If you’re in a hurry and just want to know which is the overall best small cooler we recommend, then check out the YETI Roadie 24 Cooler.
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Most articles you find when searching for the best small cooler are long lists of every cooler available on the market.
We wanted to help cut through the noise and created a concise list of the best small coolers based on performance, durability, capacity, and, most importantly, their small size.
This is not some fluff piece about how coolers will change your life. This is in response to listening to your questions about performance, construction, weight, and maneuverability.
If you need a cooler that will keep your stuff cold for as long as possible but not so big you need a truck or SUV to transport it, then we got you covered.
Here are the best small coolers we will look at:
If you want to read a review of each of our selections, you can read on.
But if you would like to know more about small coolers and what makes them the best, use the table of contents below to jump to the informational section. There you can learn how to choose the best small cooler for yourself.
Our Top Choices Of The Best Small Coolers
The Overall Best Small Cooler
If you know coolers, then you’ve most likely heard of the Yeti brand.
You may even be jaded and think they are just overpriced foam boxes.
While they may seem expensive, they are relatively cheap compared to what you get for your money.
Coolers, in general, are not cheap. Especially when you demand that your cooler keeps whatever you put in it ice cold for as long as you have it in the cooler.
Yeti stepped up to the challenge.
With 24 quarts of capacity, this is not a lunchbox to keep your sandwich chilled until your lunch break.
Although it will do that.
It’s even tough enough to use it as a seat as you enjoy that hero sub with an ice-cold drink.
But this is also a refined piece of equipment that you add to your tool belt.
You can use this to keep your bait and chum fresh until you get to your favorite fishing spot.
Or you can use it to keep food for you and one other fresh for a four-day camping trip.
Its portable size frees you from having to lug a full-sized 45-quart Tundra with you just for two people.
This is Yeti’s upgrade to their last small cooler, the Yeti 20. They’ve made it taller, so now it can hold two-liter bottles standing upright.
It does weigh more than other competitors, which may be a detriment when you’re looking for something lightweight.
But you will be hard-pressed to find another cooler of this size as well insulated as the Yeti Roadie 24 that makes the 13lbs of empty weight worth the investment.
We’ve seen it hold ice and keep drinks cold up to 94 hours.
We don’t like to quote exact ice retention rates because it will vary from user to user, especially if you don’t pre-chill the cooler and what you put in it.
But this cooler outperforms all other coolers when it comes to retaining ice.
If we had to trust just one cooler to keep a human heart transplant on ice for a trip across the country to get to its new patient, this would be the cooler for the job.
One drawback is that while it will keep your ice longer when it does start to melt, Yeti forgot to put a drain in to let it out without having to tip the darn thing over.
We wrote to let Yeti know about the blunder, and they’re working on fixing it.
- 24-quart capacity
- Snap close latches for extra security
- Sealed gasket lid to keep warm air out
- Extra thick insulation for higher performance
- Rotomolded plastic for extra durability
- Strong enough to use as a seat
- 5-year limited warranty
- 13 lbs empty makes it a bit heavy for a small cooler
- No drain to let out slush
- High price
The Best Small Cooler With Wheels
Now, if you’re looking for a small cooler, to begin with, you’re most likely concerned about its transportability.
While we consider it the best small cooler all around, the Yeti we recommended above weighs more than most. It can be too much for some to handle who just need to keep some sandwiches and drinks fresh for an afternoon and don’t want to haul a bulky, heavy cooler around.
Therefore, we find this tremendous little Coleman the best small cooler with wheels for the best maneuverability.
You can’t get much smaller than its 16 quarts of space, but hey, you want small, you get small.
But there’s still enough room for up to 22 cans. It’s also tall enough to get a two-liter bottle in there standing upright.
For the price, you’ll find it hard to complain about it.
Though, it does come with some drawbacks.
It’s super lightweight, under 3lbs, because it lacks an adequate amount of insulation that will keep your ice, well, ice.
Thus we wouldn’t recommend it for long trips.
But if you need something you can load up and get it in and out of the car and wheel it down to the beach or dock without any headaches, then this is the best small cooler with wheels for you.
- 16 quarts of space
- Super lightweight – under 3 lbs
- Built-in wheels and telescoping handle
- Tall design for wine bottles
- Low price
- Limited lifetime warranty
- Less insulation leads to lower performance
- Injection molding makes it less durable
- Open lid design with no gasket will also lead to lower performance
- No drain
The Best Hard Small Cooler
Our next choice comes from the well known Igloo brand. They’ve been making coolers for about as long as Coleman. However, Igloo is doing their best to move their cooler business into the 21st century.
