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16 of the best cool boxes for summer 2022

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Keep cool and carry on with our expert pick of the best cool boxes on the market for keeping food and drink chilled

Despite the unpredictability of British weather, many of us will be happily and determinedly socialising outside. Cool boxes are an incredibly practical investment for a number of reasons, but mainly because they're a simple solution for safely storing food at a colder temperature – excellent for a picnic or barbecue.

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Electric cool boxes can be plugged into your car for travelling, while cool bags and backpacks are a great choice for slinging onto your shoulder for adventures.

There are plenty of options 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 very cheap to hugely expensive, so frequency of use and the need for portability are key factors to consider. To help you choose, we carefully longlisted and tested a selection from a range of brands to hit all budgets.

Read on to discover our top cool boxes. For more on eating in the great outdoors, check out some of favourite seasonal recipes from spring desserts to family picnic recipes and easy traybake dinners. We've tested all the kit you'll need for al fresco dining: check out our reviews of the best camping stoves, best picnic gadgets and best picnic hampers.

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Best cool boxes at a glance

  • Best cool bag for versatility: Red Original waterproof 30l cool bag, £179.95
  • Best tote cool bag: Hydroflask 20l insulated tote cool bag, £59.95
  • Best cool backpack: Red Original insulated cool backpack, £134.95
  • Best budget cool box: Campos cool box 29l, £25
  • Best all-round cool box: Outwell Ecocool slate grey cool box 24l, £70
  • Best space-saving cool bag: Mobicool 12V thermoelectric 32l cool bag MB32, £78.88
  • Best mid-range cool box: Halfords 24l electric cool box, £70
  • Best cool box for carrying large quantities: Coleman 50QT Xtreme wheeled cooler, £102.34
  • Best affordable cool backpack: Kuyou 45l cool backpack, £42.99
  • Best investment cool box: YETI Roadie 24 cooler, £199
  • Best cool backpack for a short trip: Vonshef 18l cooler backpack, £24.99
  • Best foldable cool bag: Lakeland Thermoflex cool bag 20l, £39.99
  • Best cool backpack for bottles: Lakeland insulated backpack cool bag 20l, £34.99
  • Best looking cool backpack: Thermos The Urban insulated backpack 12L, £39.99
  • Best large cool bag on wheels: Igloo MaxCold 40 Ice 38l wheeled cool box, £80.38
  • Best pull-along cool bag on wheels: Polar Gear Active trolley cool bag 21l, £49.99

How to choose the best cool box

Depending on where you're planning to use your cooler will affect your choice. They are often made from heavy-duty plastic and insulated with polyurethane foam, which tends to keep food colder for longer. In most cases, you'll need to add ice packs to keep the temperature down.

Cool bags are generally lighter than cool boxes and once emptied, you can pack them down for easier storage. You may forfeit capacity for portability as the largest bags will be the heaviest to carry when loaded – which is when wheeled options come into play. 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. Once you've decided the type of activity you require a cool box for, we recommend considering the following in order to buy one that fulfils every need:

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  • Weight: a cool box for keeping drinks cold in the garden can be weighty, but if you're travelling with it over a short distance, a lighter option with wheels will be better
  • Capacity: how many people will you be catering for? The size of cool bags are often described in litres rather than people, but as a rule of thumb, 18 litres will carry between 25-28 cans, 30 litres will fit around 50, and anything above this will be large enough for a variety of food and drink vessels
  • Bag or box: if portability is the goal, cool bags are a much more flexible for transporting, often featuring straps for carrying it over the shoulder or as a rucksack
  • Durability: you want to be confident that a fully packed cool bag or box will be able to support the weight, and also won't be let down by its handles, straps or wheels when you attempt to move it
  • Easy-clean inner: cool boxes should be wipe-clean and rinsable
  • Waterproof capabilities: particularly important for cooler bags if you're taking them out and about, but also that the lining is leakproof

16 best cool boxes to buy in 2022

Red Original waterproof cool bag (30l)

RED cooler bag

Best cooler bag for versatility

Pros:

