14 Different Types of Coolers

Blue cooler and a striped beach towel on the sand.

Nothing says summer like hot days outside. This could be at BBQs, picnics, camping, and hanging out with friends. Food and drinks are usually at the center of every activity.

That is until they get hot. No one wants their food to be at an off temperature. There is nothing worse than reaching into your cooler for a cold drink to find all the ice has melted into a dirty pool of water.

Not only that, but your drinks are no longer cold. Worry no more because this article contains all the different types of coolers. It tells you how long they can keep items cold and when you should consider using them.

What to Look For in a Cooler

While many of us think it is the food the makes or breaks a cookout, it is actually the cooler. You have some choices when it comes to the material of your cooler. There are coolers made of soft materials like cotton or vinyl.

There are hard coolers made from metal or plastic. The material of the cooler dictates how well it insulates and how much you can store in it. You should think about why and how you want to use the cooler when you consider the type of cooler you want to use. Many people have multiple coolers from which to choose so they can use the right one each time.

You will find coolers made from materials like:

  • Hard plastic
  • Metal
  • Canvas
  • Cotton
  • Neoprene
  • Nylon
  • Polyester
  • Polypropylene
  • Styrofoam
  • Vinyl

Cooler Size

Woman carrying a cooler box by the seashore.

The cooler size you select should be based on who you intend to use it, how long you need to keep the items cold, and the number of people using it. A cooler capacity is usually listed in quarts. Sometimes the packaging will tell you how much the cooler can hold.

A generalization when it comes to coolers is that one quart can hold about .75 cans, which means a 24-quart cooler can hold 18 cans. When considering what cooler to purchase, it is important to know that anywhere from 30 percent to 50 percent of the space in your cooler will be taken with ice.

If you have three people on a day trip, a cooler that holds 40 quarts should work. If that trip changes to a weekend camping excursion, you may need a 50 quart to 60-quart cooler. Having a cooler that is too big is not good, either. A cooler that is packed tightly will keep food colder for longer.

If you are thinking about buying a larger cooler and filling the extra space with ice, keep in mind that the cooler will get heavy fast. On the other hand, if there is too much space in the cooler, the ice will melt much faster.

Different Types of Cooling

A cooler actually cools in various ways. Depending on the type of cooler and your access to electricity, it uses different methods for cooling.

Absorption Cooler

An absorption cooler can be used anywhere you would like. It can use varying sources for energy from 12 volts, 24 volts, 230 volts, or gas. The back of the cooler should be open so that the warm air can escape from the back of the cooler.

It must be used on a flat surface. It does not have cooling elements, and it cools itself to 25 degrees to the ambient temperature. An absorption cooler does not make a lot of noise. It does consume a large amount of power.

Thermo-Electric Cooler

Thermo electric coolers

This cooler does not require ice to keep items inside it cold. It is also capable of keeping items hot. It uses something called the Peltier effect to keep the items inside at the appropriate temperature.

This gives you more space in the cooler for food or drink items since you do not need ice. This also means that you will have slushy water in your cooler, and your items will not get wet, requiring you to wipe them off. There are some negatives to this type of cooler, which include the ability to cool is limited to the ambient temperature outside.

If a thermoelectric cooler is rated to cool 40 degrees below the ambient temperature, on an 80-degree day, it will cool the contents of the cooler to 40 degrees.

You can use a thermoelectric cooler in a truck or car because it can run on 12 volts or 24 volts. If you have a converter, you can use this type of cooler at 230 volts. You should make sure the items in your cooler are already cold. These coolers are lightweight, relatively inexpensive, but they tend to be loud.

Compression-Driven Cooler

A compression-driven cooler needs an evaporator, compressor, and refrigerant to run. They are just like a refrigerator that you will find in your home. This is what gives the refrigerator the ability to Coll and freeze items.

These coolers are able to maintain a steady temperature regardless of what is happening with the temperature outside. A compressor-driven cooler can be used in any vehicle, like a van, car, or truck. It runs on 12 volts, 24 volts, or 230 volts. It does not have a cooling element. The compressor-driven cooler usually fairly low power consumption, but can be loud. These cooler are more expensive.

Passive Cooler

A passive cooler is one that you use most often. It does not cool automatically. You must use cooling blocks or ice with this cooler. You do not need a power outlet for this cooler, which is ideal for the beach or some other remote area.

The ambient temperature outside of the cooler has an impact on the temperature on the inside of the cooler. These coolers are lightweight and make no noise. These coolers are affordable and rarely inexpensive. A passive cooler has limited space for food and other items.