They’re not satisfied with the same old styrofoam injection-molded boxes anymore.
They’re here to compete with the best of the cooler titans like Yeti and RTIC.
If you’re an angler, you may be familiar with the Igloo marine series and have depended on it to keep your catch fresh for decades.
But if you’re looking for the latest technology to keep your catch fresh, then the BMX series is here to show you what they can do.
We talked at length in other articles about the BMX 52 and 72-quart sizes.
But for this article, we’ll focus on their little brother, the small Igloo BMX 25 quart.
It can hold as much as the Yeti 24. In fact, it can hold a little bit more.
They’ve outfitted it with the hard rubber T-latches that the Yeti for some reason abandoned on their latest model.
We find they’re a little more convenient when you need to open the cooler than snap latches but to each their own.
The Igloo BMX 25 also sports their latest Cool Riser Technology to keep the insulated foam off the hot ground or boat deck. This helps retain ice much longer.
The blow-molded construction with a reinforced base makes it extra durable. The UV inhibitors in the plastic will keep it from rotting in the sun.
It also comes with four easy to access tie-down points to keep the cooler in place while in transport and a built-in fish ruler to make sure you’re only taking home what you should be.
While it does compete with the Yeti on retaining ice, it really is no competition for price.
You can get this Igloo BMX for half the price as the Yeti, and it will pretty much do just as much.
- 25-quart capacity
- Hard rubber T-latches for easy access
- Cool Riser Technology keeps the insulation off hot surfaces
- Blow-mold injection for extra durability
- UV inhibitor plastic to avoid sun rot
- Four tie-down points for transport security
- Built-in fish ruler
- Low Price
- 1-year warranty
- No drain
The Best Small Soft Cooler
Coleman Collapsible Cooler with 16-Hour Ice Retention | Soft-Sided Cooler Bag Folds Flat for Compact Storage
The next aspect you’re probably considering when it comes to small coolers is the ability to store the darn thing.
Most camping coolers can double as a table or chair at the campsite to offset the space they consume.
But then what do you do with it when you’re at home?
One year I found that it became an excellent place to store Christmas decorations…
To avoid cleaning out the glitter the next time you want to get your cooler out, you may want to consider one of these nifty, collapsible soft coolers from Coleman.
They range in sizes from 9-can to 34-can, making them small enough for everyday use while large enough to take with you on a weekend trip out onto the lake or camping.
The best part about them is that you can just fold it up and slide it in between the seats when you’re done with it.
Another benefit that comes with having a soft cooler like this Coleman is its lightweight.
At just under two pounds, you won’t have to worry about dislocating your shoulders carrying it once you fill it up with ice and drinks.
Though it does come with some drawbacks. What makes it, so light is that it has very little insulation.
However, it will still keep your ice-cold for up to 16 hours as long as you pre-chill everything first.
Before we get too confident with this little guy, there are things to keep in mind when getting a soft cooler.
First, they’re not made to hold loose ice.
The cubes will melt, and then they will leak all over the place.
You’ll want to prechill whatever you take with you and use solid ice packs to keep it cold.
Furthermore, don’t take the “can rating” as its actual volume. It’s just a standard way to describe capacity.
If you want to actually carry nine cans of something with ice, you will have to get a larger capacity.
Don’t be fooled by the lingo.
- Soft-siding makes for very lightweight
- Collapsible siding design makes for easy storage
- Limited lifetime warranty
- Velcro lid and little insulation make performance weak
- The risk for leaks if you use cubed ice
- Low price
- No drain
The Best Small Cooler Bag
If having a folding cooler that you can collapse and store flat isn’t exactly what you’re looking for when you think of a soft-sided cooler, we also dug deep to find the best small cooler bag as well.
The Engel HD series changed the cooler game when they installed a vacuum valve to remove any warm air and extra space from the bag once you close it.
Where once a bag would only keep your ice cold for a few hours, then leak out all over the floor, we’ve seen these new cooler bags keep ice up to three or four days.
I went to the beach yesterday with this bag, and when we got back, I forgot to empty it.
I opened it this morning and found that more than half the ice was still there.
They also made it with a watertight zipper and fully welded seams so you can use cubed ice along with your ice packs without fear of it leaking out all over the place.
I took my bag with half ice half slush to test it, closed it, and knocked it over.
The HD20 holds up to 21 quarts, while the HD30 can take up to 32 quarts.
They designed them with a wide mouth opening, so you don’t have to fight with the cooler bag when you’re trying to fill it with awkward sized items like wine bottles or hoagie sandwiches.
