Best beach coolers in 2023, tested by editors
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Best beach coolers in 2023, tested by editors

Jun 05, 2023

Having a good cooler is critical during the summer, whether you’re grilling in the backyard, camping or going to the park. However, one place you might want to bring your cooler provides more challenges than most: the beach.

We’ve tested 17 coolers over the years to help you find the best, but the perfect beach cooler needs to be lighter and more portable than the one that’s best to sit in your backyard. That’s why we looked back at all our testing results and picked the best beach coolers so you can have a relaxing day by the water.

This soft cooler from RTIC is the best cooler to bring to the beach, thanks to its superior portability. At just four pounds empty and equipped with tons of carrying options (including a really comfortable shoulder strap), this soft cooler is surprisingly sturdy and can hold up to 30 cans.

Our pick for the best cooler overall, the Yeti Tundra 45 has fantastic temperature retention, and its hard-shell build means you can even use it as a seat. It’s much heavier and harder to carry across the sand, but if you’re keeping a large group fed and hydrated, this is a great pick.

If you don’t want to deal with carrying your cooler across the sand, the Pelican Elite 45QW is our favorite wheeled option. It’s expensive, but it’s built like a tank, has amazing temperature retention and can be wheeled around by basically anyone.

When you’re heading to the beach and portability is the most important factor, you can’t go wrong with the RTIC 30-Can Soft Pack. It’s super lightweight, has convenient and comfortable carrying options and is sturdy enough for all your beach adventures. Even packed with 30 cans and ice, the RTIC Soft Pack Cooler is easy to haul from your car to the beach, thanks to its comfortable carrying handles and big, cushioned shoulder strap.

While the sun will probably be more intense on the shore than in your backyard, most beach coolers will only be out in the heat for one day max, so you should look for a cooler with solid temperature retention but there’s no need to go overboard. The RTIC Soft Pack fits right into this niche, with good enough temperature retention to keep your drinks cool all day long. During our testing, The RTIC Soft Pack maintained an interior temperature of 32.1 degrees Fahrenheit for 24 hours, perfect for even the longest days by the water. If you want a cooler to retain temperature longer, though, the RTIC Soft Pack wasn’t the greatest. It started creeping up after 36 hours, reaching 48.9 degrees Fahrenheit after 48 hours. This was in line with the rest of the soft coolers we tested, which all began to lose their cool between 24 and 36 hours.

While the portability and temperature retention of the RTIC Soft Pack makes it a fantastic beach cooler, what pushed it over the top in our testing was its surprising sturdiness. Even packed to the brim with cans and ice, it didn’t feel like it was going to rip at the seams like some cheap soft coolers. Throughout all our durability tests — which included throwing it in the back of our car, dropping it on the ground and even swinging it around by its straps — the RTIC Soft Pack stayed strong. The zippers, seams, straps and nylon shell came out without a scratch, and not even a single drop of water leaked from the Soft Pack. Bonus: The Soft Pack can even float, so you can keep it next to you as you wade out into the waves.

We also love that the RTIC comes in a wide variety of vibrant colors. This is great to show off your personality and style but can also help you find your spot on the beach when you’re out enjoying yourself in the surf.

While the RTIC Soft Pack is the best beach-specific cooler we’ve tested, there are a few downsides. As we mentioned, the temperature retention isn’t as good as some of the giant, rotomolded coolers we tested, and since it is soft, you can’t use it as a seat like the sturdier hard coolers. But if you’re planning on sitting on your towel or bringing a beach chair anyway, we don’t think this is a deal breaker. Another thing to consider is that, because of the sand, your cooler is probably going to get dirtier from the beach than from sitting in your backyard. Cleaning soft coolers is harder in general than hard coolers since there isn’t any drainage.

When you’re heading to the beach, portability, durability and a decent ability to retain ice should be the main things you look for in a cooler. Out of all the options we tested, the RTIC Soft Pack 30 has the best balance of all these critically important features and is the best cooler to bring on your next beach day.

If you’re packing more to the beach and need a full-size cooler, you should consider our pick for the best hard cooler, the Yeti Tundra 45.

It isn’t nearly as light as a soft cooler, and it doesn’t have wheels so its portability isn’t top tier; however, for a large, rotomolded cooler its relatively light weight at 23 pounds and super-comfortable carry handles means it’s just portable enough to carry to your spot on the shore if you have a buddy.

Rotomolded coolers sacrifice weight and portability for superior temperature retention and durability. So if you are looking for a beach cooler that can stay cool in the heat for days on end and handle rougher adventures, the Yeti Tundra is the cooler for you. The temperature retention of the Tundra is fantastic, and during our test, the interior was at 35.4 degrees Fahrenheit after two days outside. It’s safe to say your drinks and food will stay ice-cold all day long, even on the hottest beach days.