  • Waterproof and leakproof
  • BPA-free lining
  • Zipper lubricant included
  • Additional shoulder strap

Cons:

  • Stiff zip
  • Strong 'new product' smell

Star rating: 5/5

This is a cooler bag-box hybrid, equipped with carry straps and additional handles, with a robust exterior that's self-supporting. It has impressive cooling capabilities, living up to the 72-hour credential for keeping ice frozen (with a bit of melt). It's also practical. The body is reinforced and waterproof, with a YKK Aquaseal zip designed to keep water out and leaks in. There are two side pockets and wave webbing, a luggage tension system for attaching it to your boat, roof or car. If you're after an easy-to-carry cooler box for adventures that's large enough for a family of six, this is our top recommendation.

Available from:
RED (£179.95)

Hydroflask insulated tote cool bag (20l)

Hydroflask insulated tote bag in Aubergine colour

Best tote cooler bag

Pros:

  • Lightweight
  • Contemporary style
  • Waterproof exterior
  • BPA-free

Cons:

  • Expensive for a tote bag

Star rating: 4.5/5

Known for its water bottles and insulated thermal flasks, Hydroflask has designed this excellent insulated tote. Its polyethylene foam insulation kept food chilled for four hours with ice blocks inside. It's a practical size, comfortably fitting a standing wine bottle, plus plenty of food for four people. You wouldn't want to overpack it because of the shoulder-strap design, but it's surprisingly comfortable to wear.

Available from:
Alpine Trek (£59.95)

Red 15L insulated cooler backpack

Red Original 15L cooler backpack

Best insulated cooler backpack

Pros:

  • Lightweight
  • Excellent insulation
  • Eco-conscious TPU
  • BPA-free inner lining

Cons:

  • Stiff top zipper

Star rating: 4.5/5

The boxy external structure of this backpack is self -supporting, covered with an impressively durable TPU fabric. The padded straps and back panel made wearing it a comfortable experience, although the chest strap came into play when fully loaded. We found its 15L capacity was enough space to stack lunch for four, helped by the two high bottle pouches which encased a tall water bottle in one side and two cans of beer stacked in the other. The only downside is the stiffness of its zip - responsible for it's impressive leakproof credentials. The added bungee storage pocket held a scrunched up jacket whilst keys and a phone fitted in the top zip pouch.

Available from:
Red Original (£134.95)

Campos cool box (29l)

Best budget cool box

Pros:

  • Lightweight
  • Good insulation

Cons:

  • No wheels

Star rating: 4/5

This cooler is lightweight without compromising on sturdiness, making it ideal if you need to carry your supplies over a distance. It also holds 29 litres, so you can really load it 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.

Available from:
Argos (£25)

Outwell Ecocool slate grey cool box (24l)

Best all-round cool box

Pros:

  • Powered by in-car socket
  • Cable storage in lid
  • Treated with a biocidal product for antibacterial effect

Cons:

  • Air vents must not be blocked
  • Energy rating F on the EEI scale despite its 'eco' name

Star rating: 5/5

This cooler ticked all of our boxes, from great cooling capacity to performance. It’s a 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. Effort has obviously gone into the technology behind its energy efficiency, but its performance is more impressive than the eco credentials its name suggests.

Mobicool 12V thermoelectric cool bag MB32 (32l)

Best space-saving cool bag

Pros:

  • In-car socket for travelling
  • Adjustable shoulder strap

Cons:

  • Not free-standing so needs propping up during travel in a car

Star rating: 4/5

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 electric cool box (24l)

Best mid-range cool box

Pros:

  • Wipe-clean interior
  • Practical size and shape

Cons:

  • Relatively heavy

Star rating: 4.5/5

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.

Available from:
Halfords (£70)

Coleman 50QT Xtreme wheeled cooler

Best cool box for carrying large quantities

Pros:

  • Huge capacity
  • Practical 'landscape' shape perfect for stacking
  • Robust wheels and handle

Cons:

  • Chunky to store when not in use

Star rating: 3.5/5

This cool box holds a whopping 47 litres, yet is surprisingly lightweight when empty. It comes with a set of wheels and a handle, making it 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.