You know…the essentials.
They also give you a water-proof front pocket to store anything you don’t want to keep in your pockets when heading to a sandy or wet environment.
Unlike other bags that only come with a shoulder strap, the guys (and gals) over at Engel equip their cooler bags with three carrying options, including a shoulder strap, side handles, and top grab handles.
You can grab this bag from any angle that suits you or double team it when it’s too heavy for just one person.
They even throw in a free bottle opener attached to the bag, so once you set the cooler down where you want it, you don’t have to go far to open that next brewski.
- 21 and 32-quart capacity options
- Vacuum valve technology and thermoplastic walls increase performance
- Watertight zipper and welded seams prevent leaks
- Multiple handles for easy gripping
- 1-year warranty
- No drain
The Best Small Cooler Under $100
You may have noticed some of our other choices were also less than $100.
Those are our choices for the particular problem they solve, i.e., soft, hard, wheeled, etc.
If we had to choose a cooler as the overall best small cooler for under $100, we would select the Arctic Zone Titan Deep Freeze Zipperless Hardbody.
It will give you nearly the same performance as the Yeti 24, but at a fraction of the cost.
We stand by our decision when we say the Yeti Roadie 24 cooler is the best small cooler on the market in terms of performance, durability, and capacity.
But the price could be out of reach for a lot of people.
So we want to make sure everyone has the option to get something that works nearly as well, but for less money.
And to be honest, the Arctic Zone Titan is one of the most popular and highest-rated coolers on the market.
With that said, there are some drawbacks. You do get what you pay for, after all.
They have a zipperless lid, which is ideal if you need to grab some bait or a drink without putting down your fishing rod.
(Hopefully, you have two separate coolers, and not store your bait and your sandwich in the same cooler.)
But the problem with this feature is that if you overfill the cooler, it could raise the lid slightly and let in the warm air.
Within a couple of hours, you will notice your ice is nothing more than a cold puddle, and you will write to Amazon complaining that this cooler is junk.
This lid is not sealed with a gasket, so you have to be extra careful not to overfill it.
In line with that, you should also know that the “can rating.” i.e., 9-can, 16-can, etc. is not the recommended use rate.
It’s just showing you how many cans they can stuff in it to give you an idea of its capacity.
However, this does not count ice or ice packs that you will need to keep said drinks cold.
If you know you’re going to want a certain amount of cans, then get the next size up to account for space your ice needs so that you’re not stuffing it and causing the lid to lift open.
It also comes with a dry bin shelf to keep things out of direct contact with the ice.
It also comes with a hard interior liner to aid with performance and keep your delicate items from getting squashed.
- Various capacity sizes
- No latch lid for easy access
- Dry bin shelf keeps your sandwich from getting soggy
- Hard interior liner adds to the performance and protects your soft contents
- Super low price
- Limited lifetime warranty
- No latch lid and no gasket may open and lose cold air easy if you overfill it
- No drain
Why A Small Cooler May Be Right For You
A cooler is more than just a styrofoam box.
It’s a tool, just like your best scope or fishing rod.
And just like a tool, you need the right tool for the job.
There are large coolers and even extra-large coolers.
But none of them are practical when it comes to having something you can carry with you on your person.
Enter the small cooler.
This is best when you need something to keep your drinks or sandwiches cold.
Or maybe your live bait and chum at the ready.
Whatever it is your chilling, you want to carry it with you and don’t need to lug around an oversized monster.
Finding a size that is just right may take some trial and error.
It really depends on what you plan on keeping on ice.
But what you do know is that you have a limited amount of space and a max load that you want to carry.
We love us a big camping cooler, but this is not the time nor the place for a big hunk of plastic that weighs 50 lbs empty.
If you’re heading out to catch some trout in your kayak, or carrying some sandwiches with you while you stalk some deer, then you need a cooler that won’t weigh you down.
The added bonus is that it will be a practical tool you can also take with you to Timmy’s ball game or use it as a lunchbox for work.
What To Look For In The Best Small Cooler
Now, all coolers are not created equal.
We already discussed why a small cooler may be right for you compared to a large one.
But even among small coolers, there are essential criteria that you should keep an eye out to make sure you’re getting the best small cooler.
Insulation is what keeps what’s inside the cooler cold.
The more insulation you have, the longer it can retain its temperature.
For some reason, it is here where most brands try to save money.
They skimp on the wall insulation and don’t insulate the lid, which lets the heat creep in from above.
This is especially prevalent in small coolers because they’re trying to make the cooler compact.
