I love road trips! They can be so much fun but without the right preparation you can spend a lot of money on food that tends to be extremely unhealthy.
Having the right cooler for your road trip can help save you money, allow you to eat healthier, stop less and have cold drinks all the way from point A to point B.
In this article we'll look at some of the best road trip coolers for a bunch of different circumstances. All of these coolers have pros and cons and none is perfect, so have a look through and decide on which cooler is going to be best for your road trip
Yeti Hopper 30 – My Recommendation
The Yeti Hopper 30 is the ultimate pick in road trip coolers. Usually I'm not one for soft sided coolers, but the size and shape of the Yeti Hopper means it can easily fit in between 2 seats or on the floor, giving you easy access to your food and drinks throughout your trip.
It is also completely leakproof which is obviously extremely important. You don't want water leaking through your car as the ice melts throughout your trip. That can lead to some pungent smells, especially on those hot days.
The Yeti Hopper has a leak proof interior, the exterior is made of waterproof fabric and the “HyrdoLok Zipper” works exceptionally well at keeping the water out. I have heard of many circumstances of the cooler staying dry even when all the ice inside has completely turned to water.
While the Yeti Hopper won't keep ice as long as it's Tundra counterpart or something like the Coleman Extreme it does keep ice for 2-3 days. For longer road trips where it is going to be sitting in a hot car for large portions of the day then ice may need to be replaced daily.
Great For Short To Mid-Range Trips
The Yeti Hopper is great for short to mid range trips. Amazing for a 1-2 day road trip. Anything longer than that and you would probably want something bigger that is also going to hold ice longer and be easier to clean/dry.
But for shorter trips this cooler is practical, a great medium size and has both exceptional build quality and good ice retention.
Yeti Hopper 30 –
Coleman Extreme – Quality Budget Pick For Longer Trips
The Coleman Extreme is an amazing cooler for the price you pay. Coming in at around $40-$50 it can keep ice for around 3-5 days on a road trip in warm weather.
It's obviously bigger than the Yeti Hopper but this can be a blessing or a curse depending on how full your car is and what your needs are.
Fill it up and put it in your trunk for cold food and drinks whenever you stop for a bit of a rest. Or my favourite is to put it on the back seat in such a way a passenger can easily reach it and access the food and drinks inside.
Have a drink of water, soda or energy drink and then put it back in to keep it cool until you want another sip. Also has enough room for fruit, sandwiches, chocolate or whatever food you decide to bring on your road trip.
When you stop for the night (or even during the day) you could lift it out for a makeshift seat wherever you are, and the inbuilt cup holders are also super useful.
When I am going for a road trip in my van my Coleman Extreme actually fits between the two front seats (it's a big van). The lid gives me 4 cup holders which is super useful and I can easily access everything while I drive.
Coleman Extreme –
Coleman Excursion Portable Cooler – For The Solo Road Tripper
I'm not going to lie, there is absolutely nothing special about this cooler. Haha I probably shouldn't say that but it's true.
If you're going on a shorter road trip by yourself (up to about half a day or so) then this is a cheap, small and practical cooler that will do the job.
Chuck in a couple of frozen ice bricks or some frozen bottles of water with your lunch and some snacks for the road and you are all set. Put it on the seat next to you and you'll have easy access to everything for your entire trip.
Not a fancy cooler, not an amazing cooler, but it's cheap and it does the job if all you need is a small cooler for a short period of time.
Coleman Excursion 9-Quart –
Koolatron FunKool – Thermoelectric Coolers Are Kind Of A Waste
I can't really create a list of the best roadtrip coolers without talking about thermoelectic coolers. Coolers that you plug into your car's 12v output.
The problem is unless you buy REALLY expensive 12v coolers (like this one) they just don't work very well.
A lot of them are designed so that a metal plate inside the cooler gets cool. These ones really suck (I used to own one) as only things touching the plate get cold and everything else still gets warm. Also as soon as you turn your car off the cooler turns off, or if it doesn't you risk running down your battery and not being able to start your car.