Kuyou cooler backpack (45l)

Kuyou Insulated Cooler Backpack 45L Large in black

Best affordable cooler backpack

Pros:

  • Huge capacity
  • Waterproof
  • Padded back and straps

Cons:

  • Cheap-feel and impractical picnic mat included

Star rating: 4/5

With a rucksack this size, you need robust and comfortable straps with a supportive back padding, and the Kuyou offers both. The square base is practical for stacking square pots of food. Vertical storage requires some more strategic thinking, but a single exterior bottle sleeve allows a bit more wiggle room.

Some thought has gone into how to make this as practical as possible, including a wipeable inner surface and the adjustable straps across its front, perfect for holding a folded picnic rug or mat. A picnic rug is included, but being small and white in colour, it proved a bit impractical. Additional reinforced side handles and a bottle opener are also nice extras. Ice remained frozen for eight hours.

Available from:
Amazon (£42.99)

YETI Roadie 24 cooler

Best investment cool box

Pros:

  • Well-made and hardwearing
  • Available in lots of colours
  • Sturdy construction protects contents
  • YETI ice packs available to buy separately
  • Robust rubber feet

Cons:

  • Expensive
  • Heavy

Star rating: 5/5

This investment level cool box is certainly price, but for the money you’ll get a top-notch, hardwearing cool box that should stand the test of time. It’s heavy though and weighs in at almost 6kg when empty, so despite having a sturdy, comfortable handle, you won’t want to carry it too far, making it best suited to road trips, camping, or boat trips.

The lid locks firmly in place with two latches that help it form a tight seal. With the addition of a bag of ice it kept our selection of drinks cold for an impressive 36 hours, but this will be reduced if you open it frequently.

Available from:
YETI (£200)
Amazon (£200)

Vonshef 18l cooler backpack

Best cool backpack for a short trip

Pros:

  • Affordable
  • Compact
  • Separate front pocket

Cons:

  • Base of backpack can dig into your back
  • If anything leaks inside a small amount will soak through to the outside of the bag

Star rating: 4/5

This backpack is the ideal size for a trip to the park with little ones or a leisurely stroll. It has plenty of space to keep a couple of drinks cold along with some snacks or a small lunch, but it’s not roomy enough for a full-blown picnic. That said, this compact bag is still deceptive in its size and there’s space for bottles of wine or larger bottles of fizzy drinks. It successfully kept our lunch cold for six hours, even without an ice pack.

The zipped front pocket isn’t insulated but it’s a useful spot to keep your phone and keys. The adjustable shoulder straps are comfortable even when the bag is loaded up, although if it’s filled with a lot of heavy items the bottom of the backpack can dig into your back.

Available from:
Vonhaus (£21.99)
Amazon (£24.99)

Lakeland Thermoflex cool bag 20l

Best foldable cool bag

Pros:

  • Folds for easy storage
  • Comfortable padded handle
  • Good capacity

Cons:

  • Soft structure doesn’t protect delicate items
  • Zip sometimes gets caught
  • No shoulder strap

Star rating: 3/5

If you’re looking for a cool bag that you can just roll up and tuck into another bag once you’ve devoured your picnic, this is the one for you. It doesn’t have a rigid structure, which means once all your food and drinks are gone, you’re not left with a big empty bag to cart around for the rest of the day. However, this design offers little protection to delicate items and if you don’t pack it carefully, your crusty rolls could easily get squashed.

The rectangular shape makes it easy to pack in lots of food and it’s tall enough for a bottle of wine to stand upright. Our picnic was still cold after six hours but if anything leaks inside, it soaks right through the bag.

Lakeland insulated backpack cool bag 20l

Best cool backpack for bottles

Pros:

  • Useful side pockets and front pocket
  • Space for a bottle of wine
  • Made from recycled plastic bottles
  • Padded shoulder straps
  • Didn’t leak when ice melted inside

Cons:

  • Heavy when full

Star rating: 4.5/5

With ample height for even the tallest of bottles, this tall backpack requires some thought when packing, as items at the bottom are not easily accessible once it’s full. There is however an insulated front pocket which is great for keeping smaller snacks close to hand and reduces the need to unzip the main compartment as often.

