The 10 Best Camping Coolers
This wiki has been updated 19 times since it was first published in April of 2015. When you need something that can keep your food and drinks chilled for longer than a simple picnic or day at the beach, it's time to invest in one of these camping coolers. Built with thick insulation, most of these can maintain ice for days, even in warm temperatures. Depending on the size of your group, choose from highly portable to family-sized models with convenient wheels. When users buy our independently chosen editorial selections, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki. Skip to the best camping cooler on Amazon.
Planning The Perfect Camping Trip
And don't forget that along with the weight of the food itself comes the weight of cookware and food storage containers, i.e. the camping cooler.
If you're hiking many miles overland, you can't bring a bunch of folding chairs and a boombox and a BBQ grill, no matter how much those items would spruce up the campsite.
When planning a camping trip, the journey defines the gear you'll bring more than the destination. If you're hiking many miles overland, you can't bring a bunch of folding chairs and a boombox and a BBQ grill, no matter how much those items would spruce up the campsite. If you're camping out near your car, however, go ahead and bring all that and more. If you're canoeing downriver to a campsite, feel free to toss a large cooler in the boat, but make sure it's one that seals tightly in case you capsize. And if you're climbing a mountain, make sure you account for every ounce you'll have on your back, because you'll pay for excess weight with lactic acid.
Common sense dictates that you bring enough clothing for potentially cold temperatures and to be changed when soiled, enough water (and/or the ability to purify more) to stay thoroughly hydrated, and proper gear for sleeping in comfort and safety. You also might need headlamps, crampons, ropes, and dozens of other sundries; it's up to you to make sure you have all the gear necessary for the outing at hand.
As for the items you bring camping intended make your trip more fun, that's entirely subjective. Perhaps a guitar is your idea of a campsite commodity, or maybe you want to bring along a few books. Whatever you choose to bring, make sure not to weigh yourself down too much, and make sure to plan out your meals before you start adding in "luxury" items.
Far too often, hikers and campers assemble their gear and think they have an amount of weight they can comfortably carry before they take into consideration the food and water they will also bring. Food weight adds up quickly, and should be your next consideration after you have the basics (as touched on above) covered. And don't forget that along with the weight of the food itself comes the weight of cookware and food storage containers, i.e. the camping cooler.
Choosing A Camping Cooler
If you're hiking overland, a large hard-walled cooler is the wrong choice; if you're car camping or traveling by boat, a hard-walled, cube-shaped cooler is a great choice. Wheeled hard-sided coolers are great for shorter treks, such as the trip down to the beach from the cabin or out onto the docks, but they won't help much at all on longer trails.
If you're hiking overland, a large hard-walled cooler is the wrong choice; if you're car camping or traveling by boat, a hard-walled, cube-shaped cooler is a great choice.
As with the rest of your gear, the journey dictates which camping cooler is right for you and which an illogical choice. Backpack style coolers are great for trekking but won't keep foods cold for nearly as long as larger solid coolers, many of which can keep items below 32 degrees Fahrenheit for days.
You will have to make sacrifices when choosing the right camp cooler, just know that going into the process. For hikers, weight is more important than capacity. Choose a smaller, easy-to-carry cooler and plan the parts of your meals that need cooling accordingly. If you're not covering much land, go ahead and bring along a case of brew in an oversized cooler, but know that you'll not be straying far from your campsite with cold food.
A Guide To Great Camp Cuisine
There's no way to make a camping trip more pleasurable (beyond camping with people whose company you enjoy) than by making sure your meals are great. Especially after a long day's hike fueled only by energy bars and beef jerky, a hot, hearty meal makes the perfect end to a day in the field. So too does a warm, filling breakfast fuel you and the team for a long trek, climb, or simply for a great day enjoying the outdoors.
Bread is not a bad item to bring along if you're not hiking long distances; while bulky, bread isn't heavy.
As with gear, so too is weight the major consideration when it comes to planning your campsite cuisine. As much as possible, you should plan the protein portion of your meal around meats (or vegetarian equivalents) that require no additional ingredients, e.g. steaks, fish fillets, or pork chops that taste great on their own as opposed burgers or hot dogs that need buns and may necessitate condiments, all of which take up space and add weight.
When planning the grain/starch portion of you meals, consider fast-cooking options like couscous or angel hair spaghetti. Rice or thicker pastas requiring long cook periods are a bad idea unless you plan to cook over a fire, as the extra time needed will drain lots of stove fuel. Bread is not a bad item to bring along if you're not hiking long distances; while bulky, bread isn't heavy. Ultimately, though, dried grain-based foods that are cooked in water are your best bet. There's a reason hikers and mountaineers have long eaten oatmeal, after all, and it's not because all outdoorsmen love the stuff.
And for the record, these ideas for cooking grains only work if you have a readily available source of water and a filter (or iodine tablets) that can ensure it is clean and safe for drinking and cooking.
Vegetables like carrots and dark greens like kale are great campsite eats, as they can be enjoyed cooked or raw. Lettuce or celery has no place in the field, as you get few calories from these veggies; you'll be burning enough energy such that you want highly caloric foods.
As far as condiments to spice up and sweeten your meal, try for hot sauces and soy-based marinades, both of which pack a punch, unlike ketchup or mayo, which must be heaped on to be thoroughly enjoyed.
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