There are lots of good reasons for investing in a cool box, whether you want to store ice cold drinks for a hot day, or safely keep food at a fridge-equivalent temperature at a picnic or barbecue.
There are plenty of different cool boxes and bags on the market, and thinking about how you’ll use your purchase will help you make the right choice for you. Prices can range from the very cheap to the hugely expensive, so frequency of use and the need for portability are key factors to consider.
They are often made from heavy duty plastic, which tends to keep food colder for longer. In most cases, you’ll need to add ice packs to keep the temperature down.
Weight is a consideration, so depending where you’re planning to use your cooler will affect your choice. A cool box for keeping drinks cold in the garden can be weighty but if you’re travelling with it, a lighter option with wheels will be better suited.
Cool bags are lighter – and once emptied, you can pack them down. Again, wheeled options are available. In all cases, think about size. Do you want to be able to stand a litre bottle upright inside, or perhaps you have a casserole dish that needs to sit comfortably in the base?
Electric cool bags and boxes with a cigarette-lighter charging cable are ideal if you’re heading on a long car journey. They increase the duration of cooling, but will add more weight.
Read on to discover our top cool boxes. For more on eating in the great outdoors, see our reviews of the best camping stoves, best picnic gadgets and best picnic hampers.
Campos cool box 29L
Best budget cool box
This cooler is lightweight without compromising on sturdiness, making it ideal if you need to carry your supplies over a distance. It also holds a capacious 29 litres, so you can really load up. It’s possible to stand six 1.5-litre bottles in the base – which means soft drinks are covered, as well as wine. We found it retained the temperature well, with a good seal and insulation.
Outwell Ecocool slate grey cool box 24L
Best all-round cool box
This cooler ticked all of our boxes, from great cooling capacity to added eco credentials. It’s a really well-thought-out bit of kit. There’s a rectangular water bottle which doubles as an ice pack and slots handily in the box as a divider, helping to maintain a low temperature. It can be powered both to heat and cool, either in the car or with a mains plug, giving it versatility.
Mobicool 12V thermoelectric 32L cool bag MB32
Best space-saving cool bag
Cool boxes are generally more effective than bags when it comes to insulation, but this Mobicool bag deserves its place in the line-up. It proved very effective in its own right, and with an in-car socket, you’re given the option of extending that time over long journeys. Being a bag, it’s also lighter than the boxes with a cooling mechanism, and has the benefit of folding to a smaller size once empty.
Halfords 24L electric coolbox
Best mid-range cool box
We liked this cooler for its ultra-practical appeal. With a 24-litre capacity, including room to stand two large bottles, an in-car socket and a streamlined shape, we felt it offered a lot for its price tag. Mains adaptors are available at extra cost. The insulation proved very effective and, as with all electric models, the weight lends itself to short walks beyond the car.
Coleman 50 QT wheeled xtreme cooler
Best cool box for carrying large quantities
This cool box holds a whopping 47 litres and yet is surprisingly lightweight when empty. It comes with a set of wheels and a handle, making it very manageable even when packed to the brim. The plughole at the bottom is a nice detail – if you’ve filled it with ice, you can easily drain the water away.
What we looked for when testing cool boxes
Sturdiness: coolers are often heavy when they’re packed, as the weight of cans, ice blocks and food all adds up. We wanted handles that made it easy to hold.
Portability: unless you’re only planning to use your cool box in the garden or for fridge overflow, portability is important. Extra points were given where coolers were especially easy to transport.
Keep-cool capability: this was key to our choices, being the primary function of a cool bag or box. A good seal and effective insulation were a must.
Additional features: in-car electric chargers, wheels, drinks holders and easy-carry options were well rated among the sea of products on the market.
How we tested: we filled each of the coolers with bags of ice, ice packs, drinks and typical picnic foods. We then checked the contents at intervals using a thermometer.
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For more product picks, visit our reviews section.
This review was written in June 2020. If you have any questions, suggestions for future reviews or spot anything that has changed in price or availability, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Do you own a cool box or bag? Tell us what makes it a great choice of cooler below…