Best cool boxes – on test

Keep cool and carry on with our expert pick of the best cool boxes on the market – perfect if you're planning a camping trip, picnic or barbecue this summer.

Find out more about our BBC Good Food reviews.


Best budget cool box

Blue cool box on white background

Campos Cool Box 29L
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.

 

** STAR BUY **
Best all-rounder

Grey plastic cool box with green handle


Outwell Ecocool Slate Grey Cool Box 24L
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 the kind of versatility that can be really useful when entertaining or travelling.

 

Best space-saver

Mobicool multi coloured cool box
Mobicool 12V Thermoelectric 32L Cool Bag MB32
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.

 


Best mid-range cool box

Black cool box with white handle
Halfords 24L Electric Coolbox
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.

 

 

Best for carrying large quantities

Blue and white cool box on wheels

Coleman 50 QT Wheeled Xtreme Cooler 
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. It’s ideal if you’re heading to a big event, with heaps of room for drinks or lunch for a crowd. The plughole at the bottom is a nice detail – if you’ve filled it with ice, you can easily drain the water away.

 

Best for summer weekends

Cream cool bagMarks & Spencer 4 Person Back Pack Cool Bag 
We wanted a lightweight cool bag that would be ideal for a country walk or day trip around town. What better than a cooler in rucksack form? This M&S bag has two main compartments – a generous insulated pocket for your food and drink, plus another with plates, cutlery and four plastic wine glasses. In the latter, there’s room for a few extra essentials. It also has a small front pocket for keys, purse and the like. We found that the thick insulation kept food cool from morning until lunchtime. Effective and practical!

Available from M&S (£29.50). 

For all of the products mentioned in this review, various retailers have been suggested by our affiliate partner Monetizer 101 and are not suggested or chosen by BBC Good Food. For more information on how these retailers are selected and the nature of our partnership, please read the Monetizer101 FAQ page


Buyer’s advice

Picnic spread
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 choice on which to go for. 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. 
 

Why buy?

Nothing is better than an ice-cold drink in the park on a hot day. Foods that are usually stored in the fridge shouldn’t be left out for more than 90 minutes, so keeping them at fridge-equivalent temperature at a picnic or barbecue will ensure you don’t end up with an upset stomach. When you’re entertaining at home, fridge space is often at a premium. If you’re preparing lots of food, you probably don’t want your fridge filled to the brim with drinks (although some might disagree), so transferring your beverage department to a cooler with ice blocks means your fridge is free to store all your nibbles.
 

What should I buy?

Cool boxes are usually made from heavy duty plastic, and they 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 using your cooler this will affect your choice. A cool box for keeping drinks cold in the garden can be weighty but if you’re travelling on the train to a festival, 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 they will add more weight.
 

What we looked for

Picnic food on blue plate
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 your 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.
 

Planning a picnic?

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For more product picks, visit our reviews section.

This review was written in May 2018. 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@bbc.com. 

Do you own a cool box or bag? Tell us what makes it a great choice of cooler…

 

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