But the more insulation you add, the bulkier it will be.
So we try to find a balance between insulation and size.
Today, we can also depend on technology to help.
Certain thermoplastics help retain temperature better than your standard plastics, which allow the walls and lids to be thinner and perform better.
Brands have also come up with clever ways to keep the cooler insulation out of direct contact with hot surfaces to keep it colder longer.
To assist with the insulation, you should check to see the lid comes with a gasket to ensure it makes a tight seal.
Again, the key to keeping your cooler cold is to keep the heat out.
Most cooler makers will rate their cooler’s performance by the number of days it can retain ice.
Now there is the best way to pack your cooler, which you can read more about below.
But for us, we can expect a standard of performance based on the cooler’s insulation and how well it stays sealed.
The next factor we consider is how easy it is to use the cooler, especially when you have your hands full.
We like a cooler to be zipperless, if possible, to quickly undo a latch and pop the cooler open and shut it again just as quickly.
Zippers can get in the way and slow you down, and they aren’t the best at keeping the hot air out either.
There are brands now with very high-tech zippers that can keep the hot air out and the slushy ice water in.
But you still have to use two hands to open it, and it can be an inconvenience.
In line with how easy you can open and close it, we want to know that it will hold what we believe it should contain.
Manufacturers will rate their coolers in quarts (in the US) and by how many cans it can hold.
Now, most people will be using their cooler to hold cans. Still, it’s not the only thing you put in a cooler, so the can rating is only an example and not a recommendation.
We see many people who get a 16-can cooler and are disappointed that it can only hold 12 or less with ice.
Or when they can shove in the full can rating, yet are again disappointed when the lid doesn’t stay shut all the way and melts their ice.
If you know how much you want to fill your cooler, look for the next size to account for the extra space you will need for ice and other things besides cans that you intend to put in the cooler.
You will also want to look at the external dimensions, as the cooler itself can be much larger than what it can hold on the inside.
This may be important if you need it to take up a smaller footprint if you have a limited amount of space to store your cooler.
You are looking for a “small cooler” after all. Make sure it’s small enough for your needs.
In line with its footprint, you will want to consider how much it weighs.
There are some real beasts out there that may appear small but can weigh a ton empty.
You will want to keep that in mind, and how much it will weigh when you fill it with ice and whatever else you want to stay cold.
When you do fill it up, you will want to make sure the handles and shoulder straps are tough enough to handle the weight.
If the weight does become too much for one person to handle, we like to have the option to wheel the cooler to where we need it to go without it taking up a lot of room.
There are small coolers with wheels that help with this, so you don’t have to drag it and damage the floor or the cooler’s underside.
Whatever cooler you get, things will get wet if you don’t have a dry bin to separate it from the ice.
Even the small coolers now come with shelves that will allow you to separate its contents and keep your dry things from getting soggy.
You will lose some space, of course, but again, just plan ahead before choosing how small you want the cooler to be.
We would like to see more of it, but it is challenging to find small coolers with drains.
Yes, they’re easy enough to tip over to get that slush out, but we don’t see why it shouldn’t be a standard now that all coolers have a drain, no matter how small they are.
And as we’re all outdoorsmen and women here, we would, of course, prefer that the product is eco-friendly and durable.
Coolers are all made of plastic, but if we can find recycled plastic and a product that will last, we hope to see fewer coolers in landfills.
An often overlooked aspect of coolers is the color.
It’s not just about choosing the color that you like best, but also its function.
For example, if you know the cooler will sit in the sun, then a cooler with a reflective color and material will keep it colder longer than a darker colored cooler.
And finally, you will want to consider the cooler’s price and whether it comes with a warranty.
Quality coolers aren’t cheap, even the small coolers.
You want to protect your investment by using the sellers’ return policy if you get a cooler that is not what you expected.
Suppose the cooler proves to be defective after the return window has closed. In that case, ideally, the manufacturer will stand behind its product with a reasonable warranty.
And hey, if they throw in a free bottle opener, we won’t complain either.
How To Keep Your Small Cooler Colder Longer
The first step in keeping your small cooler colder longer is to invest in a quality cooler!
It may sound obvious, but it’s often forgotten.
Now there is a time and place for everything.
You may not need to pay for the most expensive high-end cooler if you just need something to keep some beers and a sandwich cold for the afternoon while you watch your kid’s little league game.
But if you’re going out into the woods for the weekend, or working double full-time shifts every day, then making sure your food doesn’t spoil is worth the extra money.
Again, a good cooler is not just a box of styrofoam. It’s a tool.