Evaporative Cooler

Hessaire MC18M Portable Evaporative Cooler – Gray, 1300 CFM, Cools 500 Square Feet
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This cooler is based on the premise that water evaporates and can cool off items as it does. These coolers are also referred to as swamp coolers. An evaporative cooler uses a medium that is wet and a fan pulls air from it. The air interacts with the water and heat is removed from the air cooling it. The temperature inside the cooler stays cold. This type of cooler does require electricity.

Types of Coolers

There are so many amazing coolers on the market; it is often hard to know which one is going to work best for your needs. There are many quality coolers that come with a hefty price tag. It is important that you pick the right one, so you are not throwing away money.

Soft-Sided Cooler

Soft-sided cooler filled with beer bottles and ice.

A soft-sided cooler is made from the type of materials used to construct it, as well as the techniques that are used to create it. These bags are made from nylon, PVC, and TPU. Many of them have liners on the inside that are insulated.

They are flexible on the outside and inside. They can be compressed and folded when not being used. They have shoulder straps that are padded. They include pockets that allow you to carry keys, a phone, or any small item.

A soft-sided cooler is durable and constructed well. They are box stitched with multiple seams. They have welding created by lasers and then reinforced. Their durable construction makes a difference in how well the cooler holds up but also how well it keeps items cold. These coolers can fit in small spaces, and you can squeeze them in where you need to.

These coolers are capable of keeping food and drinks for one or two days, but probably not any longer than that. While there are many sizes of a soft-sided cooler, the small versions hold a few six-packs.

Hardshell Roto-Molded Coolers

Arctic Zone Titan Deep Freeze 20Q Premium Ice Chest Roto Cooler with Microban Protection, Blue
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A hardshell cooler offers the ultimate in durability. These coolers can take any amount of abuse you can dish out. They are resistant to impact.

The hardware on these coolers is also durable. This type of cooler usually has latches made of rubber and hinges that are ultra-durable and strong. A hardshell roto-molded cooler has feet that will not skid.

They either have grab points that are recessed in the rotomolded cooler or strong handles that can be stored out of the way. The more durable the cooler means it will come with a higher price tag. If you can afford a cooler like this, you should consider investing in one.

You want a hardshell cooler that provides the ultimate in cooling and capability to retain the ice contained in it. These coolers come with tie-down slots to enable you to secure them for any truck or boat. Yeti Cooler has pioneered the concept of these types of coolers.

They are clean and simple and come in a wide variety of bright colors. This is an expensive cooler, but it is worth the price you pay. These are great desert coolers.

Backpack Cooler

Man with a backpack cooler holding a paper bag.

Are you tired of trying to lug a heavy plastic cooler wherever you go? You may want to consider a backpack cooler. A backpack cooler gives you the ability to have a portable cooler that is easy to carry.

These coolers are incredibly lightweight, weighing around 5 pounds when they are empty. They have shoulder straps that are thick and padded, making the cooler comfortable on your back. Many of these coolers have a waist belt like you would see on a typical backpack or daypack.

These coolers are insulated and give you a decent amount of ability to retain ice. Some of these coolers provide you the ability to keep items cold for as long as four days.

Depending on the cooler, there may be a decent amount of pockets on the outside of it, allowing you to carry additional items. Some backpack coolers look more like a cooler with shoulder straps, while other coolers like more like a backpack that is able to keep items cold.

These types of coolers are expensive. Depending on the brand and style, these coolers can get pricey quickly. They all have a slightly different design. Some have a top that zippers and hinges at the top. This is a great travel cooler.

Hard Plastic Cooler

Closeup of large hard plastic coolers on wood planks.

Coolers have changed a considerable amount over the years. The hard plastic cooler is the tried and true one we all know. When thinking about a hard plastic cooler, what immediately comes to mind is the blue or red plastic bottom and a white lid that either lift up and hinges or completely comes off. They have handles on either side to lift and carry them. They are not the most attractive, but they get the job done.

Hard plastic coolers are made from a variety of plastics. They are generally affordable, super durable, and keep the contents inside cold for a couple of days and most likely longer than a soft-sided cooler. This type of cooler has a greater capacity. The capacity is typically measured by volume. Most plastic coolers come with a drain that allows you to let the water out that has collected once the ice melts.

Metal Cooler

Igloo Stainless Steel 54 Quart Cooler
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A metal cooler has a unique and cool look to it. Most of them have some type of powder coating and come in a wide range of colors. They can be made from aluminum or stainless steel. Metal coolers are pretty durable, and if you know you are rough on a cooler, this may be your option.

