If you’re headed into the wilderness, to the beach, or across town, there’s a good chance you’ll bring a drink, snacks, and maybe a meal or two. If you bring along a travel cooler, your food and beverages will still be cold when you arrive, so you can comfortably quench your thirst and manage your hunger. First, we must determine what kind of cooler you’re looking for.
If you plan to bring items that are easy to break, like glass bottles, delicate sandwiches, or eggs for camping, a hard-walled cooler makes more sense, as the exterior will protect those items. If you’re one-bagging it and need to save space and weight, a soft-walled cooler is your best bet, as they compress and are easier to stow inside your pack. Or, you might be an infrequent cooler user who wants a budget option that won’t break the bank. No matter which bucket you fall into, there’s something on this list for you!
Now that you know what kind of cooler you’re looking for, let’s dive in!
- YETI Hopper Flip 8 Soft Cooler
- Hydro Flask Day Escape 20L
- ICEMULE Jaunt 15L
- Stanley Adventure Easy Carry Lunch Cooler (16 QT)
- Snow Peak Soft Cooler 11
- Able Carry Able Cooler
- Ozark Trail 6 Can Soft-Sided Cooler
- Mountainsmith Sixer Cooler Bag
- AKASO 6L Cooler Bag
- Polar Bear 24 Pack Original Nylon Soft Cooler
- RTIC Soft Pack Cooler (20 Can)
- Igloo RECOOL 16 Qt Cooler
- Igloo Retro Fanny Pack
- Coleman Chiller 9-Quart Portable Cooler
Why We Like It: Easy to carry and is the perfect size for picnics.
What You Should Know: We worry about the zipper’s longevity.
Not every YETI cooler is the massive kind you’d take on a week-long fishing trip. The YETI Hopper Flip 8 Cool Bag is small enough to carry over your shoulder and durable enough to take on any adventure life might throw at you. The 8 Soft Cooler is suitable for a small picnic (or 11 beers), the 12 Soft Cooler is a perfect size for a smaller car (it’ll fit 24 cans), and the 18 Soft Cooler will load a 30 rack of cans with ease. However, keep in mind that as you go up in size, they become less comfortable to carry.
This portable cooler comes with a padded shoulder strap to make getting from point A to point B more manageable, but there’s a handle on the top for shorter trips, like from picnic table to picnic table or trunk to backseat. The zipper doesn’t feel terribly durable; however, we haven’t had any issues with it malfunctioning.
Why We Like It: The backpack design makes it easy to carry over rugged terrain.
What You Should Know: There isn’t a ton of shoulder strap padding.
If you’re looking for the best small cooler bag you can take anywhere, look no further than the Hydro Flask Day Escape. This model comes in backpack form, so you can wear it to spread the weight and tackle rough terrain with lunch or a brew on your back. You can stow up to 36 cans inside without ice, so there’s more than enough room for a picnic lunch, water for a hike, or to throw the day’s catch inside at the river.
The exterior is crafted from 600D polyester, so you know your food and drinks are in good hands. The shoulder straps aren’t as padded as we’d like for such a large pack; however, we dig that there’s a sternum strap for when the going gets rough. There are attachment loops to secure extra gear on the exterior and a water bottle pocket to stay hydrated on the trail. So long as you have a friend to carry your other equipment, this might be the best small cooler for travelers who love to take a day hike or two.
Why We Like It: Doesn’t take up too much space and has an external zippered compartment.
What You Should Know: Rolltop design is slow to access.
You'll love this small cooler if you often buy travel backpacks and daypacks that are as colorful as your personality. The ICEMULE Jaunt 15L is a mini cooler backpack that can stow 15 cans and comes in various fun colorways, from Devoe to Mango. Don't worry—there are minimalist options, too!
This pack utilizes a rolltop closure, which isn’t as secure as a latch, but we’ve found it’s less likely to pop open accidentally. The shoulder straps are well-aerated, which helps keep things cool on warm days. There’s a sternum strap, too, which keeps the harness system comfortable on long hikes.
We wish there were more options to attach gear to the exterior of this pack; however, there’s a zippered compartment on the front that you can stow smaller gear inside. If you are looking for a colorful backpack-style model, this might be the best small cooler for you!
Why We Like It: Hard shell protects food and drinks.
What You Should Know: Fairly heavy for its size.
If you hate nothing more than a crushed sandwich, we’ve got you covered. The Stanley Adventure Easy Carry 16-Quart Cooler has a hard outer shell that won’t be trifled with, even if your Uncle Larry drops it five times on the hike out to the lake. That way, all the sandwiches Aunt Edna made back at camp will be in superb condition when they arrive at their final destination.