The Tundra isn’t nearly as portable as the RTIC Soft Pack, but for a full-size, rotomolded cooler, it’s surprisingly light. Twenty-three pounds empty is still no joke, but a comparable cooler in the RTIC 45-Quart Hard Cooler weighs a whopping six pounds more. This weight can be well worth it if you need to keep a large amount of food and drinks cold, not to mention the added durability and stability means you can use the Tundra as a chair once you find your spot next to the waves.

The Tundra is bulky, yes, but it has a saving grace in its carry handles. They’re our favorite handles out of any cooler we tested, thanks to their study and comfortable design. The handles are attached to the cooler on the sides by sturdy pieces of rope — which are just the right length — making the Tundra surprisingly maneuverable (when you have a buddy).

The Yeti Tundra is also much easier to clean than soft coolers. Thanks to its hard material and nifty drain hole, it’s easy to spray the exterior and interior with a hose to get rid of any residual sand and dirt from the beach.

It’s no secret we love the Yeti Tundra, and while it might be overkill for many situations, it’s built incredibly well and worth the money if you want top-notch performance. If we were to bring any cooler to the beach, it’d still be the RTIC Soft Pack, but if you need to keep a large group fed and hydrated and you have the extra hands to help you carry it, the Yeti Tundra 45 is a no-brainer.

If you don’t want to carry your cooler at all, you’ll want to opt for a unit with wheels. The Pelican 45QW Elite was by far our favorite wheeled cooler, and the added maneuverability makes it another top pick for all your summer beach days.

The big thing that makes the Pelican Elite a great beach cooler are its massive, super-sturdy wheels. Instead of small, flimsy wheels that would get caught on any rock or piece of driftwood hidden in the sand, the Elite is equipped with large and wide wheels perfect for floating on top of sand.

And not only are the wheels large but the Elite was a dream to maneuver compared to other wheeled coolers we tried. Even when fully loaded, the single, heavy-duty piece of plastic that makes up the trolley handle felt strong and made pulling and turning the cooler much easier than its competitors.

We really appreciate how maneuverable the wheels and handle make the Elite cooler because it is a beast. Weighing in at more at 37 pounds, it’s one of the heaviest coolers we tested, so even with two people to carry it, portability isn’t its strong suit. However, that weight does lend itself to an amazingly sturdy design so you can tumble it over rocks or use it as a seat without worry.

We really didn’t like many of the wheeled coolers we tried, but thanks to the Pelican 45QW Elite’s heavy-duty build, it stood far above the rest. Even though the Elite is quite maneuverable, we still wouldn’t want to pull it through the sand for a long time, so if you’re parking far away from your spot on the sand we’d recommend the Yeti Tundra or RTIC Soft Pack. However, if the distance isn’t too far and you’re set on a wheeled cooler, don’t skimp on a cheap one that you’ll end up carrying anyway. Instead, spring for the Elite for an incredibly well-built cooler that will last for many a beach day to come.

If you already have a cooler that you use for backyard BBQs and camping trips, you might think there’s nothing wrong with bringing it to the beach, too. However, the beach is a completely different environment that can produce some annoying challenges if you don’t have a specific beach cooler.

The biggest difference between a good backyard cooler and one you can take to the shore is portability. When you’re heading to a picnic or entertaining in your yard, you’ll probably only be moving your cooler short distances. This means that while it’s nice to have a lighter cooler to make that trip a bit easier, it isn’t the most important thing. At the beach, however, you’re probably going to be walking longer distances on much more difficult terrain. Trudging through the sand with a fully loaded, 50-pound cooler is not the way to start a relaxing day by the water. Instead, beach coolers should be lighter and easier to carry, which often means you’ll be opting for soft coolers like the RTIC Soft Pack 30.

Another thing to consider is size. While you might want to fill your normal cooler with tons of food and drinks for a multiple-night camping trip, most beach outings only last one day, which means you can get away with much smaller coolers.

If you want the best of both worlds with a super-portable cooler that’s also large and has a hard shell, you might be tempted to get a wheeled option. In our testing experience, a lot of wheeled coolers just aren’t up to snuff. Many coolers have wheels that are too small, have a flimsy handle or just aren’t built well enough to handle a beating. However, if you splurge for a super-durable cooler like the Pelican Elite, you’ll be wheeling around on the beach without any issues.

Of course, temperature retention is critical at the beach. There’s nothing worse than a lukewarm drink when you’re trying to cool off under the blazing sun. But again, you’re likely only going to be at the beach for one day max, so while the first 24 hours of temperature retention is important, we didn’t mind if a cooler warmed up a bit after that mark.