Just as you wouldn’t invest in crap tools, you shouldn’t waste your money on crap coolers either.
Make sure it has enough insulation and a tight-sealing gasket to keep that hot air out.
It should also have tight locking latches or a water/air-proof zipper to keep the cooler shut.
Most importantly, to keep your cooler colder longer, you should keep the cooler shut!
You should pre-chill everything, including the cooler the night before, to bring the temperature of the cooler insulation down and avoid heating it up by putting warm items into it.
Now, this may sound strange to you, but not all ice is equal.
The ice you get from the drug store is actually a lot warmer than the ice that comes from your freezer.
Also, cubes will melt faster than solid ice blocks or packs.
So getting the right combination will help in keeping your cooler colder.
First, as we said, pre-chill the cooler the night before with ice packs or blocks you make yourself.
Then in the morning, take your pre-chilled items and new ice blocks and pack the cooler.
Get your quality ice chips from your freezer and surround the contents with chips to fill the gaps and keep any warm air from getting trapped in the cooler when you close it.
Don’t open the cooler until it’s time, and you accept the fact that when you open it, the ice will start to melt faster.
In line with not letting hot air in the cooler, you will want to give your cooler a fighting chance.
Don’t leave it in direct sunlight, especially if it’s a darker colored cooler.
If it’s not possible, you may want to think ahead, get a lighter colored cooler, or wrap it with some Reflectix to reflect the heat.
The same goes for keeping your cooler off the ground.
The ground soaks up the sun’s heat all day and would love to share some of it with your cooler.
Coolers now come with riser technology built-in to keep the insulation from direct contact with hot surfaces.
But you can also put it on your own blocks, a chair, or hang it from a tree to avoid the hot surface of the ground.
Another trick is digging a hole beneath the surface and using the earth as a natural insulator to keep the cooler cool.
Some more clever tactics include using dry ice. But we’re not really fans of dry ice in coolers. It’s kind of dangerous.
Dry ice gives off carbon dioxide gas instead of water when it melts.
Which is not a big deal. But when you have a closed, sealed container, it can turn into a hazard if that gas has no place to go.
It can rupture your cooler, or even more annoying, cause the cooler lid to open, or the seals to expand, and let hot air in.
Which, of course, defeats the purpose of having a cooler.
Another trick is you can salt your ice with rock salt. When the ice does melt, it will lower the water’s freezing temperature and keep it extra cold to assist with keeping the contents of your cooler colder longer.
So we went over as much as we can say about finding you the best small cooler.
What else should you keep in mind?
Keeping things cold, but dry is essential. So consider if the cooler you choose has a dry bin or can fit a dry bin when you need it.
You may also want to look into getting some ice packs. Ice packs use a gel that can get freeze colder than water and thus stay colder longer.
They also have less surface area than ice cubes and will not melt as fast.
They also won’t melt… Meaning you don’t have to worry about the water leaking out.
You may get away with an ice pack alone, but if you do need to fill the gaps with ice, the ice pack will help keep your ice cubes frozen longer as well.
How do you usually heat up your food when you don’t want it to be cold anymore?
If you’re in an office or workshop, you may have the luxury of a microwave, but if you’re on the road, you may find one of these food warming totes from hot logic helpful.
They provide an easy solution to heat up cold leftovers or even prepare frozen food without using a microwave.
They come with both cigarette lighter and 120V power sources.
We also find it useful to have a carabiner and some tie-downs to go along with the cooler.
If you’re driving a lot, the tie downs will keep the cooler from sliding around and tipping over.
A carabiner is nice to have so you can hang your cooler and keep it off the ground.
We find a little peace of mind making sure to have a padlock and a security cable to keep unwanted critters or annoying people from walking off with our coolers.
It may be overkill, but hey, better safe than sorry.
Well, folks, there you have it—our take on the best small coolers.
We hope we cleared up any noise you may have read about what makes a small cooler the best and gave you various options that fit your needs and budget.
If you still have a hard time choosing which small cooler would be right for you, then we recommend you try the Yeti Roadie 24 cooler.
We found it to be the best small cooler overall when it comes to performance, durability, and capacity.
It is a little on the large side as far as small coolers go, but we feel it’s better to have a bit more room if we need it.
It’s latching lid with a sealed gasket will also do a better job at keeping things cold longer if you have to fill it to its full capacity.
It’s also durable enough to use as a seat if you’re on a job site or sitting around a campfire.
If you have any comments or concerns you would like to share with the class, please leave your stories in the comments section below.
We appreciate any additional value you can add to the community.
Until next time.