The top handle is large and easy to carry, but there isn’t any padding. It isn’t uncomfortable, but you wouldn’t want to walk more than a few minutes with it in tow. There are bungees on the top to secure extra gear so you can bring along extras (like condiments) for the ride, too. You won’t be able to bring the whole dinner table, but you’ll have enough space for a small group to snack it up. What else can you as for from a mini cooler?
Why We Like It: Has good ice retention and can compress smaller when not in use.
What You Should Know: Strap padding isn’t super comfortable.
Soft-sided small coolers are perfect for the beach or other outdoor activities because they’re more comfortable resting against your side on the walk to your destination. The Snow Peak Soft Cooler 11 offers ample space for lunch, beverages, or both, and you can even stow a wine bottle. There’s just one colorway to choose from at the time of writing, which is a bummer, but this thing performs well where it matters. It keeps your food and drink cold!
When empty, you can fold it down flat, which is helpful for packing. It isn’t tiny but much smaller than most small cooler bags or lunch coolers with hard shells. The padding on the strap isn’t meant for long trips across the city, but for shorter trips, it remains comfortable and easy to manage. Plus, you can access the cooler in transit, so you can grab a bite to eat, a drink, or slide some ice down your brother’s shirt without him noticing. Who knew a small cooler could be so fun?
Why We Like It: The perfect size for your lunch.
What You Should Know: Interior isn’t completely seald so it could leak.
The Able Carry Able Cooler is small but mighty when transporting your lunch, a few drinks, or a mess of snacks for the day. A six-pack fits inside, so you can treat your friends to a cold drink when you reach the summit of your hike. Or, pack your lunch for the day to save money while traveling. Regardless of how you use it, the Able Cooler is a lightweight option for those trying to keep their food or drinks cold.
The interior isn’t completely sealed, so there’s a chance some water could seep through from the interior. We’ve only found this was the case over extended periods, but it is possible. We’re working with high-quality materials, from the X-Pac exterior to the YKK zippers. This ensures that it’ll survive your trip, whether you’re headed across the city or the globe.
There's a handle on the top to carry it by, but it also comes with a carry strap you can attach to keep your hands free. It has no padding and will dig in if you have a heavy load, but it's helpful in some situations. The interior has two padded dividers you can move to meet your needs, which makes packing food and drinks easier. Given this model's customization options, this might be the best small cooler for you!
Why We Like It: Very budget-friendly.
What You Should Know: Looks and feels a bit cheap.
If you’re looking for a mini cooler that won’t break the bank, look no further than the Ozark Trail 6 Can Soft-Sided Cooler. This offering from Walmart’s in-house brand is less than $10 at the time of writing and is widely available at Walmart locations across the United States, sometimes for less than online.
This travel cooler comes in two colors, red and blue, and has an extension on the top to give you more room for goodies. It can fit a six-pack with a small amount of ice, but nothing more than that. The strap isn’t very comfortable, so it’s more than capable on a short walk from the parking lot to a picnic table or streamside.
There’s a front pocket to stow smaller gear or your keys while eating and drinking so they don’t get lost. This cooler isn’t the best at keeping ice for long periods, but for the price, it’s hard to argue with how it performs. If you’re looking for a budget option that gets the job done on short trips, this might be the best small cooler for you!
Why We Like It: Lots of excellent colorway options.
What You Should Know: Won’t keep things cold all day long.
Sometimes, a piece of gear will catch your eye because it has rad colorways. Regarding portable coolers, the Mountainsmith The Sixer Cooler Bag meets those criteria. At the time of writing, there are three options to choose from. Cedar Green feels like a walk in the woods, Frost Blue looks like the morning sky before the sun rises, and Light Sand has the aura of the area between the rolling hills of the countryside and the sandy beaches before the sea. If that doesn’t make you thirsty for a cold beverage, what else will?
These coolers will fit a six-pack of cans or bottles and can pack up a lovely picnic for you and your partner. There’s a zippered compartment inside the lid to stow gear you don’t want to lose, but remember, it’ll get cold, too. The straps on this thing are removable, so you can take it off if it gets in your way or repair it if something happens to it. Whether you’re walking in the woods, before the sun rises, or from the hills to the beach, your food and drink will stay cold with the Mountainsmith The Sixer Cooler Bag
Why We Like It: Folds down to fit inside your pack.
What You Should Know: Ice retention isn’t the best.
If packability is more essential to your trip than ice retention, we’ve found the best small cooler for you. The AKASO 6L Small Collapsible Cooler Bag folds up when not in use to slide just about anywhere, so you don’t have to lug around a big empty piece of plastic when you aren’t using it. The top ensures the materials fold around whatever you have stowed inside so that you won’t waste space in your pack.