Metal coolers can handle a fair amount of wear and tear. A metal cooler will provide a decent amount of insulation, sometimes better than a plastic cooler. The better quality the metal cooler means, the better it will insulate your items.

You will find some metal coolers that have a thin layer of plastic on the inside. What you do not see is there is a layer of foam between the layers of plastic and metal. They do offer a few more features than you might find in coolers or other materials.

This includes it is much more difficult for some random person to sneak in your cooler and take whatever is inside. Metal coolers tend to be more expensive than other coolers. Metal coolers also get heavy fast. They are much heavier than their counterparts when full. If you want a drain plug in a metal cooler, you have to get one of the more expensive models.

Canvas Cooler

Tirrinia 2 Bottle Wine Tote Carrier - Leakproof & Insulated Padded Versatile Canvas Cooler Bag for Travel, BYOB Restaurant, Wine Tasting, Party, Great Christmas Day Gift for Wine Lover, Beige
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A canvas cooler is not much to look at as it has a simple design and tends to be smaller. This type of cooler is ideal for lunch or when you have to keep something small cold. This type of cooler gives you a moderate amount of insulation but do not expect to keep something cold all day in the hot sun.

The canvas material is durable, and the moisture will not ruin it. These coolers have some type of carrying handle or strap. They may have a shoulder strap or shorter handles similar to what you find on a duffel bag.

Canvas coolers have one opening that tends to be longer than the space inside the bag. This makes it easier to put items in and find them when you want them. It usually has an outside compartment that may or may not be zippered. This gives you a space to keep dry items. These coolers are flexible and can be folded or pressed flat to store when you are not using them.

You will find some canvas coolers have an exterior that is laminated to further protect the outside of the cooler. We are all used to having a canvas cooler with a huge wet spot forming on the outside as the contents begin to melt. If the outside is laminated, that can prevent this from happening.

Some of these types of coolers offer a waterproof zipper. A cooler does not have to have a waterproof zipper; they just tend to be more durable. Most canvas coolers have a thick foam that provides insulation to the contents of your cooler. Remember, the amount of insulation it provides is limited. These types of coolers are fairly inexpensive compared to other types of coolers.

Neoprene Cooler

Hipiwe 6 Pack Bottle Can Carrier Tote Insulated Neoprene Baby Bottle Cooler Bag Water Beer Bottle Holder for Travel with Secure Carry Handle
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A neoprene cooler is great for taking something on a short trip or needing to keep something cool for a limited amount of time. Neoprene is a heavy-duty material that is not likely to rip or tear. A neoprene cooler is easy to clean by simply wiping it off.

You can also throw this cooler in the washing machine on cold. You must let it hang dry. These types of coolers do not often come with any lining or padding. What are you see is what you get with them. They are often small, lightweight, and portable.

When you are not using your neoprene cooler, you can fold it up and store it just about anywhere. They travel well as they have durable handles. These coolers are inexpensive.

They are not going to keep an item frozen but may help to keep something cool for a few hours. You can also find a neoprene carrier for a beverage six-pack. This is also the material that a drink koozie is made from.

This type of cooler is a great wine cooler. A neoprene cooler is intended to be a personal cooler.

Nylon Cooler

Homevative XL Nylon Thermal Insulated Food Delivery and Reusable Grocery Bag - For Catering, Restaurants, Delivery Drivers, Uber Eats, Grubhub, Postmates, Shipt, Instacart, and more, 22" x 14" x 13"
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Nylon is a strong material, and a nylon cooler bag is going to handle a large amount of wear and tear. If you are rough on coolers, you may want to consider a nylon cooler for your next purchase. This is a great material for car road trips when you need quick access to cold drinks, like water.

This type of cooler is portable and lightweight. They usually come with some additional nice to have features. Some nylon coolers are the backpack version, but they could also be a more sturdy type of cooler.

A nylon cooler is going to have some type of carrying handle, even if it is not one that you can carry on your back. Not all of these coolers are waterproof or offer waterproof zippers. What that means for you is that you must keep it upright, or it will most likely leak.

A nylon cooler may not provide a large amount of insulation and most likely will not keep your drinks cold for a significant amount of time. These coolers also tend to be on the smaller side, and you will have to be intentional in what you plan to carry in it.