Some beach coolers like the RTIC Soft Pack have some other features that are useful by the water but not super critical, like leakproof zippers, bright coloring to make it easy to identify and the ability to float so you can wade into the waves.

Once you’re back from the beach, a big hassle can be cleaning all the sand off your cooler. While soft coolers win out in terms of portability and size, this is where you might consider taking a hard cooler to the shore instead. Soft coolers are definitely harder to clean once you’re home since they don’t have a drain and have to be washed to get sand and dirt out of all the crevices. Hard coolers, on the other hand, can just be hosed down in your yard and left out to dry.

Beyond cleaning, you’ll also want to think about how sand might affect different parts of your cooler. If there are a lot of nooks and crannies, complex hinges or something like a telescopic handle, you might not want to bring it to the beach because sand might get into those components.

Since most cooler brands use the same vague terms like “long-lasting ice retention,” “superior insulation” and “high performance,” we put each cooler through a comprehensive series of tests to help you get a clear understanding of what really makes them different from one another.

Since the goal of your cooler-based activity is most likely relaxation, it’s important that they’re easy to use. The last thing you want is to hassle with a top-heavy cooler that tips over too easily, a lid that requires significant effort to yank open or an unnecessarily heavy model that isn’t convenient to transport. I did my best to run each cooler through a general, hands-on usability evaluation, where I tested every feature, component and accessory, making note of any issues I came across. I paid close attention to the maneuverability and steering capabilities of wheeled coolers, judging how well they traversed different environments like pavement, grass, gravel and sidewalk curbs. When it came to soft-sided coolers, I loaded them up and tested out how comfortable their shoulder straps and other carrying handles were to use, as well as how they held up to the stress of being tossed around, lifted up and “accidentally” dropped.

To accurately judge how well each model kept its temperature, I filled each cooler with ice and its recommended can capacity, closed the lid and placed it outside for 48 hours. Using a bluetooth thermometer inside the cooler, I logged each model’s temperature throughout the trial, and when I was finished, I was able to easily compare each cooler’s temperature retention capability.

The overall build quality of the coolers was a major testing focus as well. I carefully inspected and evaluated the durability and sturdiness of each cooler and its parts, taking notice of any models that felt flimsy or of low quality, looking out for parts or design elements that would be likely to break down or crack over time. This included latches, handles, hinges, wheels, straps, zippers, drain plugs and accessories like bottle openers and dry-goods baskets.

In addition to these categories, I also took overall weight, size, ease of cleaning, warranty and water-resistance into account when comparing similar options.

This was our pick for the best budget cooler, thanks to its low cost, great temperature retention and simple design. When it comes to taking it to the beach, though, our durability concerns knocked it out of the top picks. When you’re carrying your cooler over longer distances and plopping it down, it’s more prone to wear and tear than if you’re just taking it out of your car and moving it a dozen feet. However, if you don’t want to spend hundreds of dollars on yet another cooler just for the beach, the Igloo Maxcold 50 is our favorite low-cost option. If you have a hard time finding the Maxcold 50-Quart model, you can also shop Igloo’s 54-quart Latitude Maxcold cooler, which retails for under $100 as well.

A close runner-up to the Yeti Tundra 45, this 45-quart rotomolded cooler looks nearly identical, though it costs about $100 less. Although it did keep the temperature at 35.4 degrees Fahrenheit (the same as the Yeti), it is six pounds heavier, which could add up if you plan on carrying it frequently. The foam handles also seemed a bit less durable than the Yeti’s rubber versions, and the nonslip feet were less “tacky” and, thus, less effective. These definitely aren’t deal breakers, and if you’re set on a rotomolded cooler, I’d consider the RTIC 45 a great lower-cost alternative to our top full-size pick.

Another hard-sided model similar to the Yeti Tundra 45 and RTIC 45, this ORCA cooler boasted a heavy-duty rotomolded construction, thick rubber latches and rubber-and-strap handles that I found to be really comfortable to use. Unfortunately, it was heavier and significantly bulkier than the Yeti and RTIC, and also performed slightly worse in my temperature test, reaching 37.7 degrees Fahrenheit at the end of the 48-hour period, plus it costs as much as the better-performing Yeti Tundra 45 (and $100 more than the RTIC 45). It did offer an accessory that neither of its competitors did: a removable mesh cargo pocket screwed into the exterior of the cooler, which can be handy for unrefrigerated items.