Just because it’s packable doesn’t mean it won’t keep your food or drinks cold. The AKASO will keep a meal cold for a morning or an afternoon, but we’ve struggled with all-day cooling. However, adding more ice or a new ice pack can solve that issue. The exterior is crafted from 420D nylon with a TPU film, so you know your food is safe, and the cooler won’t leak inside your pack. There are a few colorways, so you can choose a model that suits your style.
Whether you’re looking for a lunch cooler or a travel cooler, you’ve found it!
Why We Like It: Duffle Bag design makes carrying it easier.
What You Should Know: A bit large for what it can hold.
You’ve heard of a duffle bag, right? How about a duffle cooler? Jokes aside, the Polar Bear Original Nylon Soft Cooler offers two convenient carry methods that pair with an offering that will keep your food and drink cold for up to 48 hours in extreme heat. We wish there were more colorways to choose from, but that’s just us being nitpicky; this thing rocks!
There are handles like on a standard duffle bag and a shoulder strap system for going on a long journey. The strap has a padding section you can slide to where you need it most, which helps with comfort. You can compress the cooler to save space in your luggage, car, or closet when not in use. Plus, the seams are RF welded, so there won’t be any leaks. The top closure utilizes a YKK zipper, a brand we have great luck with on all gear, from packing cubes to slings.
If you can get over the lack of colorways, this might be the best small cooler for your next trip.
Why We Like It: It floats for trips down or into the water.
What You Should Know: Expensive for the size.
If you’re constantly on the river and are looking for the best small cooler that floats and is durable enough to handle all kinds of weather and terrain, the RTIC Soft Pack Cooler 20 Can model is an excellent shout. There are 12, 30, and 40 can options, but the 20 is a versatile option for solo and group use. Plus, there are over 12 colorways, so you can get one that matches your style (or car).
You can carry this travel cooler by the handles or over your shoulder with the strap. The crossbody option has padding, so your journey will be comfortable. However, you can remove the strap if you prefer to use the handles. There’s a small zippered compartment on the front of the cooler to secure small items like your keys. Whether you’re drinking beers on the lake while casting out a spinner bait for bass or floating down a river and want to bring a few snacks, the RTIC Soft Pack Cooler has you covered!
Why We Like It: A sustainable cooler that you can reuse.
What You Should Know: The lid doesn’t seal well and it looks like a disposable cooler.
The words sustainable and cooler typically don’t go together. Most models are made from plastics and other materials that, even when sustainably sourced, aren’t great for the environment. Enter the Igloo Recool. Igloo says this is the world’s first cooler made from biodegradable materials. In addition to keeping your food and drinks cold, the materials won’t be around for thousands of years after you’ve discarded them.
You can reuse this cooler, unlike other sustainably sourced options. The unique design can get waterlogged, though it’ll work again after it dries. This isn’t ideal if you want to use it day after day all day long, but for a casual cooler user, it will work well.
The style likely isn’t for everyone—it looks like a single-use cooler made from cardboard. However, the Igloo Recool is a conversation starter that Mother Nature will thank you for using!
Why We Like It: The design is fun.
What You Should Know: The look might not work for everyone.
Be honest; you know you want this thing! It doesn’t get more minimalist than this—you can wear the Igloo Fanny Pack Cooler and still fully use your legs, arms, and back, making it one of the finest options for adventures, big and small. Plus, look at those colorway options! Can you say Miami Beach? We can’t contain our excitement!
Even if you aren’t into loud colors, nostalgia, or fun, a fanny cooler makes a lot of sense. You aren’t bringing any more than you need and can stow other gear inside when not stowing food or drinks. The harness system isn’t anything to write home about, but it works well for short trips to the beach or a night in the park listening to live music.
Most importantly, this offering from Igloo holds up to three cans. Whether those are all for you or yourself and two buddies, that might make the Fanny Pack Cooler the best small cooler on the market!
Why We Like It: A small cooler with a hard shell to protect the interior.
What You Should Know: Lid will occasionally pop up when you don’t want it to.
Nothing says classic camping like Coleman. However, the Chiller 9-Quart Portable Cooler can be used for far more than camping. Whether heading to the beach, down the river, or on the back porch, there’s enough room in here for pops, beers, or lunch for you and the family.
This cooler’s classic design is easy to love but sometimes hard to lug. The handle has no padding or a crossbody strap, which can be hard to carry long distances. However, for short jaunts, it’s more than manageable. For the price point, it’s hard to go wrong.
At the time of writing, there’s just one colorway available on Coleman’s site. However, if you browse around the internet, you might be able to find a few others. If you’re looking for a classic look that doesn’t break the bank, this might be the best small cooler for your next adventure!
So there you have it; some of the best and most unique coolers for your next trip down the trail, highway, or countryside. Whether you want something big, tiny, or somewhere in between, hopefully, you found your pick!