Guide to the best coolers and ice boxes: Everything you need to know

Guide to the best coolers and ice boxes: Everything you need to know

Taking a cooler with you on your next camping holiday, picnic or whatever you might be doing outdoors is a sure-fire way to keep your drinks cold, your food fresh and everyone satisfied. From coolers small enough to take to school, work or your weekend sports events right through to portable fridges capable of keeping a week's worth of supplies chilled and safe from spoilage, there's a cooler available to suit everyone's needs and budgets.

Before you jump into buying a cooler or icebox, it pays to know a few basics so you can choose the best cooler for your needs without forking out too much cash. Here's what you should be considering when choosing the best cooler for camping.

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Cooler materials: what is the best for me?

The best coolers are made from three basic compositions:

  • Plastic/fibreglass
  • Metal
  • Fabrics (soft chillers)

The most popular all-round choice in coolers is fibreglass or plastic because these kinds of coolers are versatile, easy to clean and durable enough to perform at their best in a range of conditions or environments.

Metal coolers are a popular choice for people who need a large, high-performing fridge, freezer or cooler for their boat, 4WD or caravan. When you're looking at metal coolers, which are invariably larger in size, always check their dimensions. If you're an off-the-grid camper, you'll be well-aware that space comes at a premium when travelling, so don't fall into the trap of getting a top-of-the-line cooler, only to find you lose a huge chunk of your boot or luggage space.

Coolers made from fabrics fall into the 'soft chiller' category. Soft chillers are popular with school kids and tradies who need a cooler to keep their lunch fresh and tasty but find it impractical to be carrying a fibreglass or plastic cooler around all day.

Below we break down the pros and cons of each type of cooler material.

Cooler Material



Plastic/fibreglass coolers

- Durable construction
- Easy to wipe clean
- Various sizes available

- Performance can vary depending on model and brand

Metal coolers

- Extremely long-lasting
- Larger sizes
- Excellent insulation

- Can be heavy and bulky

Fabric/soft coolers

- Compact and light
- Can be compressed
- Smaller sizes great for lunch

- May not keep cold for as long as plastic and metal coolers

Cooler insulation: ensuring your food and drinks are cold

Good insulation is a key feature of the best coolers. Reliable insulation is important for keeping the contents of your cooler chilled for longer. Generally, the thicker the walls of your cooler, the better the insulation.

To check the insulation quality, give the walls of your cooler a squeeze to check the flex. If you can feel movement, there's a chance there's air in the walls of your cooler, which is not ideal. As a bonus, studier coolers can be used as a seat when you're out and about.

Cooler seals and latches: important for maintaining temperature and performance

The quality of the seals on your cooler contribute to your food and drinks staying cold, regardless of the weather conditions.

Check around the lid and other openings, like the drainage plug, to make sure there's a tight seal. The less air that can escape, the more effectively the cooler keeps everything inside fresh and chilled over longer periods of time. High-quality coolers and ice boxes often have latches to close and seal the lid, these are great features for ensuring maximum temperature retention. In contrast, budget-friendly coolers may have regular hinged lids without latches. Depending on your needs, choose the cooler that will suit your conditions.

Cooler care and maintenance: how to properly clean and care for your cooler or ice box

The best coolers should also be easy to clean and maintain. Look for smooth surfaces - inside and out - because they are less likely to trap the inevitable bits of dirt and grime that can make their way into your cooler when you're camping or enjoying the outdoors.

Additionally, check that any drainage plugs are flush-mounted and large enough to ensure dirt and food particles don't get caught and block your drain.

How to clean a hard cooler or ice box?

To clean a hard cooler, follow the steps below:

  1. Drain any excess water through the drainage outlet or pour out.
  2. Use a soft damp cloth and multi purpose cleaning spray to wipe down the inside of the cooler.
  3. For the outside, wip down with the same cloth.
  4. Use a cleansing brush to remove dirt from the wheels and bottom of the cooler.

It is best to clear your cooler after each use to minimise the likelihood of stains and damage.

How to store your cooler when not in use?

When not using your cooler, it is best to store indoors and away from heat and direct sunlight. Cover your cooler in a plastic sheet or fabric sheet to prevent dust build up and store it in a cool place such as your garage, shed or storage room.

Cooler wheels: ensure optimal mobility and convenience

For many people, a cooler with wheels is a non-negotiable when choosing the best cooler. Wheels can certainly make light work of heavy loads and are handy for people who need a large volume cooler but are physically incapable of carrying its weight when fully packed.

While wheels make it a lot easier to move your cooler around, you should consider the intended use of your fridge or cooler. For example, if you enjoy a more rustic camping experience, the wheels of your cooler need to be tough enough to handle rocky and uneven terrain. On the other side of the coin, while there are plenty of smaller coolers with wheels, you might run the risk of paying for something you don't really need if you're capable of carrying a loaded cooler by yourself.

Cooler handles: grip and transport your cooler easily

The main handle choices are:

  • Side handles
  • Lid handles
  • Shoulder straps

Side handles are the most common and are made tough enough to cope with the manufacturer's recommended weight capacity. On bigger dimension units, they can sometimes be far enough apart that you need a second set of hands to help you move the cooler when fully stocked. Be as honest with yourself as possible - can you really carry the cooler on your own?

Lid handles are great for small and medium-sized coolers, designed for a single person to carry without a problem. A single handle is traditionally not as strong as most other carrying methods, meaning they'll be found on smaller coolers or coolers with lower weight capacities.

Shoulder straps are a very convenient way of carrying small coolers or coolers designed for single person use. They're most often found on soft-sided coolers and, like lid handles, are not designed to handle large weight capacities.

Cooler drainage: effortlessly darin your cooler after use

Good drainage is an essential element of the best coolers. Drainage is important for getting rid of the melted ice at the end of a camping trip, picnic or day at the beach without having to up-end your cooler - very handy when your cooler is a bit too large to tip.

The plug or stopper on your drain should fight tightly and, ideally, have some form of attachment so it doesn't get lost when you're draining your cooler. Some coolers come with their own in-built hose to make drainage even easier.

Cooler lids and latches: keep the cool in with functional latches

Lids and latches should be easy to operate and complement the effectiveness of your cooler's seal. Many of the larger coolers and fridge/freezer options have hinged lids for opening and closing. Lockable coolers and refrigerators provide you with peace of mind if you're in a shared camping area or if you need to leave your cooler unattended for periods of time.

Ensure any metal latches or hinges on your cooler are made from stainless steel to avoid rusting out with long-term use.

Find the Right Ice-Boxes and Coolers For Your Next Adventure

Coolers and ice boxes are essential for keeping your food and drinks fresh when camping, at a picnic, enjoying lunch at school or when you're at the job site. When it comes down to it, the best cooler for you will combine a comfortable carrying style with the right weight capacity to meet your needs. Make sure it's got quality insulation, seals well and you'll be enjoying icy cold drinks and food wherever you are for years to come. Check out our range of coolers and ice boxes or at your local Anaconda store there is something for everyone. From soft coolers that are fit for any trade to heavy duty ice boxes for rugged conditions shop today at Anaconda.

For more useful tips and ideas, visit the Adventure Centre and read out buying guides for more information. Some articles you might like include:




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