Our Cooler Quest - Is There Just One for the Job?

Finding the "right" cooler is a unicorn hunt.  I don't know that it actually exists.  There are coolers that are just right for a particular job or event.  We have several coolers, and each one serves a different purpose.  How do you find the best cooler for you?  And, is there a singular cooler that does it all?

Our Cooler Quest - Is There Just One for the Job?

Before you start looking for a cooler, ask yourself how you plan to use it.  The right cooler is going to be the one for your activities and lifestyle.  For us, that has come down to multiple coolers for the different activities that we do.  We have three that we rotate.  Each one serves a different purpose and task.

We just purchased our third cooler in a year.  I know.  Why?  I've asked myself the same question.  I have a good answer and argument for our stash of coolers.  I'll start with what we have and why we have purchased each one.  

ORCA 55 Quart Cooler

This cooler is a mammoth!  And, it isn't the largest cooler that ORCA makes.  We bought this cooler when we still owned our pop up.  We wanted a way to take everything with us in a cooler that would ensure our food would stay cold even in high heat.  The size gives us the space we need and the ability to accomplish this task.  

ORCA coolers are American made and are well built.  While we don't have our pop up anymore, we do still take long trips.  This cooler can handle what won't go in our RV fridge.  We also use it when we travel without our RV.  The drain spout allows us to drain off water while topping off with additional ice.  

One thing to remember about these coolers is that they are bulky.  Some of the size of this cooler is the thick walls.  The exterior box is deceptive in terms of what it can hold overall due to the wall thickness.  Keep this in mind when selecting a rotomolded cooler like this.  This also means that these coolers are heavy and will require more than one person to lift a filled cooler of this size.  

This cooler is built to last and will be with us for a while.  It is an investment cooler and is comparable in price to other premium brand rotomolded coolers.  However, if you are using this as a fridge for camping it still comes well under the price point threshold for three-way fridges.  If you need a heavy-duty cooler for long trips and camping, this cooler is for you.  Don't let the sticker shock fool you.  This cooler is worth the money!

Ozark Trails 26 Quart Cooler

We needed a new tailgate cooler last year, and this one was one sale.  Our ORCA is simply too large for a Saturday excursion.  Enter, cooler #2.  It is plenty big but not as large as our ORCA.  It performs well with ice retention.  It was about $75 on sale last year.  This is quite a bit less than premium brands but accomplishes the task on hot days. 

The only downside to this cooler is how bulky and heavy it is.  Rolling along in a wagon is not a  big deal.  However, when we went to the beach this year, we decided this cooler functions well but is too big and heavy for the beach or just a quick day trip.  

It is very sturdy and works well.  We still plan to keep and use this cooler.  This is our back up cooler many times for drinks on camping trips because it is a medium-size and can hold ice for the weekend.  It's just not the most portable.  We like this cooler for a stationary holding place for drinks but not lugging about.  

Ice Mule

Our most recent cooler is our Ice Mule.  It is by far the smallest of the three coolers we own.  It will hold up to 18 cans with plenty of ice.  But, it will roll up flat for storage.  There is a strap that will allow you to carry it hands-free.  And, it is excellent for day trips, river floats, the beach, or days on the lake.  It is designed to hold ice for 24 hours.  It floats.  Its a day cooler plain and simple.  Fill it.  Grab it.  Go.

I like the compact storage.  It is easy to keep it stored at home or in our RV for when we need it.  And it doesn't have one of those zippers that wear out like other soft-sided, lightweight models!  Zippers on soft-sided coolers are just a problem waiting to happen.  And I just don't love them.  This is the main reason we opted for Ice Mule aside from the storage options.  Plus the price point of Ice Mule is pretty impressive for the flexibility, durability, and performance it provides!

If you are looking for flexible, lightweight, functionality, this is the cooler for you.  It is the most portable of all of our coolers.  It won't hold ice the longest, but this isn't why we bought this cooler.  We wanted something large enough to pack drinks for our family for the day without weighing a ton.  Mission accomplished!

We have owned everything from the inexpensive $20 coolers to the premium soft-sided models.  But, no matter what you have, you won't be happy if it doesn't hold up for the intended purpose.  Ask yourself some basic questions.

  1. How long do you need to store your items and keep things at a really cold temperature that will hold ice?
  2. How much do you plan to transport in your cooler?
  3. Are you planning to carry this cooler in your car to its destination or on your person (by hand)?  This is the portability question.  How portable do you need your cooler to be?
Bigger, bulkier rotomolded coolers like our ORCA work great for long trips in high temperatures to hold a lot of stuff.  But, our Ozark Trails works great for longer periods where we are transporting things in a wagon or our car with less storage.  But, if we need a simple day cooler that we can carry on our shoulder and store with little-used space, our Ice Mule is perfect.  Each cooler we own serves a purpose!  And, we actually do need more than one.  Yes.  It sounds like I'm justifying my purchases, but one cooler doesn't work for us.

Don't be fooled by premium brands with the high ticket price tag.  Sometimes these are the best option, but it isn't always true.  Really think it through and weigh out your options and needs.  And, there is most likely NOT a one size fits all cooler.  We use each cooler we own for different purposes and trips.  We have a trip at the end of the year planned where it is likely we will be using all three.  

The gear we own gives us a lot of flexibility and options in our travel abilities and style.  We enjoy being able to get out and explore without so many limitations.  There is no time like the present to be prepared and ready to go with your own supplies to be a little more self-sustainable and less exposed.  

If you have been on the quest for the perfect cooler, I'd love to hear from you.  What coolers do you have and how did you choose the brands you own?  Until next time...

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