This Koolatron FunKool cooler is slightly better than the ones mentioned above. The cooling device is in the lid and it blows cold air into the cooler.
By itself this isn't enough to cool stuff down, but it is enough to keep stuff cool. But what I do like about this cooler in particular is that you can still use ice in your cooler.
I recommend some frozen bottles of water or some ice bricks AND then plug the cooler in to your car. It will keep everything cool longer than a cooler that just relies on ice.
But to be completely honest I think the value you get from the thermoelectric cooling isn't really worth the extra money you pay. A good ice cooler (not a cheapo one you buy from the local hardware store) will generally outperform a thermoelectric cooler in most cases.
Koolatron FunKool 26-Quart –
How To Choose The Best Roadtrip Cooler For You
Ultimately which cooler will best suit your needs will come down to a mixture of:
- The length and type of road trip
- Personal preference
Each cooler has it's pros and cons. Smaller coolers are easier to access as they fit in the car easier but can't hold as many items and ice will melt faster.
Larger coolers keep everything cold longer and can hold a wider array of food and drinks, but they are generally more difficult to access.
The perfect roadtrip cooler would be one that fit right new to you, could fit lots of items, was easy to access, kept ice for days and never made your food soggy. Unfortunately this is a mythological cooler and you're as likely to find this as you are to find a unicorn.
Instead decide what is most important to you and what you are willing to sacrifice on.
For me personally, access to the cooler as a solo driver is important as I don't want to annoy my passengers if they are trying to sleep. But I can sacrifice on having super convenient access. If I have to read into the back to get my drink out thats fine.
I'm not a big fan of thermoelectric coolers, but for someone who is driving a lot and doesn't want to worry about ice this could be a good option for them.
There are so many great roadtrip cooler options out there, I am sure you can find one that best suits your need.
Find out what is important to you and choose a cooler that best fits your budget.
How Do You Pack A Cooler For A Road Trip?
Packing a cooler for a road trip is a bit different to packing a cooler for a camping or fishing trip.
Generally speaking on road trips water is going to be public enemy #1. Give the fact you'll be driving it's going to make keeping your sandwhiches dry a lot harder.
So rather than using loose ice that you may buy from the gas station I would recommend using bottles of water than you freeze prior to your road trip. This has the added benefit of saving space, as you can drink the water as it begins to melt.
Frozen gel packs can also be an amazing tool. They are flexible so you can mould them around your food to keep them cold.
Also keeping your food in airtight and watertight containers or packaging is a good idea. Zip lock bags can be great or waterproof tupperware containers can also do the trick. This will keep you food fresher, while still allowing it to stay cold in the cooler.
What Are The Best Snacks To Take On A Road Trip?
Ideas for road trip snacks are plentiful, but I'll share a few of my favorites for you here. If you want more check out this article.
First lets state the obvious, the best snacks to take on a road trip are ones that are best served cold or at room temperature. You also want snacks that you can nibble on throughout the trip as the drive begins to get boring.
Fruit is an obvious stable snack of a good road trip. Apples, bananas, peaches and other fruits that are “self wrapped” I find are best. Watermelon is delicious and great for the kids, but will go off quickly as soon as it gets hot and can be quite messy.
Pre-cutting up veges like carrot sticks, cucumbers etc and mixing with some crackers and drip also make for an interesting snack whilst driving or travelling.
Nuts as well as other alternatives to potato chips are good.
For meals you can't go wrong with sandwiches. Basic spreads, salad sandwiches or meat sandwiches are all amazing for lunch when on a road trip. Again just make sure you keep them water tight…no one lights a soggy sandwich.
Snacks that you can eat slowly and enjoy can be amazing for the driver. I like to eat my nuts slowly and enjoy them. When it comes to chocolate I like to get things like M&Ms where you don't just eat the chocolate bar in one go but can slowly suck on one piece at a time. It's more interesting and means I consume less unhealthy food.