Best Cooler to Take Camping: My Pick

Pelican Elite 80 qt. cooler

If you’re just running to the park for an hour, the quality of your cooler isn’t really that big of a deal and you want something small and easy to carry. Camping with a group, though? Having a quality cooler that will hold ice and is big enough to hold everything you need is essential!

Here are my top picks for camping coolers:

Pelican 80 Qt. Elite Cooler – Pelicans are industry leaders in cooler insulation and durability and with a cooler this size you can effortlessly pack away cold foods for the week. This is the one I own.

Pelican 50 Qt. Elite – This cooler gives you the same insulation and durability, and less storage than the 80 qt., but with the benefit of being smaller and easier to transport. Best for a smaller family or just a few people camping.

Why I Picked the Pelican 80 Qt. Elite

I have been camping multiple times where you open your cooler and realize that your ice is now water and all of your food is nearly lukewarm. Not fun.

For me, the point of camping is to be in nature with family and friends to completely check-out for awhile. The constant running for more ice or wondering if the mayo was still any good got old.

If we are going to take the time and effort to camp, I wanted a quality cooler that actually worked so we picked the Pelican 80 Qt. Elite for these reasons:

  • Thick, 2″ insulation that I had never seen in any other cooler.
  • The gasket around the lid is super heavy-duty enough that you can keep frozen things frozen. Again, this isn’t something I had seen elsewhere.
  • Size was a huge factor. We have a family and usually camp with friends. This cooler easily holds everything we would need it to.
  • Good wheels that can carry the load of this cooler easily and stay intact. The wheels of our past coolers were flimsy and would end up breaking so we always had to carry it around. That won’t happen with these wheels.
  • There is a pull-out handle that is also heavy-duty. Moving loaded coolers is always a pain, but we thought the handle would hold up and make it easier to transport, which it does.
  • Pelicans have a lifetime guarantee and with our bad history with coolers, that was important to us.
This cooler is drained after a fun weekend. Obviously we over-estimated the amount of drinks we needed!! But, you can get a sense of how much this thing holds.

In the end, we wanted to invest in a cooler that we don’t have to mess with down the road when it comes to actually keeping our stuff cold. We didn’t want to have to lug multiple small coolers, deal with a broken handle, wheels that don’t turn anymore, or hinges that fail. This cooler has been used on multiple camping trips, it works perfectly, and we are glad we made the purchase.

Pelican put out a video showing the features of the 20 Qt. Elite. It is just a mini-version of the 80 Qt., minus the wheels and pull-out handle.

Things to Look for in a Camping Cooler

  • Insulation– Thickness of the insulation is definitely one of the most important things to look for when choosing a cooler. But, don’t just look at the sides of the cooler box as most brands make those thick. Check the lid thickness and the thickness of the bottom of the cooler, too. Cheaper coolers skimp in those places and it doesn’t matter how thick the sides are if heat is creeping in through the bottom or lid.
  • Size-I am not going to say bigger is necessarily better here because you want the right size for what you will be using it for. If you’re running to the park an 80 qt. cooler is not a good choice. For camping, however, it might be depending on how many people you have. Think about how you will use it most often.
  • Hinges and LatchesThe latches and hinges are incredibly important as they, by far, take the most abuse. Are they made from cheap-looking plastic or rubber? If so, those areas will fail at some point and you will probably have to buy another.
  • Wheels and Handles-This is second to hinges and latches because, while important, they don’t impact the function of the cooler itself. If you need to save money and can find a cheaper cooler with great hinges and latches, but the wheels and handles aren’t the greatest, you can still get years of life out of it, but may just have to carry it from underneath using the buddy system.
  • Drain Hole-Our old cooler had no drain hole and many cheaper coolers don’t. When you want to drain a little water off without having to pull all of your food out and lay it on the picnic table, you will be happy you have a drain hole! Plus, it makes cleaning it when you get back so much easier.
  • Bear-Proof if Needed-We haven’t camped anywhere with bears…yet. But, if you do you want to make sure to keep these furry visitors away with a cooler that will keep them out no matter what, or a cooler that has good handles so you can pull it up into a tree.

You can watch a pretty entertaining bear vs. a Pelican cooler wrestling match below!

A Less Expensive Option

If you don’t want to sacrifice quality but can’t or don’t want to spend as much, Pelican makes many sizes of cooler. Actually, their biggest seller is their 50 Qt. Elite cooler.

This gives you all of the benefit of the 80 Qt. Elite when it comes to keeping things cold, but just without the wheels and not quite as much space.

Also, if you aren’t camping with many people, this is a perfect size. Lugging it to the park for the day is also much more of an option than with the bigger cooler.

Whichever size you choose, Pelican makes a game-changing cooler and we are pleased to have one that does exactly what it needs to do without any fuss or worry.

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