Choosing the right size cooler for camping isn’t challenging. It shouldn’t be.
But it’s not as straightforward as you think.
The best size cooler for camping is a question that only you can answer. It depends on your camping needs and situation, primarily what you want to bring, how many you’re, how long, external conditions, and other variables.
But a tip I’ve learned over my camping years is if you’re torn between two sizes, go with the bigger option.
I usually think of coolers like garages, and workshops-always need more room. The way I see it, go bigger. After all, better to have the space and not need it than need it and not have one.
Even if the difference between the two cooler sizes may seem minimal, you’ll be surprised by the difference it can make on the trail.
Now, without further ado, let’s jump straight into what size cooler you need for your next camping trip.
Table of Contents
Different Sizes of Coolers
A camping cooler’s size or capacity is expressed or measured in quarts.
A quart is equal to one-fourth of a liquid gallon. But to give you an idea of the exact size, a 12-quart cooler can hold about nine cans of beer.
But you also need to consider the room for extra ice if you need to enjoy a cold drink.
Generally, coolers will come in all sizes, ranging from the ultra-tiny 0.4-quart soft-sided coolers for holding insulin medicine, mini coolers, medium coolers, and large coolers to the commercial ultra-large coolers.
Each size has its benefits and drawbacks.
Did You Know?
According to Industry Research Biz, Global Camping Coolers Market Is Forecasted to A Readjusted Size of US$ 1412 Million By 2028, with a CAGR of 5.6%
Below are some of the common cooler sizes in the camping category.
Personal/Mini Coolers (4-10 Quart)
These are among the smallest camping soft-sided coolers on the market.
Usually, they’re considered lunchboxes and designed to keep food cold and drinks cold from morning until lunchtime.
My son finds them great for the 12-hour shifts. He packs frozen dinner, another snack, a couple of drink cans, and 1lb Yeti Ice. That’s about it.
You can hold two 1-liter water bottles at an outdoor concert if you lay them sideways and slanted.
Generally, this size is awesome for a lunchbox, pool days, beach days, just day trips, and solo days outdoors.
While typical coolers will cost more than a lunchbox, the mini-coolers keep your food cool for the day and are easy to use.
Small Portable Coolers (10-20 Quart)
The 10-20-quart size of camping coolers are still within the minimalistic territory.
It doesn’t hold much, but it’s large enough to accommodate food for a family picnic, beach, or a weekend trip.
You can use this size for day, weekend camping trips, or even road trips, but it works more than a lunch box.
Don’t get wrong.
The lunch-boxes coolers are nice. But something bigger, especially on the height side, is much better. I don’t have to downsize my bottle of wine or liquor on the 20-quart cooler for it to fit.
Another thing I like about the size is that it doesn’t gobble up a lot of real estate in my Suzuki, and I don’t have a problem carrying it single-handedly.
Medium Sized Coolers (20-30 Quarts)
The 20-30 quart size offers high-performance options that can hold your ice for a couple of days, making it the perfect option when heading out for a week’s vacation.
See, I love the lunchbox coolers. They’re stout, compact, and light, but that is also their greatest drawback. They hardly hold ice as the bigger ones do.
Even after hours of a day in the summer heat and opening and closing, a medium-sized cooler will hardly lose its cooling effects.
And the best part is they have a ton of stuff to accommodate the smaller weekend camping trip of a family of 3-4 members, camping trips, or the long weekend trips for a solo member.
They’re perfect for boat use, and you can put a lot in them and even stand up tall bottles.
On top of that, they remain user-friendly. They’re not unwieldy and won’t take up excessive amounts of space. For example, a typical 30-quart cooler will fit nicely on the backseat floor for road trips.
They’re not too bulky to carry either, and you can handle them single-handedly.
Regular-Sized Coolers (30-50 Quart)
The 30-to-50-quart size is a standard size among many campers.
I think this size strikes the perfect balance between size and ease of use.
Most coolers in this size range are big enough to sustain all the cooling needs of a family of four or five or a couple of days in the summer temperatures.
It can handle the multi-day trip and enough beer, fresh fruits, and water.
My greatest draw to the 30-to-50-quart size is the application versatility. The size is perfect for various camping uses, from fishing, boating, BBQing, picnics, and hunting to hiking.
Depending on the manufacturing quality and brand, it can hold ice for a couple of days. The low-quality brands will hold ice for 2 to 3 days, while the premium brands can hold ice for up to 6 days.
However, it can get heavy pretty fast, especially if you’ve the 50-pound option. But it’s nothing I can’t handle. The full load is even more manageable if you’ve a helping hand.