Polyester Cooler

Extra Large Tall Soft Insulated Cooler Lunch Meal Prep Bag. 1680D Heavy-Duty Polyester, High Density Insulation, Heat-Sealed Liner, Durable Zipper, Multiple Pockets, Metal Buckle. Picnic Golf camping
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A polyester cooler is similar to a canvas color in that it has a simple design and is on the smaller side. This is more likely a cooler that you will see for lunch or at a team practice. These coolers are more for personal use than for items you are planning to share.

This polyester type of cooler gives you a moderate amount of insulation but do not expect to keep something cold all day in the hot sun. The material is durable, dries fast, and is really easy to clean. These coolers have some type of carrying handle or strap. They may have a shoulder strap or shorter handles similar to what you find on a duffel bag.

Polyester coolers have one opening that tends to be longer than the space inside the bag. This makes it easier to put items in and find them when you want them. It usually has an outside compartment that may or may not be zippered.

This gives you a space to keep dry items. These coolers are flexible and can be folded or pressed flat to store when you are not using them. There is usually an insulating layer on the inside of this cooler. Remember, the amount of insulation it provides is limited. These types of coolers are fairly inexpensive compared to other types of coolers.

Polypropylene Cooler

A polypropylene cooler may be a soft or hard material, but mostly you will find hard coolers. This cooler has a rigid design that makes it perfect for hiking, camping, and fishing. A polypropylene cooler is a flexible material that is resistant to heat. It will maintain its shape and remains tough in extreme conditions. This material is resistant to solvents, chemicals, acids, and oil.

Styrofoam Cooler

Woman carrying a styrofoam ice chest with bottles.

A Styrofoam Cooler is not the most attractive cooler you will find. This material is not at all recyclable and is best when used inside. You should avoid getting this cooler dirty, as you cannot really clean it well, depending on how dirty they are.

You can wipe them down, but that may not be clean enough. Now that we have gotten the negatives to Styrofoam out of the way let us focus on some positives.

It is one of the most effective and affordable ways to control the temperature of an item. They are used often by food service to ship foods because of their superior ability to insulate. It is inexpensive and effective.

You will find many coolers that use styrofoam inside of them and then cover them with fancy wrapping. There are straight-up styrofoam coolers. They are incredibly lightweight. They are used most often for shipping purposes, but you can use them in your home.

You can find a styrofoam cooler in various sizes, and you are sure to find the size you need. They are reusable, and you can simply throw them in the back of your car and take it where’ve you need to go.

Vinyl Cooler

AO Coolers Traveler Original Soft Cooler with High-Density Insulation, Navy, 24-Can
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A Vinyl Cooler is a soft cooler that is made of tough and waterproof material. They tend to be on the smaller side, similar to a canvas and polyester cooler. The difference is a vinyl cooler will provide more insulation and keep ice solid for up to 24 hours.

The liner inside the cooler is leakproof, and the material outside is tough and will not fade in the sun. This cooler has a carrying strap that you can put on your shoulder. Some coolers offer the ability to remove the strap.

Vinyl coolers have one opening that tends to be longer than the space inside the bag. This makes it easier to put items in and find them when you want them. It usually has an outside compartment that may or may not be zippered. This gives you a space to keep dry items.

Budget Cooler

Display of various coolers in a department store.

A budget cooler does not mean that it is made of subpar materials. It just means that it has a low cost and high value for the cost. It may not be the best cooler you can find, but it will be the best value in its price point. Coleman coolers offer many coolers in this budget area.

They are a reputable brand that provides a good, solid cooler that is strong enough for people to sit on. Think about how many times you have had to ask someone to get up so you could grab something out of the cooler on which they were sitting. The lid can hold up to 250 pounds.

The Coleman lid can also double as a cup holder as there are four cup spots on the lid. A Coleman cooler looks good.

These coolers are insulated, but you will not get the ice retention that you get from more expensive brands. You get what you pay for, but you get a decent amount of ice retention for a good price. It may be worth it to you. These coolers have handles that make them easy to carry and move around.

Cooler with Wheels

Wheeled cooler in the middle of football field.

Depending on where you plan to use your cooler, a cooler with wheels may be exactly what you need. If you are going to need to move your cooler over a large distance, you may not want to carry it, especially if it is full. You can find many different types, styles, and brands of cooler with wheels. You want to pay attention to the other features you want from your wheeled cooler when making this choice.

There are two wheels on one side of the cooler. The wheels are usually big and bulky to get you moving across all types of terrains. They usually have some type of handle on the opposite end of the wheels to make it easier to roll along behind you.

This type of cooler can be on the expensive side. It also may get heavy, but that is why it has wheels. You may want to consider an Igloo brand cooler with wheels.