Not to be confused with personal lunchboxes, small and medium-sized coolers are perfect for day and overnight trips and sporting events. They also pinch-hit beautifully as mini cold-storage units after quick trips to the grocery store. As reviewers point out, they're even good for keeping medicines like insulin cold for short periods. The Best Reviewed coolers in this size range reflect an emphasis on mobility, compactness, and ease of hauling and loading.
Our Best Reviewed hard-sided cooler in this size class, the Coleman 36-Quart Xtreme Polylite Cooler (Est. $50), is a favorite with many reviewers. Even though it's the smallest model in the popular Coleman Xtreme line, it offers the same durability and chilling capabilities of up to five days. A large number of user postings on retail sites BassPro.com, REI.com and Amazon.com say this cooler does what it promises, and food and drinks can indeed stay cold (and even frozen) for five days. Several users add that the Xtreme is the best cooler they've ever owned. Reviewers also love its portability and compact size, which is perfect for smaller cars with less space.
Another favorite, the Yeti Tundra 35-quart Cooler (*Est. $260) is a top pick from reviewers at Bon Appétit -- although they don't mention any comparison testing -- thanks to its 2-inch-thick insulated walls, which keeps ice solid and drinks cold. The Yeti cooler also gets a handful of positive reviews for its ice-keeping capacities from retail sites such as Cabelas.com. These same users, however, give it low marks for its high price tag, with several posters saying that a Coleman or other mainstream brand performs just as well for a fraction of the cost.
Among soft-sided coolers, which are easier to store but less durable than hard coolers, the 20.75-quart Arctic Zone IceCold 30-Can Cooler (*Est. $30) is a top choice in Good Housekeeping's review because of its ability to keep food and drinks cold for 12 hours. The cooler is easy to load, unload and tote thanks to its padded shoulder strap, editors say. The extra storage pockets are appreciated, too. Testers warn, however, that while spills clean up quickly, they can also stain the lining.
Among other contenders, the California Cooler Bags 48-52 Classic Collapsible Cooler is highly ranked by a reputable subscription-only site. It's lauded for its ability to chill room-temperature sodas down by several degrees, its portability (a padded shoulder strap), stretchy capacity and ruggedness. Unlike the larger T-Rex model, this California Cooler bag doesn't have an extra layer of insulation lining, and testers say interior odors are hard to remove. The California Innovations 24-Can Zipperless Hardbody Cooler with Ice Station (*Est. $25) gets a top mention from Good Housekeeping, where testers praise its "best of both worlds" dynamic: It's a canvas-covered cooler with lots of handy pockets and a hard-shell plastic interior to keep food really cold. GH testers say, however, that the shoulder strap isn't strong enough to support the weight of this cooler when packed, which results in substantial damage when the cooler is lifted, they say.
If you need just a small cooler, the Coleman FlipLid 6 Personal Cooler (*Est. $15) is virtually a Coleman ice chest in miniature. Posters on Amazon.com appreciate the convenience of its six-can capacity, durable construction (no smashed sandwiches) and ability to stay cold for several hours. In addition, the lid has handy cup and can holders. Users say this little cooler is perfect for day trips, as long as you put an ice pack or two inside, and one poster on Target.com says she even keeps her husband's insulin medication in it during short road trips. While it's heavier than the fabric mini coolers produced by other companies such as Thermos, users prefer the Coleman's hard-shell exterior, which protects snacks and sandwiches from being crushed.