Most coolers in this size range will fit in a truck and leave space for other gear.
Did You Know?
North America is the largest market for Camping Coolers, with a share over 60%, followed by China and Europe, both have a share over 20% percent. In terms of product, Plastic Coolers is the largest segment, with a share over 70%. And in terms of application, the largest usage is Backyard and Car Camping followed by RV Camping.
Large Cooler (50-80 Quart)
The 50-to-80-quart cooler is within the leagues of the big boys and captures commercial users’ attention.
However, this size is still great for camping enthusiasts, especially that who need to go out as a group. It’s an awesome choice if you’ve lots of stuff to store and need to retain ice for much longer.
Depending on the quality and brand, the ice will last from 5 to 10+ days on this cooler.
It can hold great amounts of beverages and, depending on the exact capacity; it can hold up to 100 cans, carrying everything from beer, wine, fruits, seafood, and beverage to foodstuffs for poolside BBQs, parties, and other events.
The 80-quart coolers are generally huge and include small caster wheels for portability.
This size is also ideal for hunting, fishing, and patio.
Giant Coolers (100+ Quart)
The 100+ quart sizes are monster coolers. They’re baggage to move even for the family camping trip.
And unless you’re going for Coachella, where the car is where the camp is, I hate to say; I wouldn’t recommend it for regular camping. After, it’s bulky to lug around and super bitch to carry when full.
If you’ve to take on such a size, I’d recommend taking two smaller ones. One to store food and the other for drinks, especially if you don’t need to constantly open the food cooler.
However, these giant coolers still have their uses in the wilderness.
For example, they may prove to be quite handy if you’re planning on field quartering and deboning your deer.
On the other hand, the 150-Quart Igloo cooler can hold several quarters of deer and pig to fit in them nicely.
7 Key Factors to Consider When Choosing a Cooler Size
There’re a few key elements you need to consider when choosing the size of a camper cooler, and they include:
1) Internal space
The internal space in a cooler refers to the actual storage space and differs from the outdoor dimensions.
Your storage needs will determine the size of the internal cooler space.
The internal space is also shared by ice. You’ll need to save space for ice, which keeps your items cool.
And no, it’s not a small space. It may consume more than half of the internal space.
For example, Yeti Coolers recommends a 2:1 ratio of the ice and the foodstuffs. It means that in a 40-quart cooler, you’ll only have about 20 or fewer quarts at your disposal for storing food items.
You can get away with smaller ice bricks in smaller coolers, but their retention isn’t spectacular anyway. But in the larger camping coolers, ice will take up real estate.
2) Ice Retention
The next important element is ice retention.
Ice retention refers to how long your ice cooler can hold ice.
It’s an important consideration, especially if you plan to go to the countryside or in the swelting summer heat for a long time.
Generally, the small camp coolers will struggle to keep your foodstuff cool compared to the bigger coolers.
They hold small amounts of ice compared to the bigger coolers.
So, packing more ice is a good way to enhance cooler ice retention.
The medium-sized coolers are awesome for retaining the cold temperatures for 3 to 5 days, while the larger coolers can hold ice for up to a week and keep items cooler more than any other cooler.
While the larger coolers seem to win in most categories, you should also be aware of their bulkiness.
The small coolers win hands-down in the portability category because of their ultra-light design. They’re easier to carry and perfect to carry single-handedly.
On the other hand, the larger coolers, especially those past the 50-quart coolers, are bulky and heavy.
Some of these coolers will require a helping hand when full.
At this stage you start to make compromises with the existing cooler choices. Its portability or internal storage space-you can’t have everything.
4) External Space
You also need to consider the external space. It’s the actual dimensions of the cooler which determine the storage space.
Understand that the external space can be marginally more huge than the internal space because some coolers have several layers of insulation.
So, they’re likely to take up much more space outside than the internal capacity.
The external space is necessary if you’re car camping or bike camping because some of these coolers are too big to fit in a rack or even in the boot space.
If you’re Overlanding, you might also find that some of the coolers are too large to fit on the shelves.
And in some cases, you might discover that your rack is too big to fit inside your garage shelves or storage racks.
Again, you need to make compromises at this stage. Choose a big enough rack with great ice retention capacity but still small enough to fit on your shelves.
Price also determines the size of the camping cooler you’ll get.
Smaller doesn’t always necessarily mean cheaper, but the general truth is bigger coolers are more expensive than the smaller cooler.
With everything remaining the same, the budget shoppers will discover that they’re limited to smaller sizes than those with bigger, cooler sizes.