The smallest hard-sided cooler in our test, this 20-quart ORCA model features a rugged rotomolded body and enough room to carry 18 cans with plenty of ice. The wide, top-mounted handle and cushioned foam grip was comfortable to use and swings conveniently out of the way when it’s time to open the lid. It’s important to note that without any side handles, this design might not be ideal for everyone — especially considering that it already weighs 18 pounds before being filled — and could be too heavy for a single person to carry one-handed.

I love the old-school look of this budget-friendly cooler, and its 7.3-pound weight makes it by far the lightest of the hard-sided models in our tests. Unfortunately, this lightweight design translates to a flimsy product that won’t be durable enough for heavy-duty use — the lid even flexed and bent when I sat on it. That said, it fared much better than expected in our temperature-retention test, rising to just 38.3 degrees Fahrenheit after 48 hours outside. It likely won’t last forever, but if you just need a basic cooler for an outing and don’t want to spend a ton of money, it could be a great choice.

This Pelican model delivers the durability and functionality you expect from a high-end cooler, making it great for hauling along to any outdoor adventure. As with the wheeled 45-quart version, little details make for easy use and cleaning — the drainage channels molded into the cupholders prevent standing water from accumulating (something I experienced during my outdoor testing). We think you’d be better off stepping up to a 45-quart model if you want to go with a rotomolded cooler, however. The 30-quart capacity seems just a little too small to justify its bulky size and weight.

This 52-quart model is one of RTIC’s new “Ultra-Light” models, and I certainly appreciated its relatively low 20-pound weight when transporting it during my testing. It’s similar in design to the current crop of popular full-size coolers like the RTIC 45, Orca 40 and Yeti Tundra 45, adopting the same rubber t-latches, rope handles, rubber feet and padlock holes. Unlike these coolers, however, the RTIC opts to use an injection-molded design instead of rotomolded, no doubt to achieve its lighter weight. Although this does give the RTIC 52 a slightly less robust feel, it didn’t seem to affect its temperature retention capability and performed just as well as the rotomolded models in my 48-hour test. I do wish that RTIC offered an ultra-light model closer in size to these 40- and 45-quart models since the convenience of the lighter weight is somewhat negated by the bulky size of this 52-quart model.

Although its $500 price tag makes it the most expensive cooler we tested, the Oyster Tempo’s efficiency, versatility and user-friendly design could make it worth the investment if you’re willing to shell out for it and really want a unique luxury cooler. Advertised as an “ice-free” cooler, the Oyster Tempo includes two slim freezer packs that line the floor of the cooler and combines a double-wall design and a patented vacuum-insulation technology to retain its internal temperature. This lack of ice allows you to utilize practically all the internal storage space and significantly reduces the overall weight when filled up. This method does sacrifice some effectiveness, though, and the Oyster ranked lower than every other cooler in my temperature retention test, climbing to 44.4 degrees Fahrenheit after 48 hours. That being said, when we ran the same test with ice instead of freezer packs, the Oyster only hit 33.3 degrees Fahrenheit, which is right up there with our top performers.

The Oyster Tempo claims to be the result of six years of development, and I found each component to have a really intentional, well-thought-out feel to it. The versatile lid can be opened on either side, or removed altogether if you like, and the two carrying options — a heavy-duty strap or full-length aluminum handle — are simple to swap out without any tools. I did my best to stress test both during my testing, and even when fully stocked with 36 cans, I never felt like the strap or handle connections were in danger of failure. Sticker shock aside, if you’re looking for a lightweight cooler that won’t take up a lot of space, and multiday temperature retention isn’t a priority, the Oyster Tempo won’t disappoint.

Essentially a big, waterproof duffel bag, this soft-sided cooler from AO would be a great choice for those who want something lightweight but with lots of room for food and drinks. Its massive 30-inch zippered opening makes it really easy to dump in bags of ice without spilling everywhere, which is sometimes the case with more compact soft-sided options. It didn’t perform particularly well in our temperature test, though, reaching 49 degrees Fahrenheit after 48 hours. So, like all the soft coolers we tested, it’s better suited to single-day adventures.

Similar in design to the AO Cooler, this duffel-bag-style cooler provides a wide zippered opening, perfect for quickly dumping ice bags. Heavy-duty side clasps secure the corners while you carry it around, considerably shrinking the length to a more manageable size. The flexible, fabric-like liner on the inside isn’t the easiest to wipe down in the event of a spill, but its leakproof design is a fair trade-off. Its 1-inch insulation was a 1/4-inch thicker than the AO Cooler, and seemed to make a difference, holding the temperature to just 42.7 degrees Fahrenheit after 48 hours.