There are bottle pockets on both sides, but the insulated padding only covers the bottom half of most bottles, so drinks here don’t stay cool for long. The large capacity means it can be heavy when full up, but the shoulder straps have a good amount of padding and it remains quite comfortable. We didn’t add ice packs and our picnic remained nicely chilled for six hours.

Thermos The Urban insulated backpack 12l

Best looking cool backpack

Pros:

  • Comfortable
  • Compact
  • Stylish
  • Didn’t leak when ice melted inside

Cons:

  • Small opening at top
  • Small capacity

Star rating: 3.5/5

With a trendy grey and white camo design coupled with green trim, this looks like a regular backpack, meaning you can carry around cold drinks and snacks without having to compromise on style. The 12-litre capacity doesn’t give you space for a large picnic, but it’s tall enough for bottles and roomy enough for a couple of packed lunches. It kept our lunch and drinks cool for four hours without an ice pack.

The side pockets don’t keep drinks cold so we’d recommend using them to hold insulated water bottles. Although the zipped pocket in the back of the bag is a good size for a phone and wallet, its position means items in there can dig into your back, so it’s not the best place for your keys.

Available from:
Robert Dyas (£39.99)

Igloo MaxCold 40 Ice 38l wheeled cool box

Best large cool box on wheels

Pros:

  • Reasonably priced
  • Robust design
  • Spacious interior
  • Sturdy construction protects contents

Cons:

  • Lid doesn’t have a latch or lock

Star rating: 5/5

This is a large capacity rugged cool box with chunky wheels. It’s ideal for camping trips or festivals where you can’t park very close to your tent. Plus, the effective insulation can keep food cold for days under the right conditions. We filled it with food and drinks as well as a bag of ice and it was all still chilled 36 hours later.

At around 4kg it’s not too heavy and, even when full, it’s well balanced with a big handle that’s sturdy and comfortable, so it doesn’t feel heavy to pull along. There’s plenty of space inside for bottles to stand upright and the simple shape means it’s easy to pack. The lid forms a tight seal, although we would have liked to see a latch to lock it closed.

Available from:
Igloo (£89.95)
Amazon (£80.38)

Polar Gear Active trolley cool bag 21l

Best pull-along cool bag on wheels

Pros:

  • Saves having to carry your picnic
  • Velcro straps make it compact to store
  • Good size front pocket
  • Two robust fabric side handles for easy lifting

Cons:

  • Extendable handle not as sturdy as we’d like
  • Mesh side pockets too small for most bottles

Star rating: 3.5./5

With two wheels at the back and an adjustable telescopic handle, this cool bag has the feel of a small cabin suitcase. As long as the ground isn’t too uneven, you’ll be able to take your picnic anywhere without having to carry a heavy bag. You wouldn’t take it out for a hike through the hills and it’s not as robust as a cool box on wheels (rather than a bag on wheels), but it’s perfect if there’s a bit of a walk from your car to the picnic spot.

We found it easy to pull on grass as well as uneven slabs. The addition of two feet at the front means it won’t topple over when you let go of the handle. Though it’s not huge, there’s ample space for a picnic and it’s tall enough for bottles. Our picnic stayed nice and cool for around six hours.

How we tested 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.

Easy to use and clean: anything that carries food needs to be easily cleaned before and after use, so we looked for interiors that could be easily wiped clean.

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 and timed how long it took for the ice cubes to melt.

Planning a barbecue or picnic?

Picnic recipe collection
Tips for al fresco eating
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10 of the best picnic rucksacks
Best portable barbecue review
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For more product picks, visit our reviews section.

This review was updated in July 2022. If you have any questions, suggestions for future reviews or spot anything that has changed in price or availability, please get in touch at goodfoodwebsite@immediate.co.uk.

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