For example, if you’ve less than $100 at your disposal, you’ll be limited to less than a 20-quart cooler.
But if you want to spend top-dollar, you’ll have the bigger and premium options at your disposal. You could also choose the electric coolers that don’t require ice to cool.
Bigger coolers are generally heavier.
Their weight increases dramatically, especially if you fill them.
So, when picking a cooler weight, don’t just look at the empty weight, but consider the filled weight.
Pick a size you can handle even when full. Otherwise, you might be stuck with a cooler you can’t lift.
Features rarely influence your sizing but may have some impact.
For example, smaller coolers have little space for extra features and add-ons.
Conversely, the bigger coolers have a vat real estate that can accommodate different features.
For example, we mentioned earlier that coolers in the 100-quart range have wheels for better portability.
I don’t think you would find such an option at the less than 50-quart mark.
Similarly, it’s hard to find small coolers with roto-molded cooler cup holders.
So, if you’re looking for specific features on your cooler, you generally need to go bigger.
80/20 Rule (Pareto Principle)
A helpful way of determining the right cooler size is considering the 80/20 rule.
It states that 80% of your decision to get the right should be inspired by what you often do, and 20% for different purposes.
For example, if you’re a family guy who does a lot of boat fishing and maybe some road trips, pick a size that will tick the fishing and family needs boxes and less about road trips.
Do You Need More Than One Cooler?
Yes, depending on your camping cooling needs, you may need more than one cooler.
For example, if you’re going out as a group, it makes sense to go for the two 50-quart coolers rather than one 100-quart cooler.
The two 50-quart coolers are more portable and easier to handle.
Also, if you think you’ll need to open your cooler often, I suggest you go with two coolers and reserve one for items you won’t need frequently.
That’s what we usually do with my family.
I pack one cooler with drinks and the other one with foodstuffs. I know I’ll be opening the drink cooler often, but not as much s the food cooler.
So I can keep my food cooler for longer.
The other reason you would want two coolers is when you need coolers for different purposes.
For example, if you’re a big fan of solo outdoor adventures and family outings, then it makes sense to have a small cooler for backpacking alone and a bigger one for family use.
So, let no one tell you that you can find an all-in-one cooler and that you can’t have two coolers.
Best Sized Cooler for Solo Camping
If you need a cooler for solo camping, then you need to stick to the smaller backpack coolers.
I’d suggest you stick to coolers below 20 quarts for your solo camping trip.
A soft-sided 20-quart option is sized enough to accommodate all your storage needs and might even allow you to bring one more person.
Plus, you can lug it for hours on end without getting worn out.
Best Cooler for a Couple
I suggest getting something bigger than a typical lunchbox cooler if you’re a couple.
Anything larger than 45 is overkill.
Stick to coolers between 20 to 40 quarts.
They’re large enough to store food and drink for both of you. This size has awesome ice retention, so you don’t have to worry about your food getting warm or sour.
I like that this size is that it’s still manageable for a single person.
It’s such a versatile size that I wouldn’t be hard-pressed to use it for solo camping.
Best Sized Camping Cooler for a Family of 4-5?
Family coolers are a bit larger and more serious.
A 20-quart will suffice a day on the beach. But it doesn’t hold much stuff for a family save a few cans.
In my opinion, the best size for a family is 35-to-45-quart.
I’ve a 37-Yeti soft-sided cooler. It’s my primary cooler, my family camping, and checks on all my boxes.
It’s large enough to accommodate all our foods and drinks and small enough for portability.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Q: What size of cooler do I need for 3-day camping?
A: You need a medium camping cooler (25-45 quarts) or solo camping for three days. The size is also large enough to work for two people.
Q: How much can fit inside a 45-quart cooler?
A: Generally, 45-quarts coolers can store 36 cans or 40 pounds of ice. The internal storage space is also large enough to hold some burgers, eggs, and veggies.
Q: How do I pick the right Cooler size?
A: The right cooler size should be inspired by your storage needs and camping situation. For example, if you’re camping as a group, you’ll need a bigger cooler than camping alone.
Q: Is a camping cooler necessary for a camping trip?
A: No, a camping cooler isn’t necessary for camping, but having one is a real convenience. It keeps your water and foodstuffs cool.
That’s it for today.
As you’ve seen, more goes into choosing the right size cooler for camping.
Ensure that you consider your camping needs to determine the best size.
Of course, I mentioned bigger is better, but not always. I would go bigger if I was torn between two options.
But in regular circumstances, always do your due diligence before settling on a particular size.
In the comment section below, we would love to know what size you use for your camping trip.