This backpack cooler from Yeti is extremely well-made, and the straps, exterior shell, clasps and rubber bottom stood up well to the abuse I dished out in my testing. (That said, Yeti is recalling this cooler and its larger sibling given that the magnetic clasp has detached, posing a health and safety hazard. If you’ve purchased an M20 or M30 from Yeti, you’ll want to check the clasp and check with the company about a return.)

The side handles were especially useful for moving it around and a good alternative to the backpack straps. Its vertical shape did make it a challenge to actually access the interior, though, and if you wanted an item at the bottom, you might find yourself digging around for a bit. The extremely high price relative to other soft models is likely to be a drawback, but if your priority is hands-free portability and you want a premium cooler, it could be a good fit.

Although this model from Igloo is technically soft-sided, it has a relatively solid structure and is roomy enough to hold 30 beverage cans. At just three pounds, it’s also lightweight, and the shoulder strap made it easy to carry and transport. Its zipper was stiff, though, more so than the RTIC Soft Pack 30, so the similar t-shaped zipper pulls were definitely necessary. We didn’t love the top handle, however, which is attached only to the lid itself. We felt that over time heavy loads carried this way would stress the zipper. We preferred the strap design used on the RTIC Soft Pack 30 and other premium soft coolers, where the top handle is anchored to the cooler body rather than the lid. The Igloo Trailmate 30 was, however, the best raw performer among the soft coolers, so if you’re not likely to carry it around, it is absolutely worth a look: it kept its interior temperature better than any other soft-sided cooler, reaching only 38.2 degrees Fahrenheit after 48 hours.

I wanted to like this cooler, but its design and construction don’t justify the high price. While the rubber latches were easy enough to use and the wheels and carrying handles appeared to be of decent quality, the large trolley handle just wasn’t up to par with the Pelican. The plastic connection to the cooler was just too flimsy, and the weight of the full cooler caused the hinge to flex and bend as if it was going to pull itself off, making it more difficult to maneuver loaded than our top pick. That said, it did retain temperature exceptionally well, rising to just 32.1 degrees Fahrenheit after 48 hours.

This wheeled cooler is everything you’d expect from a Yeti product: a heavy-duty rotomolded body, sturdy latches and impressive 48-hour temperature retention (32.7 degrees Fahrenheit). It also includes a ton of useful accessories, like a divider for separating food items, three reusable ice packs and a dry-goods basket. Its vertical design also gives it a relatively small footprint and allows you to store taller items like wine bottles or 2-liters. Although its telescoping handle was by far the sturdiest and well made of all the models we tested (as you’d expect from the premium price), I felt the single-piece design of the Pelican Elite 45 handle was just better suited for wheeling around, especially in the sand.

The low price of this cooler is certainly appealing, but we think you should spend a bit more (or stick with a cooler without wheels if you’re looking for something very inexpensive). The flimsy telescoping handle, hollow, thin wheels and limited sealing (there’s no seal on the lid, so meltwater pours out when you tip it over to wheel it around). It does provide a ton of storage space inside, however, and only reached 37.1 degrees Fahrenheit inside after 48 hours, which is pretty good at this price.

This Igloo cooler was the best of the low-priced wheeled models we looked at, and while it isn’t going to stand up to abuse and wasn’t as easy to maneuver loaded as the pricier wheeled coolers, it will do if you just want something for picnics and other less demanding uses. The cavernous interior can hold 56 cans, and the super-light weight (7.2 pounds) makes it great for a single person to lift or wheel around. The lid doesn’t latch, however, and the tall shape makes it a bit top-heavy and challenging to steer with the loose and flimsy handle. It also lacks a drain, so getting rid of excess water won’t be very convenient.

On the surface, this RTIC cooler looked like it could be a great full-sized wheeled option for those who don’t have the budget for a Pelican Elite 45 but want something more durable than the Igloo Maxcold 50. Despite its numerous higher-end features like a bottle opener, padlock holes, heavy-duty rubber wheels, a large aluminum handle that made it a breeze to maneuver and surprisingly light weight, the unit we received had a leaky drain plug, which shouldn’t be the case on a cooler this expensive. No matter how tight I twisted the drain cap, a tiny gap between the plug and the cooler itself allowed water to continuously leak out as ice melted inside. RTIC customer service was helpful in remedying the issue, though, instructing me to unscrew the drain and flip the rubber gasket around. That done, after another test, the cooler appears to work just fine. Considering the sturdy build quality of the rest of the unit, we imagine this is a production or quality-assurance glitch, but it still makes us hesitant to recommend this over less expensive alternatives. That said, this cooler could potentially be a decent option once RTIC fixes the issue or for users who don’t mind a little extra DIY fix if the drain issue remains.

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