Keep cool and carry on camping. Enjoy fresh food and cold drinks anywhere, with our favourite ice boxes and electric coolers
Fridges are never there when you need them most. When you’ve spent all day rambling, for example, and you’re finally back at your tent, feeling ravenous (but not quite ravenous enough to put up with sweaty cheese). Or you’ve been driving for six hours. Or maybe you’re having a party, when one fridge is never enough.
The best cool boxes will keep your food edible and your drinks ice-cold in all these situations, but one box doesn’t fit all needs. We’ve tried to find good all-rounders, but with coolers you have to choose between competing attributes. Large or easy to carry? Collapsible or electric?
In this article, we’ll take the stress out of choosing the right cooler for you. First, we’ll run through the different factors to consider, and then we’ll reveal the best cool boxes on the market today.
Best cool box: At a glance
How to choose the best cool box for you
Why spend money on a cool box when I can just chuck ice packs in with my lunch?
Ice packs alone won’t keep food cold – and anyway, they’d melt all over your bag. They only really work in a container designed to insulate, keeping the cold air in and warm air out.
And remember, chilled food isn’t just about taste and comfort. It’s essential for food safety. Food that’s usually kept in the fridge can easily give you an upset stomach if it’s spent the morning stewing in your backpack.
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What features should I look for?
Portability: Essential if you’re off to a picnic or festival. Large cool boxes can be surprisingly portable if they have wheels and well-designed handles. A non-wheeled cool box should have a capacity of around 30 litres or lower if you want it to be easy to lug about.
Capacity: If you’re only planning to use your cool box for fridge overflow in the kitchen, cellar or garden, you can afford to invest in a 50-litre-plus whopper. But bear in mind that cool boxes, like fridges, work best when they’re full. A 47-litre cool box is big enough for well over 80 regular cans of drink.
Shape: Do you want to fit wine bottles in your cool box? Then make sure it’s long enough. Also look for dividers that keep various types of food, drinks and ice separate from one another. Some cool boxes have dividers that double as removable water bottles, so you can use them as built-in ice packs.
Insulation: Polyurethane foam is the most commonly used material for cool boxes because it’s very light, affordable and offers superb insulation. But even then you’ll need to throw in a few ice packs. If you’re a serial camper or road traveller, you may want to invest in the self-cooling power of an electric cool box.
Is an electric cool box always better than non-electric?
As ever, the answer is “it depends”…
Pros of electric:
- Electric coolers are miniature fridges. They actively cool your food rather than simply maintaining low temperature, and they keep food chilled for many days.
- Mains-powered boxes are more powerful, but 12V in-car electric coolers are ideal for keeping in your motor for road trips and commutes.
- Most do insulate when unplugged, provided you load them with ice packs.
Cons of electric:
- Electric coolers can make your food too cold. You don’t want frosty sarnies.
- They’re heavier litre for litre than non-electric boxes.
- They’re small. You will struggle to find a cost-effective electric cooler much larger than 24 litres.
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The best cool boxes you can buy in 2024
1. Campos 42l Cool Box: Best budget cool box for picnics
Price when reviewed: £40 | Check price at Argos
If you want a cooler that’s big enough for picnics and camping trips then look no further than this stylish cool box from Campos.
Its 42-litre capacity is no slouch – you can fit around fifty 330ml cans or five 1.5l bottles in there, meaning you can load it up and still have room for ice packs. The locking seal is excellent, and with the help of ice it keeps the contents fridge-cold for two days or more. If you’re planning a smaller trip and the 42-litre capacity is a little much, you can also pick up a 29-litre version.
Key specs – Type: Insulated box; Capacity: 42 litres; Material: Polypropylene, polyurethane; Weight (empty): 3.8kg; Size (WDH): 55 x 35 x 40cm
2. Halfords 12V In-Car Electric Coolbox 8l: Best small electric cool box
Price when reviewed: £45 | Check price at HalfordsHalfords’ box is small enough to live in your car, where it fits snugly between the rear seats. The included 12V charger means you’re good to go with cold food whenever you’re on the road. It even has recessed cup holders to avoid spillage.
We love the idea of this box, but in practice we found it didn’t chill its contents to the promised 18°C below ambient temperature. However it is well-insulated, so it’ll keep food cold anyway if you include a couple of ice packs and use the charger for a boost. The more powerful mains adapter costs a hefty £25.
Key specs – Type: Electric cooler (12V in-car); Capacity: 8l; Material: Polypropylene, polyurethane; Weight: 2.5kg; Size: 44 x 30 x 20cm
3. Quechua Fresh Compact Ice Box 36l: Best collapsible cool box for holidays
Price when reviewed: £50 | Check price at DecathlonA 35-litre cooler for £40 is a very good buy, and this self-inflating padded box doesn’t feel at all like a budget choice. It looks fantastic and is significantly lighter than a hard case without feeling flimsy. There are pockets inside for keeping things separate, and bands to keep bottles upright. Best of all, when you’ve finished you can fold it right down to 13cm – barely a hand span.
The Quecha’s insulation skills are amazing for what’s effectively a cool bag, thanks to the polyurethane lining. With ice packs, it keeps food at fridge temperature for three days, and even without ice packs our food was fresh for a full summer’s day.
The main drawback is that it’s not waterproof, unlike the sturdier polypropylene boxes in our lineup. Add a waterproof lining if you’re camping in the soggy outdoors.
Key specs – Type: Insulated bag; Capacity: 35l; Material: Polyester, polyurethane; Weight (empty): 1.5kg; Size (inflated): 43 x 42 x 33cm
4. Outwell Ecocool Slate Grey Cool Box 24l: Best electric cool box
Price when reviewed: £100 | Check price at AmazonThis compact electric cooler offers the best of both worlds, plug-wise: plug it into the mains at home for powerful chilling, or into your car using the 12V adapter, which comes included. It’ll then keep your grub 18°C below the outside temperature, or even lower if you freeze the built-in water bottle – which doubles as a divider.
If anything, we found the Outwell Ecocool too cold, at least on its Max setting. The lower Eco setting is less like a blast chiller, and also less noisy. It kept food cool when unplugged, too, although you’ll need ice packs for that. There’s also a warming setting, making this a great device to have in the garden for parties.
Key specs – Type: Electric cold/hot box; Capacity: 24l; Material: Polypropylene, high-density polyfoam; Weight (empty): 4.6kg; Size: 42.5 x 42.5 x 30.5cm
5. Icey-Tek Premium Cube Cool Box 25l: Best heavy-duty cool box for camping and festivals
Price when reviewed: £135 | Check price at AmazonIcey-Tek’s range of cool boxes originated in Australia in the 90s, developed by three outdoor-pursuit-loving friends. This super-solid box is one that’ll last and last – as will the cold conditions inside. With ice or frozen gel packs, the Premium Cube keeps food frozen for two days and cool for 10. Its rubber latches secure the lid, so there’s no danger of accidentally dislodging it and you can padlock it for extra security. Better still, there are broad finger-grip carrying handles under the lid for easy transportation.
We also like that it has no hidden corners and two drainage bungs, meaning it’s easy to wash out after use. It even doubles as an extra seat and you can buy custom seat cushions to complete the look.
As you would expect from such a sturdy, quality box, it comes with a five-year warranty. Perfect for camping, festivals, outdoor entertaining or just as an overflow fridge for busy times in the kitchen. If you’re going out in the wilds with a larger group, the similarly sturdy 55l version might be worth plumping for instead.
Key specs – Type: Insulated box; Capacity: 25l; Material: Pressure-injected polyurethane insulation, rubber seal; Weight (empty): 8kg; Size: 46 x 42.5 x 37.5cm