted smells when the ice has melted. This cooler also keeps items insulated, with 2 inches of closed-cell foam and a secure no-leak zipper for closure.
One reviewer wrote: "Performs as advertised! Keeps food and drinks nice and cold all day, even in a hot truck with black interior."
3. The Best Large Cooler
With hundreds of five-star reviews, the Igloo polar cooler is a top pick if you're looking for a large capacity cooler. At just under $60, it's a great deal from a popular brand, with a 120-quart capacity to hold up to 188 cans. It has a hard plastic shell with an insulated body (comprised of Ultratherm insulation, aka urethane foam) and a dual snap-fit hinge for secure closure to help keep items ice-cold for up to five days. The reinforced swing-up handles also make it easy to carry. The outside of the cooler is UV-inhibited to protect it against damage from sun rays. There's a drain plug that can be hooked up to a standard hose to rid the cooler of melted ice. Plus, this cooler features a tie-down loop to help secure it in your vehicle.
One reviewer wrote: "I'm impressed with the size, quality, and price tag on this cooler. I've owned a few coolers over the years, and this is my favorite one. It's my typical go-to cooler unless I only need something about 1/3 of the size."
4. The Best Small Cooler
If you need a small cooler that's easy to carry, the Coleman flip-lid personal cooler is worth considering. This 5-quart cooler only weighs 1.8 pounds, with a bail handle that makes it a breeze to carry with just one hand. With its Thermozone foam insulation and secure snap lid, your beverages stay cold for hours. This cooler can hold up to six cans and has a reversible flip lid that can double as a mini-table with molded beverage holders. It's ideal to use for a trip to the beach or a picnic for two.
One reviewer wrote: "My husband and I stopped at a deli on the way to the beach and bought a 6-pack of beer (cans) and a hoagie. The deli owner gave us some ice, and we put the 6-pack in and nestled the ice around it. It was a snug fit, but it worked, and they stayed cold. It was the perfect little cooler for a stop at the beach for two."
5. The Best Backpack Cooler
For a weekend day trip or camping, the Tourit cooler backpack is another incredibly portable option. It's a softshell cooler that functions like a backpack, allowing you to carry it while freeing up your hands to tote other items. This cooler can hold up to 30 cans, with extra mesh pockets and compartments to store other food items or accessories. The interior is insulated with food-grade EPE foam and a leak-proof liner to help keep your drinks and food cold for up to 16 hours. Available in gray, blue, or black, it's a trendy looking backpack that's great for picnics, beach trips, and hiking. There's even a handy beer opener attached to the strap. This cooler can also be used as a daily lunch bag. Plus, it's waterproof.
One reviewer wrote: "This is an awesome bag. You can fit two bottles of wine in it. It has great pockets, and it doesn't sweat. [...] Still going strong through a full summer of every weekend usage. I highly recommend this bag."
Also Great: Foam Refrigerant
If you’re using a small cooler or cooler bag, a foam refrigerant like Polar Tech Re-Freez-R-Brix is good to have as well. This six-pack of re-freezable foam refrigerants allows you to skip the ice and mess and keep your beverages cold while on the go. They’re also reusable and nontoxic. Each freezer pack has a heavy plastic pouch and lasts hours to help chill your drinks or other food items. They can even be used to ship perishable foods.
One reviewer wrote: “They stay freezer cold about 12 hours and cool enough to keep items safely chilled for about 